Have you heard of the alt right? They're an anti-Semitic group of white nationalists that are all uniting behind Trump and his anti-immigration stance.
On a gospel related note, I am amazed by the kindness of Paul and how gently he deals with wayward believers, or believers who are engaged in gross sin. Not a single Evangelical pastor I've seen is as kind as Paul.
On politics, I think you know my opinion that wise believers will have as little to do as possible with that realm of human activity. It's tough to shut it out in our day and age, it's true, but there's more happiness in doing so than in not and more productivity for the Lord. That doesn't mean we can't be aware of what's going on and naturally it's virtually impossible not to form some opinions, but we should always remember that what is really going on is being controlled by the Lord for His own purposes, and that there are no political solutions, only divine ones. That said, anything that even smacks of anti-Semitism should be avoided like the plague and I note that it apparently exists at the highest level of the other major party as well (based on recently leaked emails). It just goes to show that organizing against any person/group necessarily entails organizing with some other person/group and just like the Nazis vs. the Communists in 1930's Germany, e.g., they all turn out to be the devil's pawns. The only way not to fall afoul of that trap is to stay far away from it. N.B.: this is going to be an even greater problem going forward, and especially once the Tribulation begins.
On Paul vs. evangelical pastors, most sermons I've ever heard don't have any teaching content at all, so it's an invidious comparison (vis-a-vis Paul). Also, Paul wrote under divine inspiration, so everything he wrote is true. He was encouraging, pleading, but also very tough when he had to be (tougher than any pastor I've ever heard of . . . anyone who was doing things right and not ruling a cult, that is); consider 1st Corinthians 5:1ff., just as an example.
Sin is sin. No pastor (or apostle) can forgive it; but God does forgive it when we confess it, because Christ died for it. The problem for believers is that unless we "pursue sanctification" (Heb.12:14), we are likely to drift backward into habitual sin, which leads to ever-increasing discipline, which in turn produces a crisis, which will force a decision, and if the believer decides that abandoning faith is easier/preferable to giving up the sinning or dealing with the punishment, faith will be lost, and without faith not only is there no behavioral/temporal sanctification but there is not even any positional sanctification / holiness, and "without [positional] holiness no one will see the Lord".
The only correct way to deal with any biblical subject is by teaching the absolute truth about it, whether that hurts feelings or not. I get that "tone" is important, and also emphasis, but if what is taught is correct, a "too gentle tone" will not for all that stop a believer who is slipping the wrong way from being helped, at least by coming to understand what's at stake (whereas if he/she is brought up short by a "sharp tone", there is the risk that the response is to the tone or person giving the message, rather than to the truth); on the other hand, there are times when an issue is so critical and the recipients of the message in such dire danger that more sharpness is required. That explains the book of Hebrews, and also many of the Old Testament prophets (Hosea, Micah, pick your prophet).
Different pastor-teachers have different personalities, skill-sets, life-experiences, mediums, audiences, so approaches will vary even among that very small set of individuals who are actually teaching the truth in depth, so it is certainly understandable and acceptable for a positive believer to seek out the best match for him/her as long as, mutatis mutandis, the same level of spiritual growth can be achieved. If, however, it is the case that the "best place" to grow is not the "most comfortable fit" in terms of respective personalities, I, for one, would chose the "best place" and make my peace with the peripheral turbulence that went along with it for the sake of growth, progress, reward, and to better please my Lord Jesus Christ.
Yours in our dear Savior.
I decided to take advantage of some public domain textbooks and begin to learn Ancient Greek.
If as I suspect (with good reason by now) that your spiritual gifts lie in area of evangelism and apologetics, knowing something (more) about Greek would certainly be helpful. After all, some of the discussions you may have down the road will be with believers on the wrong track about some doctrine or other, or with cult members of groups which purport to be Christian and which have established elaborate defenses for their positions based upon abusing the scripture in the original language.
If I might make a recommendation, James Turney Allen's classic "First Year of Greek" is available online now in the public domain:
There are many advantages to this wonderful book (which can also be found in print at a reasonable price, e.g., at ABE books). For one thing, it makes liberal use of quotations from actual ancient Greek, including Euclid, Aristotle and the New Testament. It's seldom used in colleges these days, but I think it'd be right up your alley.
Best wishes with this, and please do feel free to write back about this.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I prefer First Greek Book by John Williams White. No offense, but the book that you linked seems too dense for my pedagogical tastes.
I'm not familiar with this other title. I did one semester with Allen coming up, and I taught it once many years ago. It's a vigorous course, but a very good one. Greek is not just a matter of memorizing forms (although certainly a lot of that is necessary); Greek is a language of phrases which can only really be mastered when its rhythms are internalized (which requires a lot of reading real ancient Greek).
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I wanted to ask you for prayer, Professor. This will be an important decision with a long term effect. What is most important is serving our Lord and it does seem to me that moving positions will unlock more time for this.
I know it's all from God and such miraculous and wonderful provision only spurs me to commit more to the serving Him.
In our Lord,
Obviously, this is your decision to make, but I will be praying for you. This seems, from what you have shared, to be an answer to prayer! Since the new situation is likely to increase your time and resources for Bible study and ministry, it's hard to argue against it from that point of view, and from what you say it sounds as if the environment will also be a positive one in every respect. So I rejoice in your wonderful news!
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
2nd Thessalonians 3:10-12 NKJV
After all, we have to work at something. The profession I fell into through the grace of God is not known for its spirituality either. Indeed, almost all things in this world are compromised to some degree or another. I suppose that is why some overly self-righteous types went off and founded monasteries in the middle ages that did not remove them from the world and, in my view, only made things much worse. I don't think that there is anything at all wrong with doing a good job as unto the Lord in a secular profession in fact that is what we are commanded to do (e.g., Col.3:22-25). The only alternative I can see is to be a supported minister, and that brings with it all manner of additional complications. I don't begrudge my brothers (who have such positions) their daily bread; I do pray for them to feed their sheep; but it is a feature of our Laodicean age that, with important exceptions, the majority of groups/churches capable of and willing to support a pastor (or other minister) are generally not really interested in growing in the truth of the Word of God. That leaves those of us unwilling to compromise on that score to earn our living in conventional ways, even as we devote ourselves to the Church of Jesus Christ. I am confident that the Lord knows all the ins and outs of this, and that He appreciates everything that is truly done for Him and His Body.
For those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.
1st Samuel 2:30b NKJV
Congratulations, my friend!
Praying for you for wisdom and discretion.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
I know he is on the special prayer request list, but I still thought that I should maybe write to you about our brother in India. I have been exchanging emails with him and keep him in my prayers in the hope that the Lord delivers him out of a very difficult situation. I have to say though, professor, I am concerned about him.
I know that from the outside it is very hard to say much and I'm also aware how the path I took over three years ago also looked very difficult - I wanted to start my own profession, was struggling to sustain myself and now, with God's help, I can earn enough working part-time and can commit to study. I did believe throughout that hard period that the idea I had was worth pursuing, as it would allow me to prepare to ministry and finally engage in it, something very difficult in full-time employment. God provided me with just enough to survive and for some time I felt like I literally was receiving manna - enough for each day, not more. At the end God delivered me and now things are different (at least temporarily, because in this world they can change quickly). Maybe he is at the beginning of a similar process. Hopefully he is. But I am and have been single, I don't have to provide sustenance for a family and he has to do that. We cannot know if he is following the path that God wants him to, but it may be that he is unable to make a good spiritual discernment - something to one degree or another we are perhaps all guilty from time to time and definitely are more prone to at an early stage spiritually. It is a difficult situation, I will pray for him and you probably pray for him already. I'm considering maybe having a conversation with him - of course in the spirit of brotherly love offered by someone whose path is not dissimilar to his, as from the time I started to do what I'm now doing it took four years until I began to earn enough to comfortably sustain myself.
In our Lord,
Good to hear from you as always, my friend.
On our friend, I was aware of some of this, but not recent developments. I had been praying for him in his job as well as his business. All I can say is that we all have free will and we all make our own decisions, and that these are often bad. Being a pastor/teacher or a prospective one puts one in the position of a parent of adult children. We want them to succeed; we think we know best; but we also realize that this is their life now, and that while we can attempt with love to coax them in the right direction, it is not our place to tell them what to do. So we try to exemplify the right way and stand up always for what we think is the best approach in principle, gently suggesting what we see to be the best way when asked (or occasionally even when not asked if the situation is critical), and trusting in God to work things out for them, just as He does with us. After all, as I look back on my life, it's not as if the Lord hasn't "bailed me out" of many more poor decisions than I can number, and at all stages of my spiritual growth. Just as our children are our parents' revenge in this regard, no doubt we feel the irony of wanting others to make better decisions than we have made and are pained when we see them doing things we are pretty sure are going to test them and their faith. This would be harder to bear if we didn't understand and believe to the pith of our being that the Lord is "working all things out together for good for those who love Him" (Rom.8:28). We can certainly pray.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I started a blog and I deleted it. I don't think I had much that was worthwhile to share. But I will email to you my post.
"Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues." (Proverbs 17:28)
Seems to me you have a lot to say indeed. What you might want to do with a blog in terms of a ministry would be something to think over a bit ahead of time. Not that you haven't done that but precisely what tone and tack you want to take in a ministry for Christ might be better set down in some detail before launching something. There are many ways you could take this.
Yours in our Master Jesus Christ whom we serve.
Howdy sir. I read briefly your position on eternal security. It is sound. Thought that I would add that I believe Jesus Christ was referencing this when he spoke of granting divorce because of unfaithfulness. Where you a chaplain in the Marines? If so I would like to discuss some things. Been wrestling with a few questions, difficult and impacting. The nature of the kingdom, the implications, Antinomianism v Dominion theology. The impact on spiritual and social perspectives created by either.
Being that God brought me to Christ by an experience similar to that of the Apostle Paul, and has continued this supernatural walk I see God as the same always. I find many conflicts with the church local and identify with a Universal transcendent reality. I do not neglect either just find it difficult to fit in.
I suspect that you are a man occupied with much. I can not deny the truth, nor the working of God. I hold these in tension in a world who would debate what to me is reality. I however am at a disadvantage when it comes to my knowledge of certain applications of the gospel when it comes to our social accountability.
I resigned my commission as a military officer after a God encounter that floored me. I can't see either position. Only a simple walk of obedience. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this would. I am abandoned to his Lordship. I want to help reach the lost but I find a great chasm exist that excludes me to Him with a conflict that puts me at odds with much of what I see labeled as Christian. I want to untie a Gordian knot. I believe the tensions in our society are a reflection of a similar kind. Pastors hands are tied or they are theologically blinded. Truth that unravels and sets free. Experiencing God does not give me a corner on Biblical understanding. I search the scriptures but i find an inability to address such things. Roles of authority. I would love to discourse. I honestly have no language for what I'm trying to express. May the Lord guide you.
Good to make your acquaintance. To answer your question, no, I was never a chaplain. My dad was (during WWII), and after leaving service while in seminary I looked into the possibility, but those plans had to be discarded when for conscience sake I abandoned my denominational affiliation and set out on the course which eventually led to this ministry (no regrets).
You cover a lot of ground in this email. I don't see anything specific to address here, apart for saying that I famously warn Christians off of politics and all things which relate to the interaction of their faith with society in any sort of formal or "pro-active" (which is to say organized) way. Christian spiritual advance, when it occurs, always has to be personal, not collective. So I think you will find (if you have no already) that a lot of these "issues", while I do occasionally address them when asked (again, in a mostly prophylactic way), are not things that greatly concern me. What I am concerned about is learning as much about my Lord through the truth of Word as I possibly can, growing ever closer to Him day by day, and helping my brothers and sisters in Christ do likewise through the prosecution of this ministry.
Thanks much for your good wishes and good words! And a blessed Easter to you although we celebrate Him equally every day.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks for answering. I understand. I resigned my commission as an officer for both conscience sake and as an issue dealing with Lordship. The questions I asked only come into view when seeking to understand the collective body dynamics. Thanks that understanding came out from what you Wrote. I aim at holding the balance of the Truth in the Spirit. I attempt to get to the bottom of issues trying to untangle what I see and hear believers projecting. I question the roles of believers in social roles and leadership issues on account of how I see them affecting believers and just people. Keep perusing Jesus and thanks. Not a lot of time this day to apply more thought.
Hello my friend,
It's my pleasure. Feel free to write me any time. How believers ought to walk through this world is always an important issue. I think if we stay out politics (national, local, and especially "office" politics) we will be doing ourselves a favor and making it easier to put our service to the Lord ahead of pointless competition and questionable self-advancement. Joseph is a wonderful example here. He didn't ask for leadership. When it came to Him it did so from the Lord (cf. Ps.75:6-7), and he was always honest and straightforward, putting the interest of those he served over his own personal interests. This is what I read in the New Testament as well:
Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
Ephesians 6:5-8 NKJV
While these verses are addressed to slaves, that is what almost all of us really are today. In the ancient world, the definition of being poor was having to work for a living; the definition of being dirt-poor was having to work for somebody else. Since you can't buy a house or a car or get an education today without going into debt, we are (almost) all slaves indeed. So there's nothing for it but to do a good job for the Lord day by day, whether leading, following, or merely setting a good Christian example in everything we think, do and say.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
How do you deal with going to church knowing most of them don't teach a thing? V/r
My own personal application is not to darken the door of a church which is a church in name only. To be frank, this ministry is my church. It would be grand if there were places to go where the Bible was actually being taught in a substantive and orthodox way which actually contributed to spiritual growth. But that is very rare. I don't judge my brothers and sisters who "need" the fellowship or the tradition or the stimulation, but I do always try to point out that such things are NOT a substitute for the truth we all need to grow.
Keeping you in my prayers, my friend!
In our dear Lord Jesus,
Greetings Mr. Lugenbill,
Have enjoyed much of the content of your site. I know this question may seem abrupt yet I'm curious if your are a pastor or teacher in a local church. Not concerned about where just interested to know if you serve in some sort of official function in a local congregation.
Good to make your acquaintance.
No worries. I am happy to answer all such questions. I do not have a "brick and mortar" church; Ichthys is "my church", so to speak. I hold a full time position as a Professor of Greek and Latin Classics at the University of Louisville, and that job suffices to provide for the ministry at Ichthys (for more information on this, please see my most recent CV at the link). As to "official", I know that such is the lens through which Christians have traditionally seen things in the last few centuries (at least). However, scripture doesn't authorize denominations in the first place, and its fair to say, in my opinion, that over the millennia these have done much more harm than good. I did go to seminary (see the CV), but was unwilling to alter my beliefs for the sake of an official job in a traditional church setting. Given that very few churches teach the Word of God in a substantive and orthodox way today, I am certain that I made the right decision. Blessedly, this particular approach has allowed me to minister the Word to many people around the world who otherwise would not have had access to these sorts of teachings.
Here are a couple of other appropriate links:
Luginbill Biography FAQs
Antecedents of Ichthys
The Role of Ichthys and Traditional Christianity
I'm happy you've found the site. Do feel free to write me back about any of the above.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Master,
Good morning Dr. Luginbill:
I noticed in one of your replies to an email question that you may be able to refer someone to a local church where you have good friends who teach God's Word. Since you resided near me at one time (near UCI), do you have recommendations in Orange County, CA?
Good to hear from you, my friend.
I started a Bible study among friends at UCI while I was there (which is the origin of Ichthys after a long developmental process), precisely because there really wasn't anything nearby at the time which filled the bill. That was a long time ago, however (I graduated in 1990). There were plenty of evangelical churches there at the time, and some are famous now (e.g., Saddleback), but nothing I could recommend from a spiritual growth standpoint.
I am keeping you in my prayers daily for that growth according to your request.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
At the meeting with my friends on Thursday we decided more or less the plan for our Bible study this semester we are going to work our way through the NT book of James. I was more open to the idea of working through some external series (e.g., the Peter Series on Ichthys), but they seemed rather keen on working through a few verses of a book every week. I pushed rather strongly for a New Testament book, and we decided on James over Galatians or Romans (which is a bit long for a semester). It is a bit ironic that James is very nearly the least "New Testament" book of the New Testament, but it is what my friends wanted, and it is very practical (cf. Proverbs), so I thought it would be good nonetheless.
After thinking for a bit, I realize now that most of what I have done in the past while has been systematic rather than book specific. In fact, absenting a study of Revelation I did with my Church back when I was in middle school in Florida, I can think of very few times where I've been involved in a small group study of a particular book of the Bible. My modus operandi has generally been to read the Bible on my own, to follow the teaching series of whatever Church I have been attending (most recently, Ephesians), and to go through your studies on the side (in a somewhat unorganized fashion, bouncing between things I get interested in).
All this is to say, I don't have a great deal of knowledge to fall back upon here, and since I'm the de facto leader of this group, it falls to me to determine the direction, more or less, that we go in. This being the case, I want to make sure I'm doing things the right way.
1) What do you think in general of going through books of the Bible individually? The obvious pitfall I see is that you narrow your focus to just one specific place in scripture, whereas the entire canon is self-reinforcing and meant to be taken as a whole (at least to some extent). On the other hand, you do get to spend some time delving into the context of that particular book and its specific role in the canon. I suppose as long as you don't "put blinders on" this isn't a problem, but I am a bit loathe to lock myself into one particular location in scripture.
2) (Somewhat unrelated to this Bible study) What do you think of pastor-teachers "preaching through" individual books of the Bible? It seems to me that this is an entirely different thing than individual Christians going through books as just one part of their spiritual intake; that is to say, if a pastor-teacher narrows his teaching to just one book, it is much different than an individual Christian who focuses on one book in tandem with other aspects of his/her study [that would encompass other things]. When a pastor-teacher takes a step such as this, it dictates the nature of the spiritual food for their entire congregation, oftentimes for months-years depending on the length of the book. Perhaps I've just never seen it "done well," but it strikes me that pastor-teachers have a responsibility to "proclaim the full counsel of God" (cf. Paul) as opposed to just one particular segment of it. Should Bible teachers focus their efforts more broadly? (Note: I don't really count most of Ichthys's studies as being "book-specific," even the Peter series & CT, since they reference so much other scripture it hardly seems like a good comparison to the phenomenon I am talking about).
