The Minister and His Greek New Testament: An Introduction

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The Occassion

In 1923 A.T. Robertson (1863–1934), a baptist minister and theologian, wrote The Minister and His Greek New Testament. Why should pastors consider a work from such a bygone era? (A century is certainly ancient history as judged by the speed of our modern technological advancement.) In fact, why am I taking up to write about portions of this book? Could I be heading of a 100 year anniversary for the text? In reality it’s due to a practical and mundane exercise: I’m reevaluating my pastoral library.

When I moved to my new call in Kansas, I put my library in a room set aside in the parish hall at the congregate where the parsonage resides. At the time, this seemed like a good place to have it, but in reality it was impractical. In fact, that space became relegated to a library, while the office I regularly use in the parsonage only had the books that I would cart back and forth with some greater or lesser success. Now, I’m moving my library to a more useable locale, and in the process I’m reducing my library.

As seminarian and baby pastor, you’re led to believe you need as many books as possible regardless of actual need or their usefulness or even their quality. Quantity matters! Now that I’m no longer a young pup and can actually discern what may be helpful in the longer term, or may serve as a quality gift to someone in the future, I’m culling the chaff—or even worse—from the wheat. In this midst of this process, I came across a 1978 edition of The Minister and His Greek New Testament.

Looking at this small, 144 page book I was unsure of its contents. Some of the culled books were certainly judged by their cover. Yet, since this had such a promising title, and since it was short, I decided to start skimming it in order to determine its tenure in my library. It wasn’t long before skimming turned into reading. What can a Baptist teach a Lutheran pastor about His Greek New Testament? Much in every way! (Proper ecumenism has its place.) And besides, I learned Greek from J Gresham Machen’s New Testament Greek for Beginners, and he was a Presbyterian!

The Audience

As Robertson’s title suggests this is written for ministers, for pastors. There’s a great need for Robertson’s wisdom and candor for the modern pastor in general and the modern Missouri Synod pastor in particular. Holding the line when it comes to maintaining Greek and use of the Greek New Testament among pastors is difficult. The ministry is taxing, time fleeting, energy waining. Some may relegate it to the Ivory Tower of the Seminary. Some may say the battle was won at Seminary, the study of Greek like that of a conquering army. Some may need to work harder than others to hold the line. Some may take up only the English first in a pinch, then it’s the standard operating procedure of ministry.

All pastors, me included, need to be spurred on to cling to (κατέχειν) our Greek New Testament. (The same could be said of Hebrew, but that’s outside the purview of Robertson’s main comments, though he does hint at it.) My thoughts on the matter have always been driven by my scrupulous German nature in regards to finance. I’m cheap, or rather I don’t particularly like wasting money. I spent much or rather repaid much in my studies to become a minister. For my Bachelor’s I majored in the Theological Languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin), and I continued using all of them through my Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees. Newsflash: three degrees aren’t cheap! So, based solely on the ROI I never understood letting the languages lapse.

Sure, there was further motivation by Luther. “Let us be sure of this we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments.” (American Edition of Luther’s Works, Volume 45, p. 360) Rev. Dr. John Nordling’s “Learning Greek Well” (For the Life of the World, Summer 2017, Vol. 21 # 2, 13) is also helpful in this regard. But neither Nordling nor Luther, let alone my own nearsightedness, hold a candle to Robertson’s The Minister and His Greek New Testament.

Like Luther in regards to Confession and the Lord’s Supper (Exhortation to Confession; Luther’s Large Catechism, V: Sacrament of the Altar; Luther’s Small Catechism, Preface), Robertson shows the benefit and the harms of pastors consigning their Greek New Testaments to the trash-heap of a bookshelf or pastors never caring to learn in the first place. Robertson’s style at times is like Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism: beneficially alarmist, biting, and yet full of wisdom. Robertson both prunes and enlivens branches to bear, and also scorches the barren.

The Series

In this series I will be posting snippets, some larger than others, from Robertson’s book. I will also point to resources he outlines, along with newer one’s that were not around in his day. These won’t be in any particular order, but as I decide based on how I keep pondering Robertson’s almost century-old wisdom. Wisdom to which I do well “to pay attention as to lamp shining in dark place” (2 Pet 2), because Robertson simply enjoins me and all clergymen to return ad fontes—the Apostolic and Prophetic word, as “the Spirit carried them along” (2 Pet 2) to write it: Koiné Greek, as far as Robertson’s book goes, but also Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Aramaic. Whichever the case may be.

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