Monday, January 1, 2024

From Knowledge to Application (Or, Why You Should Take Greek Exegesis)

I once heard about a pastor who gave a sermon series on 1 Thessalonians. He called the series "Faith That Works." He said that we Christians are to believe certain things and behave in certain ways, and that doctrine and duty are equally important. I have long felt the same way about this epistle. (See my study here.) Here in 1 Thessalonians, Paul moves masterfully from commendation in chapters 1-3 to correction in chapters 4-5. Older commentators used to say that he moves from indicative to imperative. This was brought home to me clearly when I made a list of all of Paul's imperatives in the letter. 

In fact, one of the distinctives in Paul's way of writing is to move from doctrinal instruction to plain, practical, ethical teaching. The Gospel is not only a new way of thinking but a new way of behaving. It is a holy life, a life bent on pleasing God by obeying his commandments. The terrible alternative is to disobey God (see 2:15) or to "grieve the Holy Spirit" (Eph. 4:30). 

Here, then, is a very practical guideline for the way even we Greek teachers should go about our business of teaching. I liken this to mastering grammar in first year Greek and then applying all this knowledge of grammar to the exegesis of a New Testament letter in second year Greek. Likewise, in our sermons, it behooves us to direct believers not just in terms of what they should know but how they are to walk that they may please God even in such mundane areas of sexual self-control (4:3-8) and daily work (4:9-12). Above all, let's help our students and our congregations to know that the Christian life is not primarily rules and regulations but a relationship. We want to ask, "Will it please God? Or will it cause him to be grieved?" And we are to do this "more and more" (4:1, 10). 

I hope I'm not stretching the application too far when I say that an implication of this is that all Greek students should, if able, take a class in Greek exegesis. In many of our seminaries, a third semester of Greek exegesis has become optional. To our current neglect of exegesis, the curriculum at, say, Dallas  Seminary, presents a striking contrast. Their standard, stock-in-trade Th.M. curriculum requires not 3, not 4, but 5 courses in Greek, including the exegesis of Romans. You see, it is not only important that we give instruction in grammar. We must also give instruction in application. There must be a "double commitment," if you like, both to the word of God -- to study it -- and to its exposition -- to apply it and obey it. 

I am not surprised that Paul moves from "narration" in 1 Thessalonians 1-3 to "exhortation" in 1 Thessalonians 4-5. Nor should you be surprised when your Greek instructor encourages you to take a course in Greek exegesis.