3) I am cognizant of the dangers involved in "going solo" when trying to interpret the Bible without the requisite qualities necessary for doing such (namely, Greek and Hebrew and many years of dedicated preparation). My compatriots, however, seem to have a mindset of "I'll do things on my own until I get stuck, then I'll seek help from someone else." I did not want to push Ichthys too hard because a) it doesn't really have a study dedicated to James specifically, and b) you can't force particular teaching ministries upon others. However, God does empower some to be pastor-teachers for a reason, and I am hesitant to have us carry on without some source of authoritative teaching. Do you know of anything you could recommend for James? (I already have Unger's survey of the Bible and have found it to be of some use is this a good resource?).
4) I've read a fair bit about James 2 from Ichthys and feel I have a pretty good grasp of what "faith is dead without works" means in the true sense, but I fear I may have some trouble conveying it well, since it's not exactly one of the easier things to get from English translations alone. Other than reading through what you have already written about it, is there anything in particular you think could help me communicate the meaning of this passage to others?
Your friend in Jesus,
I think you have sussed out the major issues just right. You have been presented with an opportunity. You can grasp it or not depending upon what you feel the Lord is calling you to do. I don't see very much value, beyond basic fellowship, of believers getting together and each indiscriminately putting in his/her two cents on what they think about a given passage. Just as in any military organization, someone has to lead. There are all manners and styles of leadership, but there is also a big difference between leading and not leading. Also, the channel of correct leadership is more narrow than all of the theoretical possibilities like needing to keep the car on the road and out of the ditch on either side. The two sides here are letting this be just a gab-fest on the one hand, and trying to be too authoritative with some independently minded college students you've just met on the other. Getting the mix just right is very difficult, and mistakes will no doubt be made. But as Napoleon said about battle, if you want to make an omelet, you're going to have to break some eggs. All these comments apply equally for category-based or book-by-book based Bible study.
Whether it's a chapter or a doctrine, you will have things you want to teach the group, things that are to your lights the most important basic points to get across on that topic or in that chapter given where the others are spiritually. Keeping yourself focused on the objective of teaching something good and solid will be your best bet in my view. It's pretty hard for people to maintain their objectivity in a very small group, so you will have to be the one to be the grown up, so to speak, allowing a certain amount of nay-saying but still sticking up for the truth in a gentle and persuasive way (borne of preparation). No doubt the Lord has led you to this situation for a reason. Whether this group lasts a long time or a very short time, the experience will no doubt be of great benefit to you in preparing to do this sort of thing in the future, showing you what works and what doesn't, and giving you a chance to prepare the truth in the best way you know how for communication. Bible teaching is analogous to cooking. A pound of flour isn't much good to a hungry person, but a good cook can rapidly make it into tasty biscuits which are at the same time nutritious. A person can study the theory of cooking, et al. Sooner or later, however, learning how to cook requires getting into the kitchen and doing it. And remember, just because you start cooking doesn't mean you can't keep studying the finer points of culinary skills and ever more complicated recipes after the lumberjacks who needed the biscuits have gone home.
I guess what I am saying is that you're not going to be perfect at this even with years more preparation, but that doesn't mean you can't do some really good things for the Lord right now (you know quite a lot and are quite gifted). And it is not the case that once a person has started to any degree that further preparation is then impossible it's often the opposite, namely, further preparation becoming more meaningful and focused as a result of the experience of teaching.
Also know that I am happy to answer any specific questions you might have in preparing. One final point, already made but worth emphasizing: in such situations there is a great tendency to over-prepare. If you are tackling a paragraph or a chapter at a time, my advice would be to glean for yourself what the two or three most important spiritual points / doctrinal clarifications are in that material considering the people you are ministering to, and try to find ways to make those points persuasively and with a good deal of support.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose Body we are here to serve.
Hi Dr. Luginbill,
How are you my dear brother, doing well I trust? I hope you and your family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you have some time to spare may I ask for some guidance on a matter? I have been going back and forth on the issue of studying Greek, so as to better facilitate my studies, but to be quite honest, I a little intimidated. As I may have told you in some of my previous letters, I was not a very good student in school (it's a miracle I graduated), and since that time, I have often avoided confrontations with grammar and mathematics, as those were two of my weaker subjects. Anyway, I'm wanting to beat those fears, and I figured I would start with grammar while studying Greek, that way I could meet two goals at once. As for the study of Greek, I have heard that if one can manage it, learning Classical Greek is better than just learning New Testament Greek, and that if one only learns NT Greek he or she will have a harder time with classical texts, but, that if Classical Greek is studied then reading NT Greek will be easy. May I ask your thoughts on that description? Also, may I ask, as far as grammars, lexicons, dictionaries, etc. go, do you have any suggestions for someone such as myself, who seeks to learn Greek, but has poor knowledge of grammar to begin with, and has no serious experience in studying a language? Any thoughts are appreciated my friend.
Your brother in Christ Jesus,
Good to her from you, my friend. I had a very nice Thanksgiving, and I hope the same was true for you and your family.
As to learning Greek, I would heartily agree that learning classical Greek is the only way to go for anyone who is really serious about it. There are plenty of good pedagogical courses for learning the language (I use for my university class and often recommend Cambridge's Reading Greek course). It certainly can be challenging, however, to learn the language effectively entirely on one's own. I puttered around with it a bit while in the USMC, but didn't make serious progress until I actually started a university course upon mustering out. Not everyone has this option, I understand. There are many resources on the internet these days (for example, see the Ichthys page "Greek Language Resources" at the link), so it's not impossible. I find with most of my beginning Greek and Latin students that few of them have any conception of grammar even though they've had twelve years of English before college and even more at university so you're hardly alone in this. Indeed, taking Latin and Greek is the way grammar was traditionally learned in this country before substantive education fell out of fashion.
Do feel free to write me back about this subject, especially if you begin to experiment, and I'll be happy to give you whatever guidance I can.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I hope all is well and your Thanksgiving holiday is going well with you and your family. As always, you, your family and this ministry is in my prayers.
Quick question. I want to start a serious study of new testament Greek but do not want to go to seminary school. there are many sites and resources available but I feel that it will take you off track.
Are you a fan of William D Mounce, PH.D.? He seems to be very popular in terms of learning New Testament Greek particularly for layperson like me. I want to start learning Greek and you provide me with some links previously but I want more of a classroom setting with workbooks, et. for self learning. Also pronunciation of the words are critical. He seems to have some products that is of benefit but I would like your opinion. Any help is appreciated. I do not want to start on this path purchasing the wrong materials or learning from the wrong individuals. I will always go to you for follow-up and exegeses. If you have created something, obviously I would go to you but I don't see where you have any materials specifically for learning Greek.
In Christ our Lord.
I haven't used this book / series of materials myself. It seems to be popular and to sell well; it also seems to be pretty expensive. Two things I will note: 1) this is a book for learning New Testament Greek, not Greek per se. In my opinion it's much better to learn ancient Greek / classical Greek and then go on to the New Testament. This gives a person a much better perspective on the language rather than seeing it with what amounts to blinders on. It is the same language. To use a rough analogy, the NT-only Greek approach would be like learning English to read Dickens, and learning it through a "Dickens only" approach. That would be OK, I suppose, unless it mattered what Dickens said on any particular page. Drawing conclusions from only knowing Dickens' English and 19th cent. London might result erroneous conclusions from not understanding that there is a wider world of English culture and language. 2) This Mounce has good credentials, but he is not to be confused with his more famous father who wrote the NT Grammar.
For my college classes, I use Cambridge's Reading Greek (2 vol.). If a person worked their way through this book (more work no doubt than the Mounce series), the NT would be doable thereafter. It's hard to learn Greek (or any language) entirely on one's own, however. At least a semester of interfacing with a professor and other students is recommended (at a college/university, not a seminary). However, I do realize that this is not always possible, and I have known some very few people who have been able to pull it off on their own to a good result. I don't think I would have been able to do it that way myself, however.
Having a good holiday so far. Hope yours is going well too, my friend. I'm keeping you and you deliverance in my prayers.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
Hi Robert....which language should I learn first the Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew to have the ability to translate original bible texts?
Yours in Christ,
That's quite a question! There have been many pastor-teachers over the years who have done a good job serving the Body of Christ without having any training in the original languages; and I dare say that the vast majority who have gotten some of this in seminary never progressed far enough in any of these languages to actually be able to do much translating on their own. That takes a good deal of time and effort. In my estimation it takes at least two years of formal training to get to the point of even beginning this process and also requires for the person in question to have been very serious and diligent in it (i.e., just "passing" two years of Greek is not the same thing necessarily as learning two years worth of Greek).
My best advice for you is to read the English Bible diligently according to a plan you develop to read and re-read (see the links: "Read your Bible", "Bible Reading plan I" and "Bible Reading plan II"). Added to this needs to be also of course a daily, systematic Bible study that avails itself of a good Bible teaching ministry naturally I am partial to Ichthys but some in-depth, orthodox teaching ministry (like Bible Academy at the link) will be necessary to study under in order to grow. Even those with the gift of pastor-teacher aren't ready even to "feed themselves" until after many years of preparation (and not just in the original languages).
To answer your question more specifically, there is not much point in studying biblical Aramaic in a vacuum. Biblical Aramaic is to a large degree unique to the places where it occurs in scripture, and later Aramaic (of which there is a great deal) is of only tangential benefit in understanding it. Also, the very small portions of the OT (there's almost nothing in the NT) which are in Aramaic are not too difficult to understand for those who know Hebrew, either in general terms or theologically. Hebrew and Greek are both difficult languages to learn; each presents unique problems and each is a "dead language" meaning that there are no present-day native speakers; it is also true that the differences in time have made for differences in thought and expression versus our modern perspective, and we take many such things for granted; so learning BH and NTG is quite different from learning, e.g., French or Spanish. A long way of saying that I wouldn't recommend trying to do this on one's own.
Which to learn first? There is a benefit to doing both at the same time. While they are members of completely different language families (Indo-European for Greek and Semitic for Hebrew), and while that makes for wildly different accidence, syntax and phonology, still, the way we have come to describe and teach them (the Classical method) is similar, and there are many points of analogy as a result. If I had to choose, I suppose I would put Greek first because the truth in the New Testament is more concentrated. Also, while students generally find the first year of Hebrew more difficult than the first year of Greek, by the time one gets to the third year Greek is still very tough sometimes (being intellectually dense) in ways that Hebrew is not.
I commend your determination to keep moving forward with God's plan for your life, my friend! It often takes a minute (and a good deal of growth) to get to the point of seeing and understanding just where we fit in in terms of our gifts and the service to the Body our Lord wants us to perform. But I know you'll get there: you're running a good race. Keep it up!
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Thank you, again. I enjoyed reading your latest entry. Yes, I can imagine that you would like a vacation from coding! I can also see that you enjoy it, and there is a lot of fun in it when it all works it is gratifying and amazing. These html (etc) details, too, are in God's imaginative yet precise and orderly creation.
I am not sure if your comment about why your ministry is on the internet means you formerly were a pastor (and perhaps you have noted that somewhere, but I have forgotten). I am sure you would still be a wonderful preacher, in addition to writer. You never know but that the Lord will re-call you to that, in His time.
Have a blessed week.
I'll continue to keep you in prayer regarding your work situation.
I did go to seminary (along with many other degrees), but it became clear to me in the process that going a traditional route would involve compromises on principles of truth which I was not willing to make. I'm so glad I went the way I went. Ichthys, as I'm proud to say, is "my church". You're welcome any time!
Keeping running your good race and have a wonderful week yourself!
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
It's been a while. How are you keeping? I hope you are well, I keep you and your ministry in my prayers daily.
I am contacting you in what feels like a slight state of desperation. It's been a tough old few months, but it feels like it's all reached its pinnacle now. I am in my final exam period currently for my undergraduate degree, suffice to say it will be such a relief when it all ends! This has coincided with deciding what career path to take next, and I have been truly blessed to have been offered roles already from two of the leading sports teams in the industry.
I know we are on the cusp of the tribulation, and so I am aware of the implications of such a choice like this. I am also aware that it is your policy not to give specific advice, so my question will not be directed towards that at all. The most important thing for me is to choose a role that is conducive to my spiritual growth and one that will not hinder my progress to spiritual maturity, and ultimately, ministry. I really do desire to follow God's will, rather than mine, but I am finding it hard to discern whether the choice I am about to make is in line with God's will. I have prayed fervently, and am still not at peace, with the decision needing to be made tomorrow. Is this because my lack of faith? Am I letting my feelings override my spiritual perception? I just want to know whether the decision I am about to make is the correct one, and not out of selfish ambition. How do we know when our will and God's will are aligned?
This choice has caused me a lot of distress, and it has hindered all other aspects of my life including both academic and spiritual study; such that I'm faced with an even bigger mountain to climb over these next two weeks.
With all that said I would really appreciate your prayer, Professor, that I can listen to the gentle whisper of the Spirit in steering me towards the right direction.
Your friend in Christ,
It's good to hear from you, my friend. Our mutual friend just emailed me a little while ago mentioning that you were facing a big decision, so I have said a prayer for you. I will continue to keep you in prayer on this.
I appreciate that you fully understand how that this is your decision to make. I will say a few a things as speaking with one who has the spiritual maturity to consider advice as advice and not in any way as obligatory or possessed of "special grace".
One friend to another, I wouldn't put too much weight on the times we are in when it comes to making decisions such as this. Clearly, we all need to work for a living (that will be the case no doubt even during the Tribulation: Matt.24:40-41). The fact that the Lord has apparently opened up something very good (and multiple opportunities at that) is a blessing for which we can be thankful. In my opinion, this opportunity should be judged on its own merits. If there were something wrong with the job or the fact of taking it irrespective of the times, then that would something to consider. If you were debating entering a seminary (for example) versus taking a full time job, that would be another question. But weighing taking a good job versus being out of work (or waiting for other prospects which might not develop) is another sort of thing. That doesn't mean the choice is necessarily easy, but I wouldn't let events of some years in the future keep me from accepting an opportunity that the Lord had sent my way. You are clearly in a better position to judge these things than I am. However, one thing my dad said to us many years ago does come to mind: "When the cookies are passed, better take one if you want one, because there is no guarantee they will be passed around again".
Personally, I have never regretted taking on this full-time professorship. Other than being independently wealthy (a choice that never came my way), it has turned out to be a very good base for ministry. Getting a good position in one's field of talent, training and expertise has obvious advantages. The transition from school to full-time work is always challenging, but with the right motivation and self-discipline it can be a solid base for whatever particular ministry the Lord has in mind. Finally, it is not as if you are getting married to the job. Turning down a position is something that cannot be undone, but there is nothing standing in the way of making changes down the road if this turns out not to be the best place for you. As I say, since this is not a case of doing something wrong or morally compromising rather we are all meant to earn or living by the sweat of our brow (as even Paul did while ministering) it would be hard for anyone to make an argument that taking on one of these jobs would be the wrong thing to do, even if down the road it doesn't turn out to be long term.
As I mentioned and as you are fully aware, you are the only one who can make the choice. When I was ABD at UC Irvine, I had an opportunity to be hired in a tenure-track position for the following fall, but in the end I decided it would be better to have my Ph.D. in hand before starting full-time work. I can't say for certain that things wouldn't have worked out if I had made a different choice, but once I made it at the time I had peace over it (even though jobs in Classics were hard to find at the time), and God certainly worked it out for good (this position is much better than the one I turned down).
The key thing is the precise plan you feel the Lord is calling you to implement. If that is, as I suspect based upon our conversations in the past, to serve Him in ministering the Word from a base of support provided through earning a living with your own hands, I wouldn't feel bad about Him providing you with a very good one I would be grateful for the blessing.
When it comes to deciding between multiple possibilities, I am very confident that the Lord will guide you on this. In your case, the Spirit has a lot of truth to work with to provide that guidance.
One piece of advice I will give: enjoy this moment. You've earned it and the Lord has blessed not only your hard work in your field but even more your positive attitude and approach to the truth. Have faith that just as He has brought you to this point and provided these opportunities, so He will keep you safe in making a good choice.
Congratulations my friend!
In Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, from whom all blessings flow.
Thank you for your prayers. We hope the deliverance will come from somewhere.
Thank you for your reply on the resurrection body. As you know from my messages since the summer, until some time ago it's not been a good period. And, as always, this comes from straying away from the truth and becoming entangled in worldly matters, or letting one being entangled. It is perhaps a battle that is never finished until our last day here, but every day is about growing in the truth and dying to this world. And as I grow there are always some new areas I find where there is still some attachment to this world left. Body is a difficult one, it is our interface and we care about it. On the other hand, through faith we know that something infinitely better awaits us. Hence my question. It's one of these things where the knowledge is there and it has to be fully believed and applied and it certainly is good to have something better to look forward to in this respect also.
As for my future ministry, one observation came to me and that's to do with my professional work. I know that it's good to be careful with drawing conclusions that reach too far, particularly as I have no doubt that God has granted me sustenance through what I'm doing as it leaves enough time for the study and all that I have is through His deliverance. Nevertheless, it could be that my preparation for the ministry could take a similar course and maybe has taken a similar course already. It would be difficult for me now to do a degree in any of the areas I'm currently studying and, quite similarly as it is the case with my professional work, it would not necessarily be the best investment of time. Through God's help the language study has been productive and theology is progressing also, even if I'm a very long way off. I have started Exodus and Mark and the pace of reading should pick up soon, as I'm not far away from going through Gesenius for the second time and have completed "Reading Greek" also, having gone through each lesson several times. Overall, I have to say that the reading is going quite smoothly now, even if I'm many years away from having your expert insight which allows you to discern linguistic intricacies that help to excerpt the truth where it's not easy. I'm also not sure that I will be able to attain to that level in my circumstances, but it remains an inspiration. The main thing in all this is that I think as we see through the faith eye more and more, physical world becomes a parallel to spiritual world, not the other way round, because it's the latter that's real and lasting. So maybe with time I will find my specialism as a teacher also.
