Archives For seminary

Tim Raymond has just completed a 4 part series on the Credo blog. His series title is a good description: How to Keep the Seminary Christian. Here you can find part one,

part two,

part three,

and part four.

His intro to part 1:

For decades, seminary education has endured the slings and arrows of bad jokes, unkind mockery, and downright slander. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a disillusioned preacher intentionally misspeak, recalling his years in “cemetery, I mean seminary,” I might be able to buy something edible. It would be easy for the average Christian to think wrongly, like Nathaniel did with Nazareth, that nothing good can come out of seminary.

Recently, however, the critiques of seminary have taken on a different form. If you’ve been following the blog chatter, you know that it’s become popular almost to assume that seminary is this dangerous place where young people are continually going shipwreck in the faith.

Now having spent a number of years in seminary myself, I have a few different reactions to all of this. First, I’m somewhat baffled. Baffled because I think we need to ask the obvious question, “What has so gone wrong that the process whereby we train future pastors, church planters, missionaries, and theologians has degenerated into a crisis of faith?” …

My second response has been one of relief – profound, grateful, relief. Relief, because my years in seminary were a far cry from a crisis of faith. Instead they were four years of concentrated biblical, spiritual, intellectual, and leadership maturation…

And by the conclusion of my seminary experience, there was nothing I wanted to do more than serve Christ by pastoring His church.

Now as a result of these recent blog articles, I’ve done a good bit of reflecting on why my educational experience was so different from what so many others are apparently suffering through in seminary. In my next few posts, I’ll consider some of the factors that I believe resulted in my seminary feeding my soul as opposed to killing my faith.

I commend Tim’s thoughtful articles to anyone concerned about ministry and preparing the next generation of pastors.

Why seminary?

December 13, 2011

Just read a good post by Mark Snoeberger on why seminary training is so important for ministry preparation.

Seminary: Learning to Fly in “Alternate Law”

Why you learn Greek

May 3, 2009

Why do you have to learn Greek in seminary? Lots of reasons, but here’s a good illustration. I have my first year class of 26 students particularly in mind here. (They just took their final exams on Thurs. and are awaiting the verdict!) This is what you can do now with the Greek you’ve learned. You might not have everything figured out yet, but this is well within your grasp.

This morning I began a new series in the adult Bible class at my church. After spending the last two years in the Gospel of Mark, I’m now embarking on Hebrews. The past month was a survey of Exodus and Leviticus in preparation for Hebrews, but this morning we plunged into the first paragraph of “the anonymous homily.”

If you were reading that paragraph (1:1–4) in almost any English translation, you would probably conclude that there were four or five main statements—which homiletically you might want to convert into as many sermon points. For example, here’s ESV (you know, the one that is advertised as being “essentially literal”? 🙂 But many translations do something similar):

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

But if you look at your Greek text you’d discover that the sentence is structured quite differently. There are really only two main statements—one of them is technically a relative clause, but since that is the one the writer develops, it’s fair to say two (also note the punctuation preceding it). In the text following I’ve bolded the two subject/verb pairs and used a strike-out for all the participles and two finite forms in subordinate clauses (not because they are to be deleted! but to show you which are primary and which are secondary statements).

Πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως πάλαι ὁ θεὸς λαλήσας τοῖς πατράσιν ἐν τοῖς προφήταις 2 ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτου τῶν ἡμερῶν τούτων ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, ὃν ἔθηκεν κληρονόμον πάντων, δι᾿ οὗ καὶ ἐποίησεν τοὺς αἰῶνας· 3 ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, φέρων τε τὰ πάντα τῷ ῥήματι τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ, καθαρισμὸν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ποιησάμενος ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν ὑψηλοῖς, 4 τοσούτῳ κρείττων γενόμενος τῶν ἀγγέλων ὅσῳ διαφορώτερον παρ᾿ αὐτοὺς κεκληρονόμηκεν ὄνομα.

