My dearest pastoral students in Christ:
As many of you are just beginning your seminary life at our graduate school here at Reformed Theological Seminary, this marks your initial entry into one of the most challenging classes in seminary: the study of the original languages, Greek and Hebrew. In fact, as I write, many first year students are in our “Beginner Greek” modular courses scattered across our campus system. As they told me in boot camp, so I will tell you: “It will get better!”
Or will it? Can it?
Beyond the jests (that hide the pain!) there is a truth: the study of the original languages chosen by God to reveal His plan of redemption to us is a marvelous opportunity afforded to only a few in the Church. You have been chosen.
Now, you may not be necessarily embracing your divine election unto Greek right now, as you have to learn to decline nouns and conjugate verbs and memorize all sorts of grammatical paradigms, not to mention vocabulary. Yet you must never forget this:
“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48 ESV)
I want you to think about how much is given to you in the study of the original languages.
You have, as I have said, the opportunity that very few other believers in the world have: to study the inerrant and the infallible word of the living God in the original languages of the Bible. I will never forget the moment where I stood and read John 1:1 in the original Greek. Every time that I see my Greek professor, who is now retired (Dr. George W. Knight III) I bow down to him and kiss his ring! He always winces, draws his hand back, and tells me, “Mike, get up from there, boy!” I do, of course, but then I tell him, “Sir, if it were not for you I would not been able to read the New Testament in the language God chose. I could not have preached having done my own exegesis and study of the text in the original. It is such an honor.” It is. The pastors who have studied the original languages are able to go into the Word of God and exegete the sacred Text, dive deeper, and gather richer expositions from that pool of truth and bring out pearls of life and eternal life to adorn our people within the pulpit! What a wonderful honor and what an incredible pleasure. This is being given to you because you have been called to preach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ and you have made what I believe is a wise decision to come to RTS to prepare to undertake that solemn vocation. I thank God that we, with other fine but fewer seminaries than before, remain committed to the study of the original languages as a foundation to all pastoral studies. It is truly a gift.
Then, I want you to think about how much is required of you in the study of the original languages.
The requirement that you have before the Lord is to, first, take the studies very seriously. Be diligent in your study of the languages as you are in any other class. Don’t think, “If I can just slide through this, then I can get on with real seminary studies!” No! The languages are the bedrock of the rest of the course (The capstone, in my opinion, is pastoral theology, which is designed to integrate all other studies into the narrow field of application, according to Scripture, in the lives of human beings). On the foundation of the study of the Greek and Hebrew, the other branches of the theological encyclopedia, like biblical studies, systematic theology, apologetics, pastoral counseling, church history, pastoral leadership, and more, may be then surveyed.
Secondly, you have the requirement in this privilege to approach your study with much prayer. Do not slip into the mindset that the study of languages is merely mechanical or perfunctory. Don’t go about the learning of the language as if you are learning some mathematical equation, soon to be forgotten and of no real practical necessity. No, my dearly beloved, you are learning the inerrant and the infallible Word of God in the original languages and nothing could be more deeply spiritual.
Thirdly, study with a heart of gratitude. You have a requirement to be one who comes back to the Lord and says, “Thank you Lord Jesus for allowing me to study your Word in the original languages. Help me oh Heavenly Father to be able to take this Word and get it to out to the world.” This is your requirement as you enter Greek or Hebrew this year: diligence, prayer and gratitude. Maybe you’ll never go to your New Testament or Old Testament professor in future years, and kiss his ring! That is a bit over-the-top, I admit (but I also like to have fun with my friend!). What you may want to do is to say “thank you” to those rare ministers of Christ who have invested a lifetime in the study and cultivation of the original languages of the Holy Bible. They are noble shepherds with a unique task in the Father’s fields. Let us honor them well.
My son grew up hearing his father “pre-preach” his messages every Saturday night in our family devotions. As a result our son has grown-up hearing the word of God, not only daily in morning and evening devotions, but also exposited in Saturday night sermons. Then, he would get it again on Sunday morning and Sunday night! More than that, we often speak much of God’s Word in our home as I wrestle with a passage out loud with my family. As a result, I tell him all the time, “you have been given an opportunity that few other believers have: and that is to have the Word in your home and to have never known a day where you didn’t know of the name Jesus.” In a similar way, I want to speak to you, our sons and daughters in Christ, who are taking the biblical languages this semester. I want to tell you, you have a great privilege. You also now have a great responsibility.
I pause to pray for our seminary as we now prepare to enter a new year of preparing gospel preachers, pastors, missionaries, counselors, and other servants who will open up the Word of God and speak His truth to the world. May the Holy Spirit come down and anoint all of our work—even our Greek modular classes!
I desire to be, now and always,
Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.
The James M. Baird Jr. Professor of Pastoral Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary