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Engaging the Life of the Mind (in Spanish)

Bethel’s newest course offering—Introduction to Biblical Greek for Spanish Speakers—is a rare opportunity for bilingual students to learn the original language of the New Testament in their native tongue.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, senior content specialist

November 06, 2019 | 9:30 a.m.

Professor of Biblical Studies Juan Hernández, Jr. has taught biblical Greek for decades—but this semester, he's doing it in Spanish.

Professor of Biblical Studies Juan Hernández, Jr. has taught biblical Greek for decades—but this semester, he's doing it in Spanish.

It’s not often that Juan Hernández, Jr. has students who beat him through the door for class on a Monday night and stay long after he leaves. Then again, he’s never taught Introduction to Biblical Greek for Spanish Speakers, a brand-new Bethel course this fall and the first of its kind in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). 

It started almost by happenstance, says Hernández, a professor of biblical studies who leads popular Bible seminars in Spanish several times a year for Latino pastors and ministry leaders. With turnout consistently in the hundreds, it became clear that the market was ripe for biblical education offered in Spanish. “There’s a different kind of enthusiasm here because it wasn’t something to be conceived,” Hernández says. “To be able to learn the language of the New Testament in Spanish—for a lot of these students, that’s unheard of.”  

Spread out over four semesters, the course introduces students to New Testament Greek and focuses on vocabulary-building, basic grammar, and translation, ultimately equipping students to read the Bible in its original language. While the course is open to traditional Bethel undergraduates who are bilingual or majoring in Spanish, most students are Latino adults who were drawn for different reasons to Hernández’s classroom. 

For Victor Martinez, it was a desire to advance his ministry. For Moisés Gomez, it was the opportunity to learn from Hernández, an internationally renowned scholar who has been invited to speak everywhere from the British Library to Princeton Theological Seminary. And for Juan Lopez Luna, it was the chance to study Scripture in his native tongue. “This class has not only taught me patience and perseverance, but also made me realize that there is a lot to uncover when it comes to the Bible,” says Lopez Luna. “My faith has been strengthened by seeing my brothers and sisters in class helping each other out, learning together, and affirming each other through this journey.”

With a focus on vocabulary-building, basic grammar, and translation, the course is the first of its kind in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

With a focus on vocabulary-building, basic grammar, and translation, the course is the first of its kind in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

The course has also garnered interest from the wider community, like Hernández’s adult Sunday School students at Calvary Church in Roseville, Minnesota. Many are Bethel alumni or parents, and some are descendants of Swedish immigrants who also desired to study the Bible but didn’t speak English as a first language. They decided to organize a scholarship fund for aspiring Greek students who weren’t able to pay full tuition, allowing about one-third of Hernández’s students to take the course free of cost. 

For Martinez, who pastors New Generation Church in Minneapolis with his wife, the course’s combination of affordability and flexibility has granted him the opportunity to sharpen his preaching. And he’s not alone—more than half of the students who sit in class on Monday nights also stand in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. “Reading the Word of God has taken on a whole new meaning for me,” Martinez says. “I feel a richer affection for Scripture. It almost feels like I’m reading the Bible for the first time ... it's exciting!”

Bethel is the only member of the CCCU—which comprises more than 180 Christian colleges and universities—offering biblical Greek in Spanish, serving as a model for the future of Christian higher education. “For me, teaching Greek really comes down to expanding the horizons of the imagination about what the Bible is, and also what learning is,” says Hernández, whose expertise has been solicited by other universities seeking to launch similar courses. “I find the deeper I go, the more complexities I encounter. It’s a cauldron for creativity.”

Hernández hopes that along with the seminars, this course will mark the beginning of a blossoming relationship between Bethel and the Latino community, who account for almost 10% of the Twin Cities’ growing population but earn post-secondary degrees at less than half the rate of white Minnesotans, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. “We’re in the business of educating people who are of the Kingdom,” Hernández says. “It would be a mistake for us to look at this population and say, ‘That’s not gonna work.’ As far as I’m concerned, everything that hasn’t worked so far is a failure of the imagination. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

But that’s only part of the reason Hernández, the bilingual son of Puerto Rican parents, stands up in front of his students every Monday night. While his students are quick to praise his humor, patience, and approachability, Hernández himself would rather talk about his alphabetized reading list and 1,500-volume home library. At the root of all his teaching—in Spanish, English, or Greek—is a love of learning and the desire to share it. “I’m a huge believer in engaging the life of the mind,” he says. “The most amazing moments in class are when I see someone’s passions ignite. That, to me, is being alive.”

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