1. God has spoken.

2. He [Jesus] sat down.

Not only that, but there is no “but” connecting v. 2 to v. 1 as the ESV reads (and NIV, NRSV). By now you’re perhaps in the habit of seeing a “but” in your English Bible and assuming that it’s either ἀλλα or δε, but here you’d be wrong. Why did three major translations add a “but”? Because when you shorten long Greek sentences for English readers (and vv. 1–4 is one long sentence in Greek!), you then have to create connections. Given the transformations of the clauses into sentences and participles into finite verbs in many translations, you have to express the implied contrast somehow. Thus the “but.” In Greek the contrast is implied by the sequence of participle and finite forms. There’s no explicit ἀλλα or δε because it’s not proper to connect a finite and non-finite form with a coordinating conjunction.

If you’ve understood what I’ve just summarized, and you committed to preaching sermons that reflect the structure and meaning of the text, then your sermon on Heb 1:1–4 will have two points rather than four or five.

Below is a link to the complete text of A. T. Robertson’s inaugural lecture at Southern Baptist Seminary in 1890. It is titled “Preaching and Scholarship.” I’ve hunted for this for some time and finally obtained a photocopy of the original publication. I’ve scanned the text and corrected it manually to create a pdf file of the full text. (Thanks to my wife for helping with some of the tedious work in this regard!)

1EE77DD5-FBA3-4B8F-B0C8-E6357C8E3763.jpg

The heart and mind of a young scholar is very evident here showing the promise of his mature career which still lay ahead when this was written. It is still a superb statement of the importance of education and scholarship, particularly a seminary education, as the best preparation for ministry. Those of you who are students (especially if near the end of a semester you are wondering why you are in seminary!) would do well to read this carefully and thoughtfully.

RobertsonScholarship.pdf

Here are some thoughtful words of wisdom about a question I get asked several times each year (usually from seminary students wondering why they ought to stay in seminary!).

You want people to listen to you? One of the best things that you can do is to finish school. You see, nearly everybody has an opinion about nearly everything. Most expressions of opinion are ill-informed, and quite often they turn out to be nothing more than emotional burps. So people filter out most of the noise or static and focus on the opinions that are likely to mean something. One of the filters is education: a poorly educated person is more likely to have poorly formed opinions, while a better educated person is likely to have more coherent ones.

While you are in college you are still learning how to think. In fact, you are still learning what to think about. Ceteris paribus, a collegian can expect to have people listen to him in dorm-room conversations, and occasionally in classroom exchanges, but not usually much beyond that.

What’s the minimal educational requirement to command a hearing in the real world of Christian leadership? Broadly speaking, most Christian leaders have to earn a Master of Divinity degree before many people are interested in what they have to say. The reason is simple: in order to express opinions about Christianity, you ought to have a mastery of the Christian faith. That mastery is rarely gained at the baccalaureate level, or even at the level of the M.A. To get the necessary command of languages, exegesis, and theology, you need the tools that come with the M.Div. or its equivalent. Frankly, the more education you get, the more that people are likely to listen to you.

As a sub-topic under education, let me add this: no one will listen to you if you can’t write good English. I’m thinking of one younger leader right now who actually has some decent ideas. When he writes them down, however, his remarks are riddled with misspellings and fractured syntax. Very often he substitutes homonyms for the terms he really wants, and the results can be extraordinarily droll. Unfortunately, even his better ideas are easily dismissed by literate people.

If you want to be heard, get a real education. The more you get, the better the hearing you’ll likely gain.

This comes from Kevin Bauder’s Nick of Time weekly newsletter (which I still think ought to be a blog, Kevin! 🙂 ). You can find the rest of his discussion regarding the voice of younger men in ministry as well as his previous essay on the same subject in the “Nick Archive” at Central Baptist Seminary.

(And if you didn’t read Kevin’s marvelous 7-part allegory [or parable—whatever it ought to be called!], Captain’s Log, earlier this year, you really must. It’s not only creative but instructive. You can find it in the archives linked above; the 7 parts run from mid-August through September 2008.)

John Stackhouse just posted a very helpful discussion regarding PhD studies in general, why you might consider one, and how to go about applying. Most of this info is relevant to any variety of PhD programs in biblical studies.

HT: Justin Taylor, Between Two Worlds

Here’s a thoughtful post about a not uncommon phenomenon: those who go to seminary to train to be pastors who end up wanting to be seminary professors. (Or more commonly in my experience: those who go to Bible college and want to be Bible college professors.) Sean Lucas, who teaches at Covenant Seminary, has a good analysis that’s worth reading by both seminary (and Bible college) students and teachers.

