The Reformation, Old Testament and A.D.

Luther-nailing-theses-560x538I still remember the day in Church History class several years ago at Princeton Theological Seminary when our professor made the point that the word “Reformation” is not a harmless, neutral term to describe those historic episodes of the Sixteenth century.  He went on to point out that some Roman Catholic scholars and historians, in fact, decline to use the word, and refer instead to the “Protestant Revolution,” or the “Protestant Revolt,” when speaking of those historic events.   The latter terms, obviously, convey a far different assessment of the meaning and significance of what happened in the Sixteenth Century.  The term “Reformation” after all, implies that the Roman Church of the time was indeed deeply corrupt and in need of reformation, and that the movement led by Luther, Calvin, and others was a good thing that had predominantly positive effects.   Roman Catholics who do not share those judgments may understandably prefer a different word.

I have no problems with Roman Catholics who may prefer a different word here.  However, I would hardly agree that I should not refer to those epic events as the Reformation and celebrate them as important episodes in the history of the Church, even  if there are aspects of the Reformation that are regrettable.  I would strongly object if my Roman Catholic friends tried to insist that I should not use the word, and should call it something more sympathetic to their views, such as the Protestant Revolt, or even something more “neutral” such as the Protestant Secession. Continue reading

Hebrew: the EASY language?


One of our MA in Biblical Languages students did an undergrad degree in French at the University of Oklahoma.  While on a brief visit to his old alma mater recently, he snapped this picture of one of the bulletin boards in the language department. Especially intriguing is the green flyer. So . . . Hebrew is a fun, EASY language! Who knew?

Of course, my students who are in the middle of learning first-year Hebrew don’t think it’s easy (although I have heard from a number of them that they do think it’s fun).  How easy is Hebrew compared to, say, Greek? Hebrew is simpler than Greek in a number of ways, and often simpler is easier. So here are a few tidbits for the interested reader. In my Koine Greek class, we learn 24 forms of the definite article (the). In Hebrew, we learn one basic form, with 3 slight (but recognizable) variations of it. In Greek, nouns and adjectives come in three different genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In Hebrew, they come in only two: masculine and feminine. In Greek, every noun theoretically has ten forms, since there are 5 cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative) and two categories for number (singular and plural); in Hebrew, no case system exists, with the result that every noun theoretically has only four forms (an absolute and a construct form in the singular and plural). In Greek, the copula εἰμί/εἶναι is optional and so can be explicit or implied: John is a man and John a man.  In Hebrew, the copula הָיָה is always omitted in “present-time” contexts: John a man. Hey, why waste words?

So, these are just a few ways that Hebrew could be seen to be “easier” than other classical languages. There are other things that might make Hebrew seem more daunting (like a less familiar alphabetic script and sound system, a verbal system that is not tense-prominent, reading right-to-left). Is learning any language really ever *easy*? Absolutely not. But whether a language is easy to learn or not is no good reason to learn, or avoid, Hebrew or any other language. Acquiring a language like Hebrew does several things for you. It gives you access to great texts–sacred texts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic material. It trains your mind to think more clearly (and accurately!) about words, meaning, grammar, expression, and communicating thoughts. It gives you tools to determine whether that scholar in Newsweek or Time really knows what he/she is talking about, or whether they’re just blowing smoke. Same with pastors, theologians, and bloggers.

Give Hebrew a try. It’s easy! Well, maybe not easy, but simple. And if you join us on this journey at HBU, I can tell you exactly what Gandalf told Bilbo in An Unexpected Journey:

“If you return, you will never be the same again.”If you return, you will never be the same again

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