Stephen Rockwell, GWC Faculty, Biblical Studies, New Testament, Greek
BSc Hons 1st Class (Sydney), LTh, BTh (GWC), MTh (Moore)
Unfortunately, Africa is home to a number of endangered species on our precious planet. From well-known species, such as the mountain gorilla, the cheetah, the African wild dog and of course the rhino, to lesser well known species such as the Ethiopian wolf which now has an estimated population of less than 450 in the wild, or the riverine rabbit of the Karoo region in South Africa – population less than 250. There is a real threat that in our lifetime, some of these species will not survive. In fact, 2018 saw the death of the last known male Northern white rhino. This is real problem.
Seeing some of these animals in the wild is a special privilege. I’ve personally been blessed to sit a few meters away from a massive silverback gorilla in Rwanda, to have watched a black rhino casually stroll up to a waterhole to drink in the cool of the evening in Namibia, to see the majestic cheetah on the plains of the Serengeti and the fierce African wild dog on the hunt in South Africa. It really is something special to see, and even more special to be a part of doing something to protect the endangered species on this magnificent continent.
Recently I was made even more aware of another endangered species. I had the privilege of spending some time in Uganda. One of the meetings that I attended whilst I was there was a gathering of minds on theological education in Africa, and in Uganda in particular. Present at the meeting were Deans of large universities and Principals of theological colleges. As we sat and discussed the plight of theological education on the continent one of the delegates remarked, “The original languages of the Bible, Greek and Hebrew, are endangered species in Africa”. The comment struck me at first, but as I’ve reflected on it more and more, it has continued to reverberate through my mind. If this continent were to lose some of its magnificent wildlife it would be tragic, but if it were to lose the original languages of the Bible it would be devastating for the gospel.
Martin Luther, the great Reformer once said this: “Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored”.
More recently than Luther, Enoch Okode, from Kenya, writing in the African Journal of Evangelical Theology, in an article titled ‘A Case for Biblical Languages’ concludes this: “It’s hard to maintain the centrality of the Word if we view the biblical languages as a non-essential and optional extra”.
If Luther, Okode and my colleague in Uganda are correct, then Africa is in trouble. If we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages, and the languages are an endangered species on the African continent, then ipso facto, so is the gospel. This is real people.
And so it is such a great privilege to be a part of doing something to protect the endangered species on this magnificent continent – the endangered species of Greek and Hebrew that is. George Whitefield College is committed to instructing its graduates with the necessary skills and desire to be able to read the text of the Bible in the original languages. I’ve been a part of that commitment for several years now, having the privilege of teaching New Testament Greek to the first year students who study with us. It really is a massive privilege and an immense joy to be able to see the Scriptures come alive in the student’s eyes as they begin to read the text for themselves for the first time in Greek.
So let me encourage you to be concerned about Africa’s endangered species, and to do something about the problem. Every time you see a “Save the rhino” sticker, or hear about the plight of the cheetah, or whatever it is, then think about what you can do to help, so that our children and their children might have the chance to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. But every time you hear about one of these endangered species, remember the endangered species of Greek and Hebrew, too, and then perhaps consider doing something to save them for future generations also. Maybe you could support the work of George Whitefield College as we endeavour to keep these species alive and well in the African church. Perhaps you might even consider doing your own part, and coming to study them for yourself!