Friday, May 2, 2014

A Case for Requiring Biblical Languages in Seminary

It's no secret that many students come to seminary fearing having to take Greek and Hebrew. Many can't see the point since we already possess so many good English translations. Indeed, I have struggled with the notion of requiring languages (see my post here) since many pastors never use them after seminary. And in the next curriculum about to be unveiled at Ashland Seminary, languages will no longer be required for most degrees.

But I'm still convinced that those going into ministry should be able to work with the original languages; and this means more than owning a copy of a Bible Software.

Over at the Seminarium Blog Reed Carlson has a good post in which he makes a case for requiring languages and answers the following statement that are often raised in opposition to requiring languages.

But seminaries prepare ministers, not scholars…
OK, but isn’t there an abundance of Bible 

translations, software, and other tools for that sort of thing?
Look, seminary curricula are already bloated with bookish coursework. We need more relevant learning experiences for the twenty-first century.
The Bible is just too big… 


  1. It makes me sad to hear that Greek and Hebrew will no longer be required. I understand that seminaries, to some degree, compete with one another and that some students will choose to attend schools that do not have that requirement. On the other hand, Ashland's requirement of these was a part of my reason for choosing to go there.

    I also understand that many pastors do not use their Greek and Hebrew. I get it. I just don't have the time to use these tools and, to my shame, I have forgotten far more than I wish I had. That said, I cannot imagine how much poorer my understanding of scripture would be (as well as comparing translations) without the time that I spent in those language classes. Where else would we grow to understand idioms and how grammar and style helps us to understand the mind of the authors, and see how we recognize the age of Old Testament writings by the changes in language, and hear invaluable lessons on history, culture, politics, and so many other things.

    I may not technically "use" the Greek and the Hebrew that I learned every day, but learning them shapes what I do, how I understand, and how I preach from scripture every single day. I have been changed for the better because I studied them and I cannot imagine how much poorer I would be if I had not.

  2. I can see the need for being able to work with the original languages (well enough to use a good dictionary) but not for pastors. The nuances don't matter that much in parish work.

    I also think there are easy ways to learn languages. So if the seminaries actually did some decent teaching the students wouldn't be so reluctant.

  3. I took two semesters of Greek and one semester of Hebrew in undergrad. I'm not proficient at all, especially after eight years, but I am able to make my way through a Greek or Hebrew heavy commentary, and I can use a Hebrew or Greek dictionary with considerably less fumbling. I'm looking to start my master's late this year or early next, and while I'm not excited to take Greek and Hebrew again, I know that it will be worthwhile.

  4. I am a second career pastor with some Bible College right after high school. I wasn't intending to become a "pastor" back then even though some people saw this in my future (I wasn't running from the call). When I did enter into the ministry via hard work as a youth worker, maturing as a man/husband/father and correspondence coursework, I was ordained and began full-time parish ministry.

    How I wish I took Greek even for only a class to get the basic stuff like I did Spanish in high school. Hebrew would be a dream. Even though I am in my fifties I would love to take some kind of "elementary" Greek. After over 20 years of pastoring and the last 10 of serious study of the Word of God, Greek would be a great benefit to me as a preacher- both in season and out of season.

    My son is in seminary and is looking forward to Greek class next fall. And I am cheering him all the way.