These are some of the questions my colleague, the Rabbi, raised in his recent post which has generated some interesting discussion. This issue has been brewing in me for some time now. In fact this post that you are reading was first drafted sometime in August and I have been wondering whether to publish it or not. In response to the Rabbi's post, I thought that it would be good to just share my thoughts on this issue.
There have been some debates whether biblical languages are still required in the seminary curriculum. In Malaysia, seminaries like Bible College of Malaysia, Malaysia Bible Seminari and Seminari Theoloji Malaysia require students to do at least one biblical language, and this is usually Greek, and Hebrew is often considered as an elective.
Having taught at two seminaries in Malaysia for the past seven years, these are some of the frequent comments I received from former and current students:
- I don't see the relevance of Greek or Hebrew in my ministry.
- I don't foresee that I would use Greek after the Greek or exegesis class is over in the seminary.
- Most pastors that I spoke to admit that they don't even refer to their Greek Bible after seminary, and they don't even use it in their ministry, whether in counselling, preaching, or teaching.
- Some pastors don't even have time to read commentaries in preparing for their sermon, much less referring to the Greek text.
- I don't see the benefit of learning Greek - after all, all that I did was to memorise the vocabulary and the various paradigms in order to pass the exams.
In addition, I have also received many complaints from students with regards to the difficulties in grasping Greek.
Therefore, the question is this: What is the use of learning something that I know I will never use it after seminary?
I recalled some years ago that something caught my attention when I visited the website of International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC), a research and postgraduate institution of the International Islamic University Malaysia that offers Masters and PhD programmes in Islamic Studies. For the language requirements, in addition to the mastery of Arabic language, I was very surprised that Greek was also required so that those who study Islamic studies are also able to read the Christian scripture in its original language.
(I must qualify that recent visit to the website of ISTAC, there is no mention of the requirement or the offering of Greek language in its course offering. Therefore, I am uncertain whether any other languages other than Arabic are now being offered to or made compulsory for the students).
The mastery of Arabic language for the Islamic Scholars is never an option nor a requirement; in fact it is taken for granted that any Islamic scholar is able to speak, read and recite the Quran in Arabic fluently. Can this also be said to be the case with Christian scholars, ministers and pastors?
If it is true that Muslim Scholars and ministers are learning Greek so that they are able to read the NT in its original language, how much more do the Christian scholars and ministers owe it to themselves to learn at least one biblical language so that they would be able to read their own scripture in its original language as well.
If it is true that Muslims scholars and ministers are able to read the sacred text of other faiths in its original language other than their own, how much more do the Christian scholars and ministers need to master biblical language. Would the Christian dare to do less than this?
Sometimes, I wonder whether why are we so prepared to take the easier path at the expense of future generation instead of willing to pay the price of learning biblical language and thereby gaining further insights into God's word? If our Muslim counterparts are able to do it, why not us? If we truly believe that our Bible is God's word, why are we willing to compromise? Do we actually love our scripture less?
Admittedly, I must also say that I have heard excellent sermons being preached without the speakers knowing the biblical languages. I often wonder if these preachers were to have some knowledge of biblical languages, would their sermon be better?
Having said that, I must also confess that sometimes the lack of interest in biblical languages could very well be due to our teaching methodology. Perhaps, we have failed to demonstrate to the students the treasure of learning Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps we have only taught the students the mechanical and technical aspects of the language where it is nothing beyond mere memorisation of the vocabulary and different paradigms just for the sake of passing the exams. Perhaps we have failed to show them the relevance of knowing Greek and Hebrew in their teaching and preaching.
I think we still have a long way to go before we could even be at par with our Muslim counterparts. Is anyone out there willing to journey with the Rabbi and the budding NT scholar?