Problems of Teaching of Biblical Languages in Africa
In the previous articles I have examined the importance of the biblical languages in biblical Christianity. I noted in that article that as it stands today Christianity owes a lot to Hebraic and Greek cultural thought forms and corresponding linguistic expressions. As a result, the biblical scholar needs to consult the original documents so that he can better determine the precise meaning intended by the authors and as understood by the original hearers. To arrive at such an objective meaning of the biblical text is not something easy. By the way, in case you need a coursework on this topic, contact https://paperleaf.ca/coursework/ to have it, they are cool guys for this kind of tasks. The teaching of biblical languages in Africa poses cogent challenges that demand a careful analysis. Below are a few of the multifarious challenges confronting the teaching of biblical languages in Africa:
A. The Challenges of Fundamentalism:
Fundamentalism as a movement emerged in America in the early 1940s as a calculated response by conservative Protestants against the new theological modernism that was developing in the early 20th century. Alister McGrath sums up the basic teachings of fundamentalism this way:
(i) Biblically, fundamentalism is totally hostile to the notion of biblical criticism in any form and is committed to a literal interpretation of scripture
(ii) Theologically, the movement is narrowly committed to a set of doctrines, some of which evangelicalism regards as at best peripheral and at worst utterly irrelevant
(iii) Sociologically, the movement is a reactionary counter-cultural movement, with tight criteria of membership and is especially associated with a blue-collar constituency.1
In addition to the above, Fundamentalism describe a coalition of evangelical protestants who fought militantly against modernist (liberal) theology and against some features of secularization of modern culture. G. M. Marsden adds the following as essential qualities, which properly describe a fundamentalist:
(i) an evangelical protestant
(ii) an anti-modernist, meaning that one subscribes to the fundamentals of traditional super-naturalistic biblical Christianity
(iii) militant in opposition to certain aspects of secularization.
The aforementioned description of fundamentalism poses a challenge to the teaching of biblical languages in the sense that they reject any critical study made on the biblical text. For them, the biblical text is to be read and interpreted literally; any thing more or less is totally unacceptable and can be defended militarily.
B. The Challenge of Illiteracy:
Another challenge affecting the teaching of biblical languages in Africa concerns illiteracy. It can be observed that after independence most nationalist leaders concentrated on designing strategies that would maintain them in power than on improving the educational level of its citizens. The resultant effect was that most of the citizens who found their way into the church were poorly educated and so could not read and understand the English text of the Bible.
However, with the close of the twentieth century several ministries have emerged to curb the growing trend of illiteracy. In Sierra Leone for instance, the Institute for Sierra Leonean Languages and Christian Education Departments in the mainline missions have embarked on translating the biblical text to the native languages of church members. These ministries have injected some life into the understanding of the scriptural text in the native language of indigenous adherents.
It is to be noted however that even in the midst of these marked improvements, most of the local translators are not well informed on the original languages. Their primary source for translating into the indigenous languages is the English text of the Bible.
C. The Unavailability of Trained Personnel:
The theological marketplace in Sierra Leone suffers from a lack of trained personnel especially in the area of biblical languages. The reasons are not far fetched and can be seen in the motivation that propels the theological student into intensive language study. The concept of most students represents a misnomer that perceives as difficult any study taken on the original languages. At the Evangelical College of Theology very few students‘ register for these languages.3 In this case, a good number of students who graduate from these institutions do with an insufficient background knowledge in the original languages. The very few personnel available have gone in search of greener pastures overseas and make no attempt to come back.
D. The Negligence of Theological Institutions:
Theological institutions in Africa especially in Sierra Leone have neglected language study in their curriculum. These theological institutions have tried to include one term of Greek for students offering Missions and Christian Education and one year of Greek for students in the Pastoral Ministry major.
In some of these institutions the primary cause of this is due to lack of trained personnel. Because such institutions cannot afford trained personnel they pay little attention to these subjects at the detriment of the students theological needs. Further, in some of these institutions, emphasis has now shifted from languages to contextualization. Institutions are now seeking to make their programs relevant to the needs of the theological public in an African setting.
E. The Indifference of the Church:
The church as an organized institution in the African context poses formidable challenge to the teaching of biblical languages. It seems the church has adopted a policy of indifference on biblical languages. The church has neither opposed nor supported the teaching of these original languages. This has resulted to a declining interest in linguistic studies, rendering critical studies of the scriptural text problematic.
In consequence, the teaching of biblical languages in Africa faces real challenges that theologians in particular and the Christian church in general needs to address. These challenges can be controlled and the church can progress with linguistic study, which leads to critical study of the biblical text. In our effort to contextualize the church’s message of salvation can be appropriate if we endeavor to identify the original meaning of the scriptural text.
1. Alister McGrath. Christian Theology: An Introduction. (UK, Oxford: Backwell, 1994) p. 113.
2. New Dictionary of Theology. (England: IVP, 1988) S. V. Fundamentalism by D. M. Marsden.
3. TEST Student Intake 1998-2000.
4. This system presently operates at the Evangelical College of Theology at Jui.