Friday, September 28, 2007

Hebrew? Greek? Anyone?

Kar Yong posted in his blog if biblical languages are still necessary in the seminary, triggered by a similar post by The Rabbi here.

He asked:
- Do we still need to teach Greek and Hebrew in the seminary?
- Is the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew a requirement for exegesis?
- Are biblical languages still necessary for Christian ministry?

I have utterly no influence in this field of work - that is, I am neither a scholar nor a seminarian but my answers are yes, yes and a resounding yes!

The Rabbi's Hebrew class suffered a 2-student-dropout. Let me tell you in our Greek class back in year 2004, when it was offered to us laypeople, the initial respond was tremendous. (I suppose for us, going for eh-hem Greek class sounded, well ... important!) The class size was more than 35! Siew Foong, our lecturer, was pretty worried on having such a huge class to handle, what more a language class. She did not have to worry long because by the time we sat for the exam for Elementary Greek 2 at the end of 2004, the size of the class - which we referred to as the remnants - was only about 11. A good 24 dropped out. And when we were doing a "sort of advanced" Greek using the book of Romans last year, we started off with only 6 of us from the same Elementary Greek group. But by the end of the session, only 5 of us remained. It goes without saying that teaching the biblical languages to non-seminarians suffers a worse fate.

Many question the need to have it at all: Hebrew and Greek is not relevant to one's ministry; they will never be used and will be forgotten after all; pastors nowadays don't refer to the Hebrew or Greek text anyway; there is no benefit, so why put in all the hard work; and they are utterly difficult to learn and master so why bother?

My thoughts linger around this one question: what is the basis of our ministry? If the ultimate basis is the bible as the word of God revealed to us, then the answer is simple. How can we understand his word deeply if we do not have an inkling what it says or mean in the original languages? If we say that our basis of ministry is God, God is revealed to us through his word. If we say that our basis of ministry is love, the love of God is revealed to us through his word. And if the basis of our ministry is theology, it comes out from a thorough study on his word. We cannot but admit that we can only know God through his revealed word, notwithstanding the experience and the personal relationship that we have with him or the belief some people may have about the "new prophetic word", the basis of all we do in ministry is still the word of God.

Love is a very good example. It is a commandment from God for every believer to love. But what is love? How does God love? How did he love? How are we to love? Whom are we to love? A trip into D.A. Carson's little but profound work, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, will show you that in order to understand this love that God has for us, this love that he commands us to live out in our daily life, we need to know some Hebrew and Greek.

I was out shopping today when I saw this sign. I practically burst out laughing.

I like what Paul commented in The Rabbi's post, "Many church members and people outside the church are generally no longer satisfied with clich├ęs and they are well-read. They ask deep penetrating questions (or will one day ask) that will require us to give answers that require us to show from the Bible why we believe what we say we believe. We need to go deeper than the surface of what the English translation of the text seems to say." I hope we won't be selling one shoe and giving away one sock, when we should be more complete in our understanding of the word of God to teach, lead, guide and disciple others to a richer life in Christ.



  1. Hi pearlie. Nice to get to know you via the internet. I sort of blog (more of ramble) at

    FYI, I am not an STM alumnus am an MBS alumnus though from reading Kar Yong's blogs, sure wish I had the chance to study at STM as well. Oh but Tan Jin Huat was a lecturer and dean at MBS during my time

    God bless

  2. Hi Paul,
    Nice to know you too :)
    I have never been to MBS though I have been schooled in Klang for 7 years, but at that time I was more into maths and chemistry rather than exegesis or church history ;)

  3. Hi Pearlie,

    I really like the connection you make between the one-shoe-one-sock sign and the teaching and preaching of God's Word.

    I thank God that you persevered until the end in learning Greek and remained the few remnants.

  4. Kar Yong,
    You are free to grab the pic and use it :) I made the connection during bible study yesterday!! Guilty as charged -- my mind WAS wandering ... haha

  5. hi all,

    I get the gist of the conversation which is going on in several blogs. But consider that this is the age of specialisation. Why do we non-seminarians needs to study the original language when there are specialists who have spent their whole lifetime doing it and have their findings for us to use?

    It is like, do we need to learn engineering in order to drive our cars?

  6. Yes, of course we can drive a car without knowing how it works, except that we may not be able to notice anything wrong with it if we don't know some CAR 101.
    Same goes with ministry I suppose. Knowing some Hebrew and Greek (I only have a bit of Greek 101! and losing it fast if I don't do anything about it) will put one into an advantage, not in the sense of being better than others of course, but able to be more mindful and aware of issues or whatever.

  7. hi pearlie,

    you are right that we need car 101. So how about teaching the laypeople how to use a concordance, do word studies, use and evaluate commentaries, use lexicons, and Bible study softwares.

    Right now, our ministries issues are not what this Greek word means, its participles and tense but what does the Bible teaches about a specific issues.