For the Record (David Alan Black): How Can I Keep Up with My Greek?

[Editor’s Note: David Alan Black is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern. He has published numerous books on New Testament Greek, including Learn to Read New Testament Greek and Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. He is regarded as an excellent teacher of the New Testament and Greek and a mentor of students. For these reasons, we asked him to help our readers with keeping up with their Greek.]

So you’ve studied New Testament Greek and are finding it a bit of a challenge to retain what you’ve learned. A lot of people don’t stick with it. “I tried learning Greek and it didn’t work for me.”

The problem with these people may just be that they never learned persistence. Do you want to master the Greek language and be able to use it in your walk with God and in your service for Him? If you do, you will have to put forth some effort. How can we “stick with it” in a practical sense?

1) One aspect of persistence is spending time in your Greek New Testament every day. Notice, I said spend time. It’s an investment, a conscious choice on your part. Don’t wait for it to just happen. Make time in the Greek text an indispensable part of your day. I do, and I never fail to benefit from it. If you need to, use any help that is out there, including interlinears. Yes, I said interlinears – which are usually considered anathema to Greek teachers. But if an interlinear can get you into the text, it’s worth the effort. As one preacher put it, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all.”

2) Second, take time to pray. Ask God to help you. For many Greek students, things go well for a few weeks. But as soon as a little difficulty comes their way they say, “Forget it. This is impossible.” That’s when you need to go to God in prayer. John wrote, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is your lifeline to God and your only source of strength. Take advantage of it.

3) Third, those who want to master the Greek language must grow constantly in their knowledge of grammar. If you’ve already had a year of Greek but are floundering, why not pick up a good intermediate textbook and begin reviewing your paradigms and syntax? Dan Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics is excellent for this purpose. Others find my It’s Still Greek to Me helpful. If you’re going to master Greek you’re going to have become a perpetual student of the language. I’m sorry, but there aren’t any shortcuts, no easy solutions. We can’t skip a grade or two.

4) Fourth, to master Greek means to be patient with yourself. You put one foot in front of the other. It’s a steady gait, not a foot race. As I said above, the only way to get the job done is to stick with it.

5) Finally, let me suggest that you teach others what you’re learning. It’s often been said that the best way to learn something is by teaching it. This can make all the difference. It’s interesting that my best students tend to be those who are teaching Greek to others, whether in their small group fellowships or to their children at home or in their Sunday School classes. A couple of years ago I taught beginning Greek in my local church every Monday night for a year. We started out with 55 students and finished with six. At times I almost decided to give up. It’s at times like these that I have to ask myself, “Who am I serving? Am I doing this for God or for me?” The Bible says, “Let us not grow weary while doing what is good, because at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not lose heart” (Gal. 6:9). I’m so proud of those six students who finished the course, who ran the race to the end. I’m also deeply appreciative of the efforts of those who had to drop out along the way, some for serious medical problems. (My wife Becky, one of my very best students, had to leave the course because of her surgery and chemotherapy).

I know that Greek can be tough. If anyone ever experienced a sinking feeling while studying this language, it was me. I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only three weeks! Thankfully I went on to take Moody Bible Institute’s correspondence course and, by God’s grace, aced it. Remember what Peter’s problem was when he was walking on the water? He took his eyes off the Lord. And that just about says it all.

For the Record (Benjamin L. Merkle): Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members

[Editor’s Note: Ben Merkle is Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern. He is the editor of the 40 Questions (Kregel) series and the author of The Elder and Overseer: One Office in the Early Church (Peter Lang, 2003) and 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Kregel, 2008). In light of his expertise in this key area of ecclesiology we asked him a few questions for the record.]

What is the importance of church government for evangelicals in general and pastors or elders in particular?