I also wanted to ask you whether some of my observations on God showing us the transitoriness of this world and leading us to Himself have scriptural validity. Before I became a believer I was often caught in sentimental thoughts, all of which had transitoriness written all over them. Whatever good memory one can think of, the fact that it's in the past ultimately only brings sadness. Whatever one thinks about, reflects on, death is in all these thoughts. I was definitely inclined to such drifting, although perhaps no one is completely free of it. Similarly, we all look with awe at the universe and always have to arrive at the conclusion that it's beyond our comprehension. I wonder if all these thoughts, this attempt on our part to look into the past, to remember the paths of the people we met in our lives, also the complete astonishment by the greatness of creation are not what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:11:
11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
All these thoughts which lead to eternity, have got sadness and death in them before one is saved, but not so after one comes to the faith, as then we know that if we believe in the truth, this transitoriness is past. So before salvation, this eternity set in our heart is, as some call it, "existential pain", and this pain should prod us to seek God and solution to it. After salvation, this eternity is something completely different - there is the joy of salvation in it and our awaiting to be in the Lord.
Let me know if you think I'm not going beyond what the scripture says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, it is a truly wonderful verse and one which I have been thinking about for a long time.
In our Lord,
I think that you are approaching all this is precisely the right way. We don't need to feel bad about the hope we have of all the trouble here on earth coming to an end. That great relief and peace are part of the heritage we have as believers in Jesus Christ. I also think your approach on potential ministry makes perfect sense. This ministry, Ichthys, was certainly nothing I ever anticipated (there wasn't even a hint of anything like an internet when I began having these same conversations with myself that you are having). You have learned an amazing amount in a very short time, and I dare say that you are more prepared to minister the Word than 99% of recent seminary graduates. Naturally we always want to be even better prepared. Keeping in the sweet spot between undue diffidence and unwarranted confidence is always a challenge. I'm confident that you will come into your own on this score in due time (and am certainly praying for you on this).
On the nature of life, the conclusions you've come to are the right ones of course, and they are the ones we are all meant to come to. Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to follow on with the logic these conclusions demand. If we want something permanent, something that will be joyous and not tragic, then we have got to approach God as the only One who can offer that solution. Blessedly, He offers that Gift free of charge (to us) in the person of Jesus Christ who paid the entire price of eternal bliss for us through dying for our sins. However, that next step requires turning away from ourselves as the source of solutions and coming to God on His terms. Most people in human history have been unwilling to do that. They would rather rely on themselves and preserve their autonomy of will, even though it means death and destruction in the end. It is foolish in our eyes (and God's too), but it is "who they are". Once this choice is made, exalting the temporary and romanticizing the sadness and loss is one very common alternative way of coping while this temporary life persists. Most people wander about in a fog of denial as if death were something that really will never happen to them personally. Even though they of course realize that this is not the case, unbelievers by and large throughout history certainly have been able to harden their hearts against this fundamental truth and proceed through their short lives oblivious to it. Praise God for His truth and for His mercy in getting through to us who have fled to Christ for the only hope in this life! a hope which does not disappoint since we have the love of God poured out into our hearts through the Spirit who seals that pledge (Rom.5:5).
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Dear Brother Robert,
It's really nice to hear from you. Thank you for your love and prayers. Through the grace of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ I am "fighting the good fight of faith."
A few years ago when I felt rejected by my pastor, family and friends because I no longer believed in the false doctrine of OSAS. At the time I felt the world closing in on me, as I set out into the unknown after being in that church for over 10 years. Feeling really abandoned and all alone, of course the Lord never left me. I will never forget the comfort I received from your words and your work on the false doctrine of OSAS. Following and standing up for the truth can be a really lonely road at times. But we are never to forget that our Saviour is with us all the way.
After many, many hours of prayer the good Lord opened a door for me to standup and preach His word. He has blessed me greatly in this small church that I'm attending now. I believe the Lord has given me one message to preach, only one, and that is, to encourage my brothers and sisters to stay on narrow and difficult road that leads to life, because only a few will find it.
Apostasy is everywhere brother, and most of the chaos in churches today is because of this false doctrine OSAS. Unfortunately I have seen first hand the damage this OSAS doctrine is doing in the church I left. We need to stand firm in our faith more than ever, as Jesus' return draws near.
I hope you and everyone around you are keeping well, and the grace of Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
My love be with you in Christ Jesus.
It's really great to hear that you are now ministering the Word yourself! I know from our many conversations that you have a deep knowledge of all things biblical. So if I had any advice it would be not to hold back on all the teaching of the Word (Acts 20:27).
Keep fighting the good fight, my friend! I am confident that there is a crown of glory waiting for you with your name on it.
Yours in Jesus Christ, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep,
I'm not sure how much of this is from Satan, but every time I close my eyes I have nightmares of doubt. Whenever I wake up in a rushed panic, I correct myself with the truth.
This happened ever since I had a debate with a seminarian-turned-atheist. I still pray that he may come to his senses before it's too late, but I had to stop dealing with him.
It's a noted phenomenon that when we begin ministering to others it may frequently be the case that we come in for greater scrutiny from the forces of evil.
I think you handled it just right.
Good for you!
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Earlier today I met two people in my local church's small group that had similar worries to my own with respect to the church (emotionalism over reason, prayer out loud, signal and sign gifts). After our group meeting, I had a long conversation with the two of them about what it is I believe and my take on college life and church (they are freshman of two weeks). I was excited to meet people with similar theological positions as my own, and a similar drive to learn the truth. This has been the first time in my life really that I've met companions my own age with such feelings. I don't want to misjudge the belief of these friends out of want for legitimate Christian companionship, but I am truly optimistic.
I did mention Ichthys and its role in my growth, and sent them a message on Facebook regarding the site, since I am in no way qualified to teach authoritatively on my own and would need to get Bible study materials from somewhere (and, well, I really only read Ichthys nowadays so figured it would better to introduce them to it sooner rather than later).
My purpose in notifying you is twofold: 1) I thought you might appreciate hearing about my experiences trying to share the site with others, and 2) I feel rather unprepared to be a spiritual role model for two younger students and feel like it would be good to have someone looking over my shoulder for my first baby steps into ministry. I'm quite honestly new to talking on a deep theological level with people other than my biological family, and fear that I might not take the right approach without thinking things through and getting some advice.
I've included the message I sent them, just to keep you in the loop:
When we talked earlier tonight I mentioned that I strongly encourage you to look at https://ichthys.com on your own before I tell you why I trust the site and rely on it as my main source for spiritual growth. I don't want to push things upon you; choice of teaching ministry has to be a choice you make through your own spiritual conscience and prayer. I cannot and should not make this choice for you, and am attempting my best to shield my personal opinions from your consideration.
I also mentioned how there were some "unconventional" things on the site, or places where the sites theology differs significantly from the evangelical norm. In my opinion, the Bible says what it says, even if 99% of contemporary Christianity thinks it says something different. But, I figure, theres no point in pretending that there arent things that will rub you the wrong way at first, or make you a bit surprised. My goal in this is to show you the parts of the website you might find unusual to let you understand the methodology and positions (without me saying definitively that any of this is right or wrong). These are the things that the sites author has had to refine through challenges over the course of time, since these are most commonly what people disagree with. For example, there is (little) argument between Christians about things like the divinity of Christ or his expiation of our sins on Calvary, but on topics such as the timing of the rapture, the purpose and true meaning of baptism, the timing of the creation of the earth, etc., disagreement is not only common but expected among various groups. Out of necessity, these portions of the site display most brilliantly what it is the site stands for, and its stance on biblical truth versus contemporary opinion.
Ive listed quite a few things below, so I would suggest you pick one you are interested in and not try to do too much at once. You will find that these links are not light reading, and take a great deal of time to fully digest and internalize. I am somewhat familiar with all of these topics so dont feel constrained by what I may or may not be well versed in. One of these is a full study (the one about the Genesis Gap), and the rest are email responses to people who have asked the author questions.
1) The creation of earth: The Genesis Gap (aka the "ruin-reconstruction theory")
2) The true meaning of baptism and some arguments against water baptism
3) The problems with absolute eternal security (aka "once saved always saved")
4) The placement of the rapture of the church and its true significance
5) The proper place for tongues, prophecy, healing etc. in our modern day (esp. with regard to charismatics)
6) The timing and purpose of the tribulation in the plan of God
I would also encourage you to take a look at these three links to get a better understanding of the ministry and its author:
Please, take your time on this, and get back to me when you feel comfortable. We could set up a meeting this week or sometime later if you want more time to dig on your own. Like I said before, this site has been my spiritual guide for the last two years and is thus where most of my personal study has been focused. This is why I am making sure you at least know where I get some of the things I believe, and have a better grasp of the site if you want to base our study off of it.
Yours in Christ,
I'm afraid this was a bit longer than I had intended, but hopefully it should get them introduced to the ministry, and I can use their experiences with some of Ichthys's more difficult doctrines to springboard into a discussion of why we believe what we believe and what valid methodologies are for growing up in Christ (e.g., finding a teaching ministry, vetting it over time, and basing your growth off it). I truly feel like this is something I'm supposed to do, and pray that I might have the humility to accept God's call rather than my own desire.
As always, I'm thankful for your prayers and thoughtful responses.
Yours in Christ Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, and Friend,
That's wonderful news! I have long thought that you would make an excellent pastor/teacher. In any case, this seems like a wonderful opportunity to minister and to make use of your many talents and all the things you have learned.
Please don't underestimate what you know or the talents and gifts the Lord has given you. We all feel insufficient when it comes to contemplating ministering the Word of God or should. But you have been preparing yourself diligently for some time now, and I am sure that your presentation of the truth personally and face to face will be very well received.
Best wishes for this, my friend I will be keeping you in my prayers.
In Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd of all the sheep.
Hi Bob, I pray that you might be found blessed and in God's peace. I've got another email partially written about my blog, and will send that one your way as I get closer to finishing my renovation. I did decide to stick with it, but it has been a struggle to get very much work done among all my classes, so it is going a bit slower than I had hoped. Prayers would be appreciated, as always.
My question in all this (which I know we have discussed before) is exactly what kind of mental attitude I should try to maintain while trying to figure out why I'm here. The attitude of most of my peers is that of frightening indifference. "Why are you studying this discipline?" "Oh, well I picked this one when I came to freshman orientation. That's why I guess." Even among the Christians I occasionally associate with, there seems to be a startling lack of thought about their purpose or what it is they are studying to become. Sometimes I get the impression that I fall on the other unhealthy extreme; I think too much about it. Now, on to some more particular questions:
(1) Is there a distinction in God's eyes between vocation (i.e., worldly occupation) and calling (i.e., our assigned ministry)? I think a lot of the stress I've put myself through has stemmed from conflating the application of these two things, when in reality it may be more that my career choice doesn't matter so much as my choice to make said career about God. Obviously they are tied one to the other, but how much so, and to what extent? It is all very confusing to me, and I fear months of bad thought patterns have deprived me of the ability to look at the question in a very objective light.
(2) Does God have a "first best choice" regarding what we choose to do in terms of occupation? I know he obviously has planned for us some ideal life were we to never make poor choices and reject his perfect will. I know also that he has planned out every circumstance from eternity past to benefit those who truly seek him, making our life a matter of pursuing God to let other things fall into place. The problem is, I feel like I'm doing the first (even though I still mess up often enough), but the latter isn't happening from my (darkened) viewpoint. I have scholarships to pay for my education, food in my stomach, and clothes on my back, but I feel about as much calling to be an engineer as to be a garbage-man. Honestly, the only thing that really holds my attention to a great extent anymore is biblical truth and I have problems keeping focused on schoolwork over Bible study. Instead of it feeling like a natural extension of my faith, my current education seems like it is putting extreme amounts of stress on me and eating up great amounts of my time for the gain of something that doesn't interest me (namely, workplace success and obscene amounts of money). I have watched my father struggle with a job that I don't believe is God's will for him and it has made very wary of pursuing engineering unless I am convinced it is God's will for my life.
I am somewhat disappointed in myself that this is still bothering me. What am I missing that everybody else seems to get? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that I am acutely aware of all the forking paths presented to me at this age? Is my fear of "choosing wrong" in any way justified.
I am in discussion currently with two members from one of the "Church of Christ" Churches (i.e., water baptism, repentance, and "lordship" are necessary for salvation). I am likely going to email you again later this week with respect to my defense of faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9 et al.), but earlier today I wrote up a preface to my first response. I am relatively new to apologetics, and especially the type where your writing potentially makes or breaks somebody's salvation with the help of the Spirit. Ironically enough, they don't think I'm saved despite talking through complex theological positions for the last few weeks (I haven't been dunked yet, though I was sprinkled as a baby and confirmed as a 12 year old). Before sending off my call for written discussion, I want an outside opinion on my "rules" just to make sure they aren't arbitrary or illogical. I have tired of face-to-face "discipleship" meetings wherein I am outnumbered 2 to 1 and far worse than they at "on the spot" arguments. I have a good memory, but I am not nearly as good at quoting off random scriptures to support my points (I'm fairly convinced that I am not the first one, so they no doubt have a set of verses that they go through to convince others of the need for "true discipleship" and "lordship" for salvation). Thus, I want to shift the conversation into a written medium where we are on more even ground and I am no longer inhibited by my inexperience. You may get the impression that these people would be easy to spot, but the problem is that they pay so much lip service to The Word that you'd never catch on unless you already knew a substantial amount, at which point it is still hard to pinpoint but you get the "off" feeling about their teaching. The particular guys I'm doing Bible study with are truly nice people, but I don't think they understand what it is they are saying. I've avoided getting dragged to "devotions" on Friday nights and Sunday services because I know I vehemently disagree with the doctrine taught and would be guilt tripped to no end once I started going.
For His glory,
Hello my friend!
As usual, you cover a lot of ground, so please do write back if there is anything I missed or didn't answer completely.
First, I want to congratulate you on your perseverance in your education and, even more importantly, in your continuing perseverance in spiritual growth. I am very impressed, and I know that the Lord is honoring and will continue to honor your dedication to Him and His Church.
Second, as to your major and career questions, it is important, in my view, to be at peace with such choices. We can't expect things to be easy, and you clearly have a realistic view of the challenges involved in this path, but it does seem to me that if we are reasoning correctly and for the right motives, we will be satisfied with our choice and the reasons for it. As I have probably said before, I dislike the "requirements first" and "major from square one" attitudes and resultant policies that have infected higher education. College used to be a place to experiment with disciplines and ideas. Doing this first often results in figuring out not only our potential but also where our heart lies. You love the Lord more than anything, but there isn't really a clear path in terms of livelihood for someone who has things straight as you do. Personally, I am very much of an objective-oriented person. I like to figure where I am going first then get there by the best possible route. But if a person doesn't know the destination, plotting the course is problematic. If you told me that you wanted to do an apologetic ministry as your service to the Lord in this life, and that this major/profession would be a good platform for that ministry, then I would be all for encouraging you to put aside all doubts. But if you're not sure of the particular ministry, not sure what further formal preparation you might need/want for what might develop, and not really sure of the particular gifts you have been given and direction into which you are being called, well, then the best I can do is encourage you to keep praying and searching on this score. In the meantime, getting a degree is a good and honorable thing, and preparing for a profession which might be the basis for something in the future but will sustain you in the meantime is both honorable and practical. When it comes to "first best" vs. "other alternatives", I would advise trusting the Lord that He has all this in hand. He can take disaster and turn it into "better than first best" if He is pleased to do so and I know He honors those who honor Him. Introspection on these things is necessary to a degree, but worrying too much about making mistakes when you really are making decisions on behalf of the Lord is not very profitable and there is no profit in worrying about the past. Life is bumpy, and we have to guard against embracing too firmly the idea of perfectionism because we are not perfect, cannot actually run a perfect race, and even if we were and could, the evil one will be out there to trip us up and bump us off course. This is spiritual warfare. There will be eggs broken to make this omelet.
On your document, you are clearly a very logical and intelligent person, and the Lord is also clearly making use of your talents in His service something to think about in terms of the discussion above. As to the content, I find it impressive and persuasive. As to the methodology, I am sure I've mentioned before that apologetics is not my forte. Everyone has to find his/her own methods for such things, and I think I would also be correct in saying that the audience is possibly the most important thing when it comes to trying to persuade someone else of the truth. Paul was "all things to all people" for this very reason. That is to say, these guidelines may be better as a set of principles you personally have in mind when approaching others rather than something you want to share in all cases. In my experience and observation (again, coming from someone who is not an expert in this field), one theme, one point, one principle is usually superior to a raft of arguments, simply because it can be impressed by repetition. That doesn't mean there won't be all manner of angles to it or that you won't want to have many scriptures to support it, but there is always a soft-spot in any position which is not, in fact, true. My advice: find the weak link and direct all efforts at that vulnerability. I pray for your success in leading these people to the truth.
Be encouraged. You are fighting a good fight. Have confidence that the Lord is with you and that He will guide you through this dark valley . . . and into His glorious light.
I will be praying for you and your family.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I'm fairly certain now that I'm going to go through with it all and set myself on a path of preparation starting this summer.
