Sunday, September 4, 2016

What If Biblical Language Students Asked These Questions?

I wonder what Hebrew and Greek professors might say if a potential student asked them these three questions:
1. What's your favorite book on pedagogy? 
2. What's the last book you read on second language acquisition?
3. What do you think people do with Greek or Hebrew after your course? What percentage of them are using Greek or Hebrew (beyond possibly doing a very basic word study) three years after taking their last Greek or Hebrew course in seminary? What about five years? 
Honestly, I'm not optimistic about the answers to any of these questions––wherever you study.


  1. The "bottom line" question is the third one, and leads to a couple of other questions: 1) What is the purpose of having the Greek/Hebrew course in the curriculum? 2) What impact do you expect this course to have on the students future work in God's kingdom? and 3) Considering 1 & 2, what should be taught in your course?

    For example, if a seminary requires a semester or a year of a language, one has to ask what can be accomplished realistically, and then aim at that. Since I've been invited to teach Greek and Hebrew to small groups in churches, I've had the opportunity to ask those questions. The conclusion I've come to is that for someone who wants about a one semester experience, the goals need to be limited and directed. My choices? 1) Some basic linguistics, i.e. how languages work, especially in terms of word definitions. 2) A direct look at how biblical languages are used in commentaries and teaching. 3) Enough basics so the student can use basic reference sources. 4) Finally, a good grounding in what reference source level study (study when you can't be said to actually read the text) can and cannot accomplish for you.

    Out of a few dozen students who have studied with me I know of two who regularly make use of the languages they learned. That's not a large enough statistical sample to be meaningful, of course, but the key thing is that those two students each studied with me one-on-one for more than two years. That represents a huge investment on their part. Without that investment, there is a limit to what can be done.

    1. Great points, Henry!!! The parameters in which we find our courses, whether they be in a seminary setting or a local church setting (or just a one-on-one discipleship setting), should force us to reconsider the scope, goals, and sequence of our teaching. Unfortunately, even though we intuitively know that most people in seminary won't do more than two semesters of Greek or Hebrew, biblical language professors continue insisting those two courses can't change––throwing the responsibility on the student to take more classes and, in effect, making it his or her fault if he or she only gets rote grammar in a seminary setting . . . with maybe a dash of exegesis thrown in via the last week or a weekly devotional that lasts around 10 or 15 minutes before class (those are the traditional grammar-translation classes that I remember). I couldn't agree with you more––"The goals need to be limited and directed." I am more and more convinced that theological education should be driven to tasks and skills, especially in a seminary setting, not just a content dump or the practice of rudimentary skills that never transfer into local church ministry. I just keep asking myself, "Can we do better? Can we accomplish more?" And who knows . . . maybe if we connected our language courses to the real world more, maybe students would sign up for that third semester.