Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are Learning Ancient Languages Useful for Pastors?

Random Musings on Theological Education #1

I know I am going to step on a few toes here as I think through some 'sacred', dare I say, 'cow' in theological education here. I am doing research and preparing a paper on theological education in Malaysia and Singapore and do value your feedback.

I wonder how useful is studying ancient Greek and Hebrews in training people who aim to be pastors. Here I am thinking of certificates, diplomas and degrees up to to M.Div level, and D.Min. Most of these are aiming for a pastoral ministry either in churches or para-church organisations. For those who aspire to M.Th or PhD, I have no argument that a knowledge in ancient languages is essential.

In my limited experience, most of the pastors and seminary graduates I know in pastoral work do not make use of their knowledge of ancient languages. In fact, they begin to forget the languages due to disuse once they have passed the required courses. Most of them prepare their sermons and teaching by use of commentaries. Often commentaries are written by people who spent their life on a single book so it will be a height of arrogance to think that a person with one or two semesters of ancient language will be able to understand the text in the original better than the scholars.

So in view of the tremendous of time and anguish spent on ancient languages in an already tight theological education curriculum, why do we insist that the students learn the ancient languages? Would the time not be better spent equipping the students to use secondary sources?

What do you think?




Blogger kc bob said...

This is a great statement Alex:

"Often commentaries are written by people who spent their life on a single book so it will be a height of arrogance to think that a person with one or two semesters of ancient language will be able to understand the text in the original better than the scholars."

I once could give you the Greek definition of grace but had not a grasp of grace in my life.. I was arrogant and judgmental. Better we understand the culture of the text than their Greek/Hebrew meanings.

1:16 AM  
Blogger yourshoeah said...

As someone who has gone through the mill and struggled through the classes, I think the study of the languages is still critical for those who wish to expound (or understand/and apply) the text in local contexts. Commentaries (for now) are still very western centric and not very useful for local pastors who want to be faithful in exposition.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks. There is a place for specialist and a place for generalist. The problem occurs when we confuse the both.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi yourshoeah,

While I agree with us that many commentaries are 'western centric,' there are however certain universal truths that we all share.

I believe some translation of the Bible are adequate for sound exegesis. Expounding the Bible in the local context demands sound knowledge of the local situation.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Lee Chee Keat said...

Being a Christian who uphold the evangelical's bible as the supreme authority in all our conduct and practices, knowing the languages is a non compromise.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hello Chee Keat,

Correct me if I am wrong but are you suggesting that ALL Christians must know biblical Greek and Hebrew?

10:13 PM  
Blogger yourshoeah said...

Dear Dr. Alex,

Knowing the Bible (and its intended meanings, tenses, structures and literary nuances) is critical for a exegetical understanding. Taking in the insights of an 'expert' exegete may be helpful, but may still color our perception of what the text may mean in the local context.

Knowing the context- non issue.

Of course, whether we have m'sian theologians brave (and competant) enough to join the both in coherent, fair and deep synthesis is another story. :)

But i'm glad for people like the budding NT scholar and others like him. I recommend seminary for every (lay)person, whether pastoral ministry is an option or not. And its not only the languages, but everything else- the community, the slow processing of things gleaned. Not all can be done in one sitting.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Lee Chee Keat said...

yup...all Christians should know if they could ideally. That would be great:)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Hedonese said...

Imho, I agree theological students dun really need to learn the original languages if pastoral ministry is the goal. It's good to have but not necessary. Face it, most would not discover anything original that others have not already found out. Maybe need it for M Div level in order to be able evaluate the arguments found in commentaries when it involve syntax, declensions etc but I dun see what essential benefit it gives that a good understanding of how to use secondary sources would not yield.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Hawariyun said...

Well it is good for any theological student to study at least one biblical language so that they are given the opportunity and exposure for such language. Usefulness? Only Allah will determine.

As for me after going 2 Greek classes with STM i decided to take a break for one year before taking Hebrews. Tak boleh tahan remembering those paradigms. Seriously it helped me when i exegete or when reading some commentaries... it does make sense usage of article, syntax blah2...

7:38 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Hawariyun,

Thanks for your comments. I am curious. Which commentaries do you read that need you to drawn upon your Greek 1 & 2? Does not most commentators explain the Greek used?

8:47 AM  

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