Something I'm trying to tread carefully on is how I go about making the transition before other people. I've had notions of making it some sort of grand apologetic escapade with me logically deducing "why" it was the right decision (and justifying it to others, especially skeptical friends), but after getting partway through several times now, it's always seemed a little misplaced. It's not that I want to hide how I feel about things, but it seems that it would be difficult for me to put up a page on the internet explaining my decision (for example) while trying to quietly follow God's calling for me without fanfare or drawing attention to myself.
You see, the people that really matter to me are already supportive. My parents, sisters, and grandparents are behind me whatever I decide. My closest cadre of friends have been praying for me and understand the thought that has gone into this. And certainly you know well what this has meant to me over the last couple years. So it is very much a question of whom exactly I feel I have to justify the decision for.
However, I know I will be asked by others about this sort of thing, and I want to be prepared to handle the situation with grace and humility. There is nothing particularly worthy about what I've done. I've simply decided that I have a pretty good idea of what God's call is for me, and I'm deciding to trust Him.
What would you suggest doing? Would quietly transferring schools and explaining to those who ask me directly be the best path, or would posting something explanatory on the internet be better (see below)?
Here is the latest version of the "explanatory letter" discussed above, if you would take a look at it. It's not particularly short, but since this is "the plan", I'm very happy to hear any constructive criticism you might have, whether it's related to the question or not.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,
This is an interesting question which, of course, only you can answer. I'm of pretty much the same mind as you are about such things, namely that we are accountable to the Lord, not to other people, for all of our decisions, especially the really big ones such as this. That being said, I also understand the desire to explain to others we love just why it is that we are striking out in a way which is so antithetical to their expectations of us. It's not just a defense; it's also a means of engaging with them on spiritual matters at a time of critical opportunity. It takes a lot of courage to write something like this and a lot of courage to share it. What you have written is wonderfully reasoned and demonstrates where you are "at" spiritually, namely, in a very good place putting the Lord first.
I suppose the main caveat I would have about the document as a whole is my own reluctance to put things in writing when they deal with the uncertainties of the future. Life takes many interesting twists and turns. Mine certainly has, and I can vouch for the principle in the case of many fine Christian men I have known and know who did in the past or who are presently pursuing the goal of supporting the edification of the Church of Christ. What you are proposing is very much like what I did. When I first came to understand what the Lord wanted me to do with my life I initially followed in the footsteps of my mentor, Colonel Thieme. But my path ended up diverging from his. I'm very happy it did, but it wasn't the original plan. As the old adage goes, "Man proposes; God disposes". And as Paul says at 1st Corinthians 12:5, "There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord" (NIV). In other words, the Lord has a plan for using you, your talents, gifts, preparation, dedication and determination. The best plan is always to follow and accept His plan. The wonderful job you are doing with your campus ministry indicates to me that this or something like it could bloom into something more substantial sooner rather than later and completely "out of the blue" at that.
I'm not saying "don't plan". We all have to do some of that. And things may well turn out exactly as you are expecting (I realize you have some options built in here as far are the end result is concerned). Then again, I can see reasons why for you and your cohort of prospective pastor-teachers things may proceed somewhat differently than anticipated, the main ones being the seismic shift in technology, the hardening of the church visible, and of course the limited amount of time left. I find you to be a very reasonable and sufficiently flexible Christian, so I'm not actually a bit worried about your ability and willingness to "roll with the punches" down the road. It's just the putting it in writing part . . .
Looking very much forward to following your career, both secular and of course even more in you preparation and service to our Lord.
In Jesus Christ who is our all in all, the Head Shepherd of the sheep,
Thanks for your insight. I think I've decided to be mostly quiet about these things, trusting that God will work out the details and situations where I have an opportunity to witness to others (see below).
As to planning, you are entirely right and I'm stepping back now to reevaluate these things. There is today to deal with, and that is plenty enough. Trust and obey... not plan and execute.
It is amazing to me the ways in which God works. One of my Bible Study friends asked me today to talk to another friend of his who is considering ministry. This friend is currently in nursing school but also thinking of transferring to pursue ministry full-time, since he doesn't feel quite satisfied on his current trajectory. Sounds rather familiar doesn't it? I am very humbled by the fact that I am being suggested here, even though I've only known my own friend some months. I haven't even done anything yet and already God has placed an opportunity in my lap that couldn't be more perfect: another young man, on a path he's not sure of, needing to transfer schools to get to a place to prepare for ministry. This was me a few months ago. In fact, this is me now.
There is so much to do Bob, and I really want to jump in gung ho and zealous for God. But I still can't seem to flip the last switch and convince myself that this is it. I don't know what's causing the struggle within me, but something keeps telling me I'm not good enough. That maybe I really actually am supposed to be somewhere else. That I've just rationalized everything because it's what I want not what God wants. It has been exhausting thinking about this, meditating on it day and night, trying to come to full conviction. I'm not sure what else to do. I've written more arguments for myself than even what I shared with you. I've thought, and prayed, and talked, and thought some more.
I really desire peace and a calm certainty that gives me strength to live out a life of service day by day. I seem to be about halfway there: no peace, and serving despite myself.
Would you say a prayer for me?
Yours In our dear Savior, Jesus Christ,
I will certainly say a prayer for you, and continue praying for you.
Your heart is certainly in the right place, and you are also already serving the Lord, even as you continue to grow and to improve your daily walk with Him. As to conviction, if a person waited until he/she were "good enough" to get going, no one would ever get going. This is all about the Lord and what He wants for His Church. If He has given you this gift of pastoring and teaching and it certainly seems to me that He has He has done so for a reason.
How you go about preparing for further ministry is a practical question, not a strategic one if you do believe as you have said and written that you have been given this gift. There are many ways to serve the Lord, and many ways to support ministry. There's also more than one way to prepare. If you're not sure about the Classics route, then continuing to mull over this issue until you are sure one way or the other is probably a good thing. I spent the summer between my two years of seminary walking around Buena Park, CA, mulling whether or not to go ahead with "the plan" to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. I decided not to go that route, and I'm powerfully glad that I listened to the Spirit telling my conscience that this was not "for me". I didn't even know what I'd do or where I'd go next. Classics came up later that second academic year when I decided, after some failed attempts at securing some position or other at independent churches, to apply for admission to UC Irvine and they gave me a scholarship! No way I deserved that, and no way it'd ever would have happened without the Lord's intervention.
We are tested as to our true motives and our genuine desires. It can be tricky knowing our own hearts on these matters, and everyone has some trepidation about big changes even when they are good and right. But in my experience (positive and negative) we ignore the twinges of our conscience at our peril. We can't let planning be just an elaborate form of rationalization. We have to start with the big picture and the big questions. Is this goal I'm determined to pursue the right one for me? Am I willing to do what's necessary to get there? And is this particular path of preparation the best one for me?
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
It occurred to me earlier today that I hadn't asked my Bible Study members yet what they thought about me having the spiritual gift of teaching or not, so I sent them this email. While I've perhaps hinted sometimes to you that I feel like I do, I'm still struggling to be 110% sure. Of course, you haven't been on the "receiving end" so to speak, but still, from what you've been able to glean from our correspondence, what do you think?
Also, I'm well aware that the decision is up to me through the discernment of the Spirit, not in any way based on what others say. I'm just trying to see what my friends think, since they will have perspective from being the ones listening to me, and ought to have some idea of whether I am gifted or just talking from my own knowledge. In other words, their perspective (and your perspective) will be useful but not prescriptive in making my decision, and this is how it should be.
I don't have any problem with this email to your friends. I think you also might receive some interesting perspectives on all this in you interactions with the other student you mention with whom you were asked to discuss possible avenues of preparation for ministry. Looking at the issue from the other side may give you a helpful window into the problem from a more objective and less subjective vantage point.
Also, this is a different question, isn't it? My understanding based upon our correspondence and as you intimate here is that you do have the requisite gifts (that certainly also gibes with my own feelings based upon our many exchanges). So isn't it really not so much a question of "if" as it is of "how" you will be preparing? It is not as if you can't serve the Body of Christ without a Classics degree or even without knowing Greek and Hebrew. I dare say that in the history of the Church most pastor-teachers have had little or no facility with the original languages at least not to the point of being able to do serious development of theological principles on their own. And yet many have served the Lord and His Church very well and certainly have great rewards coming. I understand that you want to do things the right way and the best way (and it is beyond doubt that knowing the languages well informs every aspect of a teaching ministry in a very powerful way). However, it's not a zero sum problem. I would be wary of an "all or nothing" approach. If it is not meant for you because of the shortness of the time if nothing else to go down the road of many years of specialist preparation, that certainly does not mean either that you don't have the gift of pastor-teacher or that the Lord does not have specific plans for you in that capacity. So while I most certainly have no desire to turn you away from the daunting but highly rewarding path of further academic study, I also don't want you to do something that is not right for you for whatever reasons. One thing I am very confident of is your eventual service to the Body of Christ in a teaching capacity indeed, you are already doing this.
I'm keeping you in my prayers for all this. These sorts of tests are always the trickiest. But if we keep the Lord's will in mind, and if we are honest with ourselves about where we are and who we are, a clear solution will always present itself in time.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I just thought I'd update you on what has been going on and seek your perspective one last time on this matter. First off, all three of them kind of dodged the main question I had asked ("do you think I have the gift of pastor-teacher?"), and, upon introspection, I believe that this is a decidedly good thing. After I sent it I realized it wasn't a particularly fair question. They all answered an unstated better one: "what things do you see in me relating to teaching and ministry?" On the whole, what they said was positive and affirming. But they all three independently mentioned the people side of things as something I was weaker in, compounded by the general lack of interest in the truth in our day.
So, that's what I have to ponder and think over. I wrestled with the question this week of exactly what it would take to "convince me." I have someone I respect a great deal who is obviously walking with the Lord telling me that he thinks I have the gift. All three people in the Bible study I am leading seem mostly behind the idea, and two of them directly stated that I was good at teaching/explaining and pursuing truth ("You have, at the very least, a fantastic gift for explanation and for pursuing truth", "I do think, from what I have been able to discern, that you have been gifted with a heart for teaching and a heart for learning"). So what am I waiting for? What are my lingering fears and doubts?
At this point, there's really only one cluster, as we've discussed. I have problems convincing myself 100% that I have the gift because I'm afraid of being wrong. I'm afraid that I'm doing things for the reasons behind my friend's question "Do you want to study the word just for your own spiritual maturity?" I'm afraid that I'm somehow just tricking myself into the idea that I'm good at teaching because I want it to be true.
I took your advice from the last email, and tried to think what else I might be gifted in. It's definitely not evangelism nor encouragement nor charity. While it seems to me that most of us are gifted in service to some extent, I had problems coming up with anything not related directly to the Word. In terms of giving, well, I fancy the idea of dedicating 100% of my time and energy to the truth rather than 70% of it to a secular job to contribute financially (especially if said secular job is not captivating of my interests in the first place). That leaves superintendence in the non-teaching sense of it. While I tend to actually be rather good at this sort of thing, I can already tell that I'm not interested in doing it as my main service to the body of Christ. By process of elimination that leaves us just one.
Bob, before I commit hard, I want to understand one more thing: how it is that not-gifted individuals teach? For example, parents teach their children Biblical truth, older women teach younger women Biblical truth, and we all (male and female alike) teach less mature Christian friends Biblical truth as they have questions. All of these activities go on without necessarily having the superintendence of the Holy Spirit in the same sense that He superintends the ministries of gifted individuals. So how can you tell the difference between the one and the other? What is it exactly that the Holy Spirit does to empower the teacher, and how can I check for it in myself?
Yours in Christ,
Thanks for this. I dare say you've sought out and gotten more direct input and feedback from other Christians on this issue than anyone I've ever heard of. Points for thoroughness here.
On being a "people person" or not, I think this highlights the main difference between teaching the Bible to interested parties as one's service to the Lord on the one hand, and being a conventional "minister" in the modern sense we use that word on the other. I grew up a pastor's kid in the Presbyterian church, and it is fair to say that anyone who became a minister in that church as my dad did had a whole host of expectations piled on them about what a pastor is and what a pastor does. From my experience and observation since, those expectations vary only slightly between the most stolid old main-line denominations and the most avant-garde new super-churches. In all such places we "know" what a pastor is supposed to be. First and foremost he is the leader of the church, and this involves building the church through applying the force of his personality to present and prospective members. It's not unfair to say that it is essentially a salesmanship position, and that this dominating characteristic carries through everywhere even to Sunday morning and the "sermon" then delivered, be it long or short, and whether or not or how much it nods to the Bible.
Even for men like my dad who loved the truth and the Word of God, the traditions and the expectations left little room for much latitude in exercising the role of pastor; it was rather more of a question of how well you did it. Not that there is anything essentially wrong with any of this; certainly any church which wants to grow as an organization will have to have someone fulfilling this role. However, as I see things now, catering to people first as all denominations and churches do (with perhaps a handful of exceptions), means placing the truth in second place; and that pretty much means placing it "no place" as things actually shake out. That is because 1) "people work" (administration being merely a subcategory of the same) takes an incredible amount of time and energy and thus leaves not very much for studying and teaching the Word of God, and 2) the truth is divisive so that teaching the truth in detail is often going to make the local church shrink and not grow. That works at cross-purposes with the unspoken objectives of all denominations and churches (with perhaps a handful of exceptions), namely, physical (as opposed to spiritual) growth.
True spiritual growth and the physical growth of a particular church are thus often in direct opposition. Since most churches that want to grow physically have a need of ever more members and ever more funds (for a bigger better building, and, not least, to pay the pastor and the staff), any pastor-teacher who thinks that the Word is what counts and that true pastoring is ministering the Word so that Christians who hear it can actually grow, progress, and edify the true Church in turn is going to be a liability in the eyes of those in that local church who are putting the physical ahead of the spiritual which is mostly everyone in the congregation or they wouldn't be in a traditional local church in the first place (and by "traditional" I mean everything from old line to mega-churches).
On the other hand, the Lord is the Chief Shepherd of the sheep, and He certainly knows who of His flock don't fit into that lukewarm mold, where they are, and what they need. If He is preparing you for a genuine Bible-teaching ministry, I am very sure that those who are attracted to it will be very easily able to distinguish between a "Mr. Personality" type who is neither willing or able to teach the truth in a substantive way and someone who is truly prepared and eager to lead them to spiritual maturity and to appreciate the difference. Whether or not it'd ever get to the point where they could pay you a salary is another question.
On those with a teaching gift vs. those who teach without such a gift, it is important to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who is the Teacher of all truth. Parents have a natural ability to teach their children, mothers in particular, and it is certainly not surprising that the Spirit uses this inherent talent. My old pastor Colonel Thieme used to say that the teaching gift was a help to him in communicating the truth he had learned, but not in learning the truth per se. That is certainly true and that is certainly the essence of the gift, that is, a special ability to make the crucial points of scripture clear to those who are willing to hear, learn and believe them (all done with the Spirit's essential input). But I have found that there is also much at the intersection of these two things which is part of the gift, that is, the ability to understand and formulate the truth as one discovers it in a way that it may then be effectively communicated. That does seem to be something you have a particular knack for, judging from our correspondence and also the input of your "students".
I greatly looking forward to following your career of academic preparation, and also of course in seeing what the Lord has for you and how He uses you. I am convinced it will be in a significant way. Keeping you in my prayers for all this, my friend.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Thanks for your insights on the "people part" of the office. I agree with what you say here, but I was a bit hesitant to spell it out in broad strokes to my friends (who of course associate the word "pastor" with all sorts of things that aren't really there in scripture). It is, after all, my choice not theirs, and I couldn't see much positive coming out of a discussion at this time.
On the gift, I think I'm coming to understand that I've been looking it in the wrong way, to an extent. I reread the section in BB5 about the gift of pastor-teacher, and this part here really stuck out to me:
2) that while the gift gives insight into the truth and also facility with communicating, it is not "magic"; there is no "miraculous" inspiration of the individual concerned; rather, the Spirit uses the truth in the Bible and the truth believed and understood in the pastor-teacher's heart as His basis for empowering communication in the same exact way in which He empowers all spiritual gifts; 3) that therefore hard work in digging out the truth of scripture and hard work in finding an appropriate way to communicate it are essential features of a teaching ministry well-performed;
I was never under the impression that I could just sit back and let God tell me what to say (e.g.), but I guess I have been looking for something "new" or "different" from what other believers have, a sign so to speak of me having the gift. Not being able to discern anything of the sort, I thus started doubting that I had the gift at all, despite being good at communicating the truth (or so my friends say).
If I'm reading you correctly, what you're saying is that the gift is nothing more than facility in communication and laying forth the truth in a way that others can understand, empowered by the Spirit. Unlike overtly miraculous gifts, such as tongues or prophecy, there is no obvious "tell" here, except that one finds oneself being more adept and capable in these things than others, communicating and teaching with relatively less effort.
I recall from one our earlier exchanges regarding the purpose of the Matthias passage that you mentioned the transformation in Peter after the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, Peter suddenly became very much more effective for God, not because of anything he did himself, but through the Spirit of God working through him. If we were to pull this in here as an example, Peter did not miraculously learn more truth overnight, or receive a "lesson plan from God." Instead, his efforts were bolstered by the Holy Spirit, and God used him that's the gift. Today, gifted individuals have their efforts multiplied in like manner, but there's nothing overtly miraculous about it: no special knowledge, no magical study formula.
To use another example, God deals with us in grace disproportionate to our efforts (the parable of the minas, e.g., ten minas = ten cities). People with the gift have a similarly disproportionate effect with their own effort: their "teaching arm" is longer than that of an non-gifted individual. By applying "force" (studying and applying truth, and teaching it to others), God will work through them to produce a greater result than what their effort alone would have resulted in (=the lever of the Spirit multiplying the input force). Their "output force" will be much greater than that of a non-gifted individual because of this multiplication. As you often point out, the truth we have learned, believed, and applied is the fulcrum through which the Holy Spirit operates. For teachers, this fulcrum just happens to be further from their side, so everything they do related to teaching is multiplied by a substantially greater factor than it would be for a non-gifted individual.
