From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 27 1998 - 08:34:37 EDT

At 11:16 PM -0500 4/26/98, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>Some of us studied Greek so we could better understand the scriptures
>(please, no slam or slight intended whatsoever). Obviously, when it
>comes to sacredness and lasting value and worth, there is no comparison
>between the Greek pagan writers and the scriptures. Of course, one's
>presuppositions do come to bear significantly here, but some do put
>little or no sacred value whatsoever in the pagan writings.
>This is not to say there is little or no value in studying non-canonical
>Undoubtedly studying such can contribute to one's understanding of the
>language in general, and by implication to his understanding of the Greek
>in the NT or LXX, but the law of diminishing returns does set in
>somewhere. Just how much time do I need to spend studying non-canonical
>literature in order to be best equipped for the
>teaching/preaching/pastoring ministry? If my goal was to be the best
>Greek scholar, then, sure, I would want to study the non-canonical Greek
>writings, as well, but that is not my purpose or goal. I do not see
>Greek as an end in itself, but rather as a means to an end.

This is just what I feared from Jane Harper's comment that if one reads the
Apostolic Fathers, one can be "edified" as well as expand one's exposure to
non-canonical Greek. I really don't know whether she meant by that to say
that reading "pagan" Greek authors is not edifying. But that's what it has
in fact come down to in Paul's two-fold statement here: "Of course, one's
presuppositions do come to bear significantly here, but some do put little
or no sacred value whatsoever in the pagan writings." and then: "If my goal
was to be the best Greek scholar, then, sure, I would want to study the
non-canonical Greek writings, as well, but that is not my purpose or goal.
I do not see
Greek as an end in itself, but rather as a means to an end."

This appears to me to be a reformulation of Tertullian's classical
challenge: "What have Jerusalem and Athens in common?" I think that has
been answered better than I could ever answer it many times, yet I feel I
must respond, as BRIEFLY as possible, if only to make clear my own
presuppositions, which do indeed "come to bear significantly here."

My own concern here is fundamentally one of education; it is certainly not
a pitting of "sacred" literature in competition with "pagan" literature,
but I will come back to that consideration in a moment. Our adult education
program here at Washington University (University College) puts a placard
on each student's desk or place at a seminar table reading, "When you're
through learning, you're through!" Of course that's an advertising slogan,
but it is not for that reason any less true. My own view of the success of
a liberal education is that it enables one to live with a mind open to and
ready to assess new information, even if that means re-thinking all one's
perspectives--which is to say, it's not a matter of learning "what to
think" but of learning "how to think"; the alternative to that is
vocational training, and if the preparation for Christian ministry is
nothing more than vocational training, then I wonder what conception of
Christian ministry as a vocation that implies. One of the fascinating
aspects of Paul's letters to his congregations has always been to me that
his approach to problems confronted in those congregations is not a ticking
off of preconceived theological propositions for those who hear his letters
read aloud to accept or reject but rather his approach is one of reasoning,
of thinking through afresh the implications of God's revelation in Christ
for the unique conditions confronted in this here and now of his
relationship with this congregation. Now in terms of learning Greek as
preparation for Christian ministry, I think it would be preferable to think
of Greek as part of one's education rather than strictly as part of one's
Christian vocational training; as such it will certainly have a bearing on
one's Christian vocational training as well.

Now, briefly, the matter of "sacred" literature vs. "pagan" literature:
without claiming that the distinction is itself a bogus one, I would
suggest that it is sadly misconceived if it is thought to imply that the
communication of the gospel is a one-way street with all the traffic moving
from Jerusalem to "Athens" -- the "greater Athens," shall I say, of the
Gentile world. One classical Christian perspective on the Christ event is
that its time and place in history was divinely ordained as a KAIROS for
the emergence and development of Christianity in a world uniquely prepared
by its own history for the gospel. But I don't really want to argue that
point for its own sake. My real concern here is with a conception of
education itself.

As a university teacher, I've never argued that every undergraduate should
study Greek or the Greek and Latin classics; every language and every
cultural tradition and national history of a people is eminently valuable
for what it teaches about what it means to be human. And so I say to
freshmen: "Learn French, learn Chinese if you will, let me teach you Greek
if you're willing, maybe even some Latin. But for God's sake as well as
your own, endeavor seriously to expose yourself to whatever you can learn
about the way that at least one non-English speaking people thinks and
assesses its experience as human beings living over the course of time in a
community." And my argument for reading Greek, if one has the time and the
inclination, beyond "sacred" Greek texts, is precisely the same. I do not
by any means discount the sacred character of the Biblical text, but I
would nevertheless insist that "God has not left himself without a witness"
in the human literatures outside of the Biblical canon.

Enough. I didn't write this to inaugurate a new thread under a new
subject-heading but solely to make clear what I meant when I said:

>But I have to add that there's so much in Greek that's worth reading,
>it's a real pity, however richly rewarding the reading of the Greek NT
>surely is, that one should learn to read Greek at all and then never read
>any other Greek besides the NT.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu OR cconrad@yancey.main.nc.us
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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