– – –

Every year, I meet with a number of seminary students who are interested in pursuing PhD studies. Usually, the first question I ask them is: “Why? Why do you believe that doctoral studies are part of God’s calling for you?” And the most frequent answer falls into a pattern that I have seen at the three seminaries where I have been privileged to work. …

I just came from a NT dissertation defense by Dan Fabricatore. His dissertation was titled, “A Lexical, Exegetical, and Theological Examination of the Greek Noun μορφή In Philippians.” It will be available later this summer via ILL from our library, and eventually from UMI/ProQuest.

During the defense Dan shared this wisdom:

Lessons Learned from Writing a Dissertation

• You will never feel dumber than while trying to earn a Ph.D.

• Writing a Ph.D. dissertation is a lot like remodeling a kitchen in a 100 year old house: It will take you where you did not want to go, keep you there longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you were willing to pay.

• Keep a family picture near by so you can remember what they look like.

• Your advisor is not Attila the Hun; it just seems that way.

• When you think you are done; you’re not even close.

• Don’t type when you’re tired.

I suspect that list could be supplemented! 🙂 (If you have suggestions, use the Comments section below.) And yes, I’m “Attila.” 🙂

For those who might be interested, here’s a preliminary summary of the dissertation which Dan wrote for his introductory statement at the defense.

Dan Fabricatore

Dissertation Defense 4/18/08

Introduction

The purpose of this dissertation is to determine the meaning of μορφή in Philippians 2:6-7. The dissertation adopts a synchronic approach to lexical semantics, and examines a cross section of Greek writers who use μορφή from the classical period up through the first century A.D. The dissertation also looks how the μορφή has been interpreted throughout the church age, before exegetically examining the passage and interpreting the term in its context.

The conclusion reached in this dissertation is that μορφή denotes the visible appearance of the Son as God prior to his incarnation. This visible manifestation of Christ as God is associated with his glory (δόξα). When Christ became a man, he took on the visible appearance of a slave, an interpretation made against the social backdrop of slavery in the Greco-Roman world. When Christ became man, the visible manifestation of his divine glory was veiled. This understanding of μορφή is in contrast to a popular connotation that μορφή refers to the essence or nature of God (2:6) and the essence or nature of a
slave (2:7).

This interpretation of μορφή is based primarily in the lexical data regarding μορφή, as well as contextual indicators in Philippians 2:6-8. Lexically, a thorough sampling of μορφή among classical and hellenistic Greek writers demonstrates that the overwhelming uses of μορφή denote the visible form or shape of someone or something. This fact is also true of Aristotle and others who are sometimes cited by commentators (such as J. B. Lightfoot) as being the source for Paul’s understanding of μορφή in the philosophical manner of essence or nature. On some occasions μορφή refers to the physical stature or beauty of a person. On rare occasions it denotes the essence or nature of an object. Contextually, the uses of ὁμοίωμα, σχῆμα, and ἄνθρωπος all serve in verse 7 to stress the visible reality of the humanity of Christ.

This interpretation does not diminish the essence or nature of Christ as God or a slave, since both θέος and δοῦλος carry such a semantic understanding. It is just that μορφή does not mean that here.

Lexical Support

Determining the meaning of μορφή in Philippians 2:6-7 in light of the lexical data suffers from one inescapable reality. Of the some 650 known uses of μορφή from Homer up to Josephus, only 2 are in the New Testament and both are in Philippians 2.

The dissertation examines over 100 separate uses of μορφή in classical and hellenistic Greek writings, papyri, inscriptions, and the early church fathers. Since Aristotle is cited as the one whose use of μορφή Paul draws upon in Philippians 2:6-7, his uses were examined extensively.

The term μορφή possessed a semantic range that remained stable for 800 years. From the earliest uses, it predominantly denoted the visible form or shape of an object.

For example, an early use of μορφή is in Aeschylus’ work, Eumenides. In the scene, Apollo enters from the inner sanctuary and responds to the chorus of the Furies, stating,

ἆρ’ ἀκούετε οἵας ἑορτῆς ἔστ’ ἀπόπτυστοι θεοῖς στέργηθρ’ ἔχουσαι; πᾶς δ’ ὑφηγεῖται τρόπος μορφῆς· λέοντος ἄντρον αἱματορρόφου οἰκεῖν τοιαύτας εἰκός, οὐ χρηστηρίοις ἐν τοῖσδε πλησίοισι τρίβεσθαι μύσος.

