Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Pietists on Learning Greek and Hebrew

I am always on the look-out for comments about the importance of learning Greek and Hebrew to use in my language classes. Here are a few, courtesy of Stephen Westerholm's chapter on "The Pietists and Wesley" in Reading Sacred Scripture:

John Wesley (1703-1791), known today more for his preaching than his scholarship, insisted that those who wish to be pastors should learn Greek and Hebrew:
"Scripture, then, is sufficient, and sufficiently clear, to meet the needs even of uneducated believers; but more is to be expected of ministers of the gospel. 'Whether it be true or not, that every good textuary [i.e., master of the biblical text] is a good Divine [i.e., clergyman], it is certain none can be a good Divine who is not a good textuary' (Works 10.482). Without a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, will not a minister find himself frequently at a loss, unable to explain even practical texts--let alone those that are controversial? Wesley responds to the implied question: 'He will be ill able to rescue [controversial texts] out of the hands of any man of learning that would pervert them: For whenever an appeal is made to the original, his mouth is stopped at once.' (Works 10.483). ... Never more at home than when searching his own or others' souls, Wesley then asks those who lack such knowledge to ask themselves, 'How many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?' (Works 10.491)" (290-1).
Wesley "published short grammars of English (1748), Latin (1748), Hebrew (1751), French (1751), and Greek (1765)" (287). His older contemporary, August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), laid out a curriculum:

"He first gives attention to the 'letter' of Scripture. False meanings are easily attributed to the inspired authors when the text is read either in translation or with an imperfect grasp of the original languages; therefore, it is important that the 'etymology, signification, syntax, and idiom' of Greek and Hebrew 'be fully understood.' Francke outlines what he claims to be a tried-and-true method by which students can acquire these skills. Following his program, the student should have acquired within three months a good grasp of Greek grammar while reading through the Greek New Testament -- twice. (Francke graciously concedes that such progress is possible only if students temporarily set other duties aside.) Learning Hebrew grammar and reading through the Hebrew Old Testament, he says, has been known to take another three months" (275; parenthetical references omitted).
All quotations taken from Stephen Westerholm and Martin Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).