Why Don’t Scholars Understand Logos’ Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew?

Posted By on December 11, 2012

Someone sent me this link today by Dr. Rod Decker of Clarks Summit: Can you skip 1st year Greek and start with 2d year?  Dr. Decker proceeds to bash the “Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew” product produced by Logos Bible Software, of which I had a part in producing (and we plan to produce a 2.0 version in 2013).

Once again, a critic has managed to misunderstand the marketing claims for the product. The marketing copy reads as follows (just read it again today):

Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software teaches you how to interpret Scripture with the original languages in a simple, straightforward manner. This is a complete introduction to using the original languages for interpretation from the Greek and Hebrew scholars of Logos Bible Software.

Notice the use of the word “interpret” in the above as I answer Dr. Decker’s question. I’ll try and keep this simple.

To answer Dr. Decker’s question “Can you skip first year Greek and start with second?”:

No – if your goal is to produce translators.

Yes – If you goal it not to produce translators, but instead to teach people the grammatical terminology and associated concepts so they can intelligently read things like commentaries and journal articles.

I thought that was pretty clear when we created the product. I guess it wasn’t. We’ll keep trying.

Since Dr. Decker felt free to insult the product (and me, by extension, along with the company I work for), I’d like to enter a dialogue with him.

Question: What discipline in the world embraces a 90% failure rate and calls it a success and the right course to follow?

Year after year thousands of students take Greek and Hebrew to learn to be translators – to reproduce (crudely) what they could buy in any given bookstore, or get free from the Gideons. In schools that require only one year of Greek and Hebrew, the student never gets to exegesis. Many seminaries fall into that category. So what does the student take away?  However, a good number of schools do require a second year (albeit a smaller number than 20 years ago). So, of those students that get through the second year, how many graduate and use their Greek and Hebrew *regularly* (week to week) in sermons? If the number was high, I’d expect that we’d see congregations across the United States where people are being fed solid meat from the pulpit. Pardon my skepticism in that regard. Sure, there are such places, but an abundance? What do we have to show for the thousands of students who take two years of Greek and Hebrew?  The reality is that of the students who survive two years of each language, most don’t use it. Why? reasons vary. The realities of ministry simply don’t allow most pastors to review their languages to maintain the memorization levels needed to be translators. Another is that a second year course is often inadequate (who does Dr. Decker trust more in handling the text — his two year students or his doctoral students?). Second year Greek often is just category memorization, not exegesis.  Second year usually constitutes a short review of forms and vocab, then on to memorizing syntactical categories for exams and perhaps producing an exegetical paper. If someone is lucky, the professor actually situates all that memorization into an exegetical method. But that is rare. Personally, I took Greek syntax three times at three different schools (I got an A each time; it was just a quirk of my educational path that required me to keep taking it). I never learned an exegetical method. I also never had to produce an exegetical paper. I had to wait until I got to graduate school in Hebrew studies to get anything that looked like that.

Other realities work against the success of traditional language teaching. Another reality is that a fair number of those students will go into youth ministry, where exegesis is the last thing they’re doing. Some will never go into the ministry at all. A few will move into graduate school for more intense language training and perhaps doctoral work in a language field. I was one of those, and loved it. But I’m a geek. Most seminary students aren’t me, or Dr. Decker. Most seminary students and graduates don’t use their Greek and Hebrew on a weekly basis to feed either themselves and their congregations. They don’t have the time and are often left groping for what the payoff is supposed to be. By the pulpit’s fruit we know it. And when they do use their languages, what they’re doing is the sort of thing we try to teach people in Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew, since our goal is not to produce translators.  Our goal is to motivate people to inform their sermon content with biblical language insights from serious (not devotional or homiletical) commentaries. Our goal is to assist pastors and other interested people in discovering how Greek and Hebrew can help them be better interpreters (see the above quotation). We think that would help raise the content bar in the pulpit. But I suppose Dr. Decker would disagree. Which brings me back to my question for him.

What discipline in the world embraces a 90% failure rate and calls it a success and the right course to follow?  Swimming instruction? (90% drown, but at least somebody’s using that skill). Explosives training? Emergency medicine?  Construction engineers? Good guesses, but the answer is: seminary language training. I’m sure Dr. Decker will disagree. So if he can empirically demonstrate to me that more than 10 % of the graduates of his seminary use their Greek and Hebrew on a weekly basis in their pulpit ministry, I’ll buy him dinner at next year’s ETS meeting. (Trust me, since I love the languages like he does, I’d be thrilled to see proof to the contrary). If not, my suggestion is that he stop whining about our product and raise the percentage. We’re trying to improve what happens in the pulpit; to fix the failure in some small way. We don’t think the strategy of trying to turn people into translators can provide evidence that it’s actually working for the mass of seminary graduates. It seems to only be working for the people who emerge as doctoral students (people like me). While I’m thrilled that people like me emerge from the process (and I certainly have no regrets; I still memorize vocab and rehearse forms, even in Ugaritic and Egyptian), the Church would be better served if more people could understand the important work of scholars in commentaries and other works. Our efforts at Logos are no more complicated than that. We have no interest that people who come to love the languages stop memorizing and studying them at a deep level, regardless of how that fits a vocation or doesn’t. Our concern is with the great majority of *seminary graduates* who just don’t use what they were taught in their language classes. We think perhaps a tool-based approach that front-loads the payoff will work better. At the very least we could try it instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.


