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Mike Heiser

Ouch! Can't say I'm surprised, though.


I'm not going to say the school because some of my former profs are occasional bibliobloggers, and some of the other profs at my schools are also bibliobloggers.

As for Greek, whenever I was studying for my M.Div, I was greatly displeased with the level most of my peers reached to pass the class. The seminary required two years, but the professors standards were rather low.

I would say that of the 200 or so students that I had class with over those two years, maybe 10-15% could pick up their Greek NT and read unaided (for the most part) by the end of the two years. Most still relied heavily on lexicons and grammars after two years.

Now, that was much better than Hebrew. At the time I studied the seminary only required one year of Hebrew for an M.Div (I know, isn't that sickening?). Most students never even bought a BHS. Fortunately, I had two years of Hebrew in my undergrad, and took two more at seminary. In seminary, I had a great professor, who had much higher standards than any of the Greek professors. Of course this meant that despite being at a very large school, her exegesis classes had 7-10 students max. On the good side this meant we developed better relationships with her as compared to some other profs.



Thanks for sharing. We live in an era of low expectations. It's nice to see that you found someone who challenged you to go the extra mile, and that you benefited there from.

James Gregory

My undergraduate coursework was much more rigorous than my graduate coursework in Greek and Hebrew.

Here's a case-in-point comparison in respect to translation and reading:

The goal for my undergraduate Greek class was to sight read after 2 semesters. By the end of 2 semesters, we had translated 1 John, and by the end of the fourth semester, I had translated Philippians, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and more.

My graduate coursework, however, in stark contrast, by the end of the three quarter program, we never translated a book of the New Testament.

In regards to learning:

My undergraduate Greek course had impromptu weekly quizzes and homework was turned in daily. Our tests and finals were closed-text.

My graduate Greek course had weekly quizzes that were made available online prior to taking the quiz in class. Homework was never collected. Tests, for the majority of the time, were open-text.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am grateful for my graduate studies, even for the coursework in Greek and Hebrew. Studying these languages throughout the course of my graduate degree was helpful for keeping my skills sharp. I make the observations above simply as a matter-of-fact.

Rick Brannan

I feel as if I've been called out. Not sure why, though. I don't have an M.Div. and have not formally pursued the coursework, so I can't say what I would expect as to technical competency. My Greek knowledge comes from a year of classical (Attic) that I took when I was a senior in college, and fifteen years of off-and-on and somewhat directed study since then.

What I *would* say is that *by all means* folks preaching and writing should be capable with the passage's original language (Hebrew or Greek). But if, while preaching to a general audience on a general Sunday morning or writing to a general audience, you feel the need to say "and in the Greek ..."; well, you need to stop right there and rethink -- particularly if you're making a grammatical point instead of a simple lexical point. Too often, even if you're technically correct, the people who know the languages are already cringing at what you're saying, and the people who don't know the languages have no idea what you're saying. They just listen and think you must be right, whether you are or not, because after all, you're the guy in the pulpit.

Make your point some other way. Yes, you need to have done the homework and need to have understood the underlying language issues; but that doesn't mean you need to communicate them in the course of your homily or writing. Your job is to make the passage meaningful, not to brain-dump your lexical and grammatical homework.

In the cited example, Bell doesn't need to appeal to the aorist at all; or the verb for that matter, or even the Greek noun itself. He just needs to call attention to "anger" in the passage if that's his point. Talk about the collocation "looked around in anger" because that's the interesting picture in the passage whether you're in the 1st century or the 21st century. Mentioning "aorist" gets you nothing.

Lots of ways to handle this; appealing to the aorist (which nobody who hasn't taken Greek will understand) only confuses.

This from a guy (me) who recently heard a sermon noting that υπομονη literally means "to remain under" -- in this case, the illustrations would've been just as effective with the translation "perseverance" instead of "remain under". But for some reason, using stilted, cryptic language as the 'literal translation' carries more weight than just using English.

If your audience's language is English, then use English. If you choose otherwise, do the extra diligence to be completely sure that you're right, and that your audience really will understand what you're attempting to communicate.



That is very interesting.


I called you out, because I figured you would say things I would like to say, but with better examples and more clarity than I can muster.

I was right.

However, I have changed my ways of late. I throw in a Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian or German word once in a while now, not, I hope, to make some off-the-wall exegetical point, but just to make words come alive. Etymology, which is often abused, is sometimes helpful in this respect.

Thus I don't mind explaining that pastor = pastore in Italian is the exact same word used to refer in that language to a herdsman or shepherd. That gives me an excuse, furthermore, to joke about the pastori I knew in Sicily, members of my Italian Methodist congregation, who just had to whistle, and dogs and sheep came running. I wish I could whistle like that.

Thanks for your insights.

Rick Brannan

Hi John.

No doubts that etymology and grammar of other languages can be helpful in illuminating the text; hence the last paragraph in my comment.

From all of your stuff I've read, I'd guess you'd be on the "using it responsibly" side of the equation.


- Rick

David Reimer

Weird! Didn't this just come up on Andy Naselli's blog?

Mike Aubrey

Wow, the comment box finally worked! Well, here's my thoughts:

Carl Conrad

I sometimes feel like this slightly-adjusted rebuke has been directed to me personally:

Rom 2:19 πέποιθάς τε σεαυτὸν ὁδηγὸν εἶναι τυφλῶν, φῶς τῶν ἐν σκότει, 20 παιδευτὴν ἀφρόνων, διδάσκαλον νηπίων, ἔχοντα τὴν μόρφωσιν τῆς γνώσεως καὶ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐν τῇ γραμματικῇ;

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)



Thanks for the heads up about the earlier post on Andy Naselli's blog. You encourage me to check Andy's blog out more often. For the benefit of readers here, I will quote your comment on Andy's thread:

If everyone who reads this post goes away and finds Frank Stagg’s “classic”, “The Abused Aorist”, JBL 91 (1972), pp. 222-31, then reads that and takes it to heart, the post will have been worth it. Who knows. Maybe Rob Bell will read it too. :)

Mike Aubrey,

Thanks for the follow-up.

David Ker

I smell blood...


I remember when I first heard of Bell (due to a pastor I worked with having questions about one of his sermons) I was initially intrigued by someone so popular teaching the things that he taught. However, eventually his use of Greek and Hebrew became rather distracting at times although I realized it was usually just me that was annoyed by his errors with those languages. He also really annoyed me with his understanding of Jesus as rabbi as well as Bell's misuse of rabbinical teachings.

He's an interesting pastor/author/whatever else to me though. On one hand, his stretching of such simple terms as "ta panta" into something much more drives me up the wall, but then i hear later in his sermon of how his goal for their church for that year was to eliminate poverty in their city.

I guess what I'm getting at is that he can be annoying to those in the biblioblog world and those trained in biblical languages, but I'd urge those practicing in the church who are trained in that area to reconsider their critiques of Bell. Sure, his Greek and Hebrew could definitely use some work. So could his exegesis and historical research. But, I guess on the other hand he's still more beneficial for a congregation than a great number of pastors I've heard.

I've come to realize that a great majority of the things that annoy me about him don't annoy the majority of people in the church. In all honesty, my wife doesn't care if he's a little to playful with the name YHWH; the video inspired her and her faith, and that to her was the point of watching it.

Even tonight, I had a friend at church whose son is in my mid high program who was laughing with me because she was checking out something on my blog and said that not only did she not understand the Hebrew part (well duh), but she was laughing because she didn't understand my explanation of the Hebrew and why it was significant for the topic of the blog.

I say all this to say that I think Rick is spot on about using a more inductive method of incorporating Hebrew and Greek understandings into our sermons, lessons, and writings. Because like it or not, most people in virtually every congregation simply aren't interested in what the Greek or Hebrew has to say.

Finally, Bell may agitate those of us who are trained in and in love with biblical languages. But from a faith aspect, he is far less irritating than the majority of the crap that fills Christian consumer markets. I've seen the affect his teachings have had on many of my Christian friends and those at churches I've been a part of and it is typically always more healthy than changes brought on by the latest left behind book, or Osteen, Lucado, or the many books taught to defend from this or that "fallacy". I'd much rather my students in the college group read Bell than Piper any day. Sure Piper could mop the floor with Bell in biblical studies, but I'd much rather my students be inspired by Bell's message than that of Piper any day.

I say all this not as one who studied Greek and Hebrew years ago to get through seminary and now has forgotten it all due to a full-time ministry position, but rather one who acknowledges that our congregations may not share the same desires as we do in this field. I am at work on changing that in my congregation, however, as I currently am teaching a free class on Biblical Hebrew and will be teaching a class on Greek as well.




What an exceptionally fine comment.

BTW, Carl Conrad makes the very same point in a very concise way upthread, but, since he is after all a teacher of the language, he forces you to refresh your Greek in the process.


Just arrived in Stellenbosch. Thoughts soon to come


Daniel and Tonya,

That is so exciting! What adventures lie ahead of you. Adventures in learning but also in life. You're not in Kansas anymore.


Speaking of Greek - I need to seriously revisit it. What grammar do you recommend for SEPTUAGINT Greek???

P.S. John Piper is a great example of a pastor who actually knows his Greek, and this article is really great as a motivation for pastors:



Which seminaries do you guys feel require students to actually have facility with the languages after a couple years?



My quick answer: those seminaries that will have the good sense to offer someone like Cristian Rata, who loves the languages and the literature, a first-class position on faculty.

Even in those seminaries that have weak language requirements, what a blessing to have people on the faculty who can teach the languages to the students who want to learn them.

Richard Averbeck at TEDS has 10 or more students reading Akkadian with him, and another 10 reading Sumerian with him. Now that's classy, and will reinforce the students' love of all things Hebrew and biblical.

John C. Poirier

Things may be getting worse. Indiana Wesleyan University just announced an M.Div. program which not only lacks any language courses whatsoever, but also only requires *one* Bible class period!

Absolutely amazing, and sad to boot.



That is amazing. Obviously, the University is Wesleyan in name only. Think of how much Greek and Latin, just for starters, the Wesleys knew.

For all I know, it remains a fine university, but it is a cut flower whose bloom will soon drop off. It has severed itself from its roots. It lacks grounding in the very soil from which it was born.

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