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Ministry and Preparation for Ministry V

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Question #1: 

Dear Bob,

I hope you’re doing well and enjoying the summer. Again it’s been too long since I’ve written. However, I’ve been keeping up with the email postings every week, and I’ve also been teaching my family the book of Revelation using your Coming Tribulation study as a guide (I’ve been studying the CT and taking notes, then delivering a condensed teaching to my family every weekend I’m home), so it feels like I’m reading your words and being taught by you almost every day. There’s also a funny thing that’s happened probably a dozen times in the last year and a half or so where I’ve had questions on a topic that I would think to email you about and then that topic would be the subject of the next week’s email posting and all my questions would be answered!

Some personal updates: I’ve told you before that I have a history of ___. Well, despite all the stress of the family situation, and despite all the general agita in this country surrounding the latest presidential election, I can say that in another month I will have gone a full year without [these troubles]. Something happened last September that was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders and a fog off my mind. I really feel like I’ve been delivered from this affliction I’ve had since I was very young! I also feel a new motivation and determination to live and carry out whatever ministry and work the Lord wants me to do in this life. It’s been extremely refreshing, and it feels like my spiritual growth has really accelerated in the wake.

I feel like I’ve been getting an almost seminary-level Biblical education thanks to the internet and reading books (and it’s certainly a more orthodox education than I would expect at an unfortunate number of seminaries these days). All the studies at Ichthys give a really solid foundation of systematic theology. You’re still the only Bible teacher I’ve found who I agree with 99%. Now, since I feel called to some kind of teaching, or perhaps even apologetics-type ministry, I’ve also been learning quite a bit from Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Brown. Even though one doesn’t have to be a master in the Biblical languages in order to be an effective pastor/teacher, I do think that one called to be a pastor/teacher should certainly learn from those who do know the original languages. In case you’re unfamiliar with those men, or at least their backgrounds, Dr. White knows Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (and a fair amount of Arabic) and has taught the Biblical languages at the college level; and Dr. Brown has a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from NYU (I think he studied something like 12 Semitic languages, specializing in Hebrew and Aramaic of course).

Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus, who grew up on Long Island in the town next to where my dad grew up (less than 10 miles from where my parents live now), and he wrote a 5 volume set called _Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus _(as well as many other books). He was a 16-year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using, hippie, rock drummer when he was radically born again in 1971 and gave up drug use cold turkey. His dad then took him to the local rabbis to convince him that Jews don’t believe in Jesus, which led to his education in the original languages and the writing of those books to answer all of the questions and objections he faced from the rabbis. As you can see his story is similar enough to mine (albeit 40 years apart) that it drew my attention to him and I found his teaching in certain areas edifying. He’s a charismatic though, so I disagree with him there. I even listened to him formally debate a cessationist. He won the debate and I’m still a cessationist.

I’m assuming you’ve probably heard of Dr. James White before. He’s done over 150 moderated, public debates around the world and written dozens of books. Thankfully, many of his debates are on youtube and/or sermonaudio.com. It was through him that I was introduced to pre-suppositional apologetics, which seems to be far more Biblically-based than the evidential method. Anyway, I’ve learned a lot from Dr. White. He has an audio/video podcast (that started as a radio show over 30 years ago), and will regularly open Accordance on the screen and exegete passages of scripture from the original languages. I believe his work defending the faith against Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Atheists, and Muslims is a true blessing to the church. He’s now had more debates against Muslims than any of those other groups, and, in today’s political climate, it’s a remarkable thing that he’s able to deliver the gospel message (which he tries to work into every debate) in mosques from South Africa, to London, to Tennessee. Dr. White is also currently going for his third PhD, this one in textual criticism, focusing on papyrus P45. I really enjoy learning about textual criticism, the textual history of the Bible, and the astounding historical reliability of the New Testament especially compared to anything else from antiquity. He also has many sermons on sermonaudio.com, and is currently doing a series in the Bible study at his church in Phoenix on church history that makes for good, educational listening in the car on the way home from work (he’s 35 sermons in, of approximately 45 minutes each, and just got to Augustine, so it’s pretty in-depth). However, he is a Reformed Southern Baptist and 5-point Calvinist, so I disagree with him there. Despite his frequent emphasis of those points as often as possible, I’m still not a Calvinist.

There are some things I heard from those men that I’d like to run by you, and I have some other questions too, but this email is long enough so I’ll let you comment/respond before I add more. I’m not sure the exact direction the Lord is leading me as far as ministry. I won’t have the time to put into formal education or mastering the original languages (although I am still trying to learn Hebrew, but that’s been much slower going than I had hoped—more on that another time), but I don’t necessarily need that for something like street-level apologetics/evangelism or some kind of teaching. Until a clear path presents itself, I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing (i.e. teaching my family and Polish friend at work in one-on-one Bible studies, and doing as much personal study of scripture and solid teaching as I can).

I’ve been trying to make a habit of praying for you, your family, and the Ichthys ministry at least as often as I read your studies and postings, as I know you’ve been praying for me and mine.

In our gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,

Response #1: 

First, let me say thanks so much for your prayers. With everything that's been going on this year, the death of my mother, my nephew's wedding, my health issues, the unexpected and unjust termination of my colleague, and the near demise of the Greek and Latin program (to name a few highlights in a much longer list), let's just say they are needful and appreciated!

I'm very happy to learn that your family continues in faith and that you are also continuing to minister to your Polish friend's spiritual needs. I hope your job is going well too – I keep that in my prayers. I'm also greatly encouraged to hear that your personal emotional health has significantly improved! That is God and His truth at work, no doubt. A wonderful victory! I praise Him for His help to you.

Thanks much for all your kind words. I'm not familiar with either of these gentlemen you mention, but from your description it seems as if they are both highly educated and providing you with valuable insights. Since you are not being swayed into hyper-Calvinism or speaking in tongues, I'm not worried about your ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's wonderful to see you moving towards taking up a ministry of your own. The most important thing is knowing the truth in detail regarding the major doctrines of scripture. Being able to defend them from a depth of learning is a further step which it seems may be needful for the ministry the Lord has in mind for you. I am reminded of Apollos:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
Acts 18:27-28 NIV

Do feel free to write me any time with other questions, my friend! I'm always happy to hear from you.  Here are some pertinent links:

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry IV

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry III

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry II

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry

Ministers, Ministry, and Preparation for Ministry

Should I go to Seminary or not?

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hi Bob,

I understand you are a bit buried right now so I apologize for dumping more on you. Answer this email as time allows -- I'll need to make decisions during my school's add/drop period in two weeks.

I've shot a couple emails back and forth with my professor for my upcoming Biblical Greek class and he seems quite competent. I read a piece of his from his website ("A Roadmap for Aspiring New Testament Scholars") with some degree of interest, and my consideration of this path is basically the impetus for this email.

My current trajectory is double majoring in Greek/Latin and Classical Culture, while taking the intro Hebrew sequence on the side. I've decided not to do the combined Master's degree that we've discussed previously: I've now explicitly confirmed that my tuition waiver scholarship will run out before I get to graduate hours, that graduate tuition is more expensive, that it's likely that getting a M.A. wouldn't make a Ph.D. go any faster, and that it's unlikely that I would recoup the cost of the degree with increased funding from better scholarships/fellowships as a result of the M.A. (I can still take classes at the graduate level, however, which will look good on my transcript... even if I don't accumulate enough of them for another degree).

I've also decided at this point that the chances of me supporting myself doing a face to face full-time ministry are low enough that I should plan for something else as a form of "tent-making". After all, if it is the Lord's Will, it is much easier to drop out of academia to pursue full time ministry than to go the other way around. This means seminary is basically out. (And since I would be coming in with 4 years of Greek and 2 years of Hebrew, I'm not sure how much I'd get out of any seminary degree anyway). This will be true no matter what area of academic study I decide to go into.

Up until few couple days ago I was basically convinced that Classics was the best academic path for aspiring pastor-teachers, but now I'm also considering Biblical Studies or New Testament Studies (which I guess I'd never seriously considered before). The decision between Classics and these other two seems to hinge on a few variables. I'd appreciate your thoughts on the following:

1) The utility of Latin for the pastor-teacher.

a) Is it useful at all outside of being a necessary component to Classics academics? In textual criticism perhaps? How much is necessary?

b) Would it be useful from a strictly exegetical point of view to take a fourth semester (which will focus on Cicero and Vergil or Horace?). It would push me up to 17 hours next semester if I take the class (14 without it) -- and would cost 3 hours of undergraduate tuition (since it would take away from scholarship hours).

2) Exactly how secular Biblical Studies and New Testament Studies are.

a) Are academics muzzled in some form, just how, e.g., climate scientists and geologists are?

b) Would scholarship with a high view of the inspiration of scripture get published?

c) If the answer to (b) is no, would it be possible to choose the topics one writes about such that you could believe in inspiration and still be a successful academic in Biblical Studies or New Testament Studies without compromising said belief?

3) The graduate school landscape.

a) How competitive are admissions to Biblical Studies and New Testament Studies Ph.D. programs compared to Classics?

b) Which field has the greatest overall funding and fellowship money?

4) The post Ph.D. options.

a) How competitive are the tenure-track positions in Biblical Studies and New Testament Studies compared to Classics?

b) Which field has the greatest possibility of getting a tenured position at a smaller school where the publishing pressure is less, i.e., where the focus is more on teaching? (Giving more time for Bible-teaching on the side).

c) Which field has the greatest possibility of getting a teaching position at a conservative seminary (i.e., one with non-objectionable confessional standards).

5) Dealing with texts.

a) Is there the option in Biblical Studies and New Testament Studies to focus research and teaching almost exclusively on the Greek and Hebrew texts of the NT and OT (rather than dealing mostly with theological interpretation or literary analysis, e.g.)?

b) Is there the option in Classics to focus research and teaching almost exclusively on Greek texts rather than Latin texts and Greek/Roman Culture?

I'm also interested in your perspective on why you chose Classics over New Testament Studies or Biblical Studies. My personal interests definitely center more on Biblical texts than Classical texts (although I do enjoy Roman and especially Greek history, philosophy, and rhetoric enough that I could make a career out of Classics), and it just seems to make logical sense for academics interested in teaching the Bible to end up in New Testament Studies or Biblical Studies.

I've attached what my schedule will look like for either path. The one focused on New Testament Studies or Biblical Studies forgoes Latin in favor of German (except for the Latin class next semester which I could take along side German, or not), while the Classics path doesn't have any German at all (so I'd have to pick it up in Classics grad school).

Any and all your thoughts would be appreciated.

Yours in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Response #2: 

I'm happy to respond. Please keep in mind – as always – that this advice comes from my point of view and is meant for your spiritual benefit, but you are of course the one who has to make the decisions and live with them. For what it's worth:

First, I think your decision not to try and get an MA at the same time as you are doing all this other work is a very good thing. I believe you are absolutely correct to conclude that it won't save you much time, if any, in most Ph.D. programs. And since you can take the classes you want in any case . . .

Seminary would be a dicey proposition financially in any case. I probably mentioned to you that in my 15 years of higher education that seminary was the one time I had to do it all on my own nickle, in spite of the fact that my academic package was first rate (took a LONG time to pay off those loans too). The only reason to consider seminary would be, if after researching the matter you were to decide that teaching at a Bible college and/or seminary (often they are closely associated as in Biola/Talbot) was your preference, that your chances of getting a job at the sort of place you preferred were enhanced thereby. Most of the faculty now at Talbot have degrees from places like Wheaton, Southern Baptist TS (in Louisville), Claremont, Trinity Int., Multnomah, Westminster, Liberty and the like AND almost all of them had gone to Biola or Talbot or one of the related schools for at least one of their degree.

While places like Princeton would NEVER higher back one of their alumni under any circumstances, with places like this it's the other way around. The "road map" for Classics, dismal as it is, is at least a lot more regular than is the case for NT or Biblical studies; that is true for preparing for a job (schools, research focus, contacts, etc.), landing a job, and getting tenure in a job. In short, I would seriously counsel you to map out a very specific game plan prior to committing as a career to the Biblical Studies course. That game plan should probably include at the very least 1) the twenty or so schools you'd be comfortable working at and teaching at; 2) a generic list of classes you'd be comfortable teaching; and 3) a fairly specific list of research areas you'd be comfortable with devoting a great deal of time to, including what sort of approaches you would be willing and able to adopt. Once you have these lists, reverse planning **(specifically, looking at the faculty who are at your top places, where they went to school, what classes they are teaching, what their research is about and of course what approach it takes) will guide you on the specifics after you've completed your Classics BA. And if you can't find a comfort zone in this amorphous field, that will tell you something. I tried to jam myself into the Presbyterian mold when I was in seminary (from much the same considerations as you are weighing) but in the end my conscience wouldn't allow me to do it – praise God! More on all this below.

1) Latin: IMHO, if you are not going into Classics, you've got more than enough Latin. But if there is any chance that you might switch back to Classics in the future, you can't get enough Latin.

2a) Secular Academia: Blessedly, because of the path I took, this is a problem I have never had to deal with. I take pains NOT to mix my university work with my Christian ministry. Not that I hide my Christianity by any means, but I do compartmentalize my research from the things I do in this ministry. I have never regretted the decision. One of the problems I anticipate you would have in going the Biblical Studies or NT route would be that nearly everyone you met and engaged with would not see things the same way you do. There are plenty of politics in academia, believe me. And if a person is starting with an esoteric position, that will generally lead to alienation – and the evil one is very good about provoking hostility where the "difference" has to do with loving the truth. If a person is writing an article about Thucydides' age at the time of the beginning of the Peloponnesian War and whether or not he is the T mentioned in the siege of Samos (as I currently am), there will be no overt opposition on the grounds you mention. Even so, as someone who treasures the text of scripture, a similar "show me" attitude towards secular texts, giving the author and what the author says the benefit of the doubt even though recognizing and analyzing prejudice and possible error, has put me at odds with the main stream many times. A person writing about a passage of scripture at a secular university and trying to publish in a secular journal will have, I'm pretty certain, an almost impossible time of it.

What about religious schools? These all have their unique points of view too, and even in the most conservative ones much of their predisposition is error-filled. Worse to tell, if you wanted to proved from scripture that water-baptism was not "the one baptism" of Ephesians 4:5, this would get you into hot water (no pun intended) in some places. Further, even in putatively conservative places there will be a culture of scholarship which is not so "backward", meaning that you might very well take fire from the other skeptical side as well. Research is hard enough and getting published is hard enough without having to deal with any such issues. There is also the problem that we love the Bible, but the way we talk about it and explain to those who are interested in the truth is certainly not the way that scholars talk to each other. I have noticed many times biblical scholars betraying a cynicism and skepticism which if not original to their prior point of view was a result of their having to force themselves into that mold.

And, by the way, this sort of problem is going to be endemic to every Bible subject. Take manuscripts, for example. We know something of the truth and that knowledge informs our analysis of the evidence in textual criticism (as knowledge of the subject matter always does). But since most of the editors who are gatekeepers to the journals won't agree with our point of view most of the time, our arguments from sense will be rejected. And it's not as if politics is not involved here either. There is a whole school of "scholars" trying to prove that the later Byzantine manuscripts are "better" than the earliest ones . . . because these later ones agree with the KJV (naturally, since KJV was based on a few late Byz. mss.). There are more mundane and data driven projects such as those computer collating NT mss., but here too the work to be done is on the late mss. which quite frankly aren't very interesting to someone who is really looking for the truth. An interesting experiment which shows the degree of political infection even in this place where it shouldn't exist at all is to compare the different editions of Metzger and co.'s Textual Commentary on the Greek NT. Many of the decisions in the first edition were correct, but were "corrected" in later eds. for political reasons.

2b) Get a few recent journals you think you might publish in (JSTOR online through your schools library website should have plenty). Do your best to find one or two that seem to promise something you'd be interested in reading and see for yourself.

2c) We are all comfortable with and uncomfortable with different things. When you find a journal or two that fit the above, have an idea or two about a specific article or even just a topic you might comfortable with writing on, and see if you think it fits the "feel" of the journal. If it's totally different, chances of publication are not high.

3a) My sense – and it is only a sense – is that it's easier to get into NT / Biblical Studies programs, but that there is a much less chance of being supported with a TA-ship and tuition remission. But everything in life these days is highly competitive. You are a competitor, so you will get what you need to get if that is what God has for you.

3b) It's tight all around; again, I think Classics is better here, but all you need is one supported slot either way.

4a) My sense – and it is only a sense – is that there are more NT/BS slots but that there is more NT/BS competition. In both cases, where you went to school, who you knew (professors), and what you have focused on in terms of research will play critical roles.

4b) I really don't know about that. My guess is that there are comparable numbers of such slots in each field. However, someplace secular like Gettysburg College, for example, which has Classics and Religious Studies, or someplace religious like Hope College, which also has both, have very low turn over ratios: people who get on tend to stay until they are taken out feet first, and neither field is such a growth field (especially Classics) that one can expect many brand new positions opening up. It will all depend on what is available when you are done and need the job. Beggars can't be choosers on this one.

4c) I don't think there are any Classics positions at seminaries anywhere. The Greek and Hebrew professors all went the NT/BS route. As to "non-objectionable confessional standards", if you find such a place, do let me know (at Talbot, you won't be able to dance, play cards, drink alcohol, or go to anything but G rated movies, e.g. – not onerous, but highly irksome for its palpable legalism).

5a) Yes, but the number of slots for such research are low and highly competitive, and also not without issues as mentioned above. You have to have a penchant for this sort of thing.

5b) Absolutely. All Classicists are either Hellenists of Latinists, even if many of us aspire to being generalists. I teach more Latin than Greek but the vast bulk of my research is in Greek. But you still have to know Latin very, very well.

I have gotten more out of reading secular Greek than I ever imagined, and I very much enjoy reading and researching in it. I am also delighted to be able to approach my biblical studies and work without a care about academia or the impressions of academics. But if I hand any inclinations of going the other way, classes I took of Biblical Greek in my second BA certainly cured me of that . . . once I found out what that academic field was like.

You could do German instead of NT Greek – but given that you are considering doing NT/BS as a career, it might be a good idea to keep to your plan.

If we could know ahead of time how the Lord meant to use us in terms of ministry, that would be nice – but He has worked it out wonderfully well for me in spite of the fact that Ichthys came as a surprise (or maybe because of the fact). I know that He honors your commitment, and also that He will guide you into the right path. One thing I can tell you about an academic career is that it takes more time out of the day than you might imagine before the fact. Having a family too makes the whole thing – work, family, ministry – quite a balancing act. I'm not sure but what someone with a more conventional job wouldn't have more time and energy. But then you're spending all this time on preparation. Without seminary, it seems to me that what you're getting in the BA is 90+% of what you need to do your ministry. So graduate school is a career move and decisions related thereto are career decisions. It's not for everyone. I'm confident you can do it (either track), but you'll do it much better and have a much better chance of success if you really do enjoy it. That is the question you perhaps should be asking yourself: is this the way I want to earn my bread? There are other ways to do that, after all.

Please do feel free to write me back about any of this, and also keep in mind that I certainly don't know everything about these issues and that everyone's individual impressions are more telling and meaningful than this sort of third party advice.

Keeping you in my prayers on all this!

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Hi Bob,

Thanks for all the feedback.

To Clarify: "I tried to jam myself into the Presbyterian mold when I was in seminary (from much the same considerations you are weighing) but in the end my conscience wouldn't allow me to do it."
Are these "same considerations" the ability to work with the Biblical texts and interpretation in your day job?

1) I suppose it's sort of a moot point now that I've already had some Latin, but how much would you suggest for a pastor-teacher who had no affiliations with Classics (i.e., who was only doing it for the sake of being a better pastor-teacher)?

2a) I'm getting the impression that you don't think it's possible for a Christian scholar to succeed (i.e., graduate with a Ph.D., get good references from their thesis committee, get published, get a job, get tenure) in secular BS or NT. (Cf. "A person writing about a passage of scripture at a secular university and trying to publish in a secular journal will have, I'm pretty certain, an almost impossible time of it").

It also sounds like you are saying that seminary/Bible college BS or NT isn't any better, because now instead of outright disagreeing with your positions because they are Christian, people will disagree with your positions because their own theological positions are wrong (as with water baptism). At least some of the time.

This is what I was afraid to hear. I don't have a problem disagreeing with the people around me in large or small matters (I've been in secular state universities for 3 years now, and American public schools for 12 before that... so have plenty of practice), but if I can't make it in the field without falling into line, that's a problem.

On the other hand, I don't have a problem writing "scholar-speak" in my day job and more teaching-focused things in my actual ministry (so long as "scholar-speak" isn't just a euphemism for "secular falsehoods"). I'm not fooling myself into thinking that BS or NT would be a primary ministry opportunity; rather, I'm viewing them as a means to keep myself thinking about the Bible continuously (rather than only outside my day job).

Is it really that impossible?

2c) What I had in mind was avoiding things where the secular scholarly consensus militates against Biblical truth (as with the authorship of the Pentateuch, the gospels sharing a source, etc.) or where religious consensus militates against Biblical truth (as with water baptism, the rapture, and eschatology in general). Avoiding overtly controversial things, in other words.

Obviously this would be a bad strategy to pursue if I were trying to correct doctrinal abuses (i.e., viewing it as some sort of apologetics ministry). Also obviously, these considerations would significantly limit the sorts of things I could write about.

However, as long as I could find active topics in scholarship (i.e., topics that are of enough current interest that journals would publish on them) where the scholars/seminary folks weren't so far off that I would be immediately discounted, I could still work on at least some aspect of the Bible full time. I'll ask again: Is it really that impossible?

New set of questions.

I. Exactly what have you gotten out of reading secular Greek? Is it just being around Greek more leading to greater facility with the language?

II. How many hours a week do you think you put in doing professorial duties (teaching, office hours, grading, meetings, advising, research, etc.). Is it more or less than 40? Did you have to do more as younger professor without tenure? Do you think being a professor gives more or less free time and energy than a 9 to 5 "pay the bills" behind-a-desk job?

III. When researching the job market for BS and NT, I came across rather depressing statistics for humanities Ph.D.'s in general (Classics included). The corporatization of universities (i.e., the tendency to use adjunct labor in place of full time faculty for budgetary reasons) has led to terrible working conditions for adjuncts and a significant dearth of available full time positions. It doesn't help that more people are graduating with Ph.D.'s than ever before, so, predictably, the supply and demand mechanics are leading to many Ph.D.'s getting taken advantage of as temporary adjunct labor (~30-40K a year) and many others switching careers after failing to find full-time employment as an academic. It's especially bad for the foolish people who go into loads of debt to get their Ph.D.

Now, of course, there are still the lucky few that make it through to full-time tenure track positions in their field. (Which isn't all rainbows and sunshine because of publish or perish and University pressure on humanities departments to make them look good, but I digress). All this doom and gloom theoretically might not ever apply to me if I beat the odds (which I think I'm capable of doing... but then again some of it isn't up to me at all).

You state: "It seems to me that what you're getting in the BA is 90+% of what you need to do your ministry."

If this is actually true then I wouldn't necessarily need to continue on in any Greek-related field. I had kind of assumed that it would take more than 4 years of Greek and 3 years of Hebrew in an academic setting for me to really "get there", but if you think otherwise, I could add another major (probably computer science) and work in industry while teaching the Bible on the side.

What would you think of this option: taking Greek and Hebrew continuously for the next three years while also getting a major in computer science to support myself after I have the languages?

IV. Here's my current breakdown of pros and cons for Classics, BS/NT, and languages + CS (green is pros, red is cons):

*Classics: Allows study of Greek in day job; Requires lots of unnecessary Latin; Dicey grad school and job prospects

*NT: Allows study of the Bible/Greek in day job; Requires careful topic selection to avoid conflicting with secular and religious consensus (thereby failing to publish, get a job, etc.); Dicey grad school and job prospects

*Lang. + Computer Science: Likely allows for more free time than one would have being a full time student (writing a dissertation) and a full-time professor; Stable, well-paying job options; Does not allow study of the Bible/Greek in day job; Less overall exposure to the languages

The chart raises a few questions:

IV.1 How important is it to have Greek/Biblical topics in one's day job?

IV.2 Are the topics studied/worked on in NT, given the restrictions imposed by expectations, really all that much more useful to the pastor-teacher than Classical Greek?

IV.3 Is the forced conformance problem in NT a bigger con than the extra time spent on Latin in Classics?

IV. 4 Exactly how much more time (if any) would someone working as a software engineer have than someone writing a thesis in grad school or working as a full time professor?

IV.5 Are the extra years of language study in the grad school options worth the trade-offs in "practical bread-winning ability"?

V. It occurred to me that all this discussion of "post grad school" is really rather meaningless if 2026 is the start time of the tribulation. I wish I could say I was so sure of this interpretation of scripture that it didn't make me uncomfortable thinking about long-term career concerns with respect to the academic paths. What if the interpretation is not correct? I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to burn bridges, but with the job market as it is/will be, if I go in thinking "I'll just go to NT grad school so that I can be absolutely as effective as possible during my tribulational ministry" and we turn out to be wrong, it could seriously complicate future ministry after that point. (Getting stuck in the adjunct loop and subsequently dropping out of academia in that area = switching careers at 30).

I suppose this is the stuff of true faith...

That's plenty for this volley. I don't know if I've ever mentioned that I'm not entirely sure what I'd do if I didn't have someone like you to pose these questions to. Pray through the decision and trust the Lord in even more ignorance I suppose.

Thanks again for bearing with my questions on this front. I know I've asked for a lot of advice over the years on these matters.

Your friend in Jesus,

Response #3: 

This doesn't have to be theoretical. Before the term starts and you no longer have the time, find three or four journals which are likely venues for the sort of research you would want to / be willing to do, then find a couple of articles in each which seem to represent or at least parallel that type of research and ask yourself 1) Is this what I want to spend the next decades of my life doing? and 2) Will doing this sort of work be beneficial to me personally either spiritually or in some other way? If you find plenty to be enthusiastic about, that is an answer. If you can't find a single thing, that is an answer.

The main thing, of course, is to put ourselves in a position where we may be useful to the Lord in ministry. Everything else is secondary. Of course we need to live and of course we are concerned about that, but if we put first things first, everything else will become very clear (Matt.6:33). I wanted to teach the Word and, obviously, that is not what I do at the university. But the university does allow me the time and the paycheck to be able to do so off the clock . . . now, at this point in my career. The Presbyterian church would not have involved getting tenure or even a Ph.D. – my seminary degree (the one I started out shooting for, at any rate), would have been enough. But the further I got down that road the clearer it became that that route was fraught with all manner of compromise and that no good would come of it. I don't think most people in that organization – or most if not all denominations – are really interested in pastors who want to spend their time and effort studying and teaching the Word of God. I can't even listen to sermons, much less write or deliver them.

So I went back to Classics. I certainly don't regret it, but it took a lot of time and effort to get to the point where I am at now. While I did have a long-distance Bible study before Ichthys went online and became, well, "Ichthys", Ichthys didn't happen until after I had gotten tenure. Best case scenario for you would be another three years for the BA and maybe a super-quick four years for the Ph.D. (I couldn't really recommend anything short of five and six is more comfortable), then six more years for tenure, assuming you don't have to do a journeyman year as a term person somewhere (like I did) before you land your tenure track job. Thirteen years from now will be 2030, already into the Great Tribulation. Perhaps not the best time to first be getting started with a big ministry push. Of course that is according to the interpretation I have put forward on the timing. Also, of course, we are different people and the times are different now too. But I will say that if you are serious about getting married and starting a family, that load, blessed though it may turn out to be, plus learning how to be a university professor and doing enough publication to get tenure will make serious Bible study enough of a daily challenge, let alone trying to start a ministry as well. If we were to add to that not really enjoying the research you are doing (which would make it awfully hard in my experience) and/or having to deal with very frustrating political factors that marginalized your research even more and gave you career angst, well, let's just say that you are right to consider all these things before the fact.

1) On Latin, you know enough to work your way through the occasional quote or phrase and to figure out esoteric and non-standard abbreviations, and that ought to be enough for your biblical studying and teaching.

2abc) See the intro paragraph. It all depends on what the phrase "Christian scholar" means to you. I'm quite sure that most people in this field consider themselves just that. But almost everything I've seen come out of that field makes me bilious. As I say, if you can find an acceptable niche, that would be great. But I'm skeptical. Hence I highly recommend the exercise discussed above if you are seriously considering this course of action. I'm pretty sure that the NT Greek classes you are planning to take will introduce you to some of this (and if it doesn't detract from Hebrew, well, you won't need German either if you are not going on to Ph.D. work).

It's a little difficult to explain all this in the abstract, because to a reasonable person like yourself it seems reasonable that scholarship on the NT, for example, would rightly be concerned with finding out what particular passages actually mean and/or illuminating them through research. That is akin to assuming that academic philosophy is about philosophy – but it's not, not at all (only historical philosophy is); or that linguistics is about languages – but it's not, not at all (only Indo-European linguistics and some analogous offshoots are). NT/BS studies have developed their own theories of interpretation which are useless to anyone interested in the truth, and these theories dominate the scholarly landscape in my observation. Classics is one of the last places where this sort of thing has been fought to a draw, and so there still is room for actual philology. I'm not saying that there aren't niches that you might find in NT/BS studies that would work for you. There may well be. But jumping in without testing the theory ahead of time is like setting out to trek across the Sahara without any water, assuming that you'll be able to find your way to enough oases to make it. Maybe.

In my experience, the work I do in the Bible in answering questions and exegeting passages and writing up topical studies – very satisfying to me personal (as is reading my Bible in English and in Greek and Hebrew) – could not be fit into any sort of format which would pass for "scholarship" or ever hope to be academically publishable. So for me the "benefit" of doing some sort of research on the NT which would pay dividends has never even been a temptation because I've never even seen an angle where that might happen. But that is something you have to explore for yourself. Again, not theoretically but practically.

I. Absolutely. The better one's Greek, the more chance one has of actually understanding and gaining insights from reading the Greek NT. Pick up a volume of Meyer's commentary from your library and go to some problem passage and see all the different scholarly takes on what "the Greek means" in some verse. How to know who is right? If these were Greeks commenting on English, you as an English speaker would be able to say, "that one's impossible, this one's unlikely, here is the right answer!". This is what we aspire to be able to do with the Greek, if not instantaneously at least after due consideration, and that takes time and experience in the language outside of the NT, becoming as close to a "native speaker" as is possible with a language no longer spoken.

II. I'm happy with where I am at present, and my workload at the university is not unreasonable, but it is also not necessarily as regular or as predictable as one might assume, especially when there are things going on as there were this summer. For one thing, I only get paid for 10 months, but I work twelve, so figuring time is difficult. I am sure I put in a lot more time when I was learning how to teach and trying to publish enough to get tenure. Some weeks were very long during those six make or break years. Also, the Lord provided for me just the right place. U of L is a very low paying place, but as the only Classicist here with tenure in the language department, I've been allowed to run my own show to an exceptional degree, and that has given me a great amount of flexibility in how I have approached things. It has worked out pretty well, in my opinion, but if I hadn't bombed the interview with U. Michigan, I know my life would have turned out much differently: considerably more money and status, but a great deal less Bible study. In retrospect I seriously doubt if there would have been an Ichthys if I had gotten that job.

People who are plugged into the profession and go-getters sufficient to get tenure, network, move up the career path, always put in much more than 40 hours a week in my observation. Research is very time consumptive, as is teaching and all the things students never see which go into advising, program maintenance and development; and then there is administration, and that takes up a great deal of time, especially for anyone who is very serious about their academic career. Add to that conferences and networking within the profession – and social life / networking at the university – and one has a full plate indeed. Perhaps enough time and energy to tend to one's family, a little exercise, a little R&R, a consistent prayer life and some Bible reading . . . but a serious and consistent ministry of one's own too? Well, that would be a hard lift, especially before one has one's career established. Academia is different from the way I imagined it, even seeing a lot as a graduate student. And it is also energy consumptive. Another hurdle. In short, it seems to me that it might be easier to put aside a true 9-5 job after getting home than a chair at a university.

I don't want to sound totally negative. I have no regrets. The Lord worked it out for me in wondrous ways and I am deeply grateful. From where I sit today, I have, in my opinion, the best of all possible worlds. I am poor, but I am happy. I have sufficient time and energy to do this ministry, even if not as much of either as I would sometimes wish. I love teaching the languages, I enjoy the type of research I do, and I have a good rapport with my colleagues in the administrative tasks I have to do. But if I had three kids in junior high school or thereabouts, I don't know how I'd ever get to the ministry.

III. If the statistics were great, you still might not get a job; if there are only a few jobs to be had, you will get one if that is the way the Lord wants you to go.

With three years of Hebrew and four of Greek you will be in a position to continue with your studies and readings on your own. But that is something you would have to anyway, and do consistently (preferably daily), to retain and improve your skills.

IV. Option #3 has its charms, especially for someone like yourself who could easily be an engineer in multiple fields. If anything, you may have understated the disadvantages of the first two options and overstated their advantages. It does take self-discipline to continue with language outside of the university, however.

IV-1. It's not necessary. It is nice (in Classics). I'm not sure the same thing applied necessarily in NT/BS unless your research focus is on manuscripts / papyri etc., and even then, it's not as beneficial as reading the Classics in Greek. Oonce your read the NT a dozen times or so, you've read it for purposes of learning Greek (re-reading for content, of course, never ends). After that, you really need to read something else in Greek too to illuminate the NT / get better at understanding what it means in terms of language.

IV-2. Not in my observation and experience. 19th century stuff is occasionally helpful (e.g., Ramsey and Robertson), but not as much as you might expect; I have rarely found anything post-dating WWII of interest or particular value.

IV-3. The former is a trap that must be avoided somehow for the plan to work. Latin is a wonderful language, the study and reading of which is not only edifying in regard to one's understanding of the ancient world and particularly the time of the NT, but beneficial for linguistic and intellectual development as well.

IV-4. Grad school and striving for tenure are both 60+ hour week situations, generally speaking, and both pretty much consume all of one's spare time and energy.

IV-5. That is a personal calculation. I'm happy to have done what I did and to be where I am despite the trade-offs which were significant. Had I stayed in the USMC, I would have already had a pension for 22 years by now (as opposed to being nowhere in paying off my mortgage). But in that case I wouldn't know what I know or have done with this ministry what the Lord has blessed me to have seen done.

V. See intro. We know what we know, and we don't know what we don't know. We should never allow any such considerations to preclude us from doing what we are called to do, but we also should not allow what are ultimately peripheral considerations to dissuade us from considering what may be very relevant facts.

It is all about faith . . . in the Lord. Trusting Him to be with us when we are following Him. That is right question to ask. What does the Lord want me to do and where is He leading me?

You are certainly most welcome, and I will definitely be praying for your guidance!

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #4:  

Hi Bob,

I took your advice and looked at some articles in the Journal of Biblical Literature which appears to be one of the heaviest hitters in the field. I skimmed/mostly read several from the Spring 2016 issue, in particular:

"My Wife Must Not Live in King David's Palace" (2 Chr 8:11): A Contribution to the Diachronic Study of Intermarriage Traditions in the Hebrew Bible Ancient Compositional Practices and the Gospels: A Reassessment
"Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?" Rhetorical Questions in the Lukan Resurrection Narrative

I wasn't struck by any particular anti-Christian bias, but I was struck by a big dose of "so what?" From my perspective, all this talk of diachronic analysis, rhetorical analysis, etc. doesn't really advance true understanding of the matters at hand, from a Christian perspective.

For example, the first paper:

So Solomon didn't let his Egyptian wife live in the Palace of David. Why exactly is comparing this instance to "exogamy" in Ezra, Nehemiah, etc. relevant to this passages' correct interpretation? Aside from foreign wives, they are totally different situations. Also, this passage isn't hard to interpret anyway. Establishing a wariness of marriage external to Israel in this Chronicles passage doesn't really change much: the Bible is pretty clear about the reasons in related passages. Struck me as a paper in need of a topic rather than a topic in need of a paper.

The second paper:

Text critical stuff with so-called "micro-conflation" in the gospels, p45, etc. Presupposes some degree of borrowing among gospel writers. (I don't think this is impossible, but also don't think it's terribly meaningful one way or the other). My takeaway: we have four gospels. All are scripture. Even if there is some verbatim excerption or paraphrasing going on between the gospels, it doesn't really matter, because the texts are exactly how God wants them.

The third paper:

Rhetorical analysis of Luke's resurrection account. At least seems to treat Luke as the author of Luke and Acts. Brings up Quintilian etc. and talks about culture of skepticism about fantastical claims in Greco-Roman society. Goes about trying to figure out Luke's motivations for using rhetorical questions. (Because the Holy Spirit?) Doesn't really matter anyway: Luke wrote what he wrote.

I didn't think any of these papers were bad. But the scholarship didn't strike me as something I'd be terribly interested in: it's all strictly "academic", and I'm a practical sort of guy. I don't think working on any parallel papers in my own life would significantly advance my understanding of the passages I was writing about. They seem less concerned with what the text actually says than applying diachronic analysis, rhetorical analysis, etc. to bear on the passage. Again -- these things don't even strike me as wrong or unbiblical per se -- e.g., there really was a rhetorical context around the time Luke was writing, and it may have impacted whatever human element is present in his gospel. But it doesn't really change in any way what he wrote or how we look at what he wrote.

I think you put it well with the observations about NT studies not really being concerned with the meaning of passages. My brief survey of the scholarship suggests that the academy is more interested with how passages relate to each other over time, how they relate to the contexts in which they were written, etc. That is., the focus seems to be on how they relate to things rather than what is meant. Since I'm interested in the latter because that's what is practically useful to Christians and what it is important for teachers to get across, I'm going to tentatively say that NT is out. Would you basically agree with my parsing of the information?

After doing this exercise for NT, I started thinking about my own work in Classics so far. As can be seen in my CV, I've written papers on how the heroic ethic affected Hektor's decision-making in the Iliad, the relationship between disciples and teacher's in ancient biography, and the execution of the fourth century Spanish heretic Priscillian of Avila.

Objectively speaking, while I didn't dislike writing any of these papers, I didn't get great joy out of it either. I procrastinated. I chose topics because I knew they matched what the professors wanted to read about more than anything else.

Also, I can say that I feel the same "so what" about my own work. There was a nasty confluence of circumstances that led to Priscillian falling under Maximus the usurper's sword directly rather than the pronouncements of a church council. So what? The heroic ethic played a bigger role in warrior decision-making in the Iliad than individual interests or societal interests. So what?

This seems to be a curse in academics -- writing about things that are ultimately trivial. Perhaps I just wasn't able to pick topics that were meaningful? None of this has to do with Greek texts either.

I don't know really how to evaluate my true interest in the field. I like languages. I like learning about what it is ancient authors meant -- that is, the actual contents of their writings (rather than why they wrote them a certain way, etc.) -- for example, Plato's views on the good and Cicero's views on friendship. I like learning about what the Greek and Roman cultures were like around the time of Christ, and how they could have impacted how we ought to read passages of scriptures. I guess.

Is that sufficient interest to focus on it for the rest of my life?

A new round of questions. This time shorter. (Kind of).

1) You state: "This is what we aspire to be able to do with the Greek, if not instantaneously at least after due consideration, and that takes time and experience in the language outside of the NT." Later you also say: "I'm not sure the same thing applied necessarily in NT/BS unless your research focus is on manuscripts / papyri etc., and even then, it's not as beneficial as reading the Classics in Greek (once your read the NT a dozen times, you've read it, and you really need to read something else too to illuminate it)".

Do you think a pastor-teacher needs to read Greek external to the Bible (i.e., Classical Greek) in order to do their job properly? (Note: I'm talking about being able to -- which I will be -- in order to compare word usage etc., but actually doing it regularly).

2) You say: "In short, it seems to me that it might be easier to put aside a true 9-5 job than a chair at a university." What do you mean by "put aside"? Are you trying to say, in effect that a 9-5 job would give more ability to sink time/energy into Bible teaching than a university chair?

3) In terms of a strictly practical argument (i.e., disregarding for a moment my interests in the subjects), it seems to me that a person of my capabilities, someone who can succeed in industry, would always have more time to actually dedicate to relevant Biblical matters (reading, exegesis, writing topical studies, etc. -- the things you mentioned) in industry than in academia.

Let's assume that I could actually get an industry job that was truly 40 hours a week (rather than getting hired for 40 hours but then working 60 because of America's workaholism). Let's further assume that the academic track is 60-80 hours a week during the writing of a dissertation and tenure drive, and 50+ after that. (Do correct me if these latter number seems too high -- especially the latter: the general impression I am getting from what you wrote is that full time professorship is easy to romanticize and that it's probably almost always more time than industry by a significant margin, even once you get tenure).

For an academic path to be worth it for someone like me would thus require that I get more out of having Greek in my day job than I could get out of the extra 20 hours a week (during dissertation/tenure drive) or 10 hours a week (when tenured). The thing is, I would get to choose how I spent those extra 10-20 hours and control exactly what things I focus on therein.

Certainly with NT/BS, which don't seem to focus on the meaning of the Biblical text as a general rule, I would get more out of 10 hours of my own focused study than 30 hours of doing NT/BS stuff (unless you think I'm misreading the situation). So the question would thus become how does this work in Classics? Would I get more out of 30 hours of Classics Greek-related research a week, or 10 hours where I get to control everything and actually focus on the Bible?

It seems to me that a fairly significant part of Classics research is reading what other people have read, synthesizing sources, developing a position to argue, coming up with support for your argument, etc. In other words, much of it doesn't have a lot to do directly with the meaning and interpretation of a particular text. So even in the hours you are not doing administrative things, sitting through meetings, teaching, advising, or grading (etc.), you really aren't doing all that much that has significant crossover with the central aspect of Bible teaching, namely, figuring out exactly what it is a specific text says and means.

What would your thoughts be on this line of thought? (By the way, I do like computer science, so it wouldn't be burdensome for me to work in the field).

4) You say" "With three years of Hebrew and four of Greek you will be in a position to continue with your studies and readings on your own. But that is something you would have to do consistently (preferably daily) to retain and improve your skills."

Would any additional study on this front cut into the possible advantage for this path mentioned above? That is, would I need to focus on different, less useful things due to not having as much formal language experience (thereby forgoing the reading, exegesis, etc. that is "job #1")?

5) I crunched out what my schedule would like like with the added CS major. It adds a year, but would be all the college I would need -- no grad school necessary for a good job/stable base for ministry. See what you think:

One step closer to figuring all this out (I think). Thanks again for all the help.

In Christ,

Response #4: 

Good job on your "assignment". JBL is the perfect journal for this exercise because it is both one of the top journals in the field and also much less "out there" than most NT/BS journals. This would be one of the first places you would try to get an article accepted if it fit well. And I very much agree with your "so what?" analysis. This is the same question I always ask, both in deciding whether or not to spend time on someone else' work and also whether or not to pursue some research topic of my own. I enjoy history, so tracing down historical questions or (another specialty) historiographical ones is fun for me and also valuable (not spiritually but in terms of the discipline of ancient history). It also pays dividends for me in terms of honing research skills and working with Greek. I don't see any such benefits for me in NT/BS studies since I know the Greek of the NT extremely well and none of the sort of articles you have found, while not offensive to me spiritually (a good set of choices) would help with what I am doing or, importantly, be beneficial to anyone else as far as I can see. So doing this sort of work would, in my view of it, be very much like doing a 9-5 engineering job . . . except that it would entail a lot more energy and time than a 9-5 job and would pay a whole lot less (almost nothing, in fact, until you were out in a term or tenure track job). All this plays into what you have found to do in Classics too. To be honest, while I'm sure that your papers were great, it's not the sort of thing I'm interested in. Were I to do an article on Sophocles, for example, it would involve the text of some passage or the meaning of some passage and if there were any literary interpretation necessary to make the argument it would be focused on common sense cross references to "prove" that this is what S "really is saying here". This is more fun (and less conflicted) for me in historians, but I have dabbled in the Pre-Socratics and tragedians (it's more fun for me to read them in Greek though than to write about them though).

1) On Greek, the more Greek you read, the better your Greek becomes. Some is better than none. A lot is better than a little. "Knowing Greek" is to some degree a perishable skill if one is only ever looking at the NT. As a teacher, at some point you will want to weigh in on what Paul really means in passage X. The better your Greek, the better the chance you'll know what you are talking about. You're not going to find the answer in commentaries (not the right answer, in any case).

2) Most likely yes, at least until you had tenure. Of course even after getting tenure there is the issue of being promoted to full professor which requires even more publishing, although not with the same time restraints. As I say, the Lord has blessed me with just the right job so that I do have the time and energy to do what I need to do. At this point in my career, a 9-5 engineering job would probably give me slightly less time and energy (depending on the week in question), but much more money. I'd rather have the time and energy, even though I need the money (we're not here for the money, but we do have to pay the bills, especially in terms of family responsibilities). Mind you, this is my impression of engineering positions from seeing how life worked out for friends and family, almost all of whom (with a few notable exceptions) have been engineers of one type or another. If a person goes into management or starts his/her own business, that is clearly another story entirely.

3) I think that is true. My Classics study and research has payed wonderful dividends for this particular ministry, but of course it has never been a one for one pay off. In NT/BS, the dividends would have been so much less, possibly even non-existent. In a secular job, they are negligible, of course. But that's the trade off. If I were just getting my second B.A. today but was convinced that there was as little time left as I am convinced there is, I'm pretty sure that would influence my decision about graduate school. As it was, I gave up an opportunity to go into the grad program at the University of Illinois (a top ten ranked program at the time with a long and storied history), in order to go to seminary which I felt was more important. As things turned out, that was a great experience for me in meeting some great men and being inoculated against much of the silliness that pervades evangelicaldom, but I'm also glad that I didn't have to forgo the Classics grad school experience in the end.

4) I don't understand your question. You have to get to a certain "critical mass" point in Greek and Hebrew (or any language) to be able to read on your own and have it benefit you without needing the input of a professor or the discipline imposed by a class in order to keep making good progress. The reason why most pastors today don't do anything (anything good, that is) with Greek and Hebrew despite having course-work in seminary is that on the one hand they never got enough to really get them to the place they needed to go, and on the other hand they have never made a concerted effort to keep up and improve their skills.

5) Sounds like a workable plan. One suggestion. If you decide not to go the grad school route whatever the flavor, I think if you could work the schedule around so as to "lose" NT Greek this fall and substitute real Greek in the spring, that would be the better choice (IMHO).

I'm keeping you in my prayers for guidance on this. Obviously, I have my own perspective on these things, but what the Lord wants you to do is the most important consideration. For what it is worth, I think you are approaching figuring that out in a responsible and godly way.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

Hi Bob,

You tell me if you think I ought to stop asking questions and get down to deciding. I don't think I'm using the "need to collect more information" card as an excuse yet, but sometimes it's hard to tell in yourself. I'm the type of person that likes to be quite sure when I make decisions -- which was one reason my previous decision to transfer was so stressful (though now it seems like a no-brainer), and I'm assuming why I'm uncomfortable with all this. I like certainty and black and white, not "well, this path has some good things and some bad things, and this other path has some good things and some bad things."

Also, if any of this becomes burdensome on your time, just say.

1) Could you be a bit more precise on why reading Greek outside of the New Testament is important? You say " "Knowing Greek" is to some degree a perishable skill if one is only ever looking at the NT. As a teacher, at some point you will want to weigh in on what Paul really means in passage X. The better your Greek, the better the chance you'll know what you are talking about. "

You seem to quite frequently make the point that "Koine" is Greek, not some mystery language, so I'm a bit puzzled at this statement. Could you give some concrete examples of how non-NT Greek has paid dividends?

2) Let me get this straight: during your dissertation and push for tenure (the first 12 or so years after undergrad), you estimated that you spent ~60 hours a week on Classics related things. Now, however, you estimate that you spend under 40 hours a week on professorial duties (i.e., anything related to teaching/research/service)?

I did a lot of research today about how many hours full-time tenured professors work, and most people's experiences (albeit anecdotal) suggest a higher number. A lot of people said that to do a good job on teaching, grading, curriculum, etc. you had to work at least 50 hours a week because universities expect service and research of you as well. I didn't see many people suggest that it was possible to fulfill all one's obligations well in 40 hours a week (though there were a couple).

Do you typically teach a 3/3 or a 2/2 (or something else)? The consensus seemed to be that if you are at an R1 school you teach a 2/2 but don't gain any time (and in fact probably lose some) because much more research is expected of you, while if you teach a 3/3 or a 4/4 (as you would at smaller liberal arts colleges) you spend less time overall researching, but more time teaching. Either way, more time than a 9-5, it sounds like, and certainly not less. Most all people on the internet seemed to say that although their summers are "free", they are almost always filled with catching up on research and writing that was put off during their teaching 9 months.

I'm not trying to suggest you're wrong or anything, just curious, because it seems to not be normal. I know you said you've managed to avoid much of the main hustle and bustle of the profession (forgoing career for Bible Teaching, essentially) -- which would cut down on career responsibilities? I guess I'm just amazed at the idea of getting done everything professors have to do in less than 40 hours a week!

3) Could you explain the following statement? "I think that is true. My Classics study and research has payed wonderful dividends for this particular ministry, but of course it has never been a one for one pay off."

What do you think is true? That people "would always have more time to actually dedicate to relevant Biblical matters (reading, exegesis, writing topical studies, etc. -- the things you mentioned) in industry than in academia?"

Similar to (1), could you give some concrete examples of how Classics has payed wonderful dividends for you and Ichthys? By "never... a one for one pay off" do you mean that skills/experience from Classics don't apply directly to Bible reading/exegesis/topical writing, but indirectly? (How, exactly?) I'm just a little bit fuzzy in general on how Classics benefits and informs the type of Bible study and teaching that we both think essential. Here's how I'm understanding the situation right now:

Classicist Bible teachers (as opposed to engineer Bible teachers) will have a somewhat more complete and less isolated knowledge of ancient history and culture in general. They will also have a somewhat more complete and less isolated knowledge of ancient Greek. However, unless I'm missing something, engineer Bible teachers will not face substantial consequences in terms of correct teaching because of their relatively lesser experience, i.e., situations in which they might have to defer to someone else's judgement or make mistakes due to insufficient knowledge. They can study the topics they need as they come up -- they just might have to research them more instead of knowing them already from the day job. (This is all presupposing that the engineer Bible teacher has a good background in Greek and has kept up with it over time).

"However, both areas of greater knowledge may make the process of correct reading and teaching faster/less energy consumptive for the Classicist Bible teacher."

The question is if it does this enough to make up for the lower amount of free time and energy that professors have overall. That is, do Classics professor Bible teachers save more time/energy from the speed/ease gained by their facility with the topics than they lose by a more demanding/draining job? Obviously apropos to my understanding is question (2): do full-time professors have less free time/energy than people in industry? I'm assuming there are other benefits as well (the bit I'm fuzzy on) -- the reasons why I ought to keep Classics under consideration as a path.

4) This answered my question. I was just trying to make sure that 4 years of Greek and 3 years of Hebrew would be enough to get to that critical mass point, assuming I kept up with them consistently after that. Here's the new possible path for computer science with NT Greek excised:

In Christ,

Response #5: 

I truly appreciate how important this decision is. I don't have any problem with you asking questions (apologies for the delay on this one: Saturday is "posting day").

1) Koine covers a lot of ground and any Greek a person reads helps his/her Greek. Plutarch wrote about the same time as the NT but would not be considered Koine; Xenophon wrote well before it but is sometimes considered the first Koine writer. The Greek novels straddle the NT period and have many later and "common Greek" features but are noticeably different from the NT in many respects. What all these extra-biblical Greek texts have in common is that they are Greek and that they are not the NT. The NT is a very small corpus. If a person only reads the NT exclusively it will give over time a very warped perspective of what Greek is and what it can and cannot mean. If a person from Mars read only "To Kill a Mockingbird" over and over again, it would at some point cease to be helpful in understanding the text of "To Kill a Mockingbird" – whereas reading other things in English would give a more balanced perspective of the context of that book and what the language really means in a great variety of ways. To use another example, if a person has a dumb-bell and only does curls with the right arm, that won't result in getting the whole body into shape or any sort of healthy balance. I frequently "understand" passages better in the NT because the Greek "speaks to me" as Greek in ways that clearly it does not to many commentators with whom I've had to deal. I see things in the vocabulary, in the grammar, and in the word order . . . and between the lines, sort of like how a native speaker can get nuance that someone who has learned English imperfectly will miss. Let's just say that I "get" things from my daily reading of the NT nearly every time I read it that I know would not be the case if I hadn't spent so much time in my life reading Greek. Even at this point, I could wish I had done more rather than less.

2) Currently, I teach 4.5/4.5 classes each semester plus, do my share of admin, and also am managing to produce research. This is a question of individual situations, interests and capabilities. First, I have learned how to do this job and it took a long time. I am by nature and by military training a fairly efficient person when it comes to being goal oriented. I think it is fair to say that I do more with less time than most people in my profession, and also that I spend less time on many things others think are important. I devote minimal time to service and administrative activities, and in the time I spend I take a no-nonsense "get it done" approach.

When I am in my office doing research or admin or prep-ing to teach, I am working and working at it hard and efficiently. I close my door and guard my time jealously. I am not one to wander around conferring with colleagues and spending time drinking coffee and joking with the staff. I move quickly and I move decisively. I do what I have to do to do a good job and have a good reputation among my peers. But I don't have a lot of close friends at the university, I'm not plugged in or networked either at the university or in my profession. I have written enough to get tenure, get promoted, and have the reputation of someone who is pulling his weight, but I'm no "hot shot" in the field and my career is not "bound for the top" as a result. I do a good job as unto the Lord but I put what I'm trying to do for this ministry (and the other things I need to do for my family) before "the job". I have had this approach more or less the whole way, but of course even so when trying to get the Ph.D. and then tenure, even high efficiency can't produce enough free time to do all one would want. As I say, Ichthys didn't go "live" until just after I had gotten tenure. My sense is that most of my peers would not have time to do a ministry like this without making serious adjustments and trade offs with the way they approach their jobs and their family lives. But then, the Christian life is all about trade offs and choices, demonstrating thereby what is really most important to us.

3) By "I think this is true" I mean your statement at #3: "it seems to me that a person of my capabilities, someone who can succeed in industry, would always have more time to actually dedicate to relevant Biblical matters (reading, exegesis, writing topical studies, etc. -- the things you mentioned) in industry than in academia". In terms of your other questions here, I think I've answered the one on time, which is "it depends on variables which have to do with you and your unique interests, needs and ultimate university situation", but in general many if not most will have more time and energy in a non-academic 9-5 situation, especially for the first ten to twenty years. As to dividends, it has been a blessing to be immersed as part of my daily routine in the language, the culture, the history etc. of the ancient world, all of which things have an application to understanding the New Testament. Add to that the study of texts, literature and research methodology which, because of my choices, closely parallels the way I think and research in biblical areas, and I feel I have been blessed by this choice of paths immensely. Of course if I had concentrated on Latin more than Greek and literary theory instead of history, the dividends would probably have been less.

I'm very interested to see what you decide to do, my friend. I have no doubt that you will be able to serve the Lord either way. I am keeping you in prayer to make the right decisions. After all, it's not just what we might want to do in an ideal world, but what is reasonable given the time, the available resources, and what we are willing and also able to actually do. I had planned, believe it or not, to try for three Ph.D.s, as impossible as that seems to me now. I'm happy I went the way I went, but we are all different AND the times are different. If I had any mathematical or software or engineering talent / degree, it is very likely that I would have opted for that route at some point in the past – and I like to think I'd still have been able to do some substantial ministry for the Lord. But this path has proven to be the best . . . for me. Here's praying that you find what is best for you.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hi Bob,

1) On the point of "the more Greek the better" what I'm after is an understanding of the opportunity cost of the situation -- i.e., what I will definitively lose from having my head less in Greek.

What is unclear to me from your response is whether someone with less reading experience overall will actually miss things that a Classicist Bible teacher would not (or make mistakes, etc.), or whether the whole process of correct reading and interpretation just takes them longer. These strike me as two entirely separate considerations.

2) I'm afraid you're also going to have to explain in more detail why more external Greek is necessary. You say: "If a person only reads the NT exclusively it will give over time a very warped perspective of what Greek is and what it can and cannot mean. If a person from Mars read only "To Kill a Mockingbird" over and over again, it would at some point cease to be helpful in understanding the text of "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- whereas reading other things in English would give a more balanced perspective of the context of that book and what the language really means in a great variety of ways."

Pardon my denseness here, but it seems as if you are arguing for the purity of Greek as an end unto itself. Early this year you told me that the exact pronunciation of Greek -- i.e, what Greek "actually" sounded like in 5th century Athens -- was much less important overall than a consistent system of pronunciation. So why can't the Greek language itself be looked at the same way? Sure, Bible teachers who only read the NT aren't learning real Greek -- they're learning a very specific subset of it that only applies to, well, the NT. If they were to go try and apply their "Greek" to Plato or Aristophanes, they would have a bad time. But they don't need to be able to accurately read and interpret Plato and Aristophanes -- they need to be able to accurately read and interpret the NT.

From my perspective, gaining an understanding of "what Greek is and what it can and cannot mean" by reading the NT will give one a NT lens (meaning your expectations and assumptions about how Greek works will cause problems if you face something other than NT). I can't see how this concretely affects one's ability to correctly read the NT, however, merely other Greek texts. Similarly, with respect to the argument presented in your To Kill and Mockingbird analogy, why ought we to care about "the context of [the] book and what the language really means"? Does this not only matter if we presuppose that one ought to read other non-Biblical texts? (Much of my dismissal of New Testament Studies was essentially because it gets hung up on the "context of the Bible" instead of looking at the Bible itself... how is this materially different?).

Here's a concrete example of my confusion, one that I'm sure you're familiar with: ἁμαρτ νω is used commonly in the NT as the verb "to sin" (but can also have other usages more in line with its non-NT use). In Attic Greek, ἁμαρτανω means "to miss the mark" or "to err" (not necessarily with moral overtones), not "to sin" in the technical NT sense. Knowing the latter brings no significant new knowledge of ἁμαρτανω to NT interpretation that I can see (but of course it means that one would not falsely think that earlier authors were talking about sin... if one were reading earlier authors). What is the mechanism through which additional Greek knowledge (which I take to be a more complete understanding of "real" Greek -- its grammar, vocabulary, syntax, etc.) adds something to one's understanding of New Testament Greek, if, by definition, the only usages that will be truly determinative of the latter are those in the NT? Do you see where I'm going wrong? Am I missing something?

3) While I'd still like to understand the above better, I've crunched some numbers, and made some pro/con lists. Here's what I've got:

Classics Pros
Teaching experience/methods somewhat transferable to ministry
Mentoring experience/methods somewhat transferable to ministry
Research skills somewhat transferable to ministry
Knowledge of ancient history/culture somewhat transferable to ministry
Greek skills somewhat transferable to ministry
Flexible hours mean you can schedule things around burnout/tiredness/etc.
Summers/winter breaks are less busy = opportunities for really cranking things out
Get to full-time professorship = job right around 40 hours (but see below)
No mandated time requirements: if you finish all your work in less time (by being hyper-organized and extremely efficient), you simply get more free time. (Like Bob!)
Layman Christians perceive you as more qualified with a Ph.D. in a field related to the Bible (Greek)

Classics Cons
Less free time during dissertation/grad school and tenure drive
Hard to support a wife and kids, both with respect to time (at least during dissertation/tenure drive) and with respect to money
Free time is less spread out/more concentrated around breaks: it is generally best to spread things out if possible (within limits), e.g., reading the Bible 30 minutes a day rather than 3 hours on Saturday.
Generally have a harder time avoiding taking work home on evenings and weekends; harder to keep a black and white work/family/ministry divide

Computer Science Pros
Possibility of swinging into part time work as circumstances allow (contracting/freelancing, dropping to 30 hours a week at permission of full time employer, etc.) -- giving more time for ministry (yet still a reasonable income -- though less than full-time of course).
Total geographic freedom if successful in establishing oneself as a contractor/freelancer
Get to study exactly what you think best in bonus free time: can make better use of this time than the time in a Classics day job when you study sorta related stuff
Can support a wife and kids much easier on a CS salary, even at reduced working hours.
Gives additional practice with text-editors, typing, web design, etc. -- can improve general writing efficiency and speed up production of ministry materials

Computer Science Cons
Lose exposure to non-NT Greek (unless you do it along with Bible study)
People who aren't well versed in how spiritual gifts work may find the lack of more education a stumbling block

Even assuming that I wouldn't use all the extra time exclusively for my ministry (e.g., some might go to my wife and kids), the amount of extra time I'd have to work on my ministry would be quite substantial -- more than enough to offset the benefits of a Classics day job, I would think, even in the long haul. I could even tack on separate study of the ancient world and Classical Greek authors in some of this free time and probably get more done over this period on my own -- studying only the things most relevant in the most effective manner -- than I would with the Classics day job, where I wouldn't have the same degree of control. If I could manage to get a part-time system set up (around 30 hour weeks), the extra time I would have would simply be impossible to match on the Classics side, or so it would seem. It's also worth pointing out that I would have the flexibility of working hard at the beginning of my career (when I'm not married, etc.) to gain enough capital to put down money on a house, and then tone it back when I want more time (at least theoretically). This path would also give me the option of living somewhere else to do ministry (such as a more receptive, poor country) while doing freelance work online, as well as giving my wife the option of working if she wanted/we found it prudent, since I could (again, theoretically) have flexible hours.

For these reasons I'm currently leaning towards CS, but really want to understand the above questions before I commit (just to make sure I know exactly what I'm giving up). If I don't take Latin next semester, I won't really be able to catch back up. On the flip side, if I don't start taking CS classes next semester, I won't be able to finish the major in a timely manner. This means one door closes in a week.

You know, it's funny. None of this (particularly computer science) was even on my radar even a week ago. I could have gone by the "point of no return" in Classics without ever really thinking about my career and considering the possibility of a different path. It could just be that this is coincidence and I'm reading too much into it... but on the other hand, there's no such thing as coincidence. (How about this one too: why am I so good and math/science/coding if I'm destined to end up a humanities Ph.D.?).

Thanks again for all your help. I'm sorry this has sort of turned into a nightly exchange... I think we're nearing the end.

Your friend in Jesus,

Response #6: 

1) The benefit of more Greek is both quantitative (i.e., the ability to do it quicker) and qualitative (i.e., seeing things that others would miss). I should point out that going to graduate school in Classics is no guarantee of getting this benefit to any particular degree – it depends how much work you put in on the Greek. Graduate school competes for your time and energy from multiple directions, and reading Greek – for reading courses and prep for comps – is only one of many things that screams for time. And on the other hand, you could read Greek on your own without being a grad student (you'll certainly know enough when you finish your B.A. to continue on your own). But it is true that grad school forces a person to pay attention to Greek in a way that one's own self-discipline may not. There are all kinds of costs to going to grad school in Classics. The biggest cost of not going (though not the only one) is the loss of the level of expertise in Greek one might otherwise attain. Is this the most important thing? I think having a good framework of doctrinally accurate theology is more important, but it's impossible to build that from scratch without mastery of Greek. Of course, IMHO, you don't have to build it from scratch because you have Ichthys.

2) Here I have to disagree with your analysis (apologies). It is contrary to my own experience, my observation of others who have only seen Greek in the NT, and what I know about language. Take vocabulary as an example. Such people may assume that word "A" must mean "X" because that is the only thing they think it means in the NT. But they are looking at things with blinders on; if they had read word "X" elsewhere they would have seen nuances that are not apparent in NT lexicons, and they would understand that the twist which the lexicon puts on the word is at least somewhat misleading. By mastering Greek generally, a person will be his/her own lexicon, for example, rather than being dependent upon the sometimes very subtle mistakes and biases of lexicographers. To use an analogy, there is a difference between someone who has only taken violin lessons for a number of years and a first chair virtuoso with the London symphony. I don't think we really need to explain why that is so or to whom we would prefer to listen. Perhaps the person with the several years of lessons might get pretty good playing at Mahler if that was all he/she played, but I happen to think the other person would be able to play Mahler much better too, even though not playing him exclusively – and in fact precisely BECAUSE of not playing him exclusively.

It doesn't mean that the non-professional is wrong or bad to do what he or she is doing. Life is all about choices. I don't consider myself a first chair virtuoso in Greek – I have made choices to put time and energy into this ministry and into my family instead of going "all Greek". The only reason I've spent so much time on the language is for the sake of understanding the NT. I can only tell you my experience and observations. I don't regret any Greek I've done and all of it has helped me understand and interpret the NT much better than if I'd only ever read the NT – and that is what I have seen in all other cases I've ever been exposed to. I'm certainly not telling you what to do on this. I'm just telling you what I've learned. Perspective and breadth may not be absolutely necessary (especially if someone already has a firm, solid grounding in true theology), but they can't be made into negatives. One's judgment in exegesis is conditioned by a number of factors. The most important is having a proper and correct theological framework, but the language means what it means, and having good judgment on that only comes with experience of Greek generally.

3) I think you lists are very good. It might interest you to know that I did exactly the same thing, charting it out, when I decided to opt to go back into Classics and leave seminary early (with a language focused MABS rather than an MDiv). I think you can add one other big "con" to Classics: difficulty finding a job, any job, that will be tenure track anywhere. And here is another factor to consider: if you don't absolutely love Classics or NT/BS and doing research therein (or at least enjoy it to a reasonable degree – that is where I would put myself), I think one's chances for getting that elusive tenure track job and even if so getting a good outcome at the end of the tenure process are severely diminished. I got a little burnt out with Classics at the end of my second BA, which no doubt had something to do with going off to seminary for what turned out to be a two year hitch. It all turned out wonderfully well for me in the end – no regrets. I certainly want you to do well and be as happy as possible while you pursue God's plan for you. I tried my very best to be realistic about all assessments regarding a career in Classics when you were first considering it (and also lately in NT/BS); I'm very happy that you have decided to give all this due consideration before that point of no return. I think there would be time to return, but as someone who DID return (a second BA after the USMC) I can tell you that it is not for sissies.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #7: 

Hi Bob,

Last volley I hope.

I suppose it seems quite tautological now that I'm spelling it out this way, but basically what I was saying was that someone who "really" knows the NT does not need external Greek because they already know exactly how things in the NT work in each and every case. I guess this is sort of a nonsensical argument now that I think about it: someone who already knew the NT to such a degree would in this circumstance perfectly understand the meaning of scripture in each and every case. By definition, however, this person with perfect understanding of NT usage would not need any other Greek... because the entire point of other Greek is helping to establish NT usage (which this person already has down perfectly).

The parallel in your analogy would be if the "Mahler only" individual perfectly interpreted Mahler -- then they wouldn't need any other music because it wouldn't help them interpret Mahler any better (by definition). The catch is that they would need other music to know how to perfectly interpret Mahler in the first place. (What you're arguing for I believe).

I think your point was since in practice no one ever gets anywhere close to a perfect understanding of "real" NT usage (pace lexicons that claim to be exhaustive and grammar books like BDF that claim to outline all major NT peculiarities), it is important to read external Greek to continuously work towards a more perfect understanding of NT usage.

Ultimately this boils down to the main reason for learning Greek in the first place: the ability to not have to take people's word for things, and see for oneself. What you are doing with lexicons, grammars, et al. is taking people's word for things rather than seeing for yourself. To the extent that the writers of these resources are mostly right, to that extent you also will be mostly right. However, to the extent that they are wrong, so too will you be wrong. Reading external Greek means you won't be tied to the rightness and wrongness of other individuals' opinions on how NT Greek does or does not work; you will able to determine how it works for yourself. Am I getting it right this time around?

Now that I think I understand the above, two more questions:

1) Can we determine Greek usage from meaning if we determine meaning ("a good framework of doctrinally accurate theology") from Greek usage? How else do we figure out what is "different" in NT Greek if not through deciding that usage is different from non-NT Greek in some area because of what the text means? Is this not a bit circular?

2) Can we postulate a division of labor among pastor-teachers in the matter of overall Greek experience? That is, is it God's Will that some individuals (such as yourself) get enough experience in Greek to be able to make really difficult judgment calls about the language, while other individuals get less overall experience (and hence a reduced ability to deal with some things) but have more time to serve in other ways -- such as many more free hours to write/teach?

If this is so, the question is then not "which path is better" (because neither path is "better"), but "which type of pastor-teacher am I?"

In Christ,

Response #7: 

Yes, I think you've gotten the point on what I'm saying about Greek.

1) There is a circularity, but ideally it is circling in on the truth in the center through a more and more correct understanding of each verse with every circle we make and thus a better understanding of the overall truth, which leads to better understanding of individual verses . . . with a better and better mastery of Greek (and ancillary disciplines) contributing. And the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I think this ministry speaks for itself on that point.

2) Indeed, we are called to different ministries individually by the Lord (1Cor.12:5). Not everyone will do the same thing or should try to. That is one of the biggest problems with setting up denominations and structuring things in a Procrustean way: it puts talented and gifted individuals into roles for which they are not qualified and doesn't exploit their strengths. You have many gifts, and you also have things you need to do, would rather do, and would rather not do. The Lord certainly knows all this. It all gets down to being comfortable with who you are and also, critically, what the Lord wants you to do. That requires a good deal of "soul searching", but you began that process a long way back, and I have confidence that with prayer you'll be able to figure this one out for the good. In fact I'm counting on it.

Looking forward to seeing your own ministry develop, my friend. There is no "one way" to go about this, and the Lord will lead us into the "right way for us" if we are responsive to the Spirit's guidance.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Hi Bob,

I've decided to go the computer science route. Many of the reasons are discussed above, but here's the "greatest hits":

CS lets me much better support a family, which is something I'm pretty sure I want
CS will give me more free time, especially in the next 10-12 years. This is particularly relevant considering the next 10-12 years are those leading up to/into the tribulation.
CS has the option of part-time work (30hrs/wk), which still pays reasonably well all things considered.

I am pretty sure I am a "learn Greek and Hebrew well to make teaching more effective" sort of pastor-teacher than a "have Greek in the day job for maximum exposure" sort of pastor teacher.
Because I have known you for quite some time now, and you are one of the people who has had a very wide exposure to Greek, I can refer to your judgement on certain matters. (Not blindly following what you say, but relying on your counsel as a friend and a mentor in areas where my knowledge may be a bit spotty). I would be much more hesitant to forgo additional exposure to Greek if I didn't know and trust someone who did get that additional exposure. I will genuinely enjoy not having to write lots of papers or work on lots of publications, and instead focus on only the Greek/Hebrew texts I am interested in the manner most conducive to achieving my goals with the language. I don't much like the rigidity of academic writing, nor the expectations regarding what you write about, how you say it, etc. I am also a perfectionist, so removing papers/publications opens up more time than readily apparent. I will also genuinely enjoy having science/math/etc. back in my life. I like these things.

Overall, this third major will add one more year to my college experience, which, paradoxically, will let me get more exposure to Hebrew since I'll get to take another Fall/Spring of classes. This means I will have had 4 full years of Greek and 3 full years of Hebrew by the time I graduate.

I'm fairly certain this is the right decision, however, there is one more area I'd like your opinion on: job considerations. If by faith we understand that God will provide for us if we are doing His Will, should considerations of job availability factor into the decision at all? (I don't think it would need to for CS to have an edge -- see above -- but it might make the decision easier to live with).

In Christ,

Response #8: 

From what I can tell, it sound to me (on the outside looking in of course) as if you have made a very good decision – and certainly I'd be happy to help out in your ministry with whatever input you might find useful.

As to what to take into consideration, we don't worry, we trust the Lord. But that doesn't mean that we don't take in to account all reasonable considerations – we're supposed to do that. I would doubtless not jump off of a high cliff into the ocean just because it's the fastest way to the beach, unless perhaps I were being hotly pursued by a pack of rabid dogs . . .

Besides, here we are talking about the totality of the evidence, the things not included which we've discussed as well as all the highlights listed here; and potential job availability – which is after all also an important consideration – is just one factor. We don't worry, but we also don't let guilt plague us unduly once we've done our best to make a good decision as unto the Lord . . . which it seems to me is just what you've done.

Happy to hear that (somewhat ironically but not at all surprisingly) you'll be doing more Greek and Hebrew this way than the other way.

Keeping you in my prayers as always.

Your friend in Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

Apropos and much appreciated. One thing from a clarification perspective based on Titus and 1Tim 3, aren't teachers/elders/overseers, etc. appointed by the church leadership? I know the Holy Spirit gives the gift and the Lord appoints but from an administration perspective in terms of body unit.

Is this strictly for NT times because infancy of the church and therefore unity was required from a leadership appointment? Since your ministry, while appointed by Christ, was not appointed by a specific body of elders, how does it work in the age of the internet?

As you can see, we have a situation here where one person feels he should have his own ministry and not be part of the church here. We, the body here, feels he is doing it out of pride and competition. He has no experience in ministry and no background in biblical education. He has no wife or children so from experience alone, he can't qualify as an elder or pastor? I just want to make sure I understand the biblically context around that.

His experience is really not the crust of the matter but other issues which is of more concern. He believes the Holy Spirit the evidence of Holy Spirit is when you can speak in tongues and other doctrinal issues.

The more I see in here, the more it represents the church proper on the outside. There are many people who can read the bible verbatim but is walking in error. One of the main reasons why I am doing a study on obedience is because the church I attend here, the pastors had a congregation on the outside and knowing the particulars of their case, I know this is the testing of faith, etc but they teach obedience. Meaning you can't say you love the Lord and do something else. Most people don't attend because they don't want to hear the message or they get convicted. I was wrongly under the assumptions they were talking about grace by works but they weren't. The Holy Spirit convicted me on my judgement.

Seeing that we are in the age of Laodicea and Rev 3 speaks about lukewarm, you can't be lukewarm if you are obedient in all aspects in the walk of Christ. I believe most profess believers don't understand and that. And when you are surrounded by the same people 24 hours a day, you see it. Out there, people go to church for an hour a week and you never know but obedience is a hallmark of faith.

I just wanted to give you context. I believe this individual, like the main pastor here stated, is an immature Christian but my question is if you are prideful and won't be an understudy, can you stay immature forever and just lose rewards or will it be detrimental to your faith because now you are preaching from a pulpit.

Thank you like always.

In Christ Jesus our Lord

Response #9: 

A lot to talk about here. First of all, it should be pointed out that some of the things that most Christians take for granted about the way in which churches and denominations are organized while not necessarily wrong are certainly not mandated by scripture. While denominations and even individual churches have always been, it seems, very quick to produce a spate of rules and regulations governing just about everything – and in the case of legalistic ones governing the details of their members' lives to an obscene degree – scripture is just the opposite. While the Bible has a great deal to say about spiritual growth, for example, it really has very little to say about how churches should be organized and governed.

The largest collection of verses on the subject is to be found in 1st Corinthians 12-14, but here Paul is correcting abuses and telling us what NOT to do as opposed to what we should do. When he says at the and of chapter fourteen, that all things should be done "in a decent and orderly way" (1Cor.14:40), he gives us what he in the Spirit considered all we need to know. When we add rules to this principle, we are looking for trouble. And trouble is what most churches and all denominations have produced in trying to move beyond what is written in setting up their "churches". In fact, a "church" is a sub-assembly of the Church, in biblical terms, a voluntary association of Christians who get together for the purpose of mutual encouragement and spiritual growth (Heb.10:24-25). It is not a membership organization designed to keep people's behavior straight. Unless a person makes an issue of behaving badly and forces others in the group to take notice, behavior is between the individual Christian and the Lord. We are responsible to Him, not to others (unless, as I say, we violate our own privacy by flaunting some bad behavior in the face of the Christian group). We all sin and stumble, so we are all disobedient. We ought to strive to do better day by day, but that is something that requires spiritual growth to achieve and can never be achieved by exerting pressure from the outside. "Churches" which play that game (and most do, sadly) actually only stunt spiritual growth, a problem which is compounded by a lack of substantive and orthodox Bible teaching. All this by way of introduction to make the point that what most people assume about what a church is, should be, and should do is for the most part not only not biblical but to a great degree inimical to what the Bible actually says about such things.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Matthew 18:20 NKJV

Wherever believers gather to learn the truth and encourage each other through the truth is an assembly, a "church" in the biblical sense. It is fine if it meets more than once (wonderful, in fact); it is fine if it meets in the same place. But if it becomes a cause unto itself and begins producing rules and regulations, taking money, building infrastructure, etc., this is usually the death knell of anything spiritual.

What is a pastor-teacher? That is someone who has been 1) gifted by the Spirit as such, 2) assigned a particular ministry by Jesus Christ, and 3) given effectiveness by the Father (1Cor.12:4-6). While #1 happens generally at spiritual rebirth, #2 and #3 only occur after significant preparation to teach. People being ministered to, "the [local] church", have a right to weigh in on whom they will listen to and whose authority they will accept. In order for this process of good teaching being vetted to proceed in an orderly way, churches select a group of elders and that is a biblical thing to do; deacons may be appointed to handle the administrative affairs of the group. That is about as far as the Bible goes in regulating churches, and what it says is usually misinterpreted or better put perhaps over-interpreted by most churches and denominations. For one thing, no believer is required to continue in any such church.

In my experience and observation, almost no such group survives – in the sense of being a good Bible teaching church – the passing of its founders. So it's usually better to start over. Few churches survive getting a building either, at least without seriously compromising their purpose. Biblical "church" is about learning the truth and encouraging one another through the truth; that can happen without a formal board, without a formal space, without money changing hands. And when the other things get added, usually the church goes from bad to worse spiritually speaking.

So if "two or three" gather to pray and seek the Lord, having a trained, gifted individual to minister the Word to them is the ideal situation. People have a tendency to think of "more" as better, especially in this country, but that I am sure is not the way the Lord sees it. Better is better, more may be only more of the same, but in practical terms more is usually worse. Why? Because getting "more" requires advertising (or related activities usually called "outreach"), it requires money, it requires formal organization, it requires a big shiny new building – in other words it requires all manner of things that have zero to do with learning the truth of the Bible and in fact usually militate against that primary goal, if only subtly so. For one thing, most people don't want to learn the truth in a detailed way, so getting "more people" often requires dumbing things down to the level that will attract more people and concentrating on "what the people want to hear" instead of what the Lord wants to be taught.

What are the qualifications of a pastor-teacher? First, he must be gifted. Second, he must be prepared. In order to avoid abuse, Paul in several places gives the qualifications of elders (of the which the pastor-teacher will certainly be one) but mostly to ward off abuses (1Tim.3:1-2; Tit.1:6-9).

If the pastor-teacher is married, he can only be married to one woman at a time (no polygamy); if he has children, they must be obedient to him (a family is not a church because a family does have an authority structure for regulating behavior until the children grow up). He should be "able to teach" (1Tim.3:2) and "must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Tit.1:9 NIV); these are main positive characteristics which define the role. In other words, it's all about the truth. "Members" of the "church" have a right to expect substantive and orthodox teaching of the truth since this is the reason for the assembling in the first place, and they not only have a right but a duty to vote with their feet if it is lacking.

It is in this spirit that Ichthys was founded and it is in this spirit that all that is produced is produced. Does a pastor have to be "ordained"? That is another very much misunderstood and misapplied principle based upon the practice in the book of Acts of "laying on of the apostle's hands" to provide the Spirit for those who required it. Based upon similar ordination in the Pentateuch and the practice of anointing the head in the kingship of Israel as a sign of God's choice, this sort of thing has been embraced and regulated by churches. But it is nowhere mentioned as a biblical necessity. In practical terms today, as long as a person has God's "ordination", that is certainly sufficient. In a standing group, it is not wrong for the elders to vet qualifications before "calling a pastor", but the chances of that process working out for good are not that great. In practical terms, a gifted man prepares and starts teaching and people respond and gather around him. The proof of the quality is in the pudding, not in whether or not a humanly concocted organization has made a display of acceptance. If people are gathering around a group or a building instead of a quality, qualified teacher, they will get what they bargain for.

Finally, on obedience, I would suggest you do a word study on the term. I think you will find that it is very closely related to faith – and I know for certain that if you do a word study on faith you will find that it is far more important in terms of its occurrence in the Bible. Obedience meaning what? If we are talking about responding to God and His will, that is what faith and spiritual growth and progress (and later production) are all about. But if "obedience" is divorced from this or seen as something different from this, there will be trouble of a legalistic sort. Yes, we are all responsible to the Lord to obey all of His commands, and even in the New Testament there are very many passages which tell us what a Christian does not do (e.g., Gal.5:19-21; cf. Rom.1:26-31; 1Cor.6:6:9-10; 6:18; 2Cor.12:20-21; Eph.5:3-6; 1Thes.4:3-4; 2Tim.3:1-5; Heb.13:4-5; Jas.4:1-4; 1Pet.4:3; 2Pet.2:9-10). But these behaviors are obvious, and any Christian worth his/her salt understands this principle of sanctification. If a person is having trouble with that – as we all have trouble with some things at some times – continued spiritual growth will knock off the rough edges eventually and will lead a person to straighten out more and more in their walk with the Lord (with divine discipline lending a hand in any area of recalcitrance). What will NOT work is to worry about how others see us because we are in some sort of North Korean-like environment. The Pharisees had this down cold, but inside there were as tombs filled with deadmen's bones. Change, true change for the good, never ever comes from the outside in – only phony change does; true change for the good always comes from the inside out – from genuine spiritual growth.

Feel free to write me back in case I've failed to address any salient points.

Here are some links on Church Polity and related pastor teacher issues:

Church Polity: Elders and three other passages

Some Questions on Church Polity

Christology Questions IX: Christ and His Church

Finding a Church – or Something Better? II

Fighting the Fight III: False Teaching, Local Churches, and the Truth

Finding a Church – or Something Better?

Can you recommend a church?

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

Christian Unity and Divisiveness.

Dysfunctional Churches.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Red Hot or Lukewarm?

The Meaning and Purpose of True Christian Assembly

Spiritual Growth, Church-Searching and "Discipling"

Ichthys and Contemporary Christianity

Ministry and the Ichthys Ministry II

Ministry and the Ichthys Ministry

Keeping you and your family in my prayers always, my friend (and thanks much for yours!).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

How about this- Obedience: The Evidence of Faith and Spiritual Maturity

Clarification on a couple of items as it relates to obedience:

1. What I mean by "output equals salvation", I meant that we are saved by grace alone and not works, which is true but obedience is a reflection of the faith we say saves us. I think I will change the header to reader obedience: the hallmark of spiritual growth.

I see where you are going and i don't want anyone to misinterpret the work. If I was to use a formula for illustration sake it would be obedience = faith + spiritual growth.

The whole premise of what I am trying to accomplish, similar to your eternal rewards series, that shows a life where you say you love the Lord you do what he says and how do you reconcile that with the command from Christ in Rev 3 to Laodicea to be not lukewarm. If you are lukewarm, are you even a believer? That is the question and where this obedience study comes in.

Your help is appreciated. I am just trying to reconcile not from a heart perspective but from a profess faith prospective and how that lines with your walk. If it doesn't, are you even a believer or is it even a futile exercise for me to even try to do this because it is a gray area that deals with the heart and only God really knows.

I will respond to your other email about church politics, etc by tomorrow.

Quick question, what is the best method of doing word study? Can you provide me with pointers?

Thank you very much

In Christ Jesus our Lord

Response #10: 

On word studies, this is something that people do, and it can be an enjoyable heuristic process – which is to say that taking a concordance and looking up various occurrences of the English word "obedience" will give a person some perspective on the term. However, it's only a first step in formation of doctrinal principles. After all, English is not Greek or Hebrew, and every version will translate key terms differently, often (sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes not) translating the same Greek or Hebrew word with different English words or phrases within the same version. Also of course, in both original language roots are far more important than in English, which means that there will be multiple words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.) based on the same root which are not necessarily capable of such nice common presentation in English. And there is the issue of synonyms and antonyms, and also the issue of a doctrinal idea being present without necessarily also having the expected vocabulary present. So word studies are essential "recons" of the textual battlefield, but they never give complete information and can sometimes lead to unbalanced perceptions of certain issues if not done in sufficient depth or if examined out of context with what else the Bible has to say on important, related principles. Whenever I treat a subject I attempt to get as much information from the Bible about it as possible, and using concordances – Greek and Hebrew ones more than English ones – is one way I try to make sure that I've accumulated all of the critical passages. It's not a net that will capture 100% of the "fish" one is looking for, however, for reasons adumbrated above.

On obedience, I appreciate where you are coming from. James' epistle would probably be a good book to teach to work through that issue since he approaches things from a similar perspective, namely, true faith always produces true "works" – but by that he means living and acting in a manner that reflects one's faith.

Keep up the good work, my friend!

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #11: 

Hi Dr,

I have started to read Latourette's History of Church Vol I and some of the points you mentioned he outlined about Church history not necessarily what we see but the ones that are not read in the books. It is really good and conservative base versus the other one you provided. I will start off with the more conservative one first. I really appreciate it.

I have printed all your materials but I want a theological book here so I can do additional studies. What about LS Chafer' Systematic Theology book? I know you mention him a lot in your writings.

Thank you. In Christ Jesus our Lord

Response #11: 

Chafer's "Systematic Theology" is a large, eight volume set, and quite frankly not the best thing to spend your time on in my opinion. "Major Bible Themes" is a pretty good synopsis of Chafer's teachings and was co-written by him and one of his major disciples, J.F. Walvoord.

I mention Chafer a lot because 1) he is well-known in evangelical circles since he founded Dallas Theological Seminary, and 2) he was the mentor of my mentor, Col. Thieme – but I got a lot more for from the latter than the former. To be honest, I seldom consult my Chafer (and get very little out of it when I do, for reasons we can discuss if you wish).

You friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #12: 

Also Professor, last week I again spoke to a Christian minister who has been visiting the club every Thursday (which is when I'm normally there). We spoke before and, sadly, we wouldn't often go into any depth of the Word of God and last week we had a discussion where our positions were totally opposite - he is a Calvinist and I just found it almost unbelievable how according to his doctrinal understanding there is essentially no free will - and the entire plan of God is about the free will. And not only that, but instead of answering some of the questions I asked, he would rather end the discussion and I recognised that it would perhaps be too much for him to even consider that the truth may lie beyond the system he is now serving. None of this is new, but it is always sad to see. There is no other way to minister the truth of the Word than the way you and Curt do it. One just has to be free of any denominations.

Response #12: 

I'm sorry to hear that your conversation with the clergyman didn't go well – but it doesn't surprise me. In my country there is a church of one flavor or another on nearly every street corner, but few if any are interested in the truth beyond very basic principles (and many have these wrong as well). So there is a lot on our shoulders! But God is mighty and will provide all the strength we need . . . along with everything else.

Question #13: 

To be honest, Professor, it didn't surprise me either. What did surprise me, though, is how someone can study the Word and still neglect free will - the very foundation of God's plan. That really shocked me. But I immediately sensed the fear and unwillingness to critically look at the doctrine he was presenting. My father gives me almost daily reports of how hardened people are against the truth, sadly, including relatives. But it is the one thing apart from messages from you which gives me this constant encouragement - I'm seeing my own father, who for decades had nothing to do with God, living the Word of God. It is something wonderful, literally wonderful, and the fact that these evangelical encounters are the very purpose of his life - he prepares by reading through the teachings, asks me questions, studies the words, even his genuine frustration at people's hardness - all this just shows how much he cares. And he really does. So I have you as my teacher - and true friend - guiding and supporting me on this path and I have now my father also whom I'm helping and who is encouraging me also, even if in a different way. I will write an email to the Calvinist clergyman and then perhaps leave it, depending on how it goes.

Response #13: 

I'm very grateful for your dad as well and pray for him daily (as well as the rest of your family). I think it is not surprising that a person in a denominational pastorate is not terribly interested in the truth. Interest in the truth is rare enough anyway. For someone to subordinate themselves to what a group thinks about everything in the Bible is akin to joining a political movement. People do that not generally out of a love for the truth but for other reasons, so while they may be conversant with theological discourse, that is a great deal different from understanding scripture and believing the truth of it – which is what spiritual growth is all about.

Question #14:  

Hi Bob,

Just thought I'd check in with a progress report.

I'm rather convinced at this point that adding the third major in computer science was the right decision for me. I've really taken to both of the classes related to the major, and have found a group of like-minded individuals (in the major, that is, not with respect to religion) to work ahead with.

So far all of my classes are going OK grade-wise, but I'm having a really hard time forcing myself to sit down and learn the Greek. I really need to review the first year-material in a rigorous way: a lot of what I'm reading looks vaguely familiar, but I've been looking things up on Perseus just to get through the text we're supposed to translate. It's a terrible habit because it prevents real learning (and I know this), but there it is. It doesn't help that we don't do a lot of parsing in class (mostly just one person translates at a time, with sparse commentary interspersed), and without any quizzes, there is absolutely nothing to keep me accountable. (Aside from the fact that we do all things unto the Lord).

I'm going to make a real effort this weekend to start all the way back from the beginning with conjugations, declensions, pronouns, uses of the subjunctive and optative, and so forth. It's just such a daunting task that I've been putting it off honestly since Spring semester ended. I feel like there is this window closing -- the further ahead I move, the more we're expected to just "know" it seems, and I guess I thought it would be easier to just stick with it. Especially now that I have Hebrew to worry about and other classes besides, it feels like to "do Greek right" is simply something that is unmanageable -- but the thing is, I know I have the time, plenty even, it seems to be the motivation that is lacking.

I don't really know why I'm relaying all this except to ask for prayers I suppose. It is somewhat ironic that it is as soon as I've got my whole trajectory figured out that the wind falls out of the sails, so to speak. It's really quite frustrating too, because I "know" exactly what it is I'm supposed to be doing, and why it is necessary for me to function effectively in my ministry, but it seems difficult to translate this into concentrated willpower. Knowing what is right and then not doing it is a worse state of affairs than not knowing and not doing in ignorance...

I think I've emailed you something similar before (re: lacking motivation despite knowing what I should be doing), but it seems as the tasks grow ever larger and harder the problem only gets worse. I never thought I'd say this, but I really miss the format of the first year of Greek where we had a little bit of grammar and a little bit of vocab split into chapter-sized chunks that we were quizzed on incessantly. Now, the whole businesses of "learning Greek" seems incredibly amorphous, and this whole "translate X amount of lines for next class....." does not give one the same sense of progress, especially if "translating" is "doing enough not to look like an idiot in class" rather than really understanding everything. The language once again feels foreign and incomprehensible, rather than organized and systematic (like it felt when we were learning things in a logical progression at a reasonable pace).

Does this sound like what all second-year Greek students go through, or have I just procrastinated enough that I'm fumbling about behind the curve, so to speak?

In Christ,

Response #14: 

Good to hear from you, my friend.

As to your class, it's not how I teach upper level Greek, but I've had plenty of profs who did teach it that way. The thing is, most professors – of any subject – don't like teaching, and so they can't be bothered to do much more than go through the motions. Most of them prefer either research or administration, both of which things are honored in academia much more so than teaching is (and rewarded more as well).

In my upper level Greek class yesterday I had us break down absolutely everything "why is X in this case here?"; "what exactly is the tense of this -mi verb, and what would it look like in another tense"?; "what kind of construction is this and why does Xenophon use it here?" Then we reconstructed one sentence in an English word order and they then translated an English equivalent back into Greek from memory. We do translate but I make everyone justify the translation very specifically. We do talk about style and content too. So we end up going a lot slower and covering less territory than is the case in classes "taught" like the one you are in. If you have options in the future, you might try another professor.

