Jun 28, 2013

Some Cautions for Original Language Bible Students

Summer is now in full swing and is the time of year when professors work on research and writing projects.  I'm currently working on 14 articles to be published in the new Lexham Bible Dictionary and as a result, won't be writing much in the way of new blog material for a while.  However, I was going over my Hebrew Exegesis syllabus in preparation for the Fall semester and was reminded of the seriousness of acquiring original language Bible tools.  I've pasted the first two pages of my syllabus below, which I use as a preface to sober the minds of my students in preparation for the task before them.  In case you are interested, here are those pages: 

“A little learning is a dang'rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanc'd, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleas'd at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th' eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last;
But, those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen'd way,
Th' increasing prospects tire our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!”
Alexander Pope

  • Do you wish to study or utilize the original languages?  Hear a “caution” from Victor Hugo.
"[Ursus] was incapable of certain abominations, such as, for instance, speaking German, Hebrew or Greek, without having learned them, which is a sign of unpardonable wickedness, or of a natural infirmity proceeding from a morbid humour.  If Ursus spoke Latin, it was because he knew it.  He would never have allowed himself to speak Syriac, which he did not know. Besides, it is asserted that Syriac is the language spoken in the midnight meetings at which uncanny people worship the devil."  –Victor Hugo, in The Laughing Man, or L’homme qui rit.

Note: In the broader context, Hugo is spoofing the bourgeois.  It seems to me that here, he is spoofing the centuries old phenomenon of ministers who cloak themselves in superficial erudition.  To quote a former mentor of mine, we could employ the phrase, “wannabe evangelical scholars” to describe such offenders in our midst.—RBR 
  • In evaluating the role training plays in the life and vocation of the minister, consider the following by F.W. Harvey: “Education is good so long as you know to whom and for what purpose you give it.”  
Note: For some students, training makes them sharp weapons in the hand of God. For others, it makes them unwitting allies of the enemy.  As the student, evaluate your own motives in pursuing education.  Out of one and the same exegesis course there may come both the defender of God’s Word as well as the liberal deconstructionist.  You are responsible to be faithful with your stewardship. —RBR
  •  On the old library of a deceased scholar, one writer mused, “It was arranged on the plan of many college libraries, with tall projecting bookcases forming deep recesses of dusty silence, fit graves for the old hates of forgotten controversy, the dead passions of forgotten lives.”
Note: In learning to do exegesis, you are being given a sacred trust, a relevant and timeless trust.  Take care to employ your skills in that which will bear eternal fruit.  Do not become embroiled in unfruitful controversies that distract you from the work God has given you to do.  Put another way, “Only one life ‘twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last."  Cf. 1 Tim. 1:6, 7; Ecc. 9:5, 6.—RBR
  •  John Frame explains,
“[O]ur exegesis should strive to achieve, as much as is humanly possible, a logically consistent interpretation of biblical teaching.  Yet this goal is not the primary goal.  The primary goal of exegesis is not logical consistency but faithfulness to the text.  And sometimes in trying to formulate one doctrine with logical consistency, we may find ourselves compromising another doctrine of Scripture.  When that happens, something is wrong.  We must not simply push our logic relentlessly to the point where we ignore or deny a genuine biblical teaching.  Rather, we must rethink our whole procedure—our exegesis, our reasoning, the extra-biblical knowledge we bring to bear on the matter, etc. [emphasis original].”[1] 

 * Taken from pp. i-ii of my "HEB621X: INTRODUCTION TO HEBREW EXEGESIS" syllabus

[1] John Frame, “The Problem of Theological Paradox” Foundations of Christian Scholarship ed. by Gary North (Vallecito, Cali.: Ross House Books, 1979), 325.

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