Come to think of it, since all the miraculous gifts got phased out, this is how all spiritual gifts work, isn't it? Evangelists have a longer "evangelism arm" than I do, and God will multiply their efforts through he Holy Spirit, meaning that their "output forces" will exceed mine even with similar "input forces." And I'm guessing the same would be true for service, encouragement, superintendence, charity, and so on.
Am I getting all of this right this time around? Do we identify our spiritual gifts by observing the effects of us pushing on all the levers, and seeing which one has a divine amplification?
Yes, I think you have it right. I had violin lessons as a child for many years. Doesn't mean I'm any good at playing the violin (trust me). I don't have any particular musical "talent" a word by the way which in our standard English usage comes from the parable of the talents. When I say in BB 5 "the gift gives insight into the truth and also facility with communicating", that is just a more technical way of saying what you're saying or rather what you are effectively communicating in a way that helps both yourself and others to understand it more easily and deeply. We may all have some insight into the truth (I hope so as we all have the Holy Spirit), and we may all have some facility in communicating this to others (I hope so as we all are responsible for evangelizing the unsaved and encouraging fellow believers); but just as only truly talented and genuinely prepared violinists ought to be performing at the Met, so also only truly gifted and sufficiently prepared men ought to be vested with the authority and responsibility of teaching the Word of God in a particular local church or ministry. "Without the reach, you can't teach" not well enough for others to grow as they should be doing, at least.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Is it in the bible that Pastor should be payed for teaching the word? And where would it be in the bible?
Good to hear from you.
Yes, this is a scriptural principle:
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."
1st Timothy 5:17-18 NIV
If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?
1st Corinthians 9:11 NIV
However, as in the second passage, it is not necessary for a pastor to make use of this right: Paul refused to do so in the case of the Corinthians in order to make a greater, spiritual point.
I hasten to add that of all the pastors in the world today who are being paid by their churches, the number who are actually doing their job by teaching the Bible in a substantive way is very few at this present juncture in the era of Laodicea. And that is the reason why the pastor-teacher's time is to be liberated in this way, namely, to have the time to study so as to be able to teach the Bible in depth and thus encourage his congregation through the Word of God.
Proclaim the Word! Keep at it, whether circumstances are favorable or not! Reprove, rebuke, [and] encourage with all patience [in your] teaching!
2nd Timothy 4:2
Paying a pastor who is not doing his job is the same, in my opinion, as paying anyone else to do something but then they don't do it. Here are some links where you will find more about this:
How much should we pay our pastor?
Does the Bible require supporting the pastor financially?
Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
At first I wanted to go to Japan to help people come to God. After consulting with God, I do not think it is in his will for me to go there.
It is God's will for me to do something that involves the Japanese language, even if I don't know everything there is to know about it.
That's the spirit! You have such an intense interest that it would seem to me to be very odd if there were no purpose to it even if the original plan changes. I am very happy that I went to seminary, even though the plan changed. It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did.
Keeping you in my prayers for guidance on this.
In Jesus our dear Lord,
I know I have asked you for guidance in my study in the past few months, but I am still not completely certain about the direction that I should take, particularly with regard to the theological reading. I'm also aware that these things will look differently for each believer and, to a degree, even for each prospective teacher, nevertheless your insight will as always be greatly appreciated. Spiritually in the past weeks I have been successfully coming back to a good rhythm (thank you for your prayers) and now I need to make sure I make the best possible use of time.
What follows is a plan for a day when I work from home and can afford to spend most of the time on study.
1. Bible reading:
a) Old Testament - one chapter. It used to be two, but that would be difficult to do at the moment, as I'm going through all the relevant notes from our correspondence before going through the chapter and then read all the notes from NIV SB and consult Keil and Delitzsch very frequently as well.
b) New Testament - one chapter. As above, first notes from our correspondence (and I have these available now for many chapters, I have compiled a very useful document whereby all my questions and your replies are arranged in biblical order - book by book), then NIV SB.
2. Language study:
a) Hebrew - first 30 minutes of textbook study. I'm now about 70% finished going through Gesenius for the second time, which does give good in-depth understanding and has supplemented Lambdin very well. I go through a lesson in Lambdin once every 3-4 days to cement and refresh all the forms and rules. My plan is to make the textbook study more sporadic once Gesenius is finished for the second time (in about a month and a half). After that, depending on the time available, normally between a half and full chapter (I use the resource I have mentioned to you - it has been most helpful and I think I may have come across literally one or two forms explanations of which I wasn't sure about). And here I have to say that the reading has been going smoother and smoother. Initially I would have to consult Lambdin regularly to remind myself of certain forms (Hiphil in particular), but now the reading is going well and quite quick. Once the textbook study is reduced in a few weeks, perhaps I will be going through at least a chapter daily.
b) Greek - as above, first 30 minutes going through Reading Greek, which I have just finished and now, as a refresher, I go through the Reference Grammar. Then Bible reading - again, between half a chapter and sometimes a full chapter, as with Greek the reading is going much better as well. I use "Grammatical Analysis of Greek New Testament", but I don't have to consult it as often now.
After that I commit a few hours to earthly commitments and then the last part follows and this is the one which I'm least sure about.
3. Theological study:
a) Ichthys - as you know, I have completed reading all your studies a while ago. I've gone through a lot of email responses and read them regularly now also. As I mentioned to you recently, I wanted to make my study now more directed towards teaching preparation, which involves taking, compiling and organising the notes into a structure that in some time can be used to produce a text. I have now begun this process, starting with the subject of Natural and Special Revelation and the Bible itself, which I thought could contribute to a helpful introductory study (I've reread "Read your Bible" and several email responses related to this subject). I also intend to revisit and expand the "Verses for Testing" resource which you have very kindly attached to your website. You will know infinitely better than myself that this is a lengthy process, requiring a lot of searching and careful consideration, but one that is challenging and thoroughly enjoyable.
The question that arises, however, is how much time I should devote to this process, because although it does improve one's understanding and structures the knowledge already acquired, I clearly have got a lot to learn and when it comes to a teaching ministry, I'm reluctant to even call myself an infant. And so reading for my own spiritual growth should be part of the plan daily. And this is what I'm not quite sure about. I could be rereading all your studies, as initially planned, but now that I have begun preparing a plan and structuring the verses and points related to a particular subject, this rereading is quite slow. Perhaps I should go through your studies as normal apart from committing to the teaching preparation, I'm not sure.
So the question which I'm not sure how to answer is firstly about how I should keep growing in my understanding of the scripture. Is rereading your website the best course of action, perhaps complemented by Curtis Omo's videos? This would involve taking notes, but perhaps not spending a lot of time producing potential text plans.
Secondly, although these two overlap to a good degree, I need to get the right ratio between my own spiritual growth and the teaching preparation I have undertaken which has production as its goal. I know I'm far from ready, but I may be now ripe to start putting thoughts together and organising my knowledge and this has been going quite well. After four years of just gathering the construction materials I'm now beginning to use them to put some structure together and have a few ideas for studies.
4. Church history:
a) I'm going through Walker's "History of the Christian Church" at the moment. This is how I finish my day.
Professor, you have gone through this path and your advice will be greatly appreciated. Time is short and I want to make the best possible use of it. I know I need to forget what lies behind and strain towards what is ahead, but I have to say I miss those days from a couple of years ago when I would wake up and go through your studies straight away, excited to understand the truth which was unveiling before my eyes. This is not to say that I haven't been growing with things being as they are - this is not the case, but I feel there might be something missing at the moment. Please feel free to highlight any areas where in your view adjustments can be made.
In our Lord,
Very happy to hear that you moving forward in your preparations at a good pace! Sustainable effort is an important consideration where massively challenging tasks are concerned.
I can't quibble with any of your choices. It seems a good plan on every hand. As far as theological reading is concerned, there are a few things I could recommend. As mentioned previously, Chafer's Systematic Theology is probably a bit much and, while good in many places, might prove time consuming to go through cover to cover in all volumes. If you do have access to it (it's available online), you might give the first volume a try to see if you find it helpful. Better might be a couple of other works which I can recommend (although, as you will quickly see, I don't endorse the theology 100%):
Henry C. Thiessen Lectures in Systematic Theology
Charles Hodge Systematic Theology (multiple volumes)
L.S. Chafer and J.F. Walvoord Major Bible Themes
(and as a supplement) August H. Strong Systematic Theology
In terms of prepping for your own ministry, I do think it might be helpful to listen to Pastor-teacher Omo's pod-casts (and perhaps a few of Col. Thieme's tapes). For one thing, this will give you some idea of what you might be able to do in terms of implementation. We all go about these things differently. Rather than settling on a method for your own teaching before the fact, my recommendation would be to stay open to the opportunities that the Spirit will bring you to minister the Word. In practical terms, some small group will be interested in what you've got to say, and you will figure out then what you want to say most and how you want to say it . . . and will make adjustments from there. The truth is the truth, but we all have different personalities and the circumstances of our presenting the truth (along with the spiritual level of those receiving it) are always going to be different too.
I am firmly convinced that the Lord has something very important for you to do. I also think you will find that as you prepare to help feed others you will grow in so doing. As Paul says to Timothy:
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1st Timothy 4:16 NIV
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thank you for this guidance. I will look into the titles you recommended and hopefully be able to discern correct interpretation of the scripture from that which may not be so. In this respect, thanks to your painstaking guidance I feel I've got at least some preparation behind me. It is thanks to God's grace that I'm able to handle what you label as "academic mode" and I also believe I should stick to it in most of my study. I have just one question. You wrote:
Rather than settling on a method for your own teaching before the fact, my recommendation would be to stay open to the opportunities that the Spirit will bring you to minister the Word.
By "settling on a method for your own teaching before the fact" are you referring to the videos and podcasts which you have discussed immediately before, or do you think that the preparation of potential study plans that I mentioned to you might perhaps be premature? Let me know, I'm aware that my attempt could not be the best use of time and is somewhat self-conceived out of the need to begin making some progress in this area (and at a spiritually difficult time when discernment also is always more likely to be incorrect) rather than coming as an opportunity from God.
And I agree, it's much easier to make adjustments once a teaching opportunity arises and so far these opportunities have been mainly through correspondence with a couple of believers and potential believers, which required me to put together theological responses. I'm not sure if I should maybe focus only on spiritual growth and wait for God to present me with such venues for teaching or perhaps at least some preparation before the time is also a good course of action.
Another idea that came about through the period of the past few months is to maybe write about the spiritual battle, particularly the way it takes place in our time of Laodicea. I could focus on preparing resources on issues which I have experienced or which are close to my heart (similarly as the "Verses for testing" came about). Let me know about this also.
In our Lord,
On your question, I'm referring to any pre-preparation of materials. Anything you do now won't be wasted, but it is very likely that anything you do now would have to be greatly modified depending upon 1) the size of the group; 2) the nature/composition of the group; 3) the spiritual level of the group; 4) the venue of teaching; 5) the frequency of meeting; 6) your personal preferences for communicating (blackboard, audiovisual means or not; standing/sitting; lecture vs. discussion; etc.); 7) the particular needs of the group and how all these things change and develop in the early going and over time. While some of these things might be predictable before the fact, I think it would take some very shrewd anticipation to have most or all of the above figured out precisely ahead of time. One thing pre-preparation of materials does do is to give you an idea of how you personally are comfortable with organizing (and so to a lesser extent of delivering) the material.
If we were entering into a denomination where there was already a standard way of doing all this (e.g., sermons in the Presbyterian Church), perhaps all this would be less up in the air. As it is, we are interested in actually communicating as much truth to as many people as effectively as we possibly can and that will take flexibility in the means and the manner . . . so as not to compromise when it comes to the actual truth. Dogmatic approaches to delivery, on the other hand, have contributed mightily to the poor level of communication of the actual truth in traditional "churches" (of all type whether newfangled or old-line), and have also dumbed-down the expectations of those who attend.
I'm confident that you will quickly find the best way for yourself and for those whom the Lord is going to entrust to you, just as soon as these opportunities begin to manifest themselves. Meanwhile, getting to know as much of the truth of scripture as you can and as solidly as you can is the best preparation precisely what you are doing.
Keep up the very good work, my friend. There is great reward down this path so pleasing to our dear Lord who has done everything for us.
In Jesus Christ our dear Savior,
Dr. How are you? I hope all is well.
I am profoundly elated about your current email topic. It could not come at the right time for me. During the weekend I had similar topics come about, specifically about the role of Christ followers in trying to change the world. The conversation started when at a family gathering, my relative saw me purchased Starbucks coffee and I asked him did he want some and he informed me he doesn't patronize Starbucks because of their anti-gay and abortion stands. I told him if that was the case, then most if not all the establishments he can't purchase from because they have some stands that are anti-biblical and we can't change this world. Only Christ will be able to change it when He comes. Then it evolved into a discussion about works and he told me that if I say that I follow Christ then I should speak up about these things if I knowingly know that they are wrong. I told him that my main responsibility is to grow spiritually and then wait until God leads me to where he wants me to glorify him.
In all, the conversation made me re-think whether I am doing enough for Christ. I was not as eloquent as him and it seems every time I try to defend my position, which I must tell you comes mainly from studying your site, I can't do it effectively. Also, the hotel we were staying at had a large organized youth ministry and it also made me feel inadequate. I came to Christ not in my youth and my wife raised our children, who are teens now, in Christ, but I was of no help because I really wasn't an ardent believer at the time. Seeing this youth ministry also made me feel guilty because I was not there during their younger years in Christ centered fashion. She was the one that raised them teaching the truth of the Gospel.
After the conversation, I felt about my current path I am taking to get closer to God, which is reading his word daily and studying nightly that it was not enough. I was really concerned and I actually started to cry because I felt overwhelm like I was not doing what he wanted me to do. I am not currently involved in any Church ministry because I don't feel He has called me to do it. But I do not know if it is a cop-out or not. I prayed on it on the way home and asked Him to let me know what He wants me to do.
Then your current email posting which I am reading now addressed most, if not all my concerns about so called public works "in the name of Christ". I really appreciate your responses and wanted to let you know it came at the right time for me.
Thanks much for your good words, my friend. It's always tougher to do apologetics face to face, at least from my point of view. It sounds to me as if you did an outstanding job. As to works, consider this:
Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
John 6:29 NIV
Therefore faith is the essential part of "doing" anything "for" God because only if we rely on Him will it count. Believers do have "works", but that has to be understood in light of the verse above. Believing the truth is "God's work", and so is growing in that truth, and so is passing the tests that come to mature believers (as James' examples of Abraham and Rahab show, being about applying the truth, not doling out soup in a soup-kitchen or some such things: Jas.2:21-25). Human works seek to "help God" and are unacceptable to Him; godly works involve relying on God, and that primarily means learning, living and applying the truth and then helping others do the same. So "good works" can include giving out free soup to believers who need it to hear the truth or to unbelievers who need it to hear the gospel but most "good works" the Bible has in mind have to do with initiating, prosecuting and supporting ministries which dispense the truth (rather than soup). And to be really godly, there really has to be real truth being dispensed (which probably makes most of what most people do for most ministries a complete waste of time, spiritually speaking, even if they feel warm and fuzzy about what they "do").
It is a noble thing to want to help others grow in grace and the knowledge of our dear Lord Jesus (1Tim.3:1; 2Pet.3:18). When you are ready, spiritually, the Spirit will suggest to you the way to go to enter into spiritual production, whether that be your own ministry or supporting another. We all have our own gifts and we all have our own call. Guilt is a poor reason to do things as it almost always leads us down a wrong path. To take giving as an example, scripture tells us that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2Cor.9:7), and Peter tells us that we should minister with eagerness and enthusiasm (1Pet.5:2). So while it is alright and sometimes helpful to be introspective about such things, we need to be careful to be objective about our analysis. We can all look back and see lost opportunities which we might regret, but the Christian life is about pushing forward, not looking backward.
(12) [It is] not that I have already gotten [what I am striving for], nor that I have already completed [my course]. Rather, I am continuing to pursue [the prize] in hopes of fully acquiring it [this prize for whose acquisition] I was myself acquired by Christ Jesus. (13) Brethren, I do not consider that I have already acquired it. This one thing only [do I keep in mind]. Forgetting what lies behind me [on the course] and straining towards the [course] ahead, (14) I continue to drive straight for the tape, towards the prize to which God has called us from the beginning [of our race] in Christ Jesus.
Be patient and keep growing; the Lord will lead you into just the right path if you are genuinely willing to be led. God uses prepared people, so in the meantime let Him prepare you for what He has for you. This is a much better approach than most take: picking something He hasn't chosen and "doing" it as immature Christians not much eternal reward down that path.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.
Just checking to see how you are doing? Hope all is well. It has been two years since I have found your site and I believe without it my Spiritual progress would not be where it is currently. Your materials and in-depth studies are truly a blessing from Christ. I have two more series left: Soteriology and Pneumatology before I have digested every nit of studying on your site.
Kind of in anguish to finish because these series have guided me in my study routines the last two years. Will have to pray about what is next to occupy my studying time routine. Prayer and guidance from you would be appreciative. I still have your weekly postings but nothing takes the place of your topical studies. They are a treasure. I was thinking about rereading again from the beginning but then I feel I am being redundant.
I am not particularly interested in knowing the Hebrew language seeing God provides the ability to let me know His truth in my native tongue. I guess I am just being apprehensive about where to go from here. It will probably take about two to three months to finish both series because I only read 5 pages each night so I can digest the word and look at all the cross references, otherwise it would have not taken me two years to read all your work.
I apologize for my bantering. Just thinking about where to go from here.
On another note, do you believe most believers do not understand the riches of eternal reward? I believe most believers think as long as I get to heaven who cares. But I really think most people underestimate what the rewards from Christ are. I believe our Lord didn't disclose all the glorious rewards for a reason to really distinguish believers who genuinely give all to want to follow him and get to know him. Your thoughts?
