Monday, 9 May 2011

Bitzer was a Banker!

A Christian Minister pointed out to me last week an article in a chapter of a book by John Piper called 'Bitzer was a Banker!'. Piper's aim is to encourage but also rebuke the church and preachers who pay little attention to the biblical languages for their ministry. Here is an excerpt of what Piper writes.

His name was Heinrich Bitzer. He was a banker. A banker! Brothers, must we be admonished by the sheep as to what our responsibility is as shepherds? Evidently so. For we are surely not admonishing and encouraging each other to press on in Greek and Hebrew. And most seminaries, evangelical as well as liberal, have communicated by their curriculum emphases that learning Greek and Hebrew may have some value for a few rare folk but is optional for the pastoral ministry.

I have a debt to pay to Heinrich Bitzer, and I would like to discharge it by exhorting all of us to ponder his thesis: "The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry".

The two sources for these quotes are: John Piper, Brothers, We are not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry and Heinrich Bitzer, ed., Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek.

May we all take seriously the need for the recovery of the biblical languages for the evangelical and reformed church. Let us pray for this!


Andrew Chapman said...

Yes, I think we should set this as a goal. When were they lost, what is the history of this? How much, if anything, did it have to do with the change in secular education away from the classics, which gave ministerial students Greek at least to begin with? Andrew

B.E. Franks said...

The history of education definitely has played a significant role. Prior to the turn of the century, most ministers would have been educated within the broader Christian Humanist tradition that goes back to the pre-Reformers. As Ben House puts it in an article he wrote on the subject: "Typically the schools in early American history were Classical Christian schools. The instructors were usually ministers whose training was a combination of classical languages and literature and Protestant theology. In other words, they studied the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek, and they read Homer's Iliad in Greek, Tacitus' histories in Latin, as well as studying John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. For example, Moses Waddell, a Southern Presbyterian preacher and teacher (1770-1840), began studying Latin at age eight, and after six years of school, he had finished courses in Greek, Latin, and mathematics. After his conversion and entrance into the ministry, Waddell established, in a log building, a school with an enrollment of as many as 180 students a year. In his book Southern Presbyterian Leaders, Dr. Henry Alexander White made these comments about Waddell's school:

The food furnished to the students in Waddell's log college was plain, for it was usually nothing more than cornbread and bacon. A blast from a ram's horn called them all together from morning and evening prayers. When the weather was mild the students sat or lay beneath the trees to prepare their lessons. The sound of the horn told the class in Homer when to assemble, and all of the members rushed at once to the recitation hall in the main building. Then the horn called up, in regular order, the Cicero, the Horace, and the Virgil classes, as well as those engaged in the study of mathematics and English." (You can read the full article here:

The first-hand knowledge that such an education provided laid a strong foundation for study of the Biblical texts; something which much modern education does not give.