With this post, I want to begin a series “X Christian from Church History on the Biblical Languages.” I often share these sorts of quotes with my seminary students, and I thought they might be helpful to others as well. These posts are intended to be short, mainly consisting of a quote, which can be rather long at times, with brief commentary from me to provide some context.
The first selection is from John Wesley, who gave “An Address to the Clergy” (begins on p. 262) on February 6, 1756 in London. His address has two main points, which he announced at the outset:
In order to our giving this account with joy, are there not two things which it highly imports us to consider: First, What manner of men ought we to be? Secondly, Are we such, or are we not? (p. 263)
He gives many points under these two headings. Regarding the first question, with his third sub point under “Can he take one step aright without first a competent share of knowledge?” he says:
Thirdly. But can he do this [know the literal meaning of every word upon which the spiritual meaning is built, and make suitable application to the consciences of his hearers], in the most effectual manner, without a knowledge of the original tongues? Without this, will he not frequently be at a stand, even as to texts which regard practice only? But he will be under still greater difficulties, with respect to controverted scriptures. He will be ill able to rescue these out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: for whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once (p. 265; emphasis added).
Under the second question, “Are we such, or are we not?” he holds up a mirror on many matters for pastors to examine themselves against. Among them, he says regarding the biblical languages:
(2.) Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake (as every minister does), not only to explain books which are written therein, but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of every one who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretence? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms; or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend in school? How many at the university? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face? (p. 275)
I have nothing to add to Wesley’s comments here other than to note he does say many great things in this address and the entire piece is worth reading. I have only extracted these two quotes on the biblical languages for the purpose of highlighting his emphasis on them.