Thanks for listening Bob. Starting your Soteriology series tonight.
In our blessed Lord and savior who gives generously to all who seek Him with their entire being.
First, yes I would agree that rewards is an under-taught and so an under-appreciated part of the doctrines of truth the Bible contains but it shares this distinction with so many other doctrines in our Laodicean age that I wouldn't want to single it out as special in being overlooked.
I'm very impressed that you have been able to get through everything at Ichthys! If perchance you haven't worked your way through all of the email postings, I would certainly recommend getting on a program to do that. Also, there is this:
For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.
2nd Peter 1:12-15 NKJV
Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Philippians 3:1 NIV
Repetition is the essence of teaching (cf. also our Lord's threefold repetition to Peter in Jn.21:15-20; and the Spirit's in Acts 10:16). There is knowing, and there is knowing well and then there is mastery. And if a person desires to be a teacher, proceeding even beyond mastery is recommended. One of the things I have always hoped to accomplish through this ministry is to do what we are told to do as teachers in Ephesians, namely, prepare the Body for its own ministry work (Eph.4:11-16). That means teaching the truth and giving believers who listen to our teaching a framework of truth in their hearts so as to be able to understand and apply any biblical truth they come across, in scripture primarily but also elsewhere, and also to be able to discern when what they are being told is not the truth or "fishy" in any way. Spiritual growth requires not only knowing the truth but believing it, and it can take some time to "get" certain things. So while I agree that it is more exciting to hear things the first time, re-reading is not the worse thing in the world, and in fact to some degree it may be necessary. I re-read these materials on a somewhat regular basis myself.
I think a person who has a deep knowledge of the Bible and also and importantly a deep knowledge of the truths it contains (through exposure to a good teaching ministry) can serve effectively as a teacher in his own right without having a Ph.D. in Greek or Hebrew (provided of course the person has the gift from the Spirit and the call from the Son). Having at least some knowledge of both languages is very helpful, especially in our present world where with the internet any Tom, Dick or Harry can spend a few minutes on Wikipedia or another website and think themselves an expert. We all have our own gifts and assigned ministries, however, and I would never dream of trying to direct someone else towards something that is not spiritually profitable.
Serving the Lord however He wants to use us is the objective to which we should all aspire, and doing so in a teaching capacity is, while often difficult, also highly rewarding. The more we put into it, the more we get out of it.
This is a reliable saying: "If anyone desires the office of overseer (i.e., pastor-teacher), he is seeking [to do] an honorable work".
1st Timothy 3:1
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thanks for the last response.
Just a side question here, is there an area, topic or aspect of the Bible that you do not understand or wish you knew more about? If so, what might that be? And what would be your advice for someone who wanted an in depth comprehensive understanding of the Bible if seminary was not a preference?
Thanks as always
You're most welcome. As to your present question, I'm not sure I would/could delineate just one area I'd like to know more about everything. But I am very happy with the way I have personally concentrated my efforts. One of the things many people fall into these days is over-concentration on peripherals like the person who wants to know the Hebrew Bible and gets sidetracked spending years learning Arabic (because that is a mainstay of Semitics programs), or the one who wants to learn theology and gets sidetracked in the Reformation (although the Reformers' main contribution was in their refutation of Roman Catholicism and that is pretty much a given nowadays), or who wants to know about the early Church and gets sidetracked in the Church Fathers (even though many them were pretty confused in my opinion). If one takes a strictly "academic" approach, even in an evangelical seminary, specialization in ways that are not helpful on the one hand and "breadth courses" which are not of much use on the other is a common outcome. I personally had to take a fairly radical and somewhat risky tack to get the benefit I got from my own seminary experience (coming to it only after knowing Greek and Hebrew, then doing an academic style degree and not a "pastor prep" degree).
Anything one learns can be valuable. The problem is that we have limited time and resources so it is always best to focus; on the other hand we can't let this principle keep us from going into depth where that is needful and helpful. The bottom line is that it is a personal set of choices for which there is not a single one-size-fits-all prescription. Here is a link where I discuss the issue with others who have contemplated seminary and alternatives to it: "Should I go to Seminary"? I will probably have something else to post on this at Ichthys in the next few months (TBA). You might also check out some of the other links at Ichthys not to mention also that if a person keeps up with or gets up to speed with everything on the site, that will constitute a pretty good basic education in theology, exegesis and interpretation, even if Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Church and ancient history, and other important "odds and ends" will have to be picked up on one's own:
Hebrew Language Study Tools
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations I
Church History (2)
Bible Study Tools and Methodology
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I've emailed you several times about ministry, and generally what it is my particular calling is. I will do my best to stick to "new" things we haven't talked about before, but the situation is little changed: I am good at everything I've done so far (so can't rule anything out because I'm bad at it), am rather ambivalent about most of the courses I've taken (neither vibrant interest nor burning hatred has surfaced), and, despite what I would consider prayer and patience on my part (though I obviously fall far short), I have not come to conviction about exactly what it is I'm supposed to be doing in service to the body of Christ or the means of my daily bread. This is all despite the fact that I have now "picked" a major on paper (industrial engineering). Doing such was motivated out of necessity for class registration, not necessarily out of my great enthusiasm for said subject.
So, like I said, I'll try to keep this limited to new topics. I have a quite a few questions about the path of a prospective pastor-teacher in today's society, as that is one thing on my mind. I was surprised recently when my Dad commented that a major in Greek/Hebrew would seem to fit in with my interests my family has been aware of my curiosity about history, theology, ancient languages, et al. for some time since it comes up in dinnertime discussion a fair bit, but never seemed quite "behind" the decision to actually pursue such as a full time occupation.
After this comment, I discussed the possibility of pursuing a Greek major with my family; though they try to maintain that they would truly support me in whatever I choose, are more or less pushing me towards engineering. My older sister is the opposite: she thought a Classics major would line up much more with what I have expressed interest in over the last couple years and is now convinced that it is only a matter of time.
Discussion with both parents separately have led me to see their point of view a bit better. My Dad is primarily worried about the economic prospects that would be forgone in pursuit of such a life (if I continue on the 4.0 grade trajectory at my current school, I would be looking at $70,000+/year upon graduation with just a bachelor's degree), and the economic challenges necessarily involved in majoring in Classics or a related profession. My Mom was worried about the fact that I would have problems supporting a wife and children were I to spend the next 10+ years of my life in school with my nose in Greek and Hebrew (a valid concern I believe). For some odd reason, she was also worried that somehow I might adopt ancient Greek philosophy (e.g., Plato, Stoicism) when reading classical works despite the fact that normally I am the one in the family that is rather adamant about not giving undue ear to philosophical influence in thinking about faith. Both parents said I ought to think very hard before doing anything rash (good advice). Both parents thought I ought to at least give industrial engineering a semester's trial since I have really only knocked out core classes so far and know nothing of what "real" engineering is like (more good advice). Both parents were skeptical of what I would do with a Classics degree upon graduation (from what I have seen a valid concern). Both parents had a hard time picturing me going to a denominational Seminary and going the traditional pastorate route (good thing I wasn't planning to). Both parents had significant concerns about money and means (not so important in my mind either it's God's calling and I ought to do everything in my power to give it my best, including living rather frugally, or I have no business doing it in the first place). Both parents were worried that I'd get out at 30 with a Ph.D. and never get married (I haven't thought about this very much yet). All in all, they had concerns, but weren't nearly as "against" it as they were a year ago. Of course, if it really was God's will for my life, it wouldn't particularly matter if my family was behind it or not, but I am glad that at least I wouldn't be directly disobeying parental authority were I to choose this path.
Anyway, onto the questions. These are aimed more on the "how" part of things for prospective teachers than the "why" (which is something I'll have to come to on my own only I will be able to discern properly whether I am called to this or not). In no particular order:
1) In your eyes, what would the better undergraduate major be for someone looking to gain a full understanding of Greek and Hebrew: Greek, or Hebrew? Which one is "harder" and takes more time to become proficient at in the long run?
2) Were I to decide on Greek, should I take Latin classes too, or just concentrate on Greek alone? Has Latin helped you significantly in your time teaching the Bible? Would knowing Latin as well as Greek be necessary for employment as a professor at a Classics department? (Side note: I had three years of Latin in high school).
3) Would it be better to just focus on one language as an undergrad and then try to get the other later, or try to double major in Greek and Hebrew? What about majoring in one and minoring in the other?
4) How big a role does your undergraduate school play in graduate school admissions for Classics and/or Near East departments?
5) How important is it to go to a "big name" school (e.g., Harvard, Yale, UPenn) when getting a Ph.D. and aiming for a tenure track position? If you were seeking a professorship for the purpose of keeping Greek/Hebrew skills fresh and putting food on the table (i.e., not prestigious but functional), what kind of schools offer good programs for such a purpose? (I notice you went to UC Irvine for M.A/Ph.D. Are state schools/Public Ivies "good enough" for such purposes?)
6) I'm assuming Greek/Hebrew are just like any other subject in that you get out what you put in maybe even to a higher degree here. How big a role does professor quality have on learning? Would it be worth paying more for undergraduate to get better known professors, or does this not matter until the graduate level? Does it matter at the graduate level? Is it more about personal dedication and effort?
7) What would be good options for picking up the ancillary qualities necessary for Bible teaching, i.e., interpretation/hermeneutics, history, Church history, ancient culture, systematics, etc.? Are these learnable without going to a formal institution, or, like languages, are they better gained from an academic setting? I have looked through the "Seminaries and Universities" page on Ichthys, but none really jumped out, and many actually seemed more interested in marketing their programs than providing useful information to the interested party (but perhaps I am being too harsh).
8) What sort of career options do Classics majors or Hebrew majors have? I am leaning more towards the path you chose, namely professorship by day, online Bible teaching by night, and have not come across very many other promising options in my research. Churches in search of truly qualified teachers are few and far between, and compromising for denominational pastorates or mega-church "teaching" is not something I would be willing to do. From what I've seen, almost all the seminaries have gone significantly downhill, to the point where I might not feel comfortable teaching at any of the current evangelical seminaries at all, even some of the historically conservative ones. That doesn't leave much. I'm not particularly worried about "demand" as it were if it is really God's will for me he will provide but, it is better to ask questions sooner rather than later. Especially for my parents' sake.
9) Given that the time is short, what do you think preparation should look like? As I understand it, you had rather a long Odyssey to get your academic credentials, and a decade from now puts us at the cusp of the tribulation (though perhaps this would be a good time to finish preparation when the true testing begins). What would you think of something like Classics B.A. a couple years in a Hebrew intensive program Classics Ph.D.? How about Classics B.A. Seminary Hebrew M.A. Classics Ph.D.?
Sorry for the sheer number of questions here. I am truly interested in hearing what you have to say and prayerfully considering this option for my life. As it stands now, I am locked into another year at my engineering university since that is how housing works (year long blocks), but it is necessary to make sure I really am not interested in that path. Next semester will tell me if I am interested in engineering at all (I will have all the fundamental courses in that discipline next semester). The semester after that might end up being somewhat dead weight if I decide strongly that I am going to pursue Bible teaching, but I am thinking I could possibly get an internship to try out the workforce to see how I liked it, and earn some money that would be very necessary if I decided that I didn't (=majoring in languages instead).
Thanks for all that you do Bob.
Your friend in Jesus,
On your questions, let me preface by reminding you that there are many ways to minister to the Body of Christ. And it is Jesus Himself who assigns us those particular ministries which are to be our primary outlet of service (1Cor.12:5). We do have to follow the guidance of the Spirit, and that means grabbing the godly opportunities which present themselves. It is also absolutely the case that the Lord uses prepared people to minister. Preparation first and foremost consists of personal spiritual growth to the point of maturity which is followed swiftly thereafter by testing (not of our choosing) which tempers and strengthens our faith (all the more so when we pass the test!). After that, we will be led into ministry. Being a Bible teacher obviously requires additional, special preparation. But it also requires the gift. From our conversations, I would be surprised if you did not have that gift, but that is a conclusion you have to come to yourself. Also, I always advise everyone and especially prospective pastor/teachers to avoid thinking about this sort of ministry with blinders on. There are many ways to teach the Bible, and many venues for doing so with more and more being added every day. Also, just how and where is something to consider. I would doubt that you are considering going to a denominational seminary to then pastor in the age-old way in a denominational church (not that this is not the right path for some). My departed uncle once mentioned that in his view the Lord put men of faith into all different manner of places businesses and organizations for a witness. I think that is true, and also sometimes for more than that, namely, to lead Bible studies. So I don't think that because a man is talented in engineering (as my uncle was), means he has to forgo using this particular gift. It's a question of what the Lord has for you. We are all groping in the dark a bit at your stage or so it seems. But in actuality the Lord is guiding us in just the right way. So while it's not my wish to complicate your calculations overly, I would advise you not to see engineering (or similar) and language study / Classics as two absolutely separate choices going in entirely different directions.
As to the specifics:
1) Greek and Hebrew both require lots of time in grade to get good at. In my experience, Greek may be easier to get into at first but requires more time to become competent at. Also, while more of the Bible is Hebrew than Greek, one cannot underestimate the importance of knowing with as much depth as possible what the New Testament actually says and means. I hope this is a false choice and that both can be taken simultaneously. In any case, I don't know of any schools where a person can major either in Biblical Hebrew or Ancient Greek. Generally, these would be subordinated to a Semitics (or Religious Studies) major or a Classics major respectively. On the other hand, a person could major in Engineering while taking Hebrew and Greek (even if that meant going summers or taking an additional year to catch up on missed credits).
2) Latin is important, but there are limits to time, effort and other resources. You've already had enough Latin for most purposes (see below).
3) Again, the valuable thing is to be taking these two languages every semester as soon as possible and if possible. The major/minor thing is only important in a career track.
4) No one could afford to go to Grad school for a Classics Ph.D. on loans and have any hope of ever paying them back. It is rare for any Ph.D. program to accept an applicant in any field of the Humanities without granting them both full tuition remission and also a way of paying the bills (whether through stipend or teaching or usually some combination of both). Nor would I recommend anyone to accept an offer from a Grad school where this was not the case. Where you do your undergrad work does make a big difference or at least it can. The bigger and better the school and the program, the more likely that a student will have his/her pick of the best Grad school. Faculty recommendations also play a large role. If you were going to go the Classics Ph.D. route, you would need to be a Classics major and concentrate exclusively on that field (much more than just Greek and absolutely just as much Latin). Under that scenario, it would be hard enough to do Hebrew every semester too. At this point, you might well be looking at four more years to get geared up for the next step although you are very smart and gifted in many ways, and are also obviously a hard worker so you might be able to manage it in the normal three more years. Your school has a very good Classics program and ought to open up reasonable Grad school opportunities for someone as gifted as yourself who is willing to throw himself into it.
5) The better the Grad program, the more the opportunities on the back side. Harvard is the best and also has a reputation for hiring its own graduates (no one else does that). But here maybe we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. My idea in going to Grad school in Classics was to deepen my understanding of Greek as of prime importance, and also possibly down the road give me a profession that would pay the bills while I worked on my ministry ideas at night. Blessedly, that is the way the Lord worked it out. However, the whole process did take me, adding seminary into the mix, eleven additional years of higher ed. (I already had a B.A. in History when I went into the USMC). I wouldn't trade any of it for anything, but it was a lot of time. Also, I had a sort of a rose-colored glasses idea of just how much time it would take to get my professional life on a solid footing before I would be able to devote the kind of time I wanted to put into ministry. Simply put, being a professional Classicist is not all "skittles and beer". It's wonderful, but for the really successful ones it dominates their lives. I have not let that happen and the Lord has given me a much appreciated and satisfying level of professional success, but I am not at Harvard putting out a book or two a year (e.g.), and it took me a good long time to get tenure and get things moving smoothly enough here at U of L to be able to get down to business in a sustained and serious way. I'm glad I did it the way I did it. The credentials and the experience have a tendency to put people's minds at ease in that there is some indication that I know what I'm talking about. Is it all necessary? Not for everyone. I always loved history, and ancient history in particular, so my "day job" is pleasant in most of its aspects. For someone more inclined to the technical arts, I would hate to have you commit to something you might find to be drudgery in many respects. Classics consists of a) researching/publishing (you have to write on subjects in the field and you have to enjoy them on some level to do it well and it takes oodles of time); b) teaching Classics and languages specifically (and believe me when I say that classroom teaching is not for everyone); and c) service (committee work and all manner of different bureaucratic tasks the part of the job I least enjoy can be very consumptive of time and energy).
6) This is not something that can generally be calibrated. Greek is not in high demand and so there will usually only be one section; you might like or dislike your professor wherever you go and however much you pay. There are great Greek teachers at nondescript places and "big names" who are insufferable in the classroom at famous schools. Someone like yourself can learn from anyone. The advantage of a bigger program, in addition to its added help in getting you on at a good Grad school, is that you will probably have a different Greek professor every semester, and it is valuable to hear their different perspectives. You are right: 90+% of what you get you will be putting in yourself in any case, but the framework (and the crucial 10% you'd have a hard time coming up with yourself) are essential (for most of us some people are gifted enough to do it on their own).
7) For ancient history and culture, the Classics program (and the Religious Studies or Near Eastern Studies programs) will have sufficient offerings. Seminary is a luxury, and it comes with a luxury tax: a lot of extraneous things that are not of much value, with no guarantee that these other "ancillaries" will be done right. You can read Church History and Hermeneutics, e.g., on your own.
