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Should Seminary Students Learn Hebrew and Greek?

October 18, 2010

Jim West has asked the question today, “Should Seminary students learn Hebrew and Greek?” He answered, “absolutely,” and I agree.

Often pastors or seminarians will be too “busy” to learn or engage with the original languages. I am the son of a pastor, and I have seen the strains that can be placed on one person emotionally and time-wise when they take too much upon themselves. However, I believe some of these “time” issues arise from the pastor as CEO model of many modern churches.There are many things that could be said about this one way or the other, but what I would like to focus on is preaching.

Now I don’t think I would get much argument if I was to say one of the important jobs, if not the most important, for a preacher is actually preaching. The clue is in the name. Therefore the issue for me would be then: does learning the original languages make one a better preacher? My answer, the same as Jim’s, would be absolutely. There are a hundred examples of this already here on my blog but let me give you a new one.

Recently, my brain had to be abused as I sat through a forty-minute sermon that was built on a few exegetical fallacies to set up a rhetorical dichotomy to “spur on” the congregation. Basically it went like this: the logos word of God is the written word, the rhema word of God is the living word. We don’t just want dead legalism and law. The letter kills but the spirit gives life. Let us pursue the rhema word of God.

Now, I get what this guy was going for. There’s just a few problems a) dichotomies can be false (false dilemma fallacy here) b) he brutalized the Bible to make his point (one meaning fallacy for his Greek words).

I like to keep my iPhone handy so while the pastor was droning on I pulled up my Logos (Bible program) and did a quick search for logos (Greek word). I had a certain verse in mind, and lo and behold:

Ζῶν γὰρ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐνεργὴς

For the logos of God is living and active

Let us not forget as well that in John, Jesus is the logos.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and God was the logos

We could do this for a long time as logos and rhema are common words in the New Testament, but hopefully with just two examples you can see that expressing logos as the dead, legalistic, law, written word is problematic for a variety of reasons. (Seriously, wouldn’t nomos or graphe be easier choices?)

So what, you say? He was merely trying to make a point that is true even though he used the wrong words. Well first his point wasn’t true, and second it wasn’t his point. When I showed the pastor (who is an extremely nice guy, and who always asks me about his sermons) just how faulty his exegesis and reasoning was, with unsustainable logic that reached a faulty conclusion the truth came out: he was taught the ‘meanings’ in seminary. Guess what they didn’t teach him? That’s right, any original languages.

So what do we ultimately have then? It’s what I like to refer to as indoctrinate and regurgitate. Here’s the denominational line, don’t ask any questions, go out and do the same.

I suppose another question related to Jim’s could be, “Should Seminary Students Learn?” From some of the sermons I have listened to the answer to that question has been a resounding  “NO!”

If Bultmann was right, that we encounter the Christ of faith in the language event of the kerygma, then some congregations haven’t met him in a while!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2010 12:01 pm

    well and rightly said

  2. EricW permalink
    October 18, 2010 1:56 pm

    Thanks to Logos, I’m currently reading McLay’s The Use of the Septuagint in New Testament Research. It’s unsettling some of my presuppositions re: how much the NT depended on the LXX versus the MT, and maybe it should unsettle statements that some make (like Lee Martin McDonald in his book on The Biblical Canon, IIRC) that 90%+ of the NT uses of the OT were from the LXX. Because determining what Vorlage the LXX translator – and hence the NT author – may have been using just ain’t that simple, because translation is a complex and complicated process. McLay proposes a Translation Theory in his book, and to get to his theory, he first gives lots of explanations and examples of how the translation process works. Which a geek like me finds fascinating.

    Yet despite the perils and problems of translation, it’s MUCH BETTER, IMO, to be able at least to work with the original texts than with a translation. And that gets to the subject of your post. IMO, persons who wish to teach or preach from the Scriptures, esp. those who do so in professional capacity, need to have some facility with the original languages. Logos is making that extremely easy, and the new Logos video series by Dr. Mike Heiser and Johnny Cisneros (“Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software”) even has the student eschewing resorting to lexicons in favor of first doing their own in-depth word studies with the texts and the tools that Logos 4 now provides (or at least Dr. Heiser’s part on Biblical Hebrew does).

    So for professional preachers, I would say at least 2 years each of Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew in seminary, with regular personal reading and studying in the original language texts thereafter and using tools like Logos to aid one’s studies. If one is preaching from a text, one should at least do a study of that text in the original language before getting in the pulpit.

    As for the logos/rhema dichotomy/definition, I think if one looked at the uses of the words in the LXX, one would find that they don’t fit the “word of faith” teaching definition of what kind of “word” each one means or where one would expect them (e.g., “the word of the LORD came to….”)

    My two drachmas.

  3. October 18, 2010 2:14 pm

    Amen. I find the trick is to look at their eyes, if when the say “Greek” or “Hebrew” their eyes get noticably wider then they have no idea what they are talking about.

  4. October 18, 2010 2:21 pm


    I too have sat through those same painful sermons. But I am not sure that talking about how someone abuses Greek is proof that they need to learn it. The only thing this proves is why they should not use the languages.

    • October 19, 2010 10:18 am


      The answer to this question is obviously a long one as we both know those that have some familiarity with the language can be apt to abuse it as well. In the long run, and for the sake of brevity, I would suggest that for the most part facility with the languages will make one a better expositor, therefore, students should learn the languages. Sometimes examples of how things shouldn’t be can be effective, and I believe that the unspoken element in the above post is that the unnamed pastor would have been better served with better knowledge of the language.

  5. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    October 18, 2010 2:34 pm

    Ah, the old terrible false dichotomy of logos and rhema. 😦 It may be bad when pastors trot that out but it gets downright freaky when completely untrained lay people trot it out to defend their personalized, idiosyncratic takes on passages. A passage in Ezekiel thus refers to the Soviet Union because we “all” can see that Gog and Magog refer to Russia and Afghanistan, can’t we? The older I get and the more I study the Bible the more it seems that the purpose of the “letter” is to kill the “spirit” of how people bend the “letter” to say whatever they want it to say. 🙂

  6. October 18, 2010 2:51 pm

    Erasmus is still right: whoever neglects the study of Hebrew and Greek and still dabbles in Bible exposition non theologus est, but a sacrae theologiae violator.

  7. October 18, 2010 3:09 pm

    I seem to recall the logos – rhema heresy dichotomy has been around in mainly charismatic and restorationist circles since at least the early eighties.

  8. October 19, 2010 10:30 am

    That’s a DAMMED LIE!! EVERYONE knows you should ONLY read the KING JAMESES VERSSION wroten just like as JESUS SIAD IT!!!

    HEBREW and especially GREEK is the DEVIL!

  9. October 19, 2010 12:38 pm

    Brian @
    Marking to your words i dont agree as you said that HEBREW and GREEK is the Devil.
    Answering to the question that do Should Seminary Students Learn? I would certainly go for its positive answer.

  10. Emerson Fast permalink
    October 19, 2010 4:15 pm


    You’ve gotta be drawing from some extremely personal experience to cap this off. What’s the worst exegetical blunder you’ve made yourself Mr. “agathos”?

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