D’ye hear what sort of feast ye love that makes you detestible to the gods? The whole fashion of your form doth set it forth. Creatures such as ye should inhabit the den of some blood-lapping lion, and not inflict pollution on all near you in this oracular shrine. Begone, ye herd without a shepherd!

In the drama, Apollo casts out those who are reproached by the gods. The sense here is “the whole ‘makeup’or ‘guise’ of your form.” Aeschylus uses a construction (τρόπος μορφῆς) that contains two words that are sometimes used as synonyms. However in this construction they apparently are not used that way, since one is modifying the other. This type of construction also occurs among Greek writers on occasion with the terms μορφή and φύσις.

As a matter of fact, one is hard pressed to find uses that denote “pure” essence or nature. Such rare uses are found in the philosophers, where one would expect. An example would be from Aristotle in his work, The Physics. In it he writes, ἡ ἄρα μορφή φύσις (It is, then, the form that is nature). Such a use even by Aristotle is rare. In addition, it is possible even in this context to argue that μορφή and φύσις are different given the additional context. Yet even with Aristotle, the vast majority of his uses of μορφή denote something visible.

Writers of history such as Josephus use the term exclusively to refer to a visible object. Even in the rare uses where a writer is speaking of the nature of someone or something, it is often in reference to that which lies “behind” the visible entity. The overwhelming uses of μορφή to denote the visible appearance of an object puts great pressure on the interpreter to validate why he would dismiss such evidence. I believe that the context would need to be crystal clear that the normal use of μορφή could not be possible before attempting to defend a rare use of μορφή. The only good reason that I found to dismiss such lexical support was theological expediency.

Historical Support

I don’t think I should spend much time on this area since it is not critical to the interpretation of μορφή. I will say that the majority of scholars and preachers that I examined did seem to adopt the view that the “form of God” spoke of the essence or nature of God in contrast to the visible appearance view. However many of them would also hold that God’s glory was in play as well. Both views, the essence/nature view and the visible appearance/glory view hold to the deity of Christ prior to his incarnation. There is some “cross pollination” at work. Fortunately, the Bible has much built-in redundancy.

In addition, there would be reluctance to challenge such an interpretation of μορφή in Philippians 2 since the view is theologically robust. In other words, Why dabble with any view that magnifies the deity of Christ?

Exegetical Support

I believed going into the dissertation (and after as well) that the key to properly interpreting μορφή would ultimately reside in the text itself. I am a minimalist in many ways, and do not think that individual words in and of themselves can be asked to carry the bulk of semantic freight in a particular passage.

I do not believe that μορφή adds much to the passage in terms of essence or nature. If it had been left out altogether, the passage is not weakened in that regard: “who, though existing (as) God … took on servant(hood). If μορφή were absent, one could argue just as strongly that Paul was speaking of Christ as existing as “true” God (possessing his nature) and then took on the essence of a slave. This observation then begs the question: why μορφή? I believe Paul chose it to let his readers know that Christ possessed the very “form” of God that was often manifested in glory but that in an act of humility, he took another form (a slave) whereby his glory was veiled. In addition, the context in 2:7 argues for reference to Christ taking on a physical, visible form.

Theological Support

I hold that the visible appearance view regarding μορφή has theological implications in the passage that are theologically defendable. The view:

• Supports Christ as existent prior to his birth

• Supports Christ to be very God

• Supports Christ to be fully human

In a supporting manner, the term is used in conjunction with other theological truths:

• Christ is an obedient Son

• Christ is a humble God

Conclusion

Philippians 2:6-7 are at the heart of a great NT Christological passage, a passage that sets an example for believers to emulate. Christ had a great position of prominence, but he did not use that power for his own advantage, but for ours. Though he existed in the form of God, he humbled himself and took on another form, the form of a man, and a servant at that. He obediently died on a cruel Roman cross that sinners might be right with God.

This past Tuesday I spoke in our seminary chapel as part of a Christmas series. My passage was Isaiah 7:14. I’ve used this lecture/sermon before, but not in about 6 years. If you’ve seen an earlier version there are some revisions and additions. I recently found a very helpful paper on this passage by Jim Hamilton who takes an almost identical approach to what I have argued for years (a typological view of the relationship between Isa 7 and Matt 1).

