Origin of the Specious
When I first stated thinking about writing this essay, I was going to title it something like “Why This Busy Pastor Must Study His Preaching Text in the Original Language.” Having thought through much of my reasoning, the title I chose is much more to the point. One English dictionary defines specious as “Having deceptive attraction or allure” and “having a false look of truth or genuineness.” I have found that not studying the Bible in its original language can lead the preacher, who will in turn lead his flock, into something that looks like truth but is not.
Before going on, I have to tell you a little bit about my church. Cardinal Baptist Church in Caroline County, Virginia, is more wonderful than this pastor deserves! The good folk there seem to understand that preparing sermons is work, often arduous work. Sometimes, though, I have trouble knowing whether I am working or playing. I know, however, that it is part of my preparation to lead and feed my flock, so I don’t worry about it anymore.
But maybe you are not blessed in the same way that I am. If you think you’re too busy to make the original language study a good portion of your sermon preparation, why not get alone with Jesus and pray about that? You could say something like, “Lord, am I busy doing that which others could and should do?” If Jesus answers in the affirmative, then it is a matter of listing tasks, whose they are, and leading your people accordingly.
Perhaps, pastor, you are busy doing that which no one should be doing. If this is the case, your prayer to Jesus must be completely different that suggested above. Perhaps you have lost your first love. Perhaps the sin that clings so easily is clinging to you. I could go on with possibilities, but you know what I mean. If you have not yet disqualified yourself according to Scripture, repent and realize that Jesus needs good men who will lead and feed His flock from His Word!
Assuming you are ready to lead and feed, why must the original language be a significant part of your study? As tempted as I am to repeat what has been written by others, I will speak only from my own experience.
First, studying in the original is teaching me much that I had forgotten or never learned. Someone said the best preaching is that which reminds you of old truth and does not introduce new truth. When I wrestle with my grammar books and lexicons in the presence of God’s Word, it is as if I am back in seminary listening to my godly professor again. Just a few days ago, I found myself saying, “Aha, that’s what he meant!” Mind you, it has been more than three years since I sat under his teaching.
Second, studying in the original makes me aware of the many ways a single word was used. Thanks to quality lexicons, I have come to understand the wide range of meaning behind some words. Look, English is this way too. If I say, “The board got on board using a large board,” you might understand that a group of people entered a floating vessel using a large, flat piece of wood. But two thousand years from now, one might not know that “board” has no fewer than three common usages today.
Third, studying Greek and Hebrew makes me far more adept in English, my native language. My modest seminary training in Greek and Hebrew gave me a proficiency and appreciation for English that I had not had before. Seeing the broad range of usage in the original gave me a greater appreciation for choosing all my words, spoken and written, with much greater care. As a result, I am speaking and writing in a much more redemptive fashion. One reason for this could be that my Redeemer chose His words with great care as his holy men were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Well, I am a preacher, and I just finished my third point. Before I go, pastor, let me offer a suggestion. If you studied the languages in the past and think you are too far out of seminary, why not make contact with your former professor to ask for help along the way? If your professor loves Jesus, he or she will be thrilled to hear from you and to help you. One word of advice from an embarrassing personal experience: Never ask the professor to do for you what you should do for yourself. That would be wasting your God-given intelligence and your professor’s valuable time.
Finally, would you kindly pray for me from time to time? You see, I am of the flesh. Since we struggle not against flesh and blood, would it not be easy to slip back into old habits and get busy doing that which we should not? Please read that question again. If we agree on the question, let us remember these words from our Lord: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19 ESV).
February 28, 2006
John Boquist married the former Yvonne Seymour in August, 1983. In 1988 and 1990 their daughters Patricia and Elizabeth were born. John spent much of his adult life in local church music ministry before beginning studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2001. He became the pastor at Cardinal Baptist Church, Ruther Glen, Virginia in August of 2004. He may be reached for comment here.