Over the past few years we have been moving from a regulatory Form of Government to a Form of Government (FOG) that is called “missional.” The suggestion has been that a new FOG would be based on trust.
This year a whole rewrite of the FOG went to the GA and was turned back to a committee for rewriting. The committee was told to listen to the presbyteries as it rewrote the Form of Government.
But we had a foretaste of the FOG based on trust. An amendment to the constitution went to presbyteries a couple of years ago. It was a complete rewrite of chapter 14, the chapter on ordination. It was intended to make the chapter less regulatory and to allow more freedom to the local presbytery. Now as the committee that oversees the writing and reading of ordination exams for candidates for the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament sets new policy based on the new chapter 14 we see the results of trust and they are bitter.
Both the former chapter 14 and the current chapter 14 say the following about the responsibility of the Committee on Preparation for Ministry (COPM) about the candidate’s ability to use Hebrew and Greek:
Old G-14.0310b(3) and new G-14.0450c:
(the candidate shall)
c. presentation of a transcript from a theological institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools acceptable to the presbytery, the transcript showing satisfactory grades, and presentation of a plan to complete the theological degree including Hebrew and Greek and exegesis of the Old and New Testaments using Hebrew and Greek texts;
So the COPM has the responsibility to make sure that a candidate is able to use Hebrew and Greek to do exegesis. The question today is whether the COPM can depend on the Ordination Exams to show that a candidate can do exegesis in the original languages. That has been a method used by the COPM. Satisfactory grades on the Open Book Bible Exegesis Exam measured the candidate’s ability to use the original languages to do exegesis.
Alas the FOG no longer states what the Open Book Bible Exegesis Exam will measure and how it will measure. Chapter 14 used to say this:
G-14.0311d(1) Open Book Bible Exegesis. This examination shall asses the candidate’s ability to find and state the meaning of an assigned passage of Scripture, demonstrating a working knowledge of the original language of the text and ability to understand its historical situation.
The candidate shall have access to any or all of the following:
Hebrew and Greek texts, translations, commentaries and other exegetical tools, including those which presuppose knowledge of the Biblical languages. Using these he or she shall be asked to state the meaning of the passage, show how he or she arrived at this interpretation, and suggest how this passage might be used in the contemporary life of the church.
The current chapter 14 of the FOG says the following about ordination exams:
G 14.0430 Examinations
G-14.0431 Inquirers or candidates are encouraged to take the Bible Content Examination in their first year of seminary. The other four examinations may be taken by inquirers or candidates after completion of two full years of theological education. These four examinations shall only be taken upon approval by the committee on preparation for ministry of the inquirer’s or candidate’s presbytery. The areas of examinations are:
a Bible Content.
b. Open Book Bible Exegesis.
c. Theological Competence.
d. Worship and Sacraments.
e. Church Polity.
G.14.0432 The examinations required in the five specified areas shall be graded by representatives of the presbyteries under the supervision of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates as provided in G-11.0103m. Descriptions of the examinations, the subjects, the schedule, and the procedures for their administration shall be prepared by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee and approved by the General Assembly.
Notice that the examinations are no longer described but merely listed. Also notice that G-14.0432 says that the committee shall propose descriptions of the exams, the subjects, the schedule and the procedures for their administration. These must be approved by the General Assembly.
Now evidently the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates has proposed a new description of the Open Book Bible Exegesis exam. The Committee published the following on the GA news site. Tthe new description reads as follows:
- The Biblical Exegesis examination will continue to offer questions which allow inquirers/ candidates to demonstrate proficiency in Greek and Hebrew. However, the demonstration of this working knowledge of the biblical languages will no longer be requirement in order to complete the exam successfully.
When the exams are graded, the readers will comment on the language facility which is demonstrated in the paper. Such comments will be offered as guidance for Committees on Preparation for Ministry. It will be the responsibility of the CPM, upon review of seminary transcripts and the exegetical work and sermon presented by the candidate, to determine if the candidate’s ability to use Greek and Hebrew is sufficient to serve as a helpful tool for the understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures as required the Constitution of the PCUSA. (Book of Order G-14.0450).
- Inquirers/candidates will be asked to offer a faithful interpretation, rather than the principal meaning of the text. In many cases, a passage of Scripture may offer several meanings or possibilities for interpretations rather than “one” correct meaning.
See http://www.pcusa.org/exams/exegesisinfo.htm for the full article by the Committee. I urge all who read this letter to read the full article.
The 2008 Committee on the Review of General Assembly Permanent Committees approved the following concerning the Open Book Bible Exegesis Exam:
(2) Open Book Bible Exegesis. This examination shall assess the candidate’s ability to interpret an assigned passage of Scripture by demonstrating attention to the original language of the text, an understanding of the text’s historical context, and an ability to relate the text effectively to the contemporary life of the church in the world.
“The candidate shall have access to Hebrew and Greek texts, translations, commentaries, and other exegetical tools.
This committee also approved the following amendment to the FOG:
Amend Recommendation 1, first paragraph of “(2) Open Book Bible Exegesis” as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown with an underline.]
“(2) Open Book Bible Exegesis. This examination shall assess the candidate’s ability to interpret an assigned passage of Scripture by demonstrating attention to the original language of the text, an understanding of the text’s historical [and literary]context, and an ability to relate the text effectively to the contemporary life of the church in the world.”
Both of these were approved by the General Assembly in plenary.
Since the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates conducted a study of the ordination exams and recommended changes in the description of the exam both in their manual and in the FOG I strongly urge anyone interested in this issue to read the study at:
And the two recommendations to the General Assembly at:
The core questions raised by the Cooperative Committee’s new policies are:
- Should the Open Book Bible Exegesis Exam be a measure of the candidate’s ability to work in Hebrew or Greek; and
- Should the Exam require the candidate to find and describe the true meaning of the text?
So it seems that satisfactory grades in Hebrew and Greek and in Hebrew and Greek exegesis (G-14.0450c) are now sufficient to determine whether a candidate can do proper exegesis and use that exegesis in a church setting. The Open Book Bible Exegesis Exam will no be an instrument to measure such ability.
Given the failure rate among candidates taking the exam one has to wonder if the standards are changing because of the inability of candidates to pass the exam.
In any case, I think the Cooperative Committee’s new policies are a mistake. Certainly there are passages that can have multiple meanings. But most passages have one meaning. A Bible exegesis exam should test the ability of a candidate to find the central meaning of a text and to use that text in a congregational setting. Do we want to ordain people who choose to take a passage out of context or say that it means something different than, (to the extent that we can discover it) the intention of the author or editor? We are to examine our lives in the light of the Scripture, not decide the meaning of the Scripture in the light of our lives.
As to Hebrew and Greek, the ability to use the original languages has been a mark of ordained Presbytery clergy throughout the history of Presbyterians in