‘Scholarship that helps men to preach’: The pastoral legacy of A.T. Robertson
Archibald Thomas Robertson was born Nov. 6, 1863, near Chatham, Virginia, where he spent the first 12 years of his life before moving to a farm in North Carolina. At the age of 12, he received Christ as his Lord and Savior and was baptized later that year. At the age of 16, he was licensed to preach. He received his M.A. from Wake Forest College (1885) and his Th.M. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1888). Shortly after entering seminary, his Greek professor and future father-in-law, John Albert Broadus, noticed his linguistic skills, and Robertson soon became his teaching aide. In 1890, Robertson was elected assistant professor of New Testament interpretation. Robertson would teach at Southern for 44 years until his death on Sept. 24, 1934.
Robertson is recognized as the premier New Testament scholar of his generation, and his work in the Greek New Testament is still unsurpassed in many ways today. In all, he published 45 books, most in the field of NT Greek, including four grammars, 14 commentaries and studies, six volumes of his Word Pictures in the New Testament, 11 histories, and 10 character studies. His A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research is 1,454 pages long and is still consulted by leading Greek grammarians today. In addition, his Word Pictures in the New Testament (which is actually a running commentary that highlights exegetical insights for virtually every verse of the NT) is immensely helpful to this day. As the son-in-law of the famous Southern Baptist professor, preacher, and statesman, Robertson wrote the biography Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus in 1901.
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Robertson was a man who was not only zealous for Greek, but more importantly, he was passionate about the significant difference that knowing Greek can make for those who preach and teach God’s Word. Robertson delivered his inaugural address at Southern Seminary, “Preaching and Scholarship,” Oct. 3, 1890. This address, though at the beginning of his teaching ministry, demonstrated his commitment to scholarship and also the need for colleges and seminaries to develop capable preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Robertson had a deep passion to equip gospel ministers whose hearts were impassioned and whose minds were enlightened. He vehemently rejected the idea that theological education was a waste of time. He averred, “If theological education will increase your power for Christ, is it not your duty to gain that added power? … Never say you are losing time by going to school. You are saving time, buying it up for the future and storing it away. Time used in storing power is not lost.” He also rejected the idea that the purpose of the seminary was to make scholars. The question for him was: “Does the college and seminary training tend to make better preachers?” His response:
If not, it is a failure. The German idea is to make scholars first and preachers incidentally. But ours is to make preachers, and scholars only as a means to that end. We have small need in the pulpit for men that can talk learnedly and obscurely about the tendencies of thought and the trend of philosophy, but do not know how to preach Christ and him crucified. The most essential thing to-day is not to know what German scholars think of the Bible, but to be able to tell men what the Bible says about themselves. And if our system of theological training fails to make preachers, it falls short of the object for which it was established. But if it does meet the object of its creation, it calls for hearty sympathy and support. … But my plea is for scholarship that helps men to preach. For after all, the great need of the world is the preaching of the gospel, not saying off a sermon, but preaching that stirs sinful hearts to repentance and godliness.1
Robertson also had a heart to train and equip those who could not be formally trained in college or seminary. His work The Minister and His Greek New Testament (1923) was designed to help pastors and other church workers begin the study of the Greek NT. In the introduction to his Word Pictures he writes:
The readers of these volumes … are expected to be primarily those who know no Greek or comparatively little and yet who are anxious to get fresh help from the study of words and phrases in the New Testament, men who do not have access to the technical book required. … The critical student will appreciate the more delicate distinctions in words. But it is a sad fact that many ministers, laymen, and women, who took courses in Greek at college, university, or seminary, have allowed the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches to choke off the Greek that they once knew. Some, strangely enough, have done it even in the supposed interest of the very gospel whose vivid message they have thus allowed to grow dim and faint. If some of these vast numbers can have their interest in the Greek New Testament revived, these volumes will be worthwhile. Some may be incited … to begin the study of the Greek New Testament. … Others who are without a turn for Greek or without any opportunity to start the study will be able to follow the drift of the remarks and be able to use it all to profit in sermons, in Sunday School, or for private edification.2
The first edition of Robertson’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament appeared in 1914. For more than a hundred years, students have benefited from his hard work and dedication to scholarship that fuels good preaching. God greatly used this man, and though Robertson died many years ago, he still speaks through his prolific writings and his exemplary service.
This article is derived from Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer (B&H Academic, forthcoming 2015).
1 Archibald Thomas Robertson, “Preaching and Scholarship” (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1890), 9–10, 15–16.
2 Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman, 1933), viii.
**This article originally appeared in the September issue of Towers.