Peter Gentry on the Biblical Languages

PGentryThe following article is reproduced from The Gospel Witness 65.6 (1986): 22 (102) with permission. The Gospel Witness is a publication of Jarvis St. Baptist Church in Toronto, Ontario that would devote one issue per year to Toronto Baptist Seminary. Dr. Peter Gentry taught the biblical languages faithfully at Toronto Baptist Seminary from 1984–1999 and 2008–2017, and he still teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Enjoy!

GREEK AND HEBREW—WHY BOTHER?

By Professor Peter Gentry

During the past fifteen to twenty years many Bible colleges and seminaries have reshaped their curricula and programmes, cutting content-oriented requirements like Biblical languages, church history, exegesis of the original text and systematic theology in favour of method-oriented requirements such as Christian education, counselling skills and psychology. Certainly a balance between content and method must be maintained, but the present trend tends toward highly skilled communicators and counsellors with nothing to say.

The explosion and proliferation of knowledge in recent years is absolutely staggering and has compounded the problem of balancing content and method by aggravating the dichotomy between pastor and scholar. Many allocate an ability to use Biblical languages in original exegesis to scholars only and picture the pastor more as a master of people skills.

We at Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College believe that a pastor must have a measure of academic excellence and biblical scholarship as well as the heart and skills of a shepherd; he must have content and practical skills and both in balance. We cannot yield our curriculum to modern pressures and unbiblical models of pastor and scholar from the worldly-wise. Church history furnishes for us examples of the balance of which we are speaking. Students at the University of Halle during the time of founder and pietist Philipp Jakob Spener were required to read the Greek New Testament twice a year and the Hebrew Old Testament once a year! Francis Asbury, the leader and organizer of American Methodism, was an experienced circuit rider and rode hundreds of miles each year on horseback. He carried in his saddlebags a Hebrew Grammar and Old Testament, a Greek Grammar and New Testament along with two volumes of Wesley’s Sermons.

Gospel Witness

Devoting fully one-fourth of the Β.Th. programme to Greek and Hebrew skills is certainly not following the trendy come-ons of our age. During a course in Greek, B.Th. student Dale Nevelizer plunged into the sea of exegesis of the Greek New Testament. The complexities of textual criticism, grammatical and structural analysis, cultural and historical background, exegetical, lexical and theological problems were like mountainous waves threatening to sink him. Sitting down to meditate and sweat over the text before reaching for the commentaries so that the commentaries do not rob one of the joy of discovery made Dale wonder at times if it was worth it. He confessed at the end of the course that there was more blood, sweat, toil and tears here than he had ever known. Yet here, he admitted, were results that were lasting, rewarding and eminently worthwhile.

Although Christians commonly expect that God has to put the “cookies on the bottom shelf,” Scripture says:

If you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, Then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Prov. 2:4,5 (NIV)

The curriculum at our school is designed for the average student, not for the genius. We recognize that God does not cut corners in developing leaders and offer us instant formulae for success. Biblical languages are learned more by hard labour than by genius or innate skill, contrary to popular thinking on the subject. Language tools are foundation tools for pastors and teachers. We cheat the next generation if we give them our heritage of theological knowledge without the ability to defend it or mine it themselves from the sources.

6 thoughts on “Peter Gentry on the Biblical Languages

  1. The foolishness of churches calling masters in religious education grads as pastors stands out when these pastors bring shallowness to their pulpits.

    There is no better example than the church of which I am a member. Once, it was the one of the 10-largest churches in America. Then the faithful pastor who preached the expository Word of God every Sunday for nearly 30 years resigned, and the church called an MRE graduate from a large, accredited seminary. As the new pastor preached his shallowness, the church attendance began to fall. The pastor said that he could not duplicate the results of the expository preacher, so he began to go to methodology.

    First thing that happened was the two services on Sunday mornings in which our then-6,000-seat worship center were cut to one service. The pastor made the announcement that the problem was that surveys showed that singling out visitors made them uncomfortable., So when attendance fell, he instituted a building remodeling program in which the 6,000-seat room was cut down to about 4,000 seats, give or take. Along with methodology, he began to institute other seeker-friendly methods. The simple, proven Monday night visitation program toe lost people and the visitors who had been identified the previous Sunday, was done away with.

    But in all of this chaos, one of the things that stood out was the lack of nutrition in the pastor’s preaching program. He apparently did not study Greek or Hebrew. His sermons were comprised of story-telling sessions.

    Then he preached a months-long series on Christ-likeness. To him, the Spirit of Christ seemed to be social and school-outreach programs. We never really did learn what Christlike-ness was. We were to take his word that Christlike-ness was putting in time on the outreach programs. The programs were an end in themselves.

    When that pastor retired, we called a pastor was is an expository preacher. He is a young man, but he brings the Word of God to the people. Our church is beginning to grow again, membership increased by decisions of people to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior. It’s not only the growth that I am pleased with. It is the fact that our preacher intends that the people will learn and grow through the preaching and teaching of the Word.

    The idea that a pastor should know the Biblical languages, Church history, and the life and teachings of John, Peter, and Paul is comforting. I think it is from those teachings, not psychology and methods, that solid Christian lives and churches are built.

    Finally, I would like to talk about my own view of psychology. When I was in high school, I took our school’s psychology course. I made good grades in it, and I thought that perhaps I would pursue it in college. So I enrolled in a Christian university and studied psychology with a minor in Biblical studies, and a second minor in New Tetament Greek.. It was toward the end of my junior year tnat I made the decision to abandon psychology altogether. I came understand that psychology is philosophy-based. One can make psychology mean anything one wants it to. I went in to talk to my major professor about my concern. The conversation did not encourage me, so I changed majros–at the end of my junior year. So I had two junior years in college, one immersed in psychology, and one immersed in my second, English with an emphasis in writing.

    I realize this is a lengthy comment, but I wrote it to encourage ministerial students who believe they have the gifts of pastor ministry and teaching, to study the Bible deeply. Please don’t fall into the trap that we Christians need to learn methods and psychology. Bring us the Word of God. Please.

  2. I am thankful that my undergraduate degree at Moody required biblical language training in order to receive a degree in Pastoral Ministries. I am thankful that I ended up attended a seminary where the M.Div. was 94 credits. In order to receive the M.Div. at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary we had to have 2 semesters of Greek and Hebrew Grammar, then each of those languages had 3 semesters of exegetical classes. 1/4 of my seminary career was devoted to biblical language training.

    I want to point out that it was my biblical language classes that have most transformed my theological and political views. I love systematic theology classes, but those have only served to refine my understanding of truth- it is in the biblical language classes that my epistimology was truly shaken, challenged, and refined. Praise God for the efficacy of His Word!

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