8) This brings me back to my preface and previous answers. Both fields, Classics prof and seminary prof, are highly specialized, highly competitive, and completely uncertain when it comes to potential employment. People "wash out" at every level: undergrad, grad course work, grad exams, dissertation, job hunt, tenure drive leaving a small group at the end in tenured university or seminary chairs. It's a long and arduous process that shouldn't be undertaken without a love (or at least a very strong "like") for the particular field you're in. I couldn't have done it in Religious Studies or Near Eastern or Semitic Studies, for example, just because my heart wouldn't have been sufficiently "in it". Going to seminary, any seminary, offers no career track whatsoever, absent a groomed, denominational approach. I found that out when I left Classics to try it, and ended up back in Classics.
9) Time IS short, in my opinion. I can't give specific advice. I will say that I am a firm believer in reverse planning when it comes to these sorts of things. First, try to come to terms as best you can with what the Lord is wanting you to do regarding ministry. Then figure out the best way working backwards to achieve that goal. If you are going to be conducting Bible studies in your apartment with people you meet from work and other places plus word of mouth, actually knowing the Bible and the truths it contains, along with enough Greek and Hebrew to verify them and do your own research in time is more important than degrees or a having a university chair. I have known a lot of engineers in my life, and while the work is hard enough, after being out of school they've always seemed to have plenty of free time (and resources) to do the things they most want to do.
Your dedication is an excellent witness!
Keep running your race strong, and I know that the Lord will direct your path in just the right way.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I have a theory that the government of the Messiah will resemble that of Cyrus', with there being an absolute monarch (Jesus) who will appoint satraps to carry out the administration of the various nations of the Earth.
Also, while I was in New York, a Jewish man said to me that I seem like a preacher, and my mom agreed with him, and said that I should choose to be a mathematician or a pastor. I also passed by Union Theological Seminary near Manhattan, and felt a great sense of ease as I approached it. Furthermore, a seminarian friend at the McCormick theological seminary said I have the knowledge level of one (thanks to your wonderful website).
I would be surprised if you didn't have a teaching gift. How the Lord want's you to develop it and use it may take some time to figure out, but you are on a blessed spiritual journey that will take you to a great reward if you let the Spirit guide you and the Lord take you where He wants you to go. Seminary is an interesting animal (especially these days). It was good for me. It's not the answer to all preparatory needs, however. Happy to talk with you about this more.
Your friend in Jesus Christ,
I have made several observations about my job. Firstly, balancing a 40+ hour a week job and full time ministry is not as realistic as I thought it might be, especially since preparation needs to fit in somewhere. Even after 4 weeks, after I've learned the ropes and know more or less what I'm doing, I cannot see a good balance. I had thought that this might be a possible path, but now I do not think so. If I am committed to becoming a qualified Bible teacher in due diligence, I cannot also be working full time. Of this I am fully convinced. On the present schedule, with normal things such as making my lunch, brushing my teeth, commuting, and so forth in the equation, I have about 1.5 to 2 hours of free time on weekdays if I want to get a reasonable amount of sleep. However, 8-9 hours concentrating at work leave me not very functional after I get home, and then I also need to do personal Bible reading and prepare for the study I am leading (we settled on going through Jonah, 1st John, and your Peter Series. One more brother has joined our study. Also, thus far, I found that trying to buckle down and focus on Greek over the weekends does not turn out very well. My mind simply cannot handle it. All this is without dealing with a marriage (I know I am not called to be single, so it is a matter of time), kids, taxes, and the other things that complicate adult life.
Secondly, I find that I cannot see myself here ten or even five years in the future. I am not terribly interested in the work, which is somewhat frightening because I am primarily helping small physician practices be more efficient (i.e., something that is actually worthwhile). My interest in helping companies cut corners to increase profits is even less.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it simply feels wrong. I don't belong. Everyone is very nice and it is a comfortable work atmosphere, but it is no place I can feel productive for God. I'm trying not to be too idealistic or romantic about working (it is the human condition, after all), but it is worldly. People striving towards wealth and power. People destroying their spiritual lives for a leg up in office politics. People talking about their drinking and partying over the weekends to forget the monotony of the week. This is opportunity for ministry, it is true, but it takes a certain kind of person to live in the world that these people do, shining forth truth with finesse and poise, living an unsullied witness for Christ whilst not bashing others over the head with it. I have far too much candor to be such a person.
I wish this could make it all easier. This was the plan, was it not? To see if working would work? Well, now I have my answer.
I'm expecting the next few weeks to determine a lot for me, so prayers will be most appreciated. We've talked this stuff to death already, so I don't really know what to ask you anymore. I don't think I will have perfect information. I do believe I have the spiritual gift of Pastor-Teacher in some regard. I don't know if Greek and Hebrew (and Latin) at the university level is what I'm called to. I do believe my current trajectory is not where I'll end up.
I'm not very comfortable right now, Bob, and I hope God uses this time to make me challenge what I'm here for and what I value. I'm confident I will end up where I belong, it's just not proving to be a very fun process, or easy.
Your brother in Christ,
Good to hear from you, my friend, and good for you that you are continuing with this personal ministry, even though you have a lot on your plate! There are plenty of Christians who never get this far in ministering the Word in an entire lifetime.
It's a difficult decision, you are grappling with. Believe me when I say that I do understand. I had decided more or less to go down the road of preparation for ministry while still in the USMC, but I left the decision a bit too long and ended having to spend a year in Okinawa as orders had already been cut before I could comfortably resign my commission. I had toyed with the idea of a phased transition with "barracks duty" someplace with a university nearby, but I'm glad that Okinawa at least lit a fire to get out and get moving. When I went to seminary, I had originally planned to go the Presbyterian route, just because I didn't have any other route. The church I was associated with (Berachah), independent and non-denominational, had no "track" for pastors, and I was only loosely associated with it, having no "in" whatsoever and thus no realistic hope of hearing something on the grapevine and getting one of the rare pastorate opportunities in spin-offs that way. Then when I got to seminary, conscience precluded me from going down the traditional route in my family denomination. I probably spent half the summer following my first year taking many solitary walks around Buena Park, CA, praying and crunching the options. I finally decided to get back into Classics, and God worked it out for me wonderfully well in ways I couldn't have anticipated before the fact. But it was a tough choice at the time and I had just turned 30 years old that summer (so had the benefit of a bit more life-experience and in knowing my own mind et al.).
I guess the one thing I would stress in terms of non-advice advice at this point would be that if you don't have a burning conviction about the right path, do everything you can to keep as many options open for as long as you can keep them open. The Tribulation is still far enough off and you are still young enough that it probably wouldn't be the end of the world if you took a year or two to figure this all out and worth it if that's the way to get it right. One other thing: lack of a perfect plan with a guaranteed perfect result is not the same thing as a lack of conviction. I'm confident that you will figure it out with reverse planning. Where does God want you to go? That is where you have (or will have) a burning conviction to go. Once the objective is clear (at least in general terms), finding the right strategy to gain it is right up the alley of someone with engineering skills. Finally, comfort is nice, but it's highly overrated, and doesn't go down in the balance with the excitement of striving to accomplish whatever it is you know the Lord wants you to accomplish for Him and His Church.
I will most certainly be praying for you.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
What do you think would be the best way for me not only to keep progressing my understanding of the scripture, but also to structure my theological knowledge in preparation for ministry? I plan to start re-reading all your studies, and make notes in the process, commencing tomorrow. I also intend to go through all Curt Omo's lessons in the Bible Academy series. Do you think going through Chafer's Systematic Theology or any other reading would be advisable at this stage? Are there any other resources I should consider? What did you find helpful when you were putting your studies together?
I understand that it's a very involved question and to produce teachings at the level of depth that you have done takes many years of systematic study, but I believe it will help me to start drawing some sketches and outlines and consider how to present the material to the reader.
In our Lord, who fulfilled the ultimate ministry,
Hello my friend,
Reading systematic theologies is useful, but it is usually hard going. I never read Chafer's straight through (though I have used it off and on since seminary). Chafer's work is a bit peculiar, with a good deal of cut and paste of passages from the works of others he found significant. Also, while the organization of the major parts is impressive, when one gets down to the pieces there is a lot to desire (as may be seen from the fact that the last part before the index is a collection of "doctrines" which may or may not be treated in detail elsewhere in the treatise overall). When I have had specific questions and have gone to Chafer, I have usually not been terribly satisfied.
What my own as yet incomplete "basics" series has shown me is that 1) there is a value in covering things this way, that is, topically, because it will lead you to consider and research and think about things which you might otherwise not pay as much attention to as you should; 2) but also it is equally true that no systematic treatment of scripture is going to exhaust the topic: things will be missed, if only because the way the verse you read tomorrow reads causes you to see something you didn't see before (or at least see as clearly) when you read it yesterday. And there are many important issues in scripture that come up when reading and studying verse by verse that might not occur to you when you are putting together your opus magnum. Then too, believers have real lives and when they begin to apply the truth to their circumstances and problems they ask for answers to legitimate questions that might not ever show up in a systematic theology. So topical, verse by verse, and real problem by real problem are all necessary approaches to adopt in getting to the bottom of the truth of scripture (and we will never get to the bottom in this life).
A long way of saying that some reading in this field is probably a good thing, but that constructing an outline of your own understanding of the various doctrines and testing it with and comparing it to other such constructs and especially to the Bible would probably be the best idea. I had a friend in seminary who had not only read all of Chafer but had underlined most of the passages therein but I'm not sure what good it did him. Read, consider, compose, research. As you begin putting together your own materials, you will see all these things in a somewhat different way, informed by the depth of investigation that preparation for teaching always brings. Teachers always learn when preparing to teach.
A pleasure to be with you on this wonderful journey, my friend!
In Jesus Christ our Lord, the Chief Shepherd of the Church.
I see from your C.V. that you attended Talbot Theological Seminary from 1982 to 1984. Did you like it?
It was a life-changing experience for me, but mostly because of the group of four other like-minded men with whom I spent more time than I ever did in classes; we were always debating theology and exegesis, comparing experiences, and considering approaches to ministry. We all went our separate ways in terms of how we ended up approaching ministry, but all five of us have continued to minister the truth of the Word in the spirit (if not the precise letter or manner) of our common mentor, Col. Thieme of Houston Texas. There were a few very fine professors there from whom I benefitted in Hebrew and Aramaic, and also Church History. Most of these are gone now and the place has developed in ways that in my view are not overly positive. I would be reluctant to recommend it, but on the other hand, if a young man does want a seminary experience, it's going to be problematic wherever he goes. As I say elsewhere on the site, I recommend getting Greek and Hebrew from a secular university (along with ancient history) irrespective of what a person decides about seminary.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thanks. Interesting. What did you graduate with?
An M.A.B.S. (Master of Arts in Biblical Studies). I had to do a thesis (Hebrew). With this degree I didn't have to do "sermon preparation" or "pastoral counseling" or any of the other Mickey-Mouse classes my poor M.Div. pals got saddled with, and I was finished in two years (after a good deal of summer and intersession course work).
In this week email in question #24 in reference to 1 Cor 12:24, you state this passage references teaching. How did you determine this passage is referencing double honors to teachers due to their rarity? I have read all the preceding verses and don't see how you made that connection.
Also in reading question #25, I still don't see the connection where this passage strictly is referencing teaching. I see the argument you are making but I just don't see the application from the contexts of chapter 12.
Thank you for your help.
In Christ our Lord
Thanks for your patience. I was in Michigan visiting my family.
As to your question, the rarity of the gifts as a basis for honor is based upon a corrected translation of the context (many versions incorrectly render verse twenty-four):
(22) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (23) and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, (24) while our presentable parts have no special need. But God has composed the human body in such a way as to give greater honor to the parts that are in short supply (analogous to teaching gifts).
1st Corinthians 12:22-24
Clearly, teaching gifts are in shorter supply than other gifts (no women have them, for example), and those who are prepared are even rarer, and those who are doing their job rarest of all.
As to teaching in the context of 1st Timothy 5:17, the communication of truth is the point of all spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are all meant to support the "dispensation of the Word", either directly (as with the apostles, prophets, tongues, teachers, evangelists of which only the last two are in operation today), or indirectly (whereby through prayer, faith, helps, administration, giving, etc., the sharing of the Word of God is empowered). And if there were any confusion about that, Paul in verse twenty-eight of 1st Corinthians chapter twelve ranks the gifts placing the teaching gifts in first place.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thank you for your encouraging and heartfelt words, I do really appreciate them. The hope of one day being led to ministry is what motivates me to keep growing everyday, along with the imperishable inheritance and rewards that accompany spiritual progress and production.
Now that I have finished my undergraduate studies, Im looking forward to delving into your studies more intensively, and continuing that routine when I move to London to start my new job.
I had another encouraging conversation with my brother at the weekend as he was up to visit. He was asking me how to deal with the question why dont you attend church? as he has encountered that a lot in the Marines.
I quoted 1Peter 3:15-16:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.'
In the past I have also spent some time going through all your email responses about attending a church, so I hope I was able to give him an answer that is in line with the truth. I have almost rehearsed my answer given that I get asked questions on similar lines so often. I usually start by asking what Church is (i.e. gathering together of believers), seeing whether they are able to make the distinction between a man-made institution or believers hungry for the truth as the incentive for gathering together. I ultimately point out to the lack of emphasis on teaching the Word, and a misplaced emphasis on so-called worship, community and social gatherings. Even when the Word is taught, it resembles more of a sermon rather than true orthodox Bible teaching, and in most cases the person doing so is ill-prepared and hasnt gone through the necessary preparation. Whereas previously I would have said I dont attend any church gatherings, I know say that I do attend Church, and point them in the direction of www.ichthys.com!
I hope everything is well with you, Professor. I keep you in my prayers daily and I look forward to sending you some questions in relation to the Ichthys studies in the next few months.
Your friend in Christ, our Lord and our Redeemer,
You're most welcome. And thank you so much for your prayer support! I'm also encouraged by your report about your brother and his continued interest in the Word. Being in service can be very distracting, as I know from personal experience. I'm keeping him, his safety and spiritual growth, in my prayers day by day as well and of course you and our mutual friend!
It is a pleasure to know such good Christian men as you and your brother and our friend, and it is exciting to contemplate the growth, progress and ministry you are all helping each other achieve. I know this will make for "interesting reading" indeed at the judgment seat of Christ when the crowns are given out.
Your friend in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I'm still bouncing around between versions, trying to find one to use for what I would term "general reading". I have the 1984 NIV Study Bible that I use when I'm going a bit deeper, but at this point I also usually have a computer at hand with other parallel versions and helps (NASB, ESV, NKJV, concordance, Bible dictionary, etc.). That is to say, the Study Bible (and parallel versions etc.) come out when I am "studying", but this setup is not terribly portable nor conducive what one might term "casual reading". For example, my particular study Bible weighs enough that it is not very comfortable to hold with one hand in bed or in a chair.
I do have NIV84 on my Kindle as one candidate for an everyday "reading Bible", but recently I've started thinking of transitioning into a more stable Bible version. There is the problem that I can't use it online, and also that I can't really recommend it to others because Biblica has forced it out of print, even in digital form on the Kindle (the book I have has been removed from the store). In several email responses you let on that one of the reasons why you are fond of the version is because you are familiar with it and know where its problems are:
Here is the problem. Arguably, the 2011 NIV constitutes a greater change from the 1984 version, stylistics aside, than the NKJV as over against the KJV. Yet it purports to be the same version of the Bible. When a version changes so dramatically that one cannot be sure that a key verse in the new edition will be essentially the same as what one remembered from the old version, a lack of confidence results. I become "gun shy" about quoting the NIV because, well, which NIV am I referring to? I become reluctant to read it too in the new version because a key element may have changed in an otherwise unchanged context. This is the case even where I might agree with some of the changes on philological grounds: as a "river pilot" of the 1984NIV, I know where the shoals are, but if you have only moved the hazards from one side of the river to the other (e.g., Philemon 1:6), the river is no more safe than it was before, only less easily navigable by me.
The 1984 version is better, but the 2011 version is indeed mostly the same. It's just that they have made it worse rather than better in some places, and have changed a number of key passages that many of us had become familiar with. To the extent that you have not memorized the 1984 version (or become so very familiar with its phraseology that it amounts to the same thing), to that extent I think it would be alright if you prefer the NIV to other versions. I have been using the NKJV and NASB, and experimenting with the ESV and NLT (to some degree), but still often find myself falling back on NIV, even in the new iteration. So what you have is still very good in spite of what has transpired.
Given that I haven't been using it for many years (i.e., I don't have the same "history" with the version that you do), I'm curious to hear your take on whether it is worth sticking with simply because it is objectively "better" overall (as in the most readable version that doesn't play fast and loose with the text). Other things I'm weighing right now are the ESV, and the NKJV. I already know that I couldn't handle the NRSV, NLT, or NASB "full time" (as opposed to using them for comparison).
I grew up memorizing KJV and still slip into "KJV mode" when paraphrasing things. Scripture really does tend to sound more poetic in this manner, but while I have no problem with the older verb forms, pronouns, etc., sometimes the vocabulary itself is misleading because meanings have changed. I will probably continue listening to the KJV regardless of what reading version I settle on because it has a certain ring to it that modern versions lack, but I don't think it is the best choice for doing my daily reading in.
In Read Your Bible you say about the KJV: "unquestioned scholarship; italics for supplied words; creatively ambiguous, reflecting ambivalent constructions in the original languages." Does this creative ambiguity apply equally to the NKJV?
Do you think the NKJV preserves much of the "flow" the KJV has, or is it changed enough that this is no longer present?
Between the two, do you find the ESV or the NKJV to be more readable?
I feel like I ought to add something before you respond. I spent far more time than I should have today tying myself into knots about the pros and cons of different versions, particularly as it relates to so called "dynamic equivalence". I read a good bit of from this website, which really made me start doubting my previous position on this debate (that a desire for literalness often has the byproduct of incomprehensible translationese with little practical benefit while dynamic-equivalence translations were mostly all gain with no loss). The piece behind that link is quite literally a book, and it seems to make many, many valid points against paraphrastic or "thought-for-thought" translation methodology (or at least the version it defines, which could potentially be a straw man).
