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Language learning and Bible Software

February 2014
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Almost about 4 years ago, I had a posting discussing the future of Hebrew in theological curriculums; see   Exit learning Hebrew?. I did not draw any firm conclusions, just presenting some pro and contra arguments.

Now we have a group of at least three fabulous Bible Software programs (Accordance, Bibleworks and Logos Bible Software), that should make us rethink not only how we teach the Biblical languages, but also what such programs might represent to our present students, and perhaps not at least what help they can offer when our students go out and start working in the parishes.

I don’t use to quote extensively from other blogs or colleagues’ writings, but this time I would like to present some input by quoting extensively from a brief article by Joel B. Green, published in Fuller, Theology, News & Notes:

“I think about . . .  working with biblical languages. What difference should it make to the way we prepare Christian leaders for working with biblical texts that we now have shelves full of commentaries that work with Greek and Hebrew, numerous lexical aids on which to draw, and Bible software on our computers? What difference does it make that I can access many of those tools from web-supported devices that I can wear on my belt and carry into an adult education class or into the local coffee shop? In the last couple of decades, the world of biblical study has been revolutionized. Should we continue to use slide rules? Will we allow graphing calculators? Should the way we prepare students for working with Scripture change on account of the increasing availability of tools that do so much of the heavy lifting for us?

When entering the office of a pastor or teacher, I invariably survey the books. And I find myself looking for the placement of this pastor’s Greek New Testament, her copy of the Greek-English lexicon, and maybe even the companion Hebrew Bible and Hebrew-English lexicon. Most of the time, those books are present and accounted for, but they are across the room from her desk, and are older editions, versions of those texts current when she was in seminary. It is hard not to conclude that work in the original languages, required in seminary, has not been her constant companion since graduation. Can we prepare students for working with Scripture in the original languages in ways that actually make a difference long-term? Might the increased availability of language-based tools assist us in this work?

It is true, of course, that some of our students and graduates want and need advanced expertise in the biblical languages. Fuller Seminary has been and wants continually to be a school whose graduates contribute to biblical and theological scholarship at the highest level. Advanced work with the biblical languages for such people is simply a prerequisite, and Fuller Seminary will continue to provide language instruction that serves the church in this way.

It is also true that not all of our students are called to contribute to biblical and theological scholarship at the highest level. What capacity for working with Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible is needed for the community worker in San Jose, California, or the pastor in San José, Costa Rica? For such Christian leaders, we are mapping an alternative route, one that accounts for the technological advances that are changing our lives in so many ways. Rather than asking them to devote long hours to flipping endless vocabulary cards and memorizing verb charts, we show them how they might immediately access that information and then how to use that information as they work through a biblical text. The bottom line is that basic information about a term is readily available—number, case, and the like; what is needed, then, is instruction and practice around what to do, what exegetical judgments to make, once this information is in hand. Those students and graduates will be able to work easily with original language tools like Bible-study software, lexicons, and resources like the Word Biblical Commentary. And, we trust, they will continue to do so throughout their ministries.”

I quote this with approval, but I have a certain feeling, that we are just at the beginning of exploring what Biblical Software might represent for both our curriculums, our teaching and learning,- and for our students and their future work as pastors.


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