Is It a Waste of Time for Seminary Students (and Pastors) to Learn the Biblical Languages?

In the midst of a busy pastoral life, who could possibly maintain proficiency in the languages?

Behind this “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages are a couple of assumptions that need to be challenged.  First, the characterization of pastoral ministry as somehow incompatible with the languages (due to busyness, or other causes), is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what a pastorate is all about.  No doubt, pastors should be busy shepherding their flock, meeting with ministry leaders, and running the church.   But, the core of the calling is to be a “minister of the word.”

 

In another month or so, a new crop of seminary students will begin the grueling month-long experience of Summer Greek.   And, like all seminary students before them, they will begin to ask the question of why studying these ancient languages even matters.   After all, a few years after graduation all will be forgotten.   In the midst of a busy pastoral life, who could possibly maintain proficiency in the languages?

As a result of these questions, some students decide (very early on) that the biblical languages are just something to be endured.  They are like a hazing ritual at a college fraternity.  No one likes it, but you have to go through it to be in the club.  And then it will be over.

Behind this “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages are a couple of assumptions that need to be challenged.  First, the characterization of pastoral ministry as somehow incompatible with the languages (due to busyness, or other causes), is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what a pastorate is all about.  No doubt, pastors should be busy shepherding their flock, meeting with ministry leaders, and running the church.   But, the core of the calling is to be a “minister of the word.”

And if the pastoral call is to be a minister of the Word, then there is a significant component of pastoral life that should be devoted to serious study of the biblical text—beyond just the preparation for that week’s sermon.   Put differently, pastors should continue to be students.   They need to be readers, thinkers, and theologians.

Unfortunately many modern pastors do not view themselves this way.  This is evidenced by the language used to describe the place a pastor works at the church.  In prior generations, it used to be called the pastor’s “study” (because that is what he did in there!).  Now, it is called the pastor’s “office” (because pastors view themselves more as a CEO).

One of my biggest disappointments is when I go into a pastor’s office and see that there are no (or very few) books.   It is like going into a carpenter’s shop and seeing no tools.  I remind such pastors of the words of Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

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