I'm deliberately setting the issue aside at the moment because it is apparent to me that I am not handling this rationally. I understand that all major English versions are 95%+ identical for most purposes, and that reading your Bible in any version is far superior to getting sidetracked by a distorted quest for optimality. I'd always kind of of unquestioningly accepted the idea that NIV84 is the best "human readable" version currently available since it is the primary English version you make use of and I trust your judgement. I'd never really seen anything compelling to suggest otherwise.
There is a lot on the website on these issues (I'll give some links below). What I would say at the outset is that the important issues are a bit different from the way you've framed them in my opinion.
All translations of the Bible are just that: translations. That means that they are not the original. That means that even in a perfect world where there was a 100% "correct" translation (whatever that means), it would still not be the original and thus there would still be significant differences in how one would understand the Bible from reading the translation vs. reading the original. That is because all translation is of necessity interpretation to some degree because no two languages are exactly the same. This is even more of an issue in the Bible because ancient Hebrew and Greek are much more different from any modern language (for a variety of reasons of which you are well aware) than any two modern languages are from each other. How significant is this issue? Its always important but in some cases, not terribly significant. The overall message of scripture is clear enough that I think anyone could be saved from reading any standard translation and also get a very good grasp on the faithfulness of God and what it means to be a believer. Fine-tuning doctrine, especially as a teacher, really ought not to be attempted without a deep grounding in the original languages, but the Scofield reference Bible makes it clear that someone with knowledge of traditional doctrine and some systematic theology who spends a lot of time in study can get very far even so. That doesn't change the fact, however, that in any given passage an English translation might be 1) off-center or skewed in emphasis; 2) misleading; 3) plain wrong. Again, recourse to the original is the only way to be sure.
Why are translations of individual passages sometimes not up to snuff?
1) The person doing the translation was working with the wrong text (happens in KJV a lot, probably in some instance where the translator knew better but by agreement had to follow the TR, the critical text on which the KJV was based, even in questionable situations).
2) The person doing the translation had to abide by certain conventions required by the agreement rather than following his best instincts (e.g., the de-sexing terminology of the NIV, to name one such situation where one can occasionally see the translator straining to find another way to say what the Bible clearly says).
3) The person doing the translation doesn't understand in part or in whole the passage he's translating. One can see without much expertise in the languages how this could happen in difficult passages of Hebrew poetry such as Hosea, or in complicated NT theological passages such as Romans.
4) The person doing the translation just gets it wrong. There are many sub-reasons for this. Doctrinal error. Some axe to grind which results in skewing a passage in a favorite direction. Less than absolute competence in the language. Being swayed by previous translations or commentators (very frequent). Fear of repercussions (e.g., a conservative might be unwilling to render Lk.1:15 correctly).
Considering how big the Bible is and how complicated a task it is to translate the entire thing, there will never be a perfect translation this side of the Millennium. And not only that. Even a "perfect" one would only be perfect for one person or small group of people at one time in history because language changes and the way we receive it and react to it changes. If this makes it all seem hopeless, take heart: we have the Holy Spirit to help us, and the Lord does honor hard work and righteous methodology.
Having said all that, just as there is no translation of the Bible which is 100% correct, so also there are probably no English translations of the Bible which are absolutely worthless (although Websters comes close I've tried to read it, but without success). So the question really is, which is the best one to read? And with so many options, the real question is "which is the best one for me"?
If a person is not a teacher of the Word, reading the Bible in English is a way to build and reinforce faith, to be encouraged by the truth, to remind oneself of principles one has already learned and to have the truth of them verified by scripture and also to come to know enough about scripture so as to have a well-tuned "spiritual radar" for detecting when what one hears is not true (or at least is open to suspicion). What reading the Bible is not for in the case of almost all Christians is an absolutely independent way to spiritual growth beyond a very basic level.
If a person is a teacher of the Word or is preparing for that noble task, reading the Bible in English is all of the above and more. It is also a way to get one's bearings in this book of books better and better day by day. To know better day by day where certain principles and parallels may be found. In other words, unless one is going to be spending hours and hours every day reading the originals, it is an important supplement. And since we who have English as our first language will always think primarily in English, it is in my opinion a necessary supplement. Early on, there may be value to sticking with one version; later on there may be value in alternating versions. If we are very familiar with any particular version, say, the KJV, it is inevitable that we will have certain suppositions about certain passages that will later be challenged when we end up not just translating but exegeting and teaching some particular passage. In other words, we will come to find in many cases not in every case that certain assumptions we had made about passage X (and maybe even doctrine Y) based upon our knowledge of an English version or versions . . . was incorrect (in part or even in whole).
For English reading, a version which sings and speaks to us (KJV, NIV84) is better than one which is an obnoxious burden to get through (WEB, NASB), or one which is so notoriously lax in its methodology that we can't have much confidence in what we are reading (New NIV, NLT). In my opinion, for a prospective teacher, the more English Bible reading the better, the more familiarity with one particular version or two as the main ones read the better, and the more versions with which one has more than fleeting familiarity the better. Of course, time is not in infinite commodity (and we have a few other things to do as well). So some mix of the above tailored to one's own likes, dislikes, needs and circumstances is recommended.
One last thing. As I often tell my students, in translating any passage, there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of correct translations just make sure to avoid the millions and billions of incorrect ones. Translation is more of an art than a science. So when it comes to characterizing a translation (as I do in "Read your Bible"), while that is valuable, it all eventually comes down to the question of how any version translates any particular passage. As Horace said, even Homer nods from time to time. So even "the best" translation is going to be deficient or even dead wrong at least once in a while; and in my experience even really bad ones will sometimes hit the nail right on the head on occasion, if only by accident. Our job as teachers feeding our flock is to sort through all this as we rustle up each meal in the kitchen, and use the gifts the Spirit has given us to prepare something tasty and healthy to help others grow. It's not an easy process, but it can be fun and enjoyable, both in "chef school" and after you have your own restaurant. So please take pains to enjoy it, first and foremost. In this I think I also have the Spirit of God.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 KJV
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Philippians 4:4 NKJV
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it againrejoice!
Philippians 4:4 NLT
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
Philippians 4:4 NASB
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
Philippians 4:4 WEB
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4 NIV (1984 & New same)
Here are those links:
Bible Versions, Bible Translation, and Bible Reading IV
Bible Versions, Bible Translation, and Bible Reading III
Bible Versions, Bible Translation, and Bible Reading II
Bible Versions, Bible Translation, and Bible Reading I
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations VI
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations V
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations IV
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations III
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations II
Biblical Languages, Texts and Translations I
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I'm going to take some time to think these things over and read the links you've sent, some of which I believe I've already read. I have many, many more questions, but I won't waste your time by asking any before I've study both sides of this more.
I have one at the outset, however, that strikes me as important to any further discussion of the topic. While it is true that versions must be evaluated verse by verse (and are not uniform in quality), I am of the firm belief that some systematic decisions in translation are simply objectively superior to others. For example, rendering, as context allows, the same Greek word into the same English word across usage preserves the actual character of the original text. Stripping the Bible of any ancient cultural imagery and replacing it with an English gloss because it is "hard to understand in our culture" hides any connections that meaning might have with other passages in scripture that call to mind its particular significance.
Do you believe that systematic choices in translation are important in our selection of version?
By all means, take as much time as you need. I think that once you get a few years into Greek all these issues will become very clear to you as a matter of course. As to your concern about stripping out cultural references, that is certainly something to be avoided in a good translation, but I don't think that "consistent rendering" of terms is a possibility unless your qualification "as context allows" is so flexible as to make this only a lip-service principle. Consider the word pneuma in Greek. It means wind. It also means spirit. It also means "the Holy Spirit". Greek can "deal" with the ambiguity because of context. We have to choose which is which in any translation or else we are translating wrong.
Your in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I'm just emailing back to say I've found a measure of peace - I'm going to stick with the 1984 NIV. I managed to find a nicely bound single-column version that should last me the rest of my life if I take care of it, and I do have it on my Kindle and computer as well.
Working my way more slowly and intentionally through the links helped me throw things into perspective again. I'm going to link the page again that was giving me problems (here), just in case you want to take a look at the sort of thing that was causing uncertainty. I seem to have a talent for running across these excessively erudite treatments that leave me scratching my head and unsure... not only of what I previously believed, but also what exactly is being argued for. For example, at the end of this long string of argument, we get the following:
Here and there I have indicated on what grounds a theoretically-minded person might "justify the ancient severity" of literal translation. I do not aspire to build up any grand theory of translation that would receive respect from professional linguists. That is a task for one of their own.
In other words, instead of being about how translation should be done, the entire thing is more or less a polemic against one particular mode of improper translation (which I suppose should have been obvious from the title, but took me quite some time to figure out).
Now, the thing that started setting off warning bells was this same fellow's treatment of monogenes and the concept of eternal generation. As soon as I realized he was arguing for some sort of "begetting" of the Son by the Father, I became more skeptical about the other translation-based things he wrote. Not that we can always throw the baby out with the bathwater, but this heresy strikes me as a "biggie" rather than a minor point of theological error. While I've read what you've written previously, I'd appreciate if you could address the points made in the two things I quote below, just to settle the matter in my mind (some of the footnotes therein are relevant as well).
One last thing I'd like your take on is exclusivity when taking in Bible teaching, especially regarding teachers-in-training. You've made the point emphatically that a Christian cannot grow by adopting a "smorgasbord" approach to Bible teaching one ministry must be chosen and followed once its validity has been established through testing over time. This recent experience here (and several others prior) have made me realize that despite studying Ichthys materials for about two years now, I still have a habit of going elsewhere "just to see what other people think". Normally this leads to nothing good and just confusion, as in this case. But I find it very hard to kick the fundamental feeling that I need to compare, test, and find agreement among multiple sources.
I've received a bit of heat from my family by following Ichthys almost exclusively. While nobody has come right out and said it, they seem to be of the opinion that I'm not giving other viewpoints due consideration. I think a good part of it is that Ichthys takes positions on things that are generally opined to be "unknowable" (e.g., the timing of the tribulation and a well-developed breakdown of human history) or "settled" (e.g., water baptism="outward sign of inward change") by other theologians. They think me "too sure of myself", and more by extension, they think you too sure of yourself. I've tried in vain several times to explain that you have actually changed positions on several doctrines after becoming convicted of your error, and back up every point large or small with scripture and argumentation, but it never seems to make them feel any better. Evidently, being convicted of the truth regarding traditionally controversial issues is taken as evidence of intellectual excess or pride rather than honorable scholarship.
How does one deal with things of this sort? I confess that I lose patience quickly whenever I explain in great detail why I believe something and the other person ignores everything I say, throws his/her hands up in the air, and declares that some things are unknowable and it's not our place in the universe "what gives you the right to be so certain of something that Aquinas and Luther punted on?" Specious arguments aside, this situation comes up more frequently than I ever imagined it would, especially when issues of creation or eschatology come up. When one is condemned simply by virtue of staking out a position, what hope is there of truth?
Any advice regarding these matters would be appreciated.
Yours in Christ
I'm glad things are settling down for you on this issue of translation. Had a very brief look at the link. When I was in seminary the "very conservative" professors there inveighed against "dynamic equivalence" too. Trouble is, when one gets down to cases, all translations are either "dynamically equivalent" or they are interlinear-Bible type gobbledygook. There is no such thing as a literal translation (the KJV certainly isn't one). I would say that it's a matter of degrees but even that would be misleading. The truth is that in any given sentence / verse / passage, a translation is either good, bad or in-between. There are many things that contribute to a good one and many more that contribute to a bad one, and every version has its share of all three. So in practical terms when one is choosing a version to read or to concentrate on, obviously a version that is more good than bad and more so in this regard than its nearest competitor would be the one to pick. When it comes to choosing between a number of very good possibilities (NIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NASB), it really comes down to personal choice.
After all, no pastor-teacher can afford to trust any version on any given passage where the translation will affect the meaning of the truth being taught (which happens quite often, obviously). For those without the original languages, comparison of versions will help to spot outliers, but the outlier might be correct, or if there is no outlier all the versions could be missing something (and these two things both happen with enough frequency to make basing doctrinal development on English-only work very dicey). So again, its all very well to set up a "theory of the golf-swing", but when it comes to actually hitting the ball, theory mostly goes out the window.
Your inclusion of the monogenes issue is helpful and illuminating. Here is a word which we know from its employment in the NT is used as a direct translation for a corresponding Hebrew word; and we also know why this word (which doesn't seem the best choice) was used because it is taken from the LXX (the "KJV" of the time); and yet the folks writing this article demonstrate that their method is upside down, calling "severe" what I would call "grossly incompetent". It wouldn't matter if it didn't negatively affect our understanding of important doctrine in a serious way which it definitely does. So if a translation is demonstrably "wrong", what's the sense in calling it "literal"?
On exclusivity, let me point out the obvious here that there is no inherent virtue in "towing the line no matter what" anymore than there is in "disagreeing to demonstrate independence". Both approaches are, in fact, misguided. What we are interested in (or should be) is the truth. If your Bible teacher is always correct, that is what you want; if he is always wrong, then maybe it's time to find another Bible teacher. Naturally, no one is always right (not so sure about the "always wrong" possibility). And while it's not necessarily easy for a person who does not know the original languages or church history or the ins and outs of theology, etc. to figure out right away whether or not the Bible teacher you are evaluating is "mostly right" or "more right than anybody else I've been able to find so far", our Lord did tell us that we will be able to judge correctly "by their fruit", and also that if we were persistent in knocking we would get an answer.
The procedure is simple enough. First, find someone who is actually teaching the Bible. Right there we have a major divide. If the people who criticize you are listening to someone who is teaching the Bible in detail, then making points of comparison with your choice is an easy enough proposition. If they aren't, it seems to me that they are the ones who need to be searching rather than trying to fine-tune someone else' search. When people tell you not be exclusive, what they are often really telling you is "don't believe it at all!" Exclusivity is what we crave as long as it's not misguided (which is what those who love us fear). Exclusivity is what Christianity is all about when it's done right. After all, we believe that there is only one God and Father, only one Lord Jesus Christ, and only one way to be saved. We believe that there is only one source of truth, the Bible, and that the truth therein is absolute and not subjective in any way. We do understand that getting the truth is no easy matter at times, and that many have different opinions of important issues, but we do believe that for every issue there is one correct answer, that it is our job to get it, and that if we are persistent, if we do believe (rather than disbelieve), and if we do things the right way, eventually we will be led by the Spirit to the truth we really do long for. Most people do not long for it.
If someone is genuinely seeking the truth might and main, I would have open ears to what that person might say but not necessarily to the point of being willing to reject my own approach without good reason. For those who are lukewarm in approach, what they may really be telling me is "your red-hotness is making me uncomfortable in my lukewarmness, and I would be much more comfortable if you cooled down like me and that would also help me to justify my approach rather than to be challenged by yours". There are plenty of great people whom I would also classify as good Christians who are lukewarm and who are made uncomfortable by our red-hotness (most of the people I love personally fall into that category, sadly). But I for one will never allow someone else' questionable choices to negatively impact my good ones.
This isn't really about Ichthys at all. You are training to be a Bible teacher. I am certain that if tomorrow a meteor wiped me and this ministry and all traces of it off the map, you would still persevere in the task the Lord has for you, you would still seek out the truth, and the Lord would provide for you completely in this noble task the right next Bible teacher for you and, soon enough, the ability and facility to begin mining these things out of the Word of God for yourself. When I teach students Greek, I didn't invent the language and have no insights into it which are not already inherent thereiin. They could I'm sure, with enough persistence and much extra time, figure out things for themselves. My job is to help them learn it quicker and learn it better than if they were cast upon their own devices. The same thing goes for the Bible. I didn't write it, and the truth it contains is there for anyone to dig out, anyone, that is, with the proper gifts, training, method and persistence. My job is to get it out and help others to learn it; it does neither me nor anyone else any good if I get it wrong. Like a cook, I didn't invent food or even the dishes I serve; my job is to serve them up hot and healthy, and not burn the supper. The proof is in the pudding if it doesn't taste good, people are free to vote with their feet.
As a prospective Bible teacher yourself, looking around is not a bad idea. For one thing, you need to be absolutely certain in your own heart about what you believe and why. And as this latest situation proves, it takes some time for anyone to become grounded in this way. In the process, I am sure that there will be times when you disagree with some of my conclusions, small or large. Don't sweat it. Clearly, becoming disenchanted with something that is correct and replacing it with something incorrect is what we want to avoid. But at some point you do have to cut your own teeth if only in the method and diction of the teaching you employ (which can seem to the uninitiated as being of more import than it really is). Naturally, this will be easier to do once you have the tools in place and have gained some experience in employing them.
This process of grounding is not a straight-line progression, so that there will be things like this situation where you feel compelled to investigate something in detail before everything is nicely and neatly in place. That is all for the good. Here is what I recommend, and feel free to correct me if I'm making any assumptions that are incorrect. You have been reading Ichthys and thinking about the doctrines and principles taught here for some time now. And you have been generally very enthusiastic about what you have found, even to the point of agreeing with many if not most of the conclusions not out of lock-step but because the proof was there in your opinion based upon careful scrutiny. So my advice to you is to "get all you can get" from this ministry. If you find areas in which you cannot agree and need to go a different way, that is not exactly unprecedented in the history of the world. My wish for you is to go with me when I'm right and depart when I'm not (rather than the other way around). Needless to say, we all desire to be right all the time, not out ego but out a desire for the truth. It's all about the truth. It's all about Jesus Christ. If we keep that in mind, then of course we will do a good job day by day in pursuing the truth the best way we know how. If even one percent of Christians today were actually doing that, there would be no need for this ministry in the first place.
I admire your spirit, , your dedication and your aspiration. I'm here to help.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,