Seminaries, Biblical Languages, and Bible Software

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 29 13:02:02 UTC 2008

Seminaries, Biblical Languages, and Bible Software

I have been giving thought lately to the requirement of languages at
seminaries.  At Gordon Conwell, an M.Div student must take a year of
Greek and Hebrew, an MA in Old Testament student must take a singular
year of Hebrew (and that is it).  This is not really unique to GCTS;
many schools have a one year (two semesters) language policy.  I know
several seminary grads who are now veterans within ministry (10+
years), and not a single pastor that I personally know of uses both
Hebrew and Greek in their ministry in a real way[1].  The Pastor of my
church is a "Gospels" guy, and he does use his Greek every week.  He
translates a passage before he ever writes a sermon, but he is the
only person I know that actively uses a language that he learned in
seminary to enrich his ministry.  When our colleagues find out that he
uses Greek that frequently, they are usually shocked.  A seminary
graduate rarely uses the Biblical Languages once they leave the
academic environment of the seminary, and this is the trend that seems
to be on the rise.

Unfortunately I don't see a way of correcting this trend.  Keeping up
with your languages or even working with the languages is the only way
one is going to be able to retain their skill set.  However "keeping
up" with your languages takes time, and that is a precious commodity
in the Pastorate.  More and more pastors have taken on extra roles,
which also can include being bi-vocational.  In the context of a
smaller church, pastors often become psychologists, worship leaders,
chairs of the various administrative boards, cheerleaders at various
sporting activities, lunch dates, heads of hospitality, civil servants
providing religious pageantry to the masses, etc.  But these are just
one set of demands that are placed on those in the ministry, don't
forget the familial obligations of those in this profession.  All of
these obligations, self imposed or otherwise, leave little room for
habitual use of the biblical languages, so eventually the grammatical
chops that were acquired begin to atrophy until all that remains is a
haunting paradigm chart that has been etched into your mind, but
disconnected from any remembered meaning.

Seminaries could add more language requirements to their degree
tracts, but I don't see that being the answer.  More stringent
requirements do not address the problem of the appropriation of time
within that Pastorate once their degree becomes nothing more than
another piece of "art" or "memorabilia" that adorns their office
walls.  Higher expectations sadly do not change the future priorities
of anyone, especially in the face of such a fragmented profession.

As someone who has hurled himself head long into the academic waters,
this trend does sadden me.  I obviously see the benefits of knowing
the Biblical languages.  I see how the use of biblical languages can
enrich congregations.  I would like all pastors to use the languages,
but I am a realist and see this as a trend that will most likely not
be bucked.

The above thoughts bring me back to my initial consideration of
language requirements in seminaries.  I DON'T think seminaries should
drop their language requirements.  So what could realistically help
the situation?  I don't know, but maybe if language professors could
integrate the use of computer aided software such as a Logos or
BibleWorks into the mix, maybe then we might be able to show how
pastors can easily incorporate the original languages into their
devotional/preparatory time.

Now before everyone who reads this freaks out, hear me out first.
Pastors are not using the languages anyways, so it's not like this
suggestion could make matters any worse, right?  The ones that do use
the languages, often abuse them horribly by doing awful word
studies[2].  However, if a course is offered that integrates language
theory (which is essential), basic conceptions of the particular
language, and computer aided software; then maybe these future pastors
will use this kind of knowledge in their future ministries?  Who
knows, maybe with frequency some of the language will "rub off" on
these pastors by their constant use of these programs?  I am
completely aware that Logos and BibleWorks can be an awful crutch, and
using them, often makes students lazy because they won't have to
remember things that students of an earlier age did remember, but is
this any worse than the current state of affairs?  You be the judge.

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