As to methodology, it is important to remember also that Greek is "fun". I tell my students not to put the burden on themselves of mindlessly memorizing paradigms. What is better is to pick apart individual sentences so as to "really understand" any forms that don't immediately speak to you. That will involve finding the right paradigm often, and then you can have more than a cursory look and see if you can't add a little depth to your understanding. This approach takes time, but it is rewarding. Once you do understand the text, there are worse ideas than to start at the beginning of the work you are reading every time you study. That way, by the time of the final, you'll have gone over much of the text many times in Greek, and will not only have an excellent grasp of the material without further study, but will also know and "feel" Greek better. One time I recorded myself reading out loud one of Aeschylus' plays and listened to the tape on my car stereo whenever I was out running around. It helped. There are lots of things you could do, but the main thing, again I stress, is to try and make this a "fun" experience rather than drudgery. Because a semester is a grind, this is not something that is necessarily going to happen automatically, but since Greek is intrinsically fun, it's also not impossible. Try to look forward to solving the puzzles and finding answers in your grammars and lexicons, and coming up with "nifty" translations that really reflect the true meaning of the original. A little bit every day is also superior (and more fun) than leaving it all until the night before the class. I'm confident that you'll find a way to enjoy the experience. Perhaps adding a little Greek New Testament to the mix would also help – to see and enjoy the progress you are making and the benefit to what really interests you.

I'm very happy to hear that you have been confirmed in your decision. I have certainly been praying for your success in all this and will of course continue. Undergraduate is by far the most difficult thing you will probably ever do, so take heart: it does come to an end. It is also one of the most (potentially) rewarding times in your life: so try to make the most of it. Being in a class with others who are learning Greek, e.g., is a rare thing and not to be taken for granted. Soon enough, if you want to polish your Greek, you'll have to do it entirely on your own.

Finally, I don't think your experience is unique. Greek is notoriously difficult, and it can take a number of years before it begins to get comfortable. Don't let the difficulty level dampen your enthusiasm. I'm sure you are doing a good job. Try to enjoy it more.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #15: 

Hi Bob,

What is the correct translation? Is it this one?

"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

Or this one?

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well should be paid twice as much, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)


Response #15: 

Here's mine:

Let those elders who lead well be held worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and in teaching.
1st Timothy 5:17

The "double honor" does seem to have a financial aspect given the context (next verse: "don't muzzle the ox", i.e., give him enough to eat when he's working). The thing I object to in both translations you provide is the word "preaching" which has nothing whatsoever to do with "teaching" (the Greek word here is didaskalia) . . . or vice versa.

Preaching is putting on a rhetorical show to stimulate the emotions of the audience both to entertain them so they will think you are "a great preacher!" and also to manipulate them into doing things (like tithing). It requires no Bible study and is usually close a to content-free exercise – except that occasionally a Bible verse is thrown in out of context whose point is inevitably missed or mis-applied. For some reason I'll never understand, most people LOVE "preaching", but they turn up their nose at teaching – at least in Laodicea that is the rule. But then Paul found the same thing:

For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
2nd Corinthians 10:10 KJV

If you've got to be despised, this is at least pretty good company to be in.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #16: 

Hi Bob,

One of the troubles I have with kenosis is the idea that Jesus Christ would have both been God and yet not as gifted with abilities like other human beings (who are not God). Jesus Christ would be God but yet like an average human being. For instance, it is conceivable that Jesus Christ wouldn’t have known Japanese due to not having been exposed to the language, or for someone in that time and place be born with a higher I.Q. than Jesus.

I don’t think these are problems now however. Jesus Christ is now glorified and thus omnipotent and omniscient. He is stronger than Samson and more intelligent than Solomon.

As for me, I can’t “have it both ways,”: it is either Japanese or Ancient Greek.

And while I do enjoy Japanese more, I am also rational enough to know that there are very few avenues that can take me there, because my life is on a completely different course. Sometimes when you ask God for wisdom to make a decision, he doesn’t give it to you in a voice but rather by making the situation “obvious.”

As it is, sometimes the correct decision involves abstaining from indulging in your personal interests for the sake of the greater good. And I think Ancient Greek would be in service of that greater good (I am taking about the New Testament, not philosophy or history).

Now where is the link to that Greek primer you endorsed?

Response #16: 

Kenosis (see the link) is another measure of how much Jesus sacrificed for us, throwing in His lot with us and living as one of us, only with more opposition than it is even possible to imagine and with the necessity of never making a single mistake or failing to answer a single bugle call, so to speak. And if we had any idea of what "God" really means, we would be in absolute awe of this part of the sacrifice (not to mention all the others).

(5) You too should have this attitude which Christ Jesus had. (6) Since He already existed in the very form of God, equality with God was [certainly] not something He thought He had to grasp for. (7) Yet in spite of this [co-equal divinity He already possessed], He deprived Himself of His status and took on the form of a slave, [and was] born in the likeness of men. (8) He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even [His] death on [the] cross [for us all].
Philippians 2:5-8

There are plenty of good pedagogical grammars for learning ancient Greek. Any one of them would be fine for someone with your talents. I'll give you links to three at ABE:

Allen, First Year of Greek

Crosby and Schaeffer, An Introduction to Greek

J.A.C.T, Reading Greek - need both the Reader and the Grammar.

The main thing in the early going is getting the pronunciation right. Here is a link to a wonderful site to help you with that: Attic Greek dot org (you don't need to buy their book).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #17: 

Dear sir

I just read one of your exchanges that involved a discussion about John MacArthur. I am not particularly interested in him since I don't know him all that well although I used his website gty.org for a very short time last year, I think. I am more interested in what you said about him that applies to teachers generally.

I am always pressed to share whatever I am learning as I learn it. And I do. I always hope for feedback that will correct it if necessary but obviously not everyone cares all that much about studying the Bible so if people listen at all, they may just swallow what I share without any serious consideration. Alternatively, they walk away without any involvement.

But some people have listened at different times. And at these times, I was learning. It is only when I found your website that all the stuff I had been reading from the Bible started to tie together so perfectly and a lot of misconceptions I held began to dissolve.

Was it wrong to share before?

Then again, in many of the things where I confess error, it is hard to be certain that it was an error because it seemed like I had the details right but something was missing which when I found seemed to make what I had wrong.

I told myself that like Paul, I really cannot judge myself. I can tell to some extent when I am walking in faith. That I can judge but it is often hard to tell what I got wrong before. Maybe I just graduated in understanding.

Or is this a way to sate a wounded ego which does not want to acknowledge failure? Even when God cleanses productive branches, that very cleansing suggests that there was dirt. So, despite the fact that my zeal was for Christ, my knowledge was flawed and now it has been cleansed so that it is better than before?

Point is, where do you figure out what to repent if there is need to repent? And do you stop yourself from sharing to avoid misleading younger believers?

Yours in our priceless Lord Jesus Christ

Response #17: 

It's great to hear from you, my friend.

As far as sharing goes, I am certain that the Lord looked at your heart at the time, and doubly certain that He is behind leading you into a more sure way:

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Acts 18:24-28 NKJV

Just like Apollos, you no doubt helped those you shared with before, but will be doing more so as you grow.

And, after all, if we waited until we knew everything then we would die before we shared anything. That is not a brief for sloppiness, but it is a recognition of the fact that if we really are zealously pursuing the truth then we shouldn't allow a few past mistakes to throw us off today. I am not a believer in looking backward because that is not a biblical thing to do. If we have sinned, then we repent of it confessing to the Lord – and move on. Looking back, whether to successes or failures or things in-between, is entirely pointless from the godly point of view. Only the cross and the day we received the message of it in Jesus Christ are worthy to look back at. Here and now we are supposed to be marching forward for Jesus Christ towards the glories of Zion.

Too much second-guessing is always a mistake. I know of many Christians who have hamstrung their spiritual growth and production by giving in to this tendency. I would urge you to forget the past after repenting in confession of everything that might require it, and move forward in joy and with a clear conscience in Jesus Christ to do the best for Him here and now until the glorious day when we see Him face to face.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #18: 

Dear sir,

How do I set about preparing for ministry?

Obviously, I'm working through your website. I intend to go look at Pastor Curt Omo's too afterwards. I know some history but I wish I could get a proper education in it too along with the original languages.

What do I need to know and do, sir?

Yours in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #18: 

I'm very proud of you – because I think now that you are asking the right questions. For those who love the Lord more than this life and whose ambitions in regards to livelihood are all about serving Him, how best to serve Him – so as to please Him and be rewarded eternally by Him – are the goals upon which all reverse planning should focus.

As to preparation, that all depends on the particular nature of the ministry that you feel called to engage in. If it is Bible teaching, as I suspect, then the more you know about the Bible AND the things which help a Bible-teaching pastor-teacher teach the Bible are all very important. I will give you some links below, but let me say that while "proper education" is wonderful if one has the time, the money and the opportunity, we work with what we have – and the Lord works with us therein, fully realizing the limits of our circumstances and honoring whatever sacrifices we make in advancing the spiritual growth of His Church and in preparing to do so.

Knowing the Bible inside out is "job number one". That means being well-read in the English Bible, and, if possible, knowing as much about Greek, Hebrew (and also Aramaic) as possible so as to be able to delve deeper. It also means knowing as much about theology as possible – by which I mean the actual truths of the scriptures. I hope that Ichthys will provide you with most of what you need on that score. Studying traditional theology in a traditional way at seminary is of some value (it was for me). But, after all, we don't have time in life to get four Ph.D.s. And with time running out, we may not have time (let alone money or opportunity) to get any formal education at all. But God has a purpose for you, my friend, and if it involves you leading others closer to Him through the truth, then I know He will help you every step of the way. Here are some of those links where this question and related matters are covered at the site:

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry IV

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry III

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry II

Ministry and Preparation for Ministry

Ministers, Ministry, and Preparation for Ministry

Should I go to Seminary or not?

One of the things I have already thought about is getting you into contact with some good brothers who are already doing what you are intending. Our friend with whom you have corresponded has been assiduously preparing himself for ministry entirely with books and internet resources – and in my view he is by now already far better prepared that 99% of those who have a number of university degrees. So it is possible – even if it is not necessarily easy.

A part of all this is the form you envision the ministry will take. These are "early days", it is true, and I certainly never had any idea how Ichthys would turn out – there wasn't even an internet when I started to prepare. But the Lord worked it out. I have a few other correspondents who are preparing and beginning to engage in or think about engaging in online ministry. If interested, I could make inquiries. In any case, please have a look the links above, and do feel free to write me back. My own journey to this point involved a lot of "soul searching" about the right way forward. There are a lot of hidden rocks and shoals, and it was only by the Lord's help and intervention that I managed to avoid enough of them to get this ministry where it is.

Keeping you in my prayers daily – and wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #19: 

Dear sir

I am always encouraged and taught by your emails but this one especially more than all the others. I'm going to try not to send a long story which might be totally unnecessary and a waste of your time but I don't think I can completely avoid telling you something of my story.

When our friend told me that prior to meeting you, he had no notion of the truth at all, I thought how lucky he was to begin his walk of Faith under strong, mature guidance. Somehow, his prior life in darkness couldn't compare in my mind to the very "confusing" way I found myself living as a Christian. I have amended that view a bit though. But still.

To illustrate some of that confusion, I began to refer to ___ as the day I got saved simply because that was the day I had a "knowing", a confidence that I was saved. But it was reading you here that taught me that just believing that Christ died for my sins is what saves me regardless what my actual behavioral experience is. That Faith has been a part of my life since I was a child. But I grew up somehow believing that sin is proof that one is not saved after all. It was frustrating living in an unending cycle of getting saved and falling away and getting saved all over again.

I was an avid reader of the Bible too since childhood and I ended up knowing quite well what it said but not understanding much. I was very quick to ask questions because of that but also very quick to spot weak or bad answers. So I got disillusioned very early of the church and my teachers. I was doing SS 1 (the equivalent of the year before your junior year in high school) when I asked my parent to withdraw me from school so that I could go to Bible School and study the Bible properly for ministry. Of course, they said no. I finished secondary school but with very little interest in anything because of the puzzle of Christianity that filled my mind. I was fairly pushed into the polytechnic and later on the university in neither of which I could muster much interest for the same reason. The university was where I thought I got saved and by then I wanted to start making up for all the lost time. I tried to take my course-work seriously and "get my head in the game" but I was just finishing second year when I had this "knowing" again that I was to leave school. I think that "knowing" included that I would travel out of the country, study medicine and none of this would involve my family.

I was scared and excited, hopeful that now I could live purposefully and serve Christ with my life doing what pleased Him, not being caught in a selfish life where everything I did was judged by my own selfish desires. But my fear was that Satan may be tempting me to do something rash in the guise of obeying God, using zeal for Christ to cover laziness. I knew that if I dropped out, my future would become a very difficult issue to work out. I was not young enough to afford such silliness. If this didn't pan out, I could end up with no way of making a reasonable living. So I consulted with lots of other Christians and still had to deal with very poor conceptions and understandings of the Bible. I had questions that no one could answer. So I decided that I would take the risk trusting God to correct my errors in time.

Obviously, I didn't travel after all. Never began a degree in medicine and my family has been my support and cushion since then. I went back to school but it always felt like I had some unfinished task that I couldn't ignore. I was so distracted that I couldn't study or even go to class after a while. Later I dropped out of the university finally and set to work learning 21st century business and studying the tech world. I think it was about that time that I decided that as soon as I set up a business, stabilized it and could afford to leave it, I would go to study the original biblical languages, theology and history so that I could help to cover some of the short fall in teachers. Until I could though, I decided that I would try to apply all my limited understanding of the Bible in my daily living and by experience approximate to the correct meanings of what I was learning. And I would document that journey for other believers. My Facebook account has been working for just that reason since then.

But the difficult questions continued to multiply. I was constantly finding "contradictions" in the Bible that I needed to reconcile. I never for a minute believed that the Bible was contradicting itself. I knew that I was just missing a third piece, the "bridge", if you will, between the two extremes. And the "extremes" existed to drive us to think hard or meditate upon the very complex ways of God which we were being called to follow. But, to be completely honest, I despaired of myself many times because of these puzzles.

I couldn't share my sense of urgency and hunger with other Christians appreciably. I was constantly wrestling with guilt over my strange behaviors and interpretations of the Bible. Many times, I turned from what I was doing to try to conform. That often happened whenever something I learned from the Bible appeared to condemn me.

So I lived in a constant tension. I knew that I wasn't doing everything perfectly right but I couldn't see that my general attitude was necessarily wrong but the pain of loneliness and the psychological stresses that resulted from what I perceived as natural consequences of my weird choices or divine judgment on my arrogance and self-righteousness or opposition from the devil made me question whether I was walking with God or being a very conceited man who was a law unto himself.

As I studied business and technology, my confidence that we were in this world as the Lord Christ's agents for positive change was called into question. I continued to feel a very strong restraint that prevented me from going all out to start my business. Somehow, the question of business and work was a constant primer for research into what the Bible says about all sorts of things.

People who have read me or listened to me have tried to make me out to be something sometimes and each time I told them that I had too much to learn. There was so much I didn't understand and yet the little I appeared to know anything about appeared to fascinate some and annoy others.

When I began reading you, it was unbelievable. Finally, things began to make sense. Finally, I got why I felt unprepared to serve as a teacher. Sure, I wrote a lot but I did as a peer who hoped that my peers would take the time to discuss things I said, challenge me and help me understand them better. And I also hoped to be taught by those who knew better. Vain hopes in both cases.

The fear of self-righteousness and hypocrisy made me quite critical of myself but this desire to know Christ and please Him made it hard to stop trying.

