Friday, January 2, 2015

Henry J. Cadbury on the Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek

Sifting through some of the offprints I was blessed to inherit from Ed Freed, I began to read one from his doktorvater, Henry J. Cadbury. The article, "Motives in Biblical Scholarship," was printed in the Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 56.1 (1937): 1-16. The article was actually Cadbury's Presidential Address delivered at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting, December 29, 1936 at Union Theological Seminary, New York City.
Henry J. Cadbury (1883-1974)

What struck my interest was a comment that Cadbury makes in relation to shifting trends in the training of ministers. He writes:

I can recall George Foot Moore, who was no conniver at ignorance, explaining apparently without regret the modern trend away from Hebrew and Greek in the training of ministers. The study of these languages, he said, had been justified and required a generation or two ago on the conviction that divine revelation had been made in those tongues, and that no one whose business it was to interpret that revelation could do so successfully if he could not read it in the original. But modern liberal protestantism had abandoned that assumption. There was accordingly less need for first acquaintance, which had often been in practice a bowing acquaintance, with pi'el and pu'al, with εἰς and ἐν and all the refinements of grammar so dear to the older theologians (4-5).

Remember this quote comes from an address nearly 80 years old. It is indeed striking how cyclical trends of this kind keep reappearing. Any curriculum that eschews the biblical languages in the training of its ministers, is a poor one indeed.

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