Thanks to Steve Carlson on Hypotyposeis for noting this “model” rejection letter. It’s a riot! 🙂

Herbert A. Millington
Chair – Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall
Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Sincerely,

Chris L. Jensen

The last issue of Kevin Bauder’s weekly letter, In the Nick of Time (Nov 16, 2007), should provide some encouragement to those of you in seminary who are “average” students, i.e., not the exceptional, gifted student.

In Praise of Average Students
Kevin T. Bauder

Kevin says, in part, that

… average students may have a greater appreciation for learning than bright students, simply because it has cost them more. They have to work harder to achieve the same grade as the bright student. Their investment teaches them to value what they have learned. For the brightest students, academics can become a kind of game. For average students, it is very serious business….

(Dr. Bauder is the president and prof of sys theol at Central Baptist Seminary.)

A teaching ministry/career

November 12, 2007

I’m always interested to see the large number of students in college or seminary who want to be college/seminary teachers. (Remember that my context is that of a seminary, and that when I formerly taught undergrads, it was at a Bible college; when I talk to undergrads these days it is still more likely to be Bible college students, either from our own undergrad program or other similar schools.) Often that desire seems to be “I want to teach [Bible/theology/languages/etc.], not be a pastor.”

Perhaps that seems a slight bit odd to me since I never thought of teaching while I was in college or in my initial seminary training (MDiv). My heart was, and is, in pastoral ministry. It was not until after I graduated and had been in ministry for some time that I began to contemplate teaching. That was based, in part, on how I perceived God to be using my ministry, where I saw fruit, and the age group with whom I best connected, etc. I learned fairly quickly that I was not destined to be a children’s worker! 🙂 And though I did a great deal of evangelistic work, visitation, etc. (my first church was a church plant and we were still in the “rapid growing stage” at the time), that was not where God used me—at least in ways that I could easily discern.

I still remember with great fondness the ministry with the “college and career” group at that church. That is where I found my niche. During that time I made an appointment with a former professor who was then pastoring about an hour away to talk about ministry and future directions. From that conversation I wrote out a list of 10 year goals, the end of which was to teach. The intervening steps included graduate study and pastoring for 10 years. Though I did not describe that list with “D.V.” that was my attitude. In the end I pastored about 12 years total before moving to the classroom. I’ve never regretted that path.

Although I have good friends who teach at the seminary level who have never pastored—and who have an effective minstry—I always recommend that those who desire to teach first spend a significant period of time in full time pastoral ministry. Especially for those wanting to teach in a Bible college or seminary where the goal is to train young people for ministry, it only seems logical that those teaching in that context have first done vocational ministry themselves. When I was first grappling with those issues in my own life I reflected back on my professors and asked myself who had the greatest impact on my life and training both academically and in terms of ministry. One man stood out to me then: Dr. Richard Engle. It was Dick’s pattern that served as my model then and still today. At the time I never dreamed that I would one day be one of his colleagues. Dick has taught here for over 35 years—and that after pastoring for eight years. He is now retired and teaches for us as an adjunct OT prof.

With that background, the primary purpose for this post is to note two interesting quotes by John Broadus, well known NT professor, cited from Doug Kutilek’s e-newsletter. (Broadus was the original NT prof when Southern was formed in the 19th C., and later served as president there.)

“Dr. H. A Tupper [1828-1902; brother-in-law of J. P. Boyce] would have made an uncommonly accurate and enthusiastic instructor in Hebrew and other Biblical studies. He mentioned in New York to the famous Dr. T. J. Conant [1802-1891], who had been his teacher at Hamilton, that he had been asked to consider a Hebrew professorship, and had declined, because [he was] no Hebraist. Dr. Conant gave a noteworthy reply: ‘You made a mistake. No professor knows much of his chair when he first takes it.’ Doubtless every professor feels thus, whether he begins teaching in youth or in later years. We may add a companion saying of Dr. Gessner Harrison [b. 1807; John Broadus’ first father-in-law] of the University of Virginia: ‘A man ought to stop teaching a subject when he stops learning it.’ ” (p. 107)

And once again,

“No man is fit to be a theological professor who would not really prefer to be a pastor.” (p. 245)

Though there are exceptions, I resonate with that sentiment.

