Monday, July 05, 2010

Original language and preaching

Kong Hee said, from 37 second onwards in this video, ""Christos kai cosmos" actually means "taking Christ into culture.""

Everyone who learn New Testament Greek know that "Christos kai cosmos" literally means "Christ and world." I have no idea how did Kong Hee come to interpret that Greek phrase that way.

I have been to many Charismatic services where the pastors on the stage drop a few Greek and Hebrew words here and there during their sermon. Then they will formulate some weird teaching out of those words which they claim to be the original meaning.

Since most of us seating on the pews don't know these languages, we are easily led by what the pastors say. Even if it is wrong, we wouldn't know it unless we learn the language. But if these pastors know the language and expound it accordingly, we are edified and grateful to them for helping us to understand better.


Alex Tang said...

While not responding to the Kong Hee video clip, I do take your point about the right use of ancient Greek and Hebrews words and sentences during preaching.

While there are some pastors who still remember their ancient languages, many on the other hand has forgotten theirs through non-usage. That is precisely my argument against the teaching of ancient languages for the MDiv. Learning of ancient languages should be for those who want to take the path to MTh and PhD and the academia.

Most lay people assume that their theologically trained pastors still remember their Greek and Hebrews. That is a false perception fueled by the fact that it is in their theological education curriculum. The maxim of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Not keeping up to date with their language studies but assuming that one knows the language is a prescription for disaster.

Furthermore, one or two years of language studies is not enough to make one proficient in the language especially a dead language. Being able to translate a few passages is just not enough.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Alex,

That's a good observation. One or two years certain is not enough. It is a continuous learning. Either one be an expert or not. If not, better not tamper much with these ancient words.

sp lim said...

Interestingly Tony Siew has written something on Greek and preaching in his lastest post on his blog. As someone who thinks the main role of a pastor is to preach, I tend to agree with him. There is just no short cut.

Cheat Grace said...

Try listening to Joseph Prince's use of Hebrew ;). But at least I know he is not a plagiarist :)

Tony Siew said...

Hi Joshua, good point. I don't mind preachers sprinkle their sermons with a little Greek/Hebrew here and there provided they get them right and within the context of their preaching.

Alex, I beg to differ that Greek/Hebrew is only for those who go on to MTh and PhD. First, you must have a MDiv with languages before you go on to do a MTh or PhD. Second, only about 5% go on to post-graduate study and if 95% of the MDivs who will be pastors and do not know the languages, then the churches will suffer. Third, I am not suggesting that MDiv students become Greek/Hebrew scholars. Only that 2 or 3 years of doing at least one biblical language is worthwhile because there are just so many things that pastors need to know and counsel their congregations accordingly instead of relying on secondary sources or commentaries. There are many aids available nowadays (e.g. Bibleworks 8) for those who have studied at least 1 or 2 years of Greek to keep their ancient language alive and useful.

Alex Tang said...

Hi Tony,

I know that there are some great language software such as Bibleworks and Logos.

I wonder, and I do hope that you can enlighten me, how many pastors actually keep their ancient language "alive and useful" 5 years after leaving the seminary and is in pastoral ministry.

Tony Siew said...

Hi Alex, as sp lim had pointed out I just wrote about this in my blog. I think the question is not whether how many pastors out there still maintain their Greek but the rationale and principle behind gaining a working knowledge of Greek. I know it's an uphill struggle for most pastors. That's why I advocate at least 2 years of Greek (one year is really too little and as you pointed out too little of something can be dangerous). Then it's up to the pastors to maintain their level of Greek by being disciplined in their study while in ministry. I have no sympathy for intellectual laziness or lethargy as I see happening around me even among the clergy. If they know the importance of keeping the language alive I am sure they can find 2 or 3 hours within the week to read the Greek NT with the help of lexicons, commentaries, software and online resources. It's matter of discipline and consistent work really, I think.

Alex Tang said...

Hi Tony,

I hope you do not take this the wrong way. I am not trying to be provocative but I am genuinely curious to know if there are any studies/survey done on graduate seminarians and their continuing proficiency in the ancient languages.

reasonable said...

I am not a pastor but for myself, I am glad I learned Greek and a little Hebrew. Even though I have forgotten most of them now, whenever I find the need to look at the original language behind crucial words (sometimes due to discussions/debates over certain issues), it is much easier now for me to do the research and to appreciate the nuances involved. And it is easier to understand certain critical commentaries that involves Greek in their explanations.

So I do not find it a waste to have gone through Greek and Hebrew lessons.


reasonable said...

I am no supporter of Kong Hee and am in fact very critical of his prosperity theology and lifestyle, but here let me try to interpret Kong Hee as positive as possible.

Perhaps Kong Hee knew that the Greek words means literally "Christ & Culture" but what he was trying to do was not referring to the literal translation of the Greek involved, but to talk about what those words means in the sense significance, i.e., what those words "Christ & Culture" signify. Perhaps he has read Richard Niebuhr's book "Christ & Culture". If so, then he would be aware that "Christ & Culture", according to Niebuhr, comes in a few different possible meanings in terms of significance. For example, the relationship between Christ & Culture could be in terms of conflict (e.g. Christ Against Culture), in terms of paradox, in terms of harmony/synthesis, in terms of dominance, or in terms of transformation, and so on. If so, then Kong Hee was proposing that the correct relationship between Christ and Culture is not one of anti-thesis or conflict but rather along the lines he proposed.

Trebuchet said...

My grandfather started with Greek and Hebrew in his youth and continued writing about the scriptures and preaching until he was in his eighties. He would paste notes on every passage into his Bibles — when they ran out of space, he would buy new ones and keep writing.

I learnt from him how to read Greek (sadly, not Hebrew) and to use several sources and concordances. He set a standard I don't think I can match.

Ah Jay said...

Hmmm...i wonder why should we argue against the study of ancient languages even if a majority choose not to keep up with them? Whether or not a pastor use biblical languages correctly is a matter of integrity in preaching.

What if the next generation of pastors say they cannot maintain the use of commentaries? Are we then suggesting to do away with commentaries as well? :)

kelvintan73 said...

"I have been to many Charismatic services where the pastors on the stage drop a few Greek and Hebrew words here and there during their sermon. Then they will formulate some weird teaching out of those words which they claim to be the original meaning."


Hmm who knows, perhaps we are all Mormons now! Joseph Smith did the same thing when he first came up with the Book of Mormon right?

Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb!

Sze Zeng said...

Hi friends,

There is some technical problem with Blogger. I can't publish all the sent in comments.

So if you don't see your comments here, please don't think I moderated them. It's something wrong with Blogger today.