The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Dan Wallace on learning biblical languages

In a post entitled "Is the Bible that big of a mystery," Dan Wallace explores the tension between the necessity of learning biblical languages and the propensity of such learners to pride or even gnosticism. It is of course an excellent read. I think that it is important for biblical scholars to regularly remind themselves of their proper role within the church. Wallace, who wrote one of the most popular New Testament Greek grammars, is a particularly good source for this admonition.

Part of Wallace's article touches on the importance of original langue training for ministry:

It should be obvious to all Bible-believing Christians that those who are training for ministry ought to know the languages. This is a sine qua non. They must know them because they are teachers of the church, leaders of the flock. They are not called ‘shepherds’ for no reason.

It probably comes as no surprise that Wallace holds that Bible-believing Christians should learn the languages for ministry. What is interesting is how he phrases it here. This provides an excellent opportunity for my hobby of checking doctrinal statements to see if God or the scriptures are listed first. A quick check of the Dallas Theological Seminary (where Wallace teaches) website reveals that they indeed affirm scripture as primary. It would follow then that Christian ministers should be better with the scriptures than with theology proper, if the ordering of the doctrinal statement has any logical bearing on orthopraxy (maybe it doesn't, though).

Is original language proficiency really essential for ministry? Is it more important than other pastoral skills? I'm inclined to apply a categorical imperative to Christian practice: does this practice make sense for all Christians at all times? In the case of proficiency with the scriptures, I would have to give a qualified answer, since for quite a while the church lived without a New Testament, and "original language" study of it was nonetheless pointless for native Greek speakers. That being said, I think knowing Hebrew was very important for early Christian ministers, and I think original language knowledge is very helpful for all ministers who teach the scriptures.

Perhaps my categorical imperative is not sound. Nonetheless, I'm inclined to think that it is OK for Christian ministers to not know the original languages, since I don't necessarily agree that teaching the scriptures is a sine qua non for Christian ministry. I think there is enough diversity in the body that not all vocational ministers necessarily need to focus on the scriptures.

This is a pertinent question for my congregation, since we are looking for a new lead pastor. As a part of the process, we've been asked to rank various pastoral duties in order of importance to us. I wonder how preaching/teaching will come out in those surveys.

Category: Christianity