Both citations from: John A. Broadus, Memoirs of J. P. Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), as cited in “AS I SEE IT,” Volume 10, Number 11, November 2007 by Doug Kutilek. (Don’t let the “kjvonly.org” in the URL worry you! It’s a classic “URL coup” for a group of writers opposed to the nonsense of the KJV-only crowd. 🙂 )

It was announced today that Dr. Mike Stallard will become the new dean of Baptist Bible Seminary as of June 1, 2008 following the retirement of the current dean (Howard Bixby). Dr. Stallard has taught at BBS for 14 years and is presently the director of the PhD program. I have great confidence in Mike, having taught with him for a dozen years here and look forward to his leadership.

My second-year, Greek Reading class has been discussing BDAG. Here’s a reply I wrote to some of the discussion on the course blog. I thought it might be of interest to those of you reading this blog as well.

– – –

I sense that most of you are beginning to appreciate just how much info is in this volume [i.e., BDAG]. And some of you are perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it. That’s natural. But view it as a challenge–a challenge that you *can* handle. It’s a tool, and an important one, in understanding the NT–and that ought to be one of the top priorities in your seminary preparation. All the practical skills in the world (as necessary as some of them are) will do you absolutely no good if you don’t have the ability to minister God’s Word to those whom God entrusts to your care. A superficial knowledge of the NT is not adequate for the challenges you will face in ministry, nor will your people be satisfied long term with shallow ministry. I think one of the reasons that pastorates are so short these days is that there is far too little depth in the pulpit.

BDAG is not a “cure all,” but it is one of the tools that enables you to do more than frivolous Greek study based on Wuest and Strong’s numbers. Your Greek testament, BDAG, a good grammar (such as Wallace), a Greek concordance (these days likely computerized–ideally Accordance! [1]), and a strong dose of stubbornness [2] and commitment [3] will take you a long ways in building a stable, lasting ministry.

Notes on the last paragraph:

[1] Accordance runs only on a Mac and isn’t cheap–but it’s worth the cost [of the Mac!] to use it. It isn’t designed primarily as a “library tool” (though it has a wide selection of books), but as a language study tool, it is without peer. [Warning: “rant” ahead. 🙂 ] Yes, I’ve used BibleWorks (the most capable language tool on Windows, but a unintuitive interface that only a programmer could love!) and also run Logos (probably “walked” would be a more apt metaphor! It’s a sluggish behemoth of bloated code). Yes, I’m opinionated on this matter; amazingly, many people don’t agree with me (can you imagine that?!)–I suspect mostly because they’ve never using Accordance–or have an institutional “lock-in/restriction” to Windows only. Mac avoids a lot of hassles on other scores as well. [End of rant. 🙂 ]

[2] Stubbornness, not as a general personality trait, but in regards to maintaining your language skills. I was never the smartest Greek student; many received higher grades than I. But many of my straight A classmates have long forsaken their language skills. Tis a pity. I was just stubborn enough to determine that this was worth learning and using regularly. As a result I likely learned more Greek in the dozen years I spent in the pastorate than I did in college, seminary, and graduate study combined. (And I had 2 years in college, 3 more in seminary, and another in my ThM work before I began pastoring full time–all of which was good training; I’m not suggesting that I didn’t lean a lot then! But you learn a lot more by using it regularly year after year than you possibly can in the classroom. (I’ve probably learned more since beginning to teach Greek, now 17 years ago, mostly because of all your questions I’ve had to answer! 🙂

[3] Commitment: to the authority, sufficiency, and reliability of God’s Word. If the Bible is inspired in its original autographs (as I hold), then I have no choice but to commit myself to the biblical languages. My bibliology requires that of me. And rightly so.

