It is so refreshing to read the following from John Walton:
“When people want to study the Bible seriously, one of the steps they take is to learn the language. As I teach language students, I am still always faced with the challenge of persuading them that they will not succeed simply by learning enough of the language to engage in translation. Truly learning the language requires leaving English behind, entering the world of the text and understanding the language in its Hebrew context without creating English words in their minds. They must understand the Hebrew as Hebrew text” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 9).
One of my contentions in modern study of the ancient languages is that this desire to teach and learn the languages for the purpose of only being able to translate has led to some major problems in the understanding of the biblical text amongst scholars and preachers. Being able to translate a text is not the same as being able to understand the text. And the best translators will be the ones who really understand the languages.
I was encouraged by reading Jim Hamilton’s post on how he prepares to preach through Jeremiah. What helps him most is… get ready for it… God’s word as given in the Hebrew text. It’s a good post and helpful in a day where seminaries seem to be dropping the languages rather than ramping them up.
Also on his site is a post about the proper purpose of seminary that is worth reading. It also focuses on issues related to the languages. I found this quotation especially juicy since I’ve never heard anyone say this so boldly:
Seminary students who want to learn the Bible in the original languages should take the languages early and often. Why let a semester pass in which you’re not in a Greek or Hebrew class? No one expects to be fluent in Spanish after two semesters. We’re unwise to think that after two semesters we’ll “know Greek.” You’re at school to begin to learn Greek and Hebrew so you can spend the rest of your life studying the Bible in the original. Why not give all your electives to Greek and Hebrew exegesis classes? There are lots of conference opportunities where you can learn everything from counseling to preaching to evangelism and missions. There will never be a conference for pastors on Hebrew syntax. There will never be a Greek exegesis of 1 Peter conference where you are taught to diagram the Greek text and trace its argument. Get from the seminary what you can only get from the seminary, what the seminary exists to give you. You can get the rest in a good church, in a pastoral internship, or at a conference.
Exciting times at McMaster Divinity College as it has released a new online and print journal, Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics. The first two articles are by excellent scholars, Wally Cirafesi and Greg Fewster.
The about section of the website gives the following information:
Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics (BAGL), in conjunction with the Centre for Biblical Linguistics, Translation, and Exegesis at McMaster Divinity College and the OpenText.org project (www.opentext.org) is a fully refereed on-line and print journal specializing in widely disseminating the latest advances in linguistic study of ancient and biblical Greek. Under the senior editorship of Professor Dr. Stanley E. Porter and Dr. Matthew Brook O’Donnell, along with its assistant editors and editorial board, BAGL looks to publish significant work that advances knowledge of ancient Greek through the utilization of modern linguistic methods. Accepted pieces are in the first instance posted on-line in page-consistent pdf format, and then (except for reviews) are published in print form each volume year. This format ensures timely posting of the most recent work in Greek linguistics with consistently referencable articles then available in permanent print form.
A new Themelios journal has just been released. The issue contains an article by Jason DeRouchie entitled, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections.”
He asks why the church needs some in it who can skillfully handle the biblical languages and gives 4 reasons:
- Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus by affirming God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book (God’s Word as foundation).
- Using the biblical languages gives us greater certainty that we have grasped the meaning of God’s Book (studying God’s Word).
- Using the biblical languages can assist in developing Christian maturity that validates our witness in the world (practicing God’s Word).
- Using the biblical languages enables a fresh and bold expression and defense of the truth in preaching and teaching (teaching God’s Word).
The subtitle here is important since without it this would be a fairly easy post.
The reason I’m studying what I’m studying (biblical studies/New Testament with especial focus in Greek and linguistics – and I mean informally right now) is simple: because I feel called of God to study and teach the Word and these items I’m especially passionate about. That’s an easy question for me. Why these disciplines are important can be highlighted another time.
But the subtitle adds something I haven’t yet brought up on this blog. I have cancer.
On December 23, 2011 (yes, the Friday before Christmas), I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. How close to death I was, only God knows (but likely a few weeks). The chemotherapy started two days after Christmas and managed to put me into remission by the end of January (less than 5% leukemic cells in my bone marrow) and I remain in remission right now, going through cycles of chemotherapy while I await a match for a stem-cell transplant. The day to day is currently easier than it was in January, but it still has its challenges. The doctors are treating me with the intention of curing me.
I have had outlets for talking about what I’m going through. I mainly used Facebook to share the gospel through my illness in late December and onward. I purposely decided to start the blog without mentioning it at first and the reason for the blog was to exercise my gifts in teaching since I can’t commit to teaching in the church setting at the moment when I don’t know if I’ll be in the hospital or not on any given week. I can’t really plan much more than a week to two weeks ahead; somethings I can’t plan a few days ahead. But blogging can be done from the hospital or at home, easy enough.
That’s actually preamble to what I wanted to talk about, though it gives the necessary background since most of the readers won’t have heard it yet.
So, in light of my cancer, why do I continue to read linguistics and Greek grammar books? In light of the possibility that I don’t have long to live (and I don’t know what God’s plan actually is) why am I not running the streets telling everyone about Jesus and only reading the Bible?
Well, I am reading the Bible lots (both in English and in Greek) and I’m trying to use the gift God has given me (yes, cancer has been a gift) to glorify him and share Jesus through it to as many as will listen. I have been doing that on my Facebook, through my church, and other things like TV interviews and the like. Bringing glory to God is my number one goal and purpose in this time of cancer.
But, I haven’t stopped reading linguistics and Greek grammatical material. Why not? Well if I knew I only had a few months to live I would probably at least drop the mind boggling linguistics books! But I find that even in the face of death, I want to continue to grow in my knowledge of the Word and that requires continuing to understand the language of the Word. For that reason I continue to study these disciplines and apply them to the Bible. I’ve seen my knowledge of Jesus grow immensely in this time and I want to get to know him better and better and proclaim him better to those around me. For these reasons it seems reasonable to continue reading what I’m reading. That’s not everyone’s path but I believe it is mine.
Now that I’ve broken the ice with this post, I may write a bit on how my theology of suffering prepared me for this time, how this cancer has been a gift to our family, and things like that. And in the midst of this, I want to continue to try to share what I’m learning about the Word and teach it to those who will listen, so that, in the words of the apostle John, “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing may have life in his name.”
As I mentioned, the issue I brought up yesterday about pastors maintaining a certain acquaintance with scholarship in the biblical languages was predicated on the languages being important in the first place.
Andy Naselli has a post that highlights this issue, linking to Scott J. Hafemann’s thoughts (SBJT 3:2 (1999)), and quoting him at length on the best reason he has for pastors using the languages in preaching: tracing the flow of the argument of the text. The whole article (which includes other scholars) is worth reading but especially Hafemann’s thoughts on this issue.
The primary practical reason he gives to learn the languages is this:
[T]he confidence and humility it will bring to our ministries, while at the same time saving us countless hours of exertion and frustration. One hour with the text is worth ten in secondary literature. And at the more important theological level, learning the languages affirms the nature of biblical revelation, restores the proper authority of the pastor as teacher, and communicates to our people that the locus of meaning and authority of the Scriptures does not reside in us, but in the text, which we labor so hard to understand. We learn the languages because we are convinced of the inerrancy, sufficiency, and potency of the Word of God.
He said one other thing in there that lines up with one strand of my research that I will quote and leave for discussion another time: “…since every translation is the embodiment of thousands and thousands of interpretive decisions; a translation is a commentary on the Bible without footnotes.” I can see you salivating for more!