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by Miles Van Pelt
At Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi I have the distinct privilege of teaching all three biblical languages – Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. My students might tell you that I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to teachings these languages. True enough! In fact, one of my primary goals is to implant this same zeal in those I teach. It is not enough that my students simply learn the languages. I want them to share in my passion for knowing them.
Motivation, therefore, becomes an important factor in teaching. And let’s be honest, students entering a degree program requiring the languages often dread this prospect. Because of this I frequently admit to my colleagues that teaching the actual language represents less than half of my job in the classroom. My primary role is one of cheerleading.
This cheerleading takes on a number of different forms in the classroom but one of my favorites is to elicit the help of those who have gone before us. Over the past few years I have collected a number of helpful quotes, some serious and others more humorous. If you are a student and the furnace of your linguistic passion has become a smoldering ember, perhaps a few of these quotes will help. Print them out and put them somewhere on your desk or inside your grammar text. If you are a teacher and your students are crying out under the weight of their grammatical burden, help them!
The main point is, with all and above all, study the Greek and Hebrew Bible, and the love of Christ.
Feel ‘poured out’ over a great many interests with intense desire to do but so little power and time to accomplish . . . Hebrew: I can think of nothing I’d like better than to be able to pick up a page of the Hebrew Old Testament and read it at sight. Greek loses a lot of its challenge when one gets to know a little.
– Jim Elliot, College Journals
For the devil smelled a rat, and perceived that if the [biblical] languages were revived a hole would be knocked in his kingdom which he could not easily stop up again. Since he found he could not prevent their revival, he now aims to keep them on such slender rations that they will of themselves decline and pass away. They are not a welcome guest in his house, so he plans to offer them such meager entertainment that they will not prolong their stay. Very few of us, my dear sirs see through this evil design of the devil.
—Martin Luther, 1524
In all sciences, the ablest professors are they who have thoroughly mastered the texts. A man, to be a good jurisconsult, should have every text of the law at his fingers’ ends; but in our time, the attention is applied rather to glosses and commentaries. When I was young, I read the Bible over and over and over again, and was so perfectly acquainted with it, that I could, in an instant, have pointed to any verse that might have been mentioned. I then read the commentators, but I soon threw them aside, for I found therein many things my conscience could not approve, as being contrary to the sacred text. ‘Tis always better to see with one’s own eyes than with those of other people.
– Martin Luther, Table Talk 33
I now studied much, about 12 hours a day, chiefly Hebrew . . . [and] committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees . . . I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary.
– George Mueller, 1829 (twenty-four years old)
The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry."
– Heinrich Bitzer, Light on the Path
In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah (Hebrew), but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair . . .
No second hand knowledge of the revelation of God for the salvation of a ruined world can suffice the needs of a ministry whose function it is to convey this revelation to men, commend it to their acceptance and apply it in detail to their needs–to all their needs, from the moment they are called into participation in the grace of God, until the moment when they stand perfect in God’s sight, built up by his Spirit into new men. For such a ministry as this the most complete knowledge of the wisdom of the world supplies no equipment; the most fervid enthusiasm of service leaves without furnishing. Nothing will suffice for it but to know; to know the book; to know it at first hand; and to know it through and through. And what is required first of all for training men for such a ministry is that the book should be given them in its very words [Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek] as it has come from God’s hand and in the fullness of its meaning, as that meaning has been ascertained by the labors of generations of men of God who have brought to bear upon it all the resources of sanctified scholarship and consecrated thought.
—B. B. Warfield
Selected Shorter Writings–I
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Miles V. Van Pelt (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS. He is the coauthor of our best-selling Basics of Biblical Hebrew, as well as a number of other resources on biblical Hebrew. Follow the above link to see a video interview.
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