Prayer & Grammar Meet in Spiritual Combustion

I am re-reading John Piper’s Brothers We are not Professionals.  I read it in 2011. It is better the second time around. Piper reminds pastors of what ministry is about. There are always voices telling the pastor, “This is important” or “That is important.” We have drifted into pastors as managers, therapists, generally nice guys who give good advice and often take the “pulse” of the congregation to determine what direction to go. In contrast, Piper directs us to the Word, prayer, suffering, preaching, exegesis, theology, missions, and trust in our Savior Jesus Christ. This book re-centers ministers, drawing us away from the edges, the secondary matters, and back to the central concerns of pastoral ministry.

Therefore it is not surprising that Piper has a chapter pleading with pastors to learn Greek and Hebrew. Perhaps no discipline is so neglected in our seminaries and ministries as this one. It is hard to learn and hard to keep up with once we have left an academic setting.  But if God’s Word really is God’s Word. And if this Word is the infallible, absolute, and final authority for all God’s people, including ministers. And if this Word is the power of salvation for all men (Romans 1:16) and the incorruptible seed of salvation which abides forever (I Peter 1:23-25).  And if this Word is able to make men of God [ministers] thoroughly equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). Then why would we not learn Greek and Hebrew? Why would we settle for a Hebrew or Greek study Bible, an interlinear, or using Logos?

Here are some of Piper’s thoughts on learning Greek and Hebrew.

What happens to a denomination when a useful knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is not cherished and encouraged for the pastoral office? I don’t mean simply offered and admired. I mean cherished, promoted, and sought.

[When Greek and Hebrew are not used by the pastor he] often contents himself with the general focus or flavor of the text, and his exposition lacks the precision and clarity which excite a congregation with the Word of God. Boring generalities are a curse in many pulpits.

When pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew…they, and their churches with them, tend to become second-handers…[which] give us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things…we may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book we’ve read, but secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness. 

Weakness in Greek and Hebrew also gives rise to exegetical imprecision and carelessness. And exegetical imprecision is the mother of liberal theology.

Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open minded pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations. In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.

We have, by and large, lost the Biblical vision of a pastor as one who is mighty in the Scriptures, apt to teach, competent to confute opponents, and able to penetrate to the unity of the whole counsel of God.

Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost. [Emphasis Piper’s]

We need to recover our vision of the pastoral office-which embraces, if nothing else, the passion and power to understand the original revelation of God. We need to pray for the day when pastors can carry their Greek New Testaments to conferences and seminars without being greeted by one-liners…Oh for the day when prayer and grammar will meet each other with great spiritual combustion!

I have taken this task seriously since reading Piper four years ago. I work on Greek every day and Hebrew most days. My Hebrew is not very good, but in ten years it will be. My Greek is getting better day by day. I have translated Matthew, Colossians, I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus. I am currently working on I Peter.  My Hebrew is restricted to the Psalms right now. Looking back I am ashamed of how much time I lost, how much study I let drain away through lack of discipline and how often I relied on secondary sources instead of the original.

Brothers, I agree with Piper here. If the Word is what we say it is why would we not work at this? Has your Greek and Hebrew gotten rusty? Pick up back up and start again. Have you never learned? Set aside some time to learn. For the congregation, do you consider this important for your pastor? Would you pay to send a pastor for a week long Greek or Hebrew refresher course? Or does that sound like a waste of time? Would your church pay so your pastor could take online courses to learn Greek or Hebrew? Do you think he is proud when he tells you something about the Greek or Hebrew? Or do you view it as a sign of his faithfulness to Christ and His Word?

I doubt that we can see true reformation in our churches without ministers who take this task seriously. We do not have to be experts. But we do need to be progressing. Our love for God’s Word and His people demands it.