Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Using Hebrew in the Pastoral Ministry I

Questions are frequently raised about the value of Hebrew for the Pastoral ministry (see for example the debate here). The pain of learning Hebrew is thought too high for the limited gains that a busy Pastor can draw form working with the OT Hebrew.

I thought over the next few posts I would address three reasons that we might think like this.

Firstly, at the most fundamental level, some might argue that since the NT is the final revelation of God, the 'shadowy' OT is of limited value – and with it the study of Hebrew. Now that we have the superior NT we don't need the OT (good as it may have been at the time). So, I know one well known preacher who never preaches on the OT. He doesn't deny that the OT is the word of God but argues that since we are NT Christians, he should concentrate his efforts on the NT. Now, I imagine that very few evangelicals would express it this way, but nevertheless this can be our underlying, sub-conscious attitude to the OT. The NT is where the action is and we preach the OT occasionally to ease our consciences. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that when Paul says this he had the OT in mind:

2 Tim3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Now, the NT is Scripture too and brings all of these benefits, but the OT – on its own if you like - is able to thoroughly equip us for every good work. And if we don't have that conviction about the OT then we will never give it the place it deserves.

Further, the OT does give us so much value that we would lose if we only preached from the NT. It is not so much that the OT gives us anything we would lack if we didn't have it. Rather, I think, it fleshes out and exemplifies much of what the NT teaches.

Take the example of Romans 6:22 But now [...] you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God.

You get much of the same imagery in Jeremiah 30:8-9

8 "And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

But why preach on these verses when you have Romans 6:22? Well, the problem is that when we read of being enslaved to God in Romans 6 it can evoke a negative image to us because of contemporary examples of slavery or because of our post-modern distaste for authority. But actually it is Jeremiah – who expands on what slavery actually looks like, who helps us to understand it:

10 "Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid.

You see being God's slave is not a negative thing. It is not what we would describe as servitude – it is not slavery in the modern sense at all– no it is a life of quiet, of ease of not being made afraid. It is a life verse with God on our side to save us. It is being in a relationship with God where he makes an end of our enemies. Jeremiah helps us see what a positive thing slavery to God is. That it is more the idea of being bound to someone in a dependent relationship rather than being mistreated and cruelly worked to death. I think Paul expected his readers to read his words on slavery with an OT understanding. So the OT and the NT complement each other so well that we can't neglect the OT without impoverishing our understanding.

Next time, we will get down to the nitty-gritty of using Hebrew: I am too busy and Hebrew is too difficult

1 comment:

Dave Clancey said...

Great post Pete. You might also add that Biblical Theology becomes a misnomer without the OT. Of course, you can do it very broadly in English, but the originals, as in any field of study, gives you much greater access and detail.

I might also add that to follow the example of the person you mention (who only preaches from the NT) is only a one generation gig. You can only do it to a congregation who HAS had OT preaching, becuase it is only in the light of the OT that the person and work of Jesus makes full sense. And try figuring out Hebrews without the OT!!