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24 Responses to “Why Don’t Scholars Understand Logos’ Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew?”

  1. Jim says:

    very nicely said.

  2. Jeff says:

    From my vantage point, Dr. Decker’s critique seems a little off base. When I reviewed the relevant marketing materials the training videos seemed to provide lessons to allow you to study the Bible better than just using multiple translations and commentaries for those of us whom can never aspire to being a translator.

    When I watched the material, it seemed to fit the bill perfectly, going even a little further in some areas than my M. Div. training took me. For those of us with atrocious memory, the training videos that are the topic of conversation allowed me to get back into the original languages while preparing sermons like I had always hoped but could not attain to “the old fashion way.”

    From my point of view, the software and the training actually hit the mark. I knowingly will never be a translator but the richness of the original languages lost in translating to English comes alive for me every week and it makes me almost want to be a scholar (almost).

    • MSH says:

      Thanks – Learn to Use was something of an experiment the first time around. We had a sense of the sorts of things we should try to do but since no one else was doing it, it was a bit of a shot in the dark. We have some experience now, as we’re venturing into more video content (stay tuned on the Logos blog for that). That experience, plus the new features of Logos 5, make for a good time to tackle version 2.0. Our aim is to structure things a bit more into some sort of method, as well as expand the content.

      • Jeff says:

        As you think of doing your 2.0 upgrade, please think about an “upgrade only” option so those of us who bought the first one do not have to wade through all of the stuff covered in the first version to learn what is new (not to mention I would prefer to pay only for the new stuff rather than paying for what I already have in the first version). Honestly, I would be unlikely to buy the 2.0 version unless you can offer an “new stuff” only version. Just thought you would like to hear that perspective.

      • Anonymous says:

        Any news on the planned 2.0 version of this would be much appreciated

        • MSH says:

          we are planning to produce this the second half of this year.

          • Joe D. says:

            Thanks for replying, Dr. Heiser. I assume “being produced” is not the same as being released, so, it will be probably late this year, or early 2014 until official release, am I right?
            Anyway, thanks for your work!

  3. blop2008 says:

    It figures that his comments are off:

    “”I have not seen/used the software/video in question. [I am familiar with the base software through v. 4.] My comments here are based on what the PR material states. So take this as a brief review of the PR material, not a review of the videos or accompanying software. If that material is not accurate (which would be another problem altogether) or gives the wrong impression, some of my comments may be off target.””

    Without disrespect, that’s what we call, “speaking out of ignorance;” and I am certainly guilty of it myself, so let’s be cool and respond kindly and responsively.

    Nuff said.

  4. Mike,

    Merry Christmas up front.

    I’ve not read Rod Decker’s post, nor have I seen or used your Logos beginning language learning materials (no offense, of course — you know I don’t use any of these tools, hard cover or otherwise). But since there are some of us who are trying to move the conversation away from “learning Hebrew for translation” to “learning Hebrew to READ the text” (and I emphasize “read” because I mean reading with depth and nuance), it is an easy (and perhaps inaccurate) conclusion to draw that this kind of Logos material is working against us.

    So, here’s my attempt at a constructive solution — perhaps you could work over the description so that your materials are teaching Hebrew (and Greek) for “interpretation” (because what else is a deep reading of ancient texts if not interpretation), but rather for “using exegetical and preaching resources” or something like that. Am I even on the right track for what your tools are aimed at?

    By the way, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’ve posted my SBL paper on BH pedagogy on our blog:


    Again, Merry Christmas to you and the family.


    • MSH says:

      Hi Rob – hope you, Rachel and your kids are doing well! Merry Christmas as well. I’ll have a look at your post.

      The marketing content does stress interpretation already, but you can be sure we’ll have an eye to these sorts of things in the next round. My view (and dare I say Logos’ view) is that students will respond to a variety of approaches, so we’re not making a “negative recommendation” (“don’t do this any more”). Some students (like us) really got into the languages via the traditional approaches, and I’m guessing would be enthused about Greek and Hebrew no matter what the method. But a lot (and it’s a lot) of students just don’t track with the way things are being done. I’d say, in general, that anything that shows students the payoff early and often will motivate them — AND (and here’s the “innovation”) a method that is task-based (for seminarians, relating immediately to what they’ll actually be doing — which isn’t translating — will be of great benefit for improving pulpit content.