The form of church government that a local congregation employs is extremely relevant to the life and health of the church. The Church, as the body of Christ, should seek to be pure and spotless. If certain biblical patterns and principles are ignored or abandoned, then the Church will reap negative consequences. Therefore, it is beneficial for the Church to follow the wisdom of God as recorded in Scripture. Church government is important, not primarily because outward structures are important, but because outward structures directly affect who can be a leader in the church, what each leader does, and to whom each leader is accountable. Thus, when we speak of church government or church polity we are really speaking of the roles, duties, and qualifications of those who lead the body of Christ.

Do you think there is a lot of misunderstanding in the church about what elders are and what they do?

There is no doubt that there is a lot of misunderstanding in the church about nature and function of elders. Because most Baptist churches don’t use the title “Elder” for their leaders, many are suspicious of the title. Many assume that only Presbyterian churches have elders and that it is simply not “Baptist” to have elders. This view is wrong for at least two reasons. First, historically Baptist churches used the title “elders.” Second, because New Testament churches had elders, we should not be afraid to embrace the term. The term itself, however, is not the most important aspect. Rather, the qualifications and duties are the more important aspects.

So, why should a church have elders?

This can be answered at a couple different levels. In my book, 40 Questions about Elders of Deacons (Kregel, 2008), I sought to answer the most important and relevant questions regarding the two offices of elders and deacons. This book was written primarily for pastors and church leaders.

My book Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members is a summary of that work in a concise and condensed format focusing on why every church should have elders. This book was written primarily for church members. The question, “why elders?” is answered in four main chapters: (1) It is the pattern of the New Testament Church; (2) It provides help and accountability for a pastor; (3) It produces a healthier church; and (4) It promotes the biblical role of deacons. These four reasons are my answers here.

What about deacons? How do their ministries interrelate with that of pastor and elder?

The role of the deacons is not to lead the church but to serve the church. Elders or pastors are the leaders and are given the role of shepherding and teaching or preaching. Deacons, on the other hand, are given the role of taking care of the physical and logistically needs of the church so that the elders can concentrate on their primary calling. In many churches today, deacons function more like elders than deacons. Part of the reason deacons are involved in leading the church is because churches don’t have a plurality of elders. Without a plurality of elders, the church is led by a single pastor. In order to avoid giving this single pastor sole authority over the church, the role of deacons has shifted from the biblical model. But when elders are functioning properly in the church, deacons can likewise effectively serve the church.

For the Record (Daniel Heimbach): Why I am Not a Pacifist

[Editor’s Note: Daniel Heimbach is Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored or contributed to fourteen books and published numerous articles and essays. Dr. Heimbach served in the Navy and also served as an adviser to President George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War. He is the author of several pieces on just war, including, “The Bush Just War Doctrine: Genesis and Application of the President’s Moral Leadership in the Persian Gulf War.” In From Cold War to New World Order: The Foreign Policy of George H. W. Bush. Edited by Meena Bose and Rosanna Perotti (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2002), 441-464.]

I was born of missionary parents in the midst of war during the Communist revolution in China, and my life has been touched by war in significant ways. I am also a born again Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ, and a moral theologian who specializes in understanding and teaching ethics. So this topic is one I have thought much about, and not just based on training and research but drawing from experience as well.

The short answer to why I am not a Pacifist is that Jesus was not a Pacifist and what Jesus taught, and what the rest of the Bible teaches, does not align with Pacifist teaching. That for me is the bottom line. Of course I have interests and loyalties as an American that are different from people living in other nations. But my ethics relating to war is not determined by these differences. When it comes to the ethics of war and peace between nations, all that matters to me, or that should matter to anyone else, is how a situation aligns with objective moral reality. And, while human reason is able to analyze this reality, the reality itself is fixed by the Moral Ruler of the Universe who is none other than Jesus Christ himself.

