preachers and Greek
Thu, 29 Aug 1996 13:28:31 -0700 (PDT)

I expected to turn into a lightening rod when I suggested that professional
pulpit ministers (preachers) need to know the original languages to do their
jobs effectively, and I wasn't entirely disappointed. I realize that many
people have been blessed by preachers who don't know the languages, and that
there is a lot more to being an effective preacher than knowing the languages.
The problem is that we are so used to listening to ministers who haven't
studied the languages in depth that we think the languages are just an extra
plus, rather than an essential. The problem is further compounded by the fact
that we don't always see the results of incorrect or bad preaching, or that
the results may be visible but it may also be very hard to make the logical
connections. I think the situation is comparable to the differences between
medical doctors and the non-medically trained healers people sometimes consult.
The former are not always right nor are the latter always wrong, but in general
we prefer the former and the results of their healing procedures usually veri-
fy their correctness. As to the intimidation factor, the medical comparison
may be just as valid. True enough, there are fallible doctors who get their
way by throwing their weight around rather than by being right, but in my ex-
perience the best doctors are humble and quite willing explain the pros and
cons of this or that treatment. Most of my professors (and certainly the best
ones) fit the latter category. By contrast, I could mention a Texas "pastor-
teacher" of many years back who used to confront criticism by saying something
like "I've had 10 years of Greek and 4 years of Hebrew, and don't talk to me
unless you've done the same!" I can only speak for myself, but I suspect that
those of us on the list who have gone well beyond that boast will freely admit
that we still don't know as much about Greek as the least educated Greek speakerof the first century did. So we really have nothing to brag about, and can
only be grateful that God and our families put up with us during those long
years of formal study. Those whose profession includes preaching owe it to
the people listening to them to do the best job that they can. And this doesn't
boil down to a difference between haughty Greek/Hebrew experts and humbler
folk who are led by the Spirit (and thereby know what the scholars don't), it
boils down to two groups of humble, Spirit-led people, one who are receptive
to the nuances in the original languages, and the other who are not. The best
of the latter group, moreover, seem to know where they are deficient and are
working hard to rid themselves of those deficiencies (actually, that is true
of both groups).

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside