Let me preface this post with my saying that I am not currently a pastor. What I say here should therefore be taken with a grain of salt, but I hope more than that that it would be weighed carefully. As a result, I will couch this in the form of a question with reflections.
Is it possible for pastors to keep up with current Greek scholarship on at least a marginal enough level that they are aware of the discussions and especially take into account developments in the last 2+ decades on verbal aspect?
I notice in sermons that pastors and speakers frequently say something about the Greek that lies behind the English version they are using and make an exegetical pronouncement about the text based on the verb that is questionable. The idea that either absolute time or ‘kind of action’ is the central feature of the verbal tense-form is an antiquated idea (with some debate as to whether time functions at all in it). I hesitate to provide examples lest I single pastors out. These pronouncements do not always affect the main point of the sermon but if I were preaching ideas that have shown to be false, I would want to have those things corrected out of integrity.
So, is it possible for a pastor to keep up with current Greek scholarship? I have two thoughts on this.
1) Scholars may be to blame in the first place. Commentary writers and popularizers of academic material have themselves failed to keep up and provide pastors with material that keeps up to date with the current understandings of the Greek language, especially the Greek verb.
I recently got my hands on a commentary that was released in 2010 (I won’t mention who) that fails to cite any Greek grammatical work beyond 1963, with the exception of two revised lexicons (1996 and 2000) which themselves are not in line with modern linguistics and Greek grammatical study. As such, the writer refers to tense-form usage in terms of its time-values and ‘kind of action’ that fails to recognize what all the major players of Greek grammar currently do and have for at least 2 decades: aspect, and not time, is the major contribution of the verbal tense-forms. Sadly this commentary is not alone in relying on dated grammars that were once magisterial (and no doubt they should be consulted) but have now been surpassed and even contradicted. How can pastors be expected to stay up to date if they are reading commentaries like this?
On the other hand, there are small glimmers of hope that the tide is changing as pastoral commentaries such as Kruse’s The Letters of John (PNTC) and Carson’s forthcoming Johannine Epistles (NIGTC) take verbal aspect seriously in their discussion of the Greek verb. Let’s hope for higher percentages.
2) Whatever the time commitments of the pastor, most (I hope) would agree that the preaching and teaching of the Word is central to the pastor’s job (cf. e.g., Acts 6:4; letters to Timothy). If that is so, the same pastors would agree that the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word is required. After all, to knowingly say something false would not be helpful. I don’t want to say that the pastor needs to be a scholar (there are varying gifts anyway) but should not some contact be maintained with the disciplines from when the pastor first encountered them in their seminary training (Greek as well as church history, theology, etc.)? After all, seminary does not teach everything the pastor needs to know so that they don’t have to read another book in their life, but it exposes the pastor to the beginning of a lifetime of study (I first heard this idea expounded by D.A. Carson in an interview).
Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that the languages are important for the pastor in the first place, a topic for discussion another time (but as I’ve heard many say and I myself believe: you don’t find pastors who have learned Greek well ever complain that it has not been fundamental in their study and teaching).
So, is it possible to maintain contact and stay abreast of the current discussion? I don’t have the final answer and won’t say more than I’ve just said for now except that if a pastor doesn’t think the languages are worth their time, should they quote Greek or refer to grammatical issues in a sermon in the first place?
Interested in your thoughts.