I do not enjoy war and am all too familiar with its horror. In fact I sincerely wish I could embrace Pacifism. That would be easy for me to do. Pacifism is very popular among others in my professional class and embracing it would result in a lot of personal affirmation and praise. I cannot do that with integrity, however, simply and only because I am convinced without a doubt that, when the Bible is accepted as the inerrant, authoritative, and plenary Word of God written, it cannot be reconciled with Pacifist ideology. I do not think Christians should go around starting wars. But I do believe the Bible teaches that God expects, and in fact requires, morally responsible rulers sometimes to use deadly force to defend weak and innocent people against unwarranted aggression, and also requires rulers to use coercive power where necessary to correct specific acts of injustice-taking care when they do these things to keep what they do within well defined moral boundaries.

What I have just described is the ethic of Just War, which is an ethic of war and peace between nations quite different in attitude and approach to the ethic of Pacifism. The main difference between these opposing approaches is that Pacifism is a perfectionist social ideology impossible ever to achieve before Jesus comes back to establish a perfect world, and Just War is a form of moral realism that recognizes we do not yet live in a socially perfect world. Unlike Pacifism, Just War is an ethic consistent with a sober understanding that we live in a wicked world filled with wicked people, and that by God’s choice this will continue to be the case until God himself removes all need for war by utterly removing all sin from the world. This also is consistent with humbly accepting the fact that only God can do this and we cannot.

The teaching and life of Jesus is the most important place Christians should go when deciding how to approach the ethics of war and peace. Pacifists claim Jesus was a Pacifist, and if they are right that would settle the question. But they are not right. Jesus was not a Pacifist himself, and he did not teach a Pacifist ethic for his disciples or anyone else to follow.

Jesus certainly is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6; Lk 1:79). But the sort of “peace” Jesus offers the world is the peace of reconciling sinners to God. He did not launch a movement to remove all weapons of war or to disband all armies in a still very sinful world. He did not announce a program for pursuing civil non-violence no matter what happens in a wicked world. Pacifists read civil non-violence into every mention of “peace” in the New Testament. But that is hardly ever what the original human authors or the Holy Spirit were addressing.

In the one place Jesus did clearly address “peace” in the civil non-violence sense-the sort of “peace” Pacifists have in mind-he firmly and absolutely denied he was teaching an ethic of Pacifism. In that passage Jesus very clearly explains to his disciples, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace (in the civil non-violence sense) on the earth, I did not come to bring peace (in the civil non-violence sense) but a sword” (Mt 10:34). Jesus also assumed that morally responsible kings must sometimes go to war, and when they do they ought to apply the Just War principle of not sending troops into battle where there is no chance of success (Lk 14:31).

While Pacifists make much of the fact that Jesus rebuked Peter’s use of the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, I as a responsible moral theologian am not free to read into what Jesus said anything that in any way contradicts what Jesus himself said to his disciples (including Peter) just an hour or so earlier that same evening. Before leaving the Upper Room, Jesus told his disciples that after he left this earth (still future when Jesus rebuked Peter in Gethsemane) they should carry with them and be prepared to use weapons of deadly force to defend as necessary against attack (Lk 22:36). This does not mean Christians should enjoy fighting or should go around stirring up wars. But neither does it mean Christians may never use deadly force or should never participate in fighting wars for any reason.

Finally, we must not forget that Jesus of the New Testament is also God of the Old Testament. Because the character of God never changes (Ps 102:27; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17), this means the moral character of Jesus cannot be different than it always had been and always will be-without variation. So, if God in the Old Testament approved Just War (as in Deuteronomy 20 and Amos 1), then so did Jesus in the New Testament. This is an important part of the essential doctrine affirmed about Jesus in the book of Hebrews, which is that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

I believe that Jesus of the New Testament is God of the Old Testament. I believe that the moral character of Jesus in the New Testament is unchanged from what it was in the Old Testament. I believe that as God did not teach Pacifism in the Old Testament so Jesus did not teach Pacifism in the New Testament. And so we end where we started. I am not a Pacifist simply and only out of fidelity to the life and teaching of Jesus Christ himself as faithfully witnessed and recorded in the Bible itself.