But after I started reading you, I thought it would be hasty to talk of preparing for ministry. What do I know? I thought that I was supposed to practise what I was learning before talking seriously about ministry. But I'm very pleased to learn that you think I should already start preparing. And I finally understand that it is preparing for ministry that provides the context for preparing for secular work too. I already argued on a WhatsApp group I belonged to that that was how Paul chose tentmaking but again I looked like I was trying to make the Bible say what I wanted so I retired the argument a little until now.

Yes, sir, I firmly believe that the Lord gave me to be a teacher for His Church. I expect to write but I've never been sure where or how. I know now that when the time comes, the Lord Himself will give me the field I must hold.

About preparation, sir, I feel confident that I can take the work involved. I've wanted and waited for this. I'm working through the links you gave me and I understand that Greek is very hard. I already asked our friend who offered to send me some books you recommended to him for the languages earlier to please do so. I paused on chasing down ancient history online because I wanted to ask you to recommend a systematic approach and reliable authorities. But I've picked up little bits here and there over the years both of church history and ancient history, nothing by any means exhaustive but enough to tell me that I need to learn more.

Basically, I am asking for guidance and recommendation and those connections that you just offered. I am very desirous of beginning.

I am very greatly blessed for all the things that God did to bring me to you and our friend.

So, while I go on studying the links, I'll be waiting quite impatiently for your advice and instructions.

Yours in this battle

Response #19: 

Always a pleasure, my friend, and thanks so much for this testimony! With your permission, I would like to post it in the future (it takes about a year or so until I get to these in the queue) – taking out names and personally identifying features as is my wont as you know (let me know).

I'm very happy to hear that you have a prospective job/employment strategy, and now also a prospective ministry! What could be better? Only the transformation through hard work and effort assisted as always by the Lord and in the Spirit moves things from prospective to reality – and that is what this life is all about, after all: serving the Lord and doing all the other things a Christian needs to do to make that possible. I will be watching your progress with great interest.

On tools, methods, and emphasis, there is a lot, as mentioned, at the links, and seeing that many others who really want to do their bit to spiritually equip the Church of Jesus Christ (myself included) have struggled with the same sorts of questions, obstacles, challenges and trials is an encouragement as well as a road map. But everyone's experience is somewhat different, and no two ministries are the same – so that everyone's preparation is necessarily different as well. It is clear from your testimony that you have already a very wide-ranging educational and personal experience with interests and work in a variety of different fields. That is all to the good. What is needed now is 1) work on your personal ministry, listening to the Spirit to limn the parameters of it and working towards it accordingly, and 2) specific preparation in the tools needed to carry it out. This is what you have set yourself to do, so you are already on the way – or as they say in Greek, arche hemisu panton: "beginning is half of everything".

The time we live in is very close to the end. To paraphrase my old mentor Col. Thieme's remembrance of an observation of Dr. Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, even if a man knew he would only be able to spend one year in the ministry, a preparation of ten years would not be out of line so as to do a good job of it. As things stand now, however, the Tribulation may only be some nine [8] years away, so, obviously, if I were in your shoes I would think twice about the specific course I took when I got serious and wanted to go down this road. That road was much longer than ten years in my case. I don't regret a day of it, but we are in the situation we are in.

Also, some men get serious about ministry very late in life. I am corresponding with one gentleman who found Ichthys while already in a retirement home. Further formal education at that point was understandably out of the question, but the situation has NOT stopped him from learning more and more day by day, nor from ministering. He is helping his fellow residents learn things they never even heard of before. Given the gross ignorance of the Bible and of the truth out there in Laodicea, virtually anyone who has spent a month or two gobbling down the materials at Ichthys will know a great deal more than most others believers in the lackadaisical era in which we live.

So while being intent on getting the best education/preparation possible is laudable, given the shortness of the time and the intensity of the need, "getting to it" is also not a bad strategy. The balance is for you to decide with the Spirit's guidance. On the one hand, it would be a mistake to use these truths as an excuse to forego having anything whatsoever to do with the Greek language, e.g.; on the other hand, it would be an equally great mistake to use lack of preparation up to some unreasonable standard as an excuse not to start ministering if actually ready enough to do so with an opportunity also ready to hand. These are considerations that you will be able to sort out in your heart by listening to the Spirit's still, small voice.

As said before, learning the Bible (English version) is of first priority and reading it consistently is something that should never drop out of your routine. Secondly, learning the truth taught systematically is equally important. That comes from another teaching ministry (Ichthys in your case, I'm pleased to hear) until a man gets to the point of being able to and actually feeding himself in the Word. Third is some facility with Greek and Hebrew. Many other things are useful and very good to have a background in – ancient history as you mention, church history too, traditional theology and various other subjects often taught in seminary – but these should not be allowed to detract from the other three main foci.

On Greek, it's no easy lift to become proficient without formal instruction – but some, like our friend, have done it and I wouldn't bet against you. The first order of business is learning the alphabet AND how to pronounce Greek words. To that end, let me point you to the following website link: Ancient Greek Tutorials. It will take at least a few weeks, I would imagine, to get to the point of being able to correctly associate sounds with letters/words, so that will keep you busy for a while. After you've made some progress here, any good pedagogical ancient Greek grammar would be fine for getting deeper into the language (although I'd stay away from the "New Testament Greek" ones which all seem to approach things as if the Greek of the NT were a different language from contemporary ancient Greek – it is not).

On Hebrew, the procedure is similar in that first one has to get the letters and sounds down pat. That is a harder lift in Hebrew for English speakers. For one thing, the vowels are added in sublinear fashion, there are accents to consider (Greek uses accents too, but one can merely interpret them as stress marks in the early going – not the other orthographic symbols, however), and none of the letters is familiar to us at the beginning. To be honest, I don't know of a site for Hebrew as good as the one I've linked for Greek. The web is awash with these things, so I'm sure you can find something workable on that (I do have some links at my "Hebrew Resources" page, but they are a bit dated). I'd be happy to give you my opinion of anything you find you want to work with on this.

Please do feel free to write me back about any of these things, my friend! Excited by your news and keeping you in prayer daily for the earning of a good reward to the glory of Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #20: 

A very merry Christmas to you, sir

I hope that you are well and celebrating, sir.

Please, sir, it would be my honor to give whatever I can to build up the Church. If you think my story is useful for that, I am more than grateful and eager to have it used, especially by you, sir.

I pray that I don't disappoint you or our Lord. The more I learn of myself, the more I despair of myself. I pray that as He held and led me through the madness of my past, He will bring me through the unknown and uncertainties of the future until I come to His side.

I will do as you say per preparation. I don't plan to go back to school and between you and our friend, I feel sure that I have enough help to learn what I need to learn. Because my laptop is now practically unusable and my phone is stuck on 2G among other problems, I may be slow with the resources you gave me but I'll get to work on them.

Thank you so much, sir, for your advice. I still give thanks for you as often as I think of you. I pray that your oil never run out.

Yours in our precious Lord Jesus Christ

Response #20: 

I'm pleased to get your email and hope you receive mine. My website is "sick" at the moment, trying to transition from http to https [now fixed – thanks all for the prayers!]. That required (apparently) a change of servers and my hosting company is having trouble making the proper changes. I have had email bounce – and I'm distraught about that (folks trying to reach me and thinking no doubt I'm not paying attention to their emails which I actually never received), and the site is up and down (I cannot get to it at all tonight). I'm hopeful that the Lord will work this out quickly and it'll be back in business soon this coming week.

It's my pleasure to help a dear brother in Jesus Christ such as yourself, especially one who takes His relationship with the Lord so seriously. Do feel free to write me about anything any time, and again, in the short term, please be patient but also persistent in getting in touch with me since some of these issues are out of my control at the moment.

Thanks so much for your warm holiday greeting! Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas and a happy 2018 as well.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #21: 

Dear Bob,

I hope you’re doing well. I’ve been intending to send this email for about a month, but keep getting distracted and delayed in writing. First I want to wish you a happy 20th anniversary of Ichthys! Thank God for you and your ministry. Certainly I’ve been blessed by your work, and I can’t imagine how many others have as well. Also, happy 500th anniversary of the Reformation! For the next 50 years or so (Calvin died in 1564) we can look forward to 500th anniversaries of famous events from the Reformation (although I guess we’ll be able to meet John Calvin personally in the resurrection before the 500th anniversary of his death—Marana tha!).

I’ve had a rough few months. It seems like the trials and tribulations come just when I feel like I’m really making progress in spiritual growth. I’ve been having health issues. I had a case of ___. The pain and tenderness was intense for about six weeks, during which time I was on a couple of different medications. The conclusion was that it was nothing to speak of beyond the initial diagnosis, and should just go away on its own, which it now seems to be doing, although far too slowly for my liking. I still get moments of pain and discomfort, but they’re getting less and less frequent (at least I think they are).

[details omitted about family illness]

We've adopted the motto: “One day at a time,” which makes me think of Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)

If there’s anything good that’s come from all this, I think I’ve been praying more frequently and more fervently than I ever have before.

I also want to tell you that about a week before this started I discovered that The Master’s Seminary has a YouTube channel. Apparently it’s been up for several years. I’m very interested in watching as many of these videos as I can, because it’s basically like sitting in the room for full courses of lectures at an actual seminary—something I wouldn’t have time or money to do otherwise. How generous of John MacArthur and the other professors to allow people to get a piece of a seminary education for free on YouTube! Here’s a link to the page with playlists of the courses available: https://www.youtube.com/user/JoshuaCrooch/playlists. Toward the bottom of the page there’s a Hermeneutics class and a Biblical Exposition of Prayer class taught by Dr. James Rosscup. After reading his bio, I would think you probably know him from your time at Talbot. There’s a couple dozen classes that look interesting to me, including the Biblical Hebrew Grammar and Exegesis classes taught by Dr. Bill Barrick. After watching the first few videos, he seems to prefer what he considers the “classical” pronunciation; which only differs from the pronunciation I was taught in Hebrew School as a kid by distinguishing between the qamets and pattach (in vocalization only of course), pronouncing waw/vav as a “w” instead of “v”, and pronouncing chaf as a “kh” instead of being nearly identical-sounding to the guttural chet. Anyway, I know you (and I) differ with John MacArthur, and probably the other professors as well, about quite a bit when it comes to certain doctrines and teachings (i.e. pre-trib rapture, water baptism, etc.), but what are your thoughts?

Yours in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior,

Response #21: 

It's great to hear from you, my friend – although of course I'm very sorry to hear about your family's troubles. Believe me, I understand what it is to go through long term medical problems with loved ones. My mother's last couple of years were particularly tough (although my brother and his wife took the brunt of that on account of geographical proximity).

Thanks for all your good wishes. I have been fairly well, although I'm having a back/hip problem that the orthopedist doesn't see a tangible cause for – which is a good thing (just a bit tough to manage). The "war on Classics" at my nearly bankrupt university continues so I'm not having the peace on the job I would like. But we persevere.

I'm sorry to hear about your personal medical troubles. I'll put them on my list. On your problem, a couple of years ago I was put on an antibiotic for something or other, and I ended up getting some nasty damage to one my calf muscles. I've noticed similar side-effects (of a less serious nature – mild tendonitis) when taking other mixes of that stuff. So while I'm not "that kind of Dr.", I personally wouldn't be surprised if that is indeed the reason. Continuing to take the stuff will only result in the problem getting worse, I can tell you from experience. So I would suggest you get on a different drug or at least talk to your physician about it.

On the seminary question, yes, I had Dr. Rosscup for at least one class back in Talbot days. I'm frankly surprised to hear that he is still teaching (maybe it's an old video). There are no "good seminaries". MacArthur's wouldn't be a terrible place to go, if one were of the mind to go the seminary route and, like you, strong enough in convictions not to be bullied out of them. But time is short, after all. Listening to the videos will give you a great idea of what it is like to go to seminary – and also all the "stuff" you have to put up with (like mispronounced and misunderstood Greek and Hebrew which is typical). It's only going to be about half the experience, however, even if you take the tests and do the papers etc. As I often remark, on the one hand I met some really good people there – and on the other, seeing the evangelical and related craziness first hand was a good and necessary inoculation against much of the foolishness with which the church visible is awash. But I'm happy to be your sounding board about any of this.

I hope you and your family will find some way to get a little bit of rest. This sort of thing can really wear a person down, even if they don't have full time jobs as you do. Here's hoping you can get some extra days off around Christmas.

Your friend in Jesus Christ who is our all in all.

Bob L.

Question #22: 

On TMS, I believe most of the videos on there are several years old. Dr. Rosscup’s are probably the oldest I’ve seen on there so far, being at least ten to fifteen years old judging by the models of laptops the students have on the desks. I’m guessing at least some of these classes were recorded because the professors were preparing to retire. Dr. Barrick’s Hebrew Grammar seems to be from ten or eleven years ago, and he’s listed as an emeritus professor on TMS’s website. Incidentally, I found his website (drbarrick.org), and under “publications” he lists the 2001 edition of the ESV and says his contribution was the translation of Job. I found that interesting, and thought you might as well.

Response #22: 

I checked and Rosscup has retired (2005), but they say he comes back to teach classes now and again.

Question #23: 

What I mean is that, from my English Literature perspective, being able to read a great classic ancient text in a language that is foreign to you, and being able to appreciate and draw conclusions from it, takes decades. First you learn the language so you know that 'the pig sat in the mud' means exactly that. Then you spend many years reading all sorts of English texts to get some background and environment, and an idea of different words in different contexts, etc. Then you can finally take your first real look at the text you like, and spend many years studying it. Finally after all that you can start to draw conclusions as you read. And I could do this if I were to live to 60 years old. But less than a decade is not enough. I really want to learn Greek – and Hebrew too – but I also don't want to be foolish and try to do something I can't handle and then hit myself for not thinking ahead and doing something that would be more profitable. Even if the end doesn't happen in eight years, I would get benefit from prayer and Bible Study during that time and maybe could pick up the language again later. You teach Greek all the time, what is your advice? Maybe Greek is different and takes a lot less time; English has a massive vocabulary thanks to taking extra words for a single definition from Latin and such.

Preempt: The reason I go with 8 and not 15 is that I don't know (if the end happens then) how it will go down. But likely I will need time for more prayer and maybe service and I would not have it even if I was still able to study Greek.

Response #23: 

For that reason – and others as well – studying Greek is not for everyone. In my experience and observation, getting to the point of actually reading secular Greek takes a very long time unless a person is both particularly gifted and spends an inordinate amount of time and effort on it. For a prospective teacher of the Bible, it's wonderful to have – and in my view really essential if the person ever wants to do his own research and not rely entirely on the work of others – not that relying on Ichthys would so bad in my biased opinion.

I'm certainly not going to tell you not to do it. Greek is great fun, and it pays all sorts of dividends that are not obvious to everyone at the start. Greek teaches you to think in different ways, exercises your brain like nothing else, and teaches you to write and analyze in ways nothing else can. And you're always reading something good to.

But there are only twenty four hours in a day and we have to devote some of them to sleep, work and maintenance. So we have to make choices. There are worse things you could do. But there are perhaps more important ones for you personally as well. For those not dedicating themselves to a Bible teaching ministry, it's not essential by any means.

So it depends in large part what you would do with the time you're now using to study Greek if you were to stop (or drop down the commitment). Spiritual growth is more important than Greek. Greek is important for Bible teachers who are going to be aiding the spiritual growth of others in part through that language and other tools they have acquired in preparing to do so.

We are all called to ministry – but we are not all called to teach the Bible. Our job is to be the best hand or foot or ear or eye we can be, depending on how the Lord has placed us into His Body. We are rewarded for how we do the job we have been given – and the rewards for doing well are marvelous and eternal . . . and pleasing to the One we love more than life (see the link).

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.


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