Are Biblical Languages Necessary for (Postmodern) Ministry?

Recently I was asked this by a good friend.

So as I plow my way through Regent’s summer Hebrew intensive (affectionately coined “suicide Hebrew” by students) I reflect on this question again. And my answer is still unwaveringly – yes. With all the gravitas I can inflect through a blog post – yes. Can you hear it in my voice? So what’s so important that someone would subject themselves to the torture of pronominal suffixes and third declension nouns when we have just fine English translations? And what about the postmodern context? Does that change anything (I really think not but adding the word “postmodern” tends to make everything sexy, like black-rimmed glasses and facial stubble)? I think John Piper is dead-on on this one:

One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the depreciation of the pastoral office. From seminaries to denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational, and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost.

One glaring example is the nature of the doctor of ministry programs across the country.

The theory is good: continuing education makes for better ministers. But where can you do a D.Min. in Hebrew languages and exegesis? Yet what is more important and more deeply practical for the pastoral office than advancing in Greek and Hebrew exegesis by which we mine God’s treasures?

John Piper, excerpted from

Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry

However you feel about Piper – he’s awfully close to the mark, no? I’ve wondered the same; where can one pursue an advanced degree for ministerial purposes that focuses on languages and exegesis? Because even after 2 years of languages, in the words of my Greek teacher after a full year of Greek: “Now you know just enough to be dangerous.”

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

5 thoughts on “Are Biblical Languages Necessary for (Postmodern) Ministry?

  1. On of my fellow ThM students at Regent was a pastor doing a thesis on an obscure point of grammar in Amos. I hope that, unlike me, he has now finished! But that is to say… it can be done. I looked up Piper’s academic background and see that he himself has put in the work (PhD in NT). But I’m confused as to how an intensively academic exposure to the NT could land you in Calvinism. ha ha.

  2. I’m not educated in these things, but I wonder… once the language has been translated why is it so important to study in the original language? After all the gospels themselves are translations since Jesus likely spoke mostly in Aramaic. I seriously don’t know what I think about the issue.

  3. It seems to me that gaining at least a basic reading competency in the original languages is a very “postmodern” thing to do–at least in the sense that trying our best to encounter and learn from another culture and way of thinking is a valuable thing to do. As anyone who has spent time learning any other language knows, it is an art of learning not just new vocabulary, but different ways of framing our thoughts. Differences between languages often reflect deeper cultural values and habits of thinking (although this reflection can also be overemphasized), and while we can never truly enter into the “horizon” of a different people from a different time, our approaches toward reading and writing in the original languages of Scripture can only help us engage these texts in a humbler and more enriching way.

    1. Spot on, I think. And we might see the refusal to study languages as associated with the modern concept of language as carrying one single meaning (univocal) that can be accurately translated into any other language without loss of meaning, even our debased English.

  4. We should go back to the hebrew roots of the Bible – Mainstream Christianity insists “Jesus” preached the Gospel – the Good News about the Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection, which is all they tend to focus on. But the Scriptures, read in context, reveal He did NOT preach those things at all; rather, He preached the Kingdom of YHVH (Yahweh)!

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