Back to the main point, using BDAG. (Thought I’d forgotten didn’t you? 🙂 ) Don’t let the mass of detail overwhelm you. Learn to use it first to get the big picture. Then gradually drill down as you focus in on the particular passage you’re working on. You can ignore some of the data you find. Practically speaking, I realize that most seminary students and pastors are not going to make much use of the German bibliography that’s there in abundance. Nor a lot of the diachronic data regarding usage long before the NT. That’s OK. But even with that caveat, there’s lots left. Will you ever look up every word in BDAG as you preach through a NT book? Probably not, at least not on most passages. But you might on some. Right now you need to look up a lot of info simply because most of you have only had 2 semesters of Greek. It takes some time to get your Greek “legs” under you and begin reading more easily and rapidly. (This course is designed, in part, to help move you along in that direction.) As you do, you’ll soon develop a sense of where the greatest value comes in using BDAG. (And it isn’t just in the new words you don’t know.) Whenever you hit a snag and a passage just doesn’t seem to make good sense, it likely time to grab BDAG. As you discovered this week, even a little thing like a preposition can be very flexible in usage. Someone commented on the course blog about being sensitive to how the author seems to be relating various contextual elements together with a preposition. That’s exactly the point. And that’s where BDAG can help a great deal.

The electronic versions of BDAG can expedite quick reference to data on specific verses–at least those that BDAG lists by reference, so if you have the luxury of owning a e-copy as well as a print version, use it to find such listings. I’m not convinced that reading it on screen is ideal, esp. for lengthy articles, but that’s another matter–and one concerning which I have some Luddite ideas! 🙂 Someone asked me the other day if BDAG were available for a handheld. It’s not. And I can’t conceive of how something like BDAG could ever be a practical tool in that format. (I gave up using a Palm a few years ago simply because the limitations of what one could see at one time made reading context nearly impossible. If there’s one thing you hear in my classroom it’s context, context, and more context. If I can only see a small snippet at one time, it’s really difficult to grasp contextual relationships, whether in the Greek NT, English, or in a tool like BDAG.) But I digress. Again.

Several of you have commented on the improbability that you’d ever use any of the bibliography entries in BDAG. Don’t jettison that help too quickly. No, it won’t help on Sat night when you’ve delayed finishing (or starting!) your Sunday message too long, at least not until such time as we can all access full text journals for free on the net. But I’d encourage you to plan your preaching much longer in advance. You really ought to know 6 mths or a year in advance what you will be preaching. Since I’m sure you will all be expositors preaching carefully (and relevantly!) through one book after another, you can (and should) be working ahead, gathering material, translating, thinking about the series you are going to begin the next year, etc. That’s when you can benefit from BDAG’s bibliography. When you run into what seems to be a tough passage with some key terms, you can make an effort to get some of those articles (and many of them are in English) so they are at hand when you need them. Even if you don’t have a good theological library at hand, most local libraries gladly fill inter-library loan requests so long as you have all the info they need. And BDAG will provide it for you. It’s not “just for scholars.”

Perhaps some of the ideas you’ve just read are novel ones. That wouldn’t be surprising since many of you may have never had exposure to this sort of pastoral ministry. Some have the perception that the pastorate is about programs and personal work. It includes that, but your primary responsibility as a pastor (which, remember, is the word “shepherd”) is to feed the sheep. Someone once said, shepherds don’t have lambs, healthy sheep do. You’ll get to be a midwife on occasion, but serving the sheep is your first priority, caring for them, leading them to green pastures in the Word, guarding and warning them–all of which must be done by and based on the Word. And God saw fit to have his new covenant revelation written in Greek. Doesn’t leave you many options does it? Learn to make Greek a profitable and regularly-used tool, or become a second-hand, second-rate hired man panning off someone else’s work–and hoping they got it right.

Do you remember what you read from Martin Luther regarding the importance of the biblical languages earlier this semester? It’s worth reflecting on again in this context.

(And yes, the same principles apply to the OT and to Hebrew as well–but this is a Greek class! 🙂 )

– – –

For those reading just this page, you might be interested in my regular web page devoted entirely to BDAG.

Seminary students and pornography is the sort of topic that I don’t intend to blog about very often, but here’s a good discussion of a subject that is very relevant to some students (indeed, to far too many men, students or not). It’s a subject not mentioned very often and perhaps we’d rather ignore it and hope it goes away. I don’t know that we have a major problem with it in the seminary where I teach–but that may be part of issue, it’s that I don’t know. If the problem is as widespread as the blog post above suggests (from the experience of a seminary student at another seminary), then it’s worth my time to post it. If even one of my students reading this struggles with porn, then it’s something that needs to be addressed. It will destroy your ministry, your marriage, and your life if you don’t.