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Mark D. Roberts

Part 17 of series: Presbyterian Exegesis Exam Changed
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In my last two blog posts I have commented on recent changes in the exegesis exam of the Presbyterian Church (USA). In a nutshell, the PC(USA) no longer requires candidates for ordination to pastoral ministry to demonstrate knowledge of biblical language (Greek and Hebrew). Moreover, candidates do not have to try to show the “principal meaning” of a text.” Now they can simply offer one “faithful interpretation,” whatever that means.
If you want to see why I’m critical of these changes, please read what I’ve already written. Today I want to add some final comments before I finish my diatribe about the exegesis exam changes.
The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates, the group responsible for the exam changes, offered little by way of defense of its actions. It did reproduce some questions or comments that it received from folks outside of the committee. They were meant, I suppose, to provide some sort of rationale. So let me respond to these.
Does the format of the exam truly allow inquirers/candidates to demonstrate a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew?

No, it doesn’t. In the past, candidates could pass the exam with much less than a “working knowledge” of Greek and Hebrew. But they would have needed at least a basic knowledge of one of these languages.

Is this examination the appropriate vehicle through which to judge one’s facility with Biblical languages?

No, by itself, it was not the appropriate vehicle. But it was an essential part of this judgment. It showed that candidates could do more than pass exams in Greek and Hebrew. They needed to have some ability actually to use one of these languages.

Is it reasonable to expect readers who may not have had training in Greek and Hebrew, or who themselves have not maintained a working knowledge of these languages, to determine if an exam adequately demonstrates facility in these languages?

No, it is not reasonable to expect readers who don’t know biblical languages, or who have once studied them but have since forgotten them, to grade exams with respect to their use of Greek or Hebrew. So, if we think it’s important for candidates to know Greek and Hebrew, then readers (at least of certain sections of exams) should be people who have some facility with these languages. The choice of graders, as well as the content of the exam, should reflect our values as a denomination. [Many thanks to Jim Berkeley for helping me see that my original answer to this question was based on wrong exegesis of the question! Jim, apparently, wasn’t satisfied with my faithful interpretation. For some reason it mattered to him what the original questioner actually meant. How modern of him!)

Examinations which are otherwise well written cannot receive a passing grade without demonstrating a working knowledge of the biblical languages.

Yes, that is right. And that’s because the PC(USA) used to believe that a working knowledge of biblical languages was something a pastor should have, and that a candidate for ordination should be able to demonstrate.

The language requirement in the biblical exegesis exam seems to duplicate, or call into question, academic work that students have already done in their language and exegesis classes in seminary.

Yes, in a sense that’s true. But this is true with almost every kind of examination or credentialing for the professions. The bar exam, more or less, duplicates what law students did in law school. Etc. etc. etc. I don’t think, however, that requiring the use of Greek or Hebrew in an exegesis exam necessarily calls into question the academic work students have done. It does require all students, no matter which seminary they have attended, to demonstrate similar ability, and this seems fair. But it also helps students to retain their biblical languages, knowing that they’ll need to use them for the exegesis exam.

Rich passages of Scripture contain more than one “principal meaning”, and may lend themselves to several interpretations which are valid.

I’ve already commented on this at length.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this series within a series on the PC(USA) and its exegesis exam.

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