Going to Seminary | Part 14

by Elouise

1974 David and Elouise

Florida vacation in 1974 to visit D’s family, following our first year in seminary

Finally! Back to seminary days! This post is about the most important skill I learned at Fuller Seminary. I didn’t expect it to be life-changing. But first, an important digression.

Several years ago when I was still a professor and dean, our faculty had more than one long discussion about biblical languages. Should we continue to require both Greek and Hebrew of all students in the Master of Divinity program?

  • Some seminaries aren’t requiring both or even one language anymore.
  • Translations of Hebrew and Greek Scriptures are easily available online.
  • Comparisons and contrasts between various translations are equally available online.
  • Many students struggle to pass the requirement for just one language. Why require two?
  • Some potential students choose not to come to our seminary because of this requirement.
  • Maybe we should just require one of the two? Or offer one on site and one online?

Discussion was vigorous. I won’t say what the outcome was. I’ll admit, though, that after listening to a few colleagues suggesting this requirement might be elitist, I waded in with my personal observations.

I haven’t changed my mind since then. In fact, I’m more convinced than ever that Fuller Seminary’s Greek and Hebrew courses were the most valuable, liberating, and ground-leveling courses I ever took, even though they weren’t required for my MA in Bible and Theology.

When I arrived at seminary, I was weary of being told over and over what Scripture says or doesn’t say about me as a woman. Not simply in my relationships with men or other authority figures, but also in my relationship with God, who would most likely speak to me through the voices of men.

As a woman I was expected to submit to the interpretations of men. Not just men like my father, but so-called learned men down through the centuries who spoke authoritatively about what Scripture requires of women, to say nothing of little girls.

At first I wasn’t interested in taking Greek or Hebrew. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I needed these courses if I was going to be a theologian or biblical scholar. I signed up for Fuller’s intensive requirements for each language. It took time—three long quarters of study for each language (3 courses worth each quarter), followed by at least one course in which I was required to use Greek, and a course in rapid Hebrew reading.

When I think of what liberated and gave me a voice as a woman theologian, there’s no contest. Other courses were important, engaging and even exciting: feminist theology, systematic theology, church history and the history of Christian thought. Yet nothing was as foundational as knowing how to read and use Hebrew and New Testament Greek in my research and writing.

The capacity to read and interpret biblical texts for myself, in dialogue with other scholars, was invaluable. I finally had a voice! I was able to see how various commentaries and translations of biblical texts sometimes mistranslated words, or read into them more than the texts allowed.

For the first time in my life, I was in my own scholarly driver’s seat. I didn’t know everything. I was, however, equipped and ready to be part of the dialogue with scholars, activists, pastors, teachers, and congregations. Even with my father.

I learned to weigh things for myself, make more appropriate choices when translating and interpreting texts. Consider discarded alternatives or suggest some of my own. Recognize mistranslated texts and unexamined assumptions that needed to be questioned.

Though language study didn’t resolve everything for me as a woman, it was a necessary beginning. It gave me what I’d call Big Soft Ammo. Not the kind that speaks loudly or tries to shout down the ‘other side,’ but the kind that does its homework, reports what it sees and hears, asks questions, and seeks faithful answers or alternative solutions that are life-giving for everyone.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 February 2016
Photo taken by a family member in Florida, summer 1974