      In a nutshell, the realities of how frequently seminarians abandon their language training (if not able to resist and avoid it in the first place) need to be addressed with something practical — something that will fit in their vocational schedules, where they won’t have 20-30 hours a week for translation, exegesis, and sermon prep. That’s fantasy land. Whatever that is isn’t going to make them scholars, or prepare them to write an exegetical commentary, but it might just result in what they say over the pulpit actually deriving from the primary texts, making their content richer and more biblical. If what we’re doing now doesn’t work in the long run, we’ll try something else. The goal for the product is to improve the content of what happens on Sunday morning in a way that involves original language study.

  5. Doug says:

    I’m a strange duck I think. I’m one of those 10% that actually uses my Greek and Hebrew (2 years at Denver Sem) every week. But I’m also one of those 90% that really has problems with the languages. Yes, part of it is laziness, but keeping up with languages to the degree some like your professor here want is just not practical. Also, I just don’t have a penchant for it, and it is probably keeping me out of doctoral studies. I try, but it just isn’t my gift. Oh well. I’m not a pragmatist by nature, but bravo to you guys for trying to help stem the tide, Mike. I honestly don’t understand why the good Dr. is so upset about this. Me thinks his expectations are a bit over-realized.

    • MSH says:

      awesome – I hope you stay with it. And by your own confession, you’re odd — but be bold with that! Wish there were more like you, but the cold reality is, there aren’t that many.

  6. Kendall says:

    I’m another one of those who likes just reading the New Testament in Greek. I taught myself through D.A. Black’s first year grammar, along with Wallace and others. I love languages, just hadn’t been able to attend seminary. Now I am attending seminary, working on my B.Theol. But I am going to admit that for me to get through the material, I had to be uber obsessive-compulsive. That’s not most people. Most people are not that “crazy.” I think what you and Logos offer is a good value for most people. Keep up the good work!

  7. Sidney W says:

    Shabbat Shalom MSH,

    As a layman, I can’t thank you enough for showing me how to dig deeper. The product’s description never lead me to believe I would be a translator afterwards but I would be a better exegete. I actually wanted to start my own blog “Bible Geeks” in an attempt to get other layman interested. The same people who used to tell me studying greek/Hebrew was of no benefit NOW see its usefulness.

    All I asked is, Can you guys crack at least one smile in 2.0 series, ROFL!

    • MSH says:

      I hear you; the format is really unnatural. We’ll be standing (Lord willing) in version 2, so it will feel a little more normal — and I’ll pass that on to Johnny, too!

  8. Mike,
    I appreciate your perspective and attempts. I myself have ventured into this — pushed into it may be a better description :-) But it has worked out marvelously thus far.

    In a nutshell, our curriculum changed to only requiring 1 semester of Greek and 1 of Hebrew. This isn’t unique – the unique part is that this new 1 semester course needs to serve both the students who will never take any more Greek (Most of the M.Div. students), as well as our MA students who will go on to semester 2 and then 2nd year. So I ended up writing my own Greek textbook for the task. Included with the book is teaching on how to use Lexicons and teaching the students how to use Logos.

    The results have been excellent. It is a heavy course as I cover all of the basics and still make them learn vocab, but the immediate use and practice with Logos makes it all immediately applicable (I also assign the book Greek for Preachers which reinforces the practical aspects). The other payoff is that those who go on to the second semester are the really committed ones :-) So I am not dragging every student kicking and screaming through a full year of Greek anymore.


    • MSH says:

      awesome – great news. If you’d like to share some specific pedagogical advice or things you’d like us to consider for the software (Learn to Use or otherwise), shoot me an email at work.

  9. frank lee says:

    What I can’t find out anywhere is whether or not the DVDs contain all I need to get started with learning the basics of Greek and Hebrew or whether or not I have to buy the Logos software on top of the $500 asking price? If I had to shell out another $500 or more for additional software that would put it way out of my ability to buy. Which is a pity because whereas I can find some very good teaching programs on modern Greek, I cannot find anything worthwhile for Biblical Greek. Except – I hope – “Learn to use Biblical Greek & Hebrew…”

    • MSH says:

      The product interacts with the software, so it’s a good idea to have it. Honestly, though, I’d wait for the 2.0 version, which may appear in 2014. Keep in mind you won’t learn to read or translate Greek and Hebrew through this – but you will learn the most important points of the grammar and its value for exegesis/interpretation. It’s not a traditional Greek or Hebrew class where the goal is translation and which requires lots of memorization.

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