Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teaching Biblical Languages and Tilting at Windmills

In seminary I watched my friends on the M.Div track struggle through the two years of Greek and two years of Hebrew that TEDS required for their three year degree. By the end of the program, Greek was often a distant memory, with Hebrew not far behind.

I had already seen the payoff of learning Greek at the undergrad level, and I was determined not to lose my Greek or fledgling Hebrew. But what, I wondered, could be done differently for myself and everyone else? Is the project doomed to failure, with seminaries like TEDS last hold-outs against the inevitable? Mike Heiser has estimated that 90-95% of seminary students quickly lose the biblical languages after graduation. I don’t know where the percentages come from, but any way you slice it the statistics are dismal.

Almost 15 years later, I am still persuaded that the languages are worth learning well, that Bible software “power tools” are no substitute, and that—in theory—it should be reasonable for pastors to acquire a reading knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and maintain the languages while they are in ministry. I am also committed to doing whatever I can to create a better long-term success rate for my students. This means helping students learn deeper with greater retention, and helping them see the payoff and have fun in the process so that they are motivated to continue learning once required classes are done. I am convinced the church needs pastors in general—not just a select few pastor scholars—who read the Bible in its original languages. Perhaps one of the most important ways I can serve the church is to teach the biblical languages effectively, working to turn theory into reality.

My own experience studying Modern Hebrew by immersion in Israel points the way to an alternative to the traditional grammar-translation approach: Why not learn Greek as you would a living language? Randall Buth and colleagues at the Biblical Language Center asked themselves the same question, and have come up with an answer: I am now part way through a 10-day “Greek Fluency Workshop” in Fresno, California, that is designed to help Greek teachers develop proficiency in spoken Koine. (See here for a description of last year's workshop.) So far, it has been a fantastic experience. I am learning a great deal from the workshop, as well as from other like-minded teachers, and I am excited about how it will pay off in the classroom this fall.


Chris Kuhl said...

Have you read, "The Art of Reading Latin: How to Teach It" by William Gardner Hale? (available on Google Books). Written in 1887, the man was brilliant, and a forward thinker on the matter of learning ancient languages. I'd love to see languages taught in his method here and across the pond!


Chris Kuhl

d. miller said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Chris. I'll take a look.