Monday, March 28, 2016

John MacArthur On The Biblical Languages

Someone asked John MacArthur about the biblical languages at a chapel back in October. You can watch the whole session here. The text below appears around 41:00. Here is his response:
"Look, I went to college. I took a Greek minor. I took ten units my freshman year. I took six units my sophomore year. I took four my junior year. I took four my senior year. The college didn't require that obviously. My last two years I was the only person in the class. I was being tutored by the Greek guy. I came to seminary and I took a little bit more. I only took a year of Hebrew. I was kinda focused on the New Testament. I don't think that's the beginning and end of everything. I think a, look, whether you take one year of language, two years of language, or three years of a language, you're still going to have a dependency on linguistic scholarship, okay. You're not going to be able to go out there and fly on your own. What I would want the languages here to do for you is to give you facility with all the best resources and to have enough knowledge to be able to evaluate the validity of somebody that you're reading. I just think you're going to still be dependent on that to some degree. But what you will do, and this is what I wound up doing in my life, is start out with that basic knowledge of Greek and then I spend my whole life, every week of my life, in a Greek New Testament and reading both commentaries on the original and commentaries on the English. So what we want to do is give you enough of a foundation that you're launched and then developmentally, depending on how faithful you are to study the Word of God, you enrich that as you go."
My take aways, for what it's worth:

1. The issue is one of faithfulness. "To whom much is given, much is required." Faithfulness with Greek is measured as much by how you study while in you're in your Greek class as it is with how you incorporate it in your study of the New Testament in the days, months, and years that follow your time in seminary. No one can make you pick up that Greek New Testament, a lexicon, an exegetical commentary, or even your beginning Greek grammar. The choice is one we have to make for ourselves. The command to "study to show yourself approved" is forever qualified in the life of someone who has been entrusted with time and resources to study the biblical languages. Once you step foot in a Greek class, once you write a check using the Lord's money to pay for a Greek grammar or tuition for a Greek class, accountability for how we use those resources comes into effect. And we learn these languages for the exclusive purpose of being able to know and understand the Word of God with greater clarity.

2. Biblical language courses in seminary are not designed to keep you from theological resources like commentaries or even English translations. I don't want people less engaged in New Testament research because they have Greek. I want them more engaged. Knowing the languages frees us from having to lean entirely on these resources, so that we can delicately and with the most profound respect get our eyes closer to the text and see the richness and detail of God's inspired Word. It's the difference between looking at a painting or a photograph. It's the difference between looking at the Grand Canyon from the skywalk on the western rim, or dropping down into the canyon for a ride along the trail.

3. Biblical language courses in seminary are not designed to be exhaustive. They are limited. The time you have to study is limited, and there is more to preparing a person for Christian ministry than just giving him the languages. A well-rounded theological education includes the languages, but it is not just the languages. And these courses can no more teach you all there is to know about Hebrew or Greek than a theology course can teach you all there is to know about theology. They are limited in scope. And I appreciate John pointing this out. The goal is to equip people to use Hebrew and Greek in ministry and to use tools that incorporate Hebrew and Greek, able to evaluate their arguments and reasoning the best they possibly can while incorporating sound hermeneutics.

4. You're going to learn Hebrew and Greek for the rest of your life if you use it day in and day out in ways that have a bearing on your ministry. Sitting down and just trying to nail paradigms for the rest of your life for the sake of finally getting those -μι verbs that killed you so bad in seminary is not the best use of your time. Believe me. Studying a passage and forcing yourself to go beyond the word study books and sermon-based commentaries is going to do more for your Greek and more for your time in God's Word. Get those harder-to-digest exegetical commentaries, buy an intermediate Greek grammar if you don't have one, and start asking grammatical questions about a text. Start asking yourself, why does he use the aorist imperative here instead of the present imperative. And then, if you don't know the answer, go to the sources that can give you that answer. Do that a couple of times with that issue and you'll soon realize you don't have to go find that answer anymore, and then you can start finding other answers when you're looking at passage–like what kind of aspect is being stressed here, or why does my English translation have a finite verb here when the Greek has a participle?

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