In my mind, the primary reason we attend seminary is so that we can learn how to handle God’s Word appropriately. Of course there are many other benefits to seminary that go beyond that, but I believe that this is what makes seminary unique. There are lots of places to learn some of the more ‘practical’ things, but ultimately it gets down to God’s Word.
To do that most seminaries will force you to learn the original languages. There are many good reasons to do this. Luther wrote ‘let us zealously hold on to the languages’ in one great article. Erasmus described reading from the Latin Vulgate as ‘drinking from a muddy puddle’ while reading the New Testament in Greek was like drinking from a ‘pure fountain.’ Of course, most of us give mental assent to the truths of this, but the fact is that we have some very good English translations and if we use them properly we can get to the same place, right?
After all, Greek and Hebrew are a lot of work. It takes a lot of time to study paradigms. It is exhausting to translate even a familiar passage of Scripture as we go through our grammars and lexicons for reference. Despite the best efforts of Bill Mounce, there really is no fun way to learn vocabulary. All these things just take mental elbow grease.
What I’ve noticed is that most students get through the languages and then pretty much discard them. They gave lip-service to the value in learning them, but clearly they did not see the point. If they had they would have stuck with them.
My exhortation to you is to keep up with your languages. Like with physical fitness it is much easier to maintain than to get it back once you’ve lost it. There are very good reader’s editions of Greek and Hebrew that will get you past the drudgery of obscure vocabulary and keep you in the text. Commit to spending a little bit of time each day. Even 5-10 minutes will do if that is all you have.
I have a few personal motivations to do this. One is that I worked very hard in Greek and Hebrew classes and I don’t want to just throw all that time away. I have talked to countless men in ministry who remembered taking Greek and Hebrew, but cannot use any of it today. I don’t want to be one of those guys.
Another is that I see the value in it. I would not go so far as to say that it is vital to keep up with the languages, but it is definitely very valuable. As a practical matter, diagramming a passage from Paul often gives you the points of your sermon right from the text. Remembering how the languages work will sometimes help you make decisions about the meaning of difficult passages too. Some things just don’t translate perfectly into English.
But for me, perhaps one of the most compelling reasons is to recognize just how blessed I am. There are pastors around the world who don’t even have a Bible, let alone a seminary education. They would love to have just a complete Bible in their native language, let alone one of the many excellent study Bibles that are available to me today. We have a plethora of resources at our fingertips. Our seminary educations give us outstanding preparation for ministry. Throwing such a key part of that education away is akin to the millionaire who lights his cigars with $100 bills. Why waste something so valuable?