Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Making the case for Biblical Languages in seminary curricula

There's a wonderful blog post (in an excellent blog Seminarium) making the case for required biblical languages in seminary curricula.

I particularly like this paragraph:


But seminaries prepare ministers, not scholars…

Excellent point. In fact, I believe neglecting this point is the primary issue in our approach to teaching biblical languages. Often, a Hebrew or Greek class is oriented towards the would-be scholar—even if most of the students are preparing for ministry. The language geeks do well but most walk away with a mere passing grade and the unintended lesson that the Bible “isn’t really their thing.” In the worst-case scenario, capable, called, and conscientious would-be pastors are held back because they can’t memorize the aorist passive participle plural paradigm.
What if biblical language courses were realigned towards the knowledge and skills that ministers need? Lesson plans that integrate exegetical practices, homiletical cues, and theological interpretations are not only more effective pedagogically but also more useful in the long run. Effective ministers need not be able to cold translate a random passage but they should be able to help their hearers make interpretive leaps between our culture and the ancient world. Do we test our students on the intricacies of recognizing a jussive versus an imperfect, or on how this distinction has played a key role in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy? What I’m describing are language classes that help seminarians discern their orientation towards Bible.
At General Seminary we offer two years of elective biblical language instruction in Greek and Hebrew and occasionally we offer Syriac and Coptic. We include material from the early patristic period and continue to the creeds. Of special interest is the LXX, the Bible of the early Christian communities. Focus on the LXX can be integrated into classroom discussion through the topic When God Spoke Greek (see the review of Timothy Michael Law's excellent 2013 book with that title in the LA Review of Books here). Everyone of course has the New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) online.  The great benefit of this kind of focus is that we can broaden our knowledge of the early Christian tradition. And continued use of the LXX in Orthodox Christian traditions opens up a fruitful dialogue with Eastern Christian traditions today. 

1 comment:

Ann said...

We were required to take a language at HDS - I took Greek at EDS from Jim Dunkly - he taught us useful Koine Greek - how to analyze it using translation tools and reference books — most helpful for a preacher. We weren’t going to be deep readers or speaker - but we could discover more about the Bible’s language.