I was just reading over at the Pyromaniacs, and one of its contributors, Dan Phillips said this about pastors and using Greek and Hebrew from the pulpit:
. . . So you’re a pastor, and you’re preaching this passage, and you want to mention some Hebrew or Greek word that is in the passage. Fine. Great, in fact. Terrific. One request.Say it, or don’t say it. Now, many would advise that you just not say it, period, because it’s not going to help your largely (linguisitically [sic]) unschooled audience, and may just look like preening. Most of the time, I think that’s good advice. But because I know we pastordudes can be a bit thick, let me break it down and be very specific. You’re preaching a passage. There’s a Hebrew or Greek word in it that is cool, that you think is worth commenting on. Fine. . . .
Let me respond to this. I once had a prof in Bible College (the Dale Wheeler) who taught me Koine Greek; he told all of us students: “if I’m ever sitting in the pew of your church, and I hear you say: ‘the Greek says’ (on a particular passage) — I will take off my shoe and throw it at you!” Why was he so antagonistic towards this approach of preaching? Because, and I agree with him, if the pastor is consistently saying “the Greek or Hebrew says,” then this basically informs the laity that they could never really understand or study the Bible in any meaningful ways; that they need to know Greek or Hebrew (not to mention Aramaic and Akkadian) to fruitfully study the scriptures for themselves. In other words, it places the “cookies on the top shelf,” and makes the parishioner dependent upon their pastor for accessing the deep meaning of scripture.
A few things. This approach writhes against the Protestant principle of the Priesthood of ALL Believers, which is the one that Martin Luther followed and what motivated him to translate the Bible from the Latin into the vernacular German; he did this because he believe that the scriptures belonged to all Christians, and that the “keys” to interpret it didn’t belong to a certain segment of the church (the magesterium, the Catholic Cardinals and Popes), but that this responsibility belongs to ALL believers!
Knowing the Biblical Languages is certainly helpful for studying the scriptures, but it is not necessary — and this point is taken from my former prof, Dr. Dale Wheeler! All a persistent and serious Christian has to do (one who only knows English for example) is cross-reference many different “English” translations in their study. If they do this, they will gain a depth of nuance and understanding; as much depth as knowing the Hebrew or Greek might provide.
So I would say the opposite — along with Wheeler — against what Phillips is advocating; and that is Don’t say it at all! If a pastor wants to encourage his flock to study their Bibles, then the best thing he can do is encourage them in ways that will foster beliefs that they can study the scriptures just as readily as their pastor does (even if they don’t know the Biblical Languages).
Let me close this with one caveat: I am not proposing that pastors should not study the Bible in the original languages — if they can, they should — instead that when they deliver their sermons, they should model for their “flocks” a style of study that promotes and encourages an attitude of “can-do” amongst the laity. That is, the pastor should model how using “English-translations” can be just as fruitful to Bible study, as using the original languages can be!