On Wednesday, we delivered an exciting announcement, introducing our newest blog contributor, Justin Alfred. We thought it would be a great idea for you to get more acquainted with Justin, so we spent a moment with him and asked about his background, his studies, and his passions for Jesus, the Bible, and biblical languages. Below is that interview.
Justin, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. We are excited to add you to our growing team of blog contributors! Why don’t you start by telling us about your background. Let’s begin with where you are from and a little bit about your family.
I was born in Jackson, Mississippi during the year 1947. I have been married to Janie Lytton for 43 years, and we have five daughters (one is now home with the Lord), three sons-in-law, an adult adopted son and daughter, four grandchildren, and two adopted grandchildren.
When did you get saved?
In October 1965, the beginning of my freshman year at Mississippi State, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Shortly thereafter, I became actively involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and remained with them throughout my college years.
Tell us more about your academic studies.
While at Mississippi State, I double-majored in History and Philosophy, with a minor in Spanish. After graduating from Mississippi State, I began work at a youth camp called Teens Incorporated in Columbia, MS, while Janie finished her college work. I attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary beginning September 1970, and I graduated from there in May 1973 with a ThM Honors Program Degree, which included additional and advanced training in the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek under Professors John Strange and James Brooks (two very committed believers in Christ and distinguished biblical scholars). My studies there also focused on Church History and Historical Theology.
In May, 1978, my family and I moved to Pasadena, CA, where I enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary for a year to pursue further study in the Old Testament and Semitics. However, I transferred from Fuller to UCLA in the Fall of 1979 into the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures. I was tremendously blessed to be under some of the greatest Old Testament and Semitic Scholars in the world at the time, including Professors Stanislav Segert, Giorgio Buccellati, Miriam Lichtheim, and Yona Sabar, as well as guest lecturers Stanley Gevirtz and James Barr. I received my MA in Near Eastern Languages & Cultures from there in June 1982, and I began my PhD studies there in the Fall of 1982, emphasizing in Old Testament Wisdom Literature. I did not complete my PhD work there, but I have maintained a rather intense regimen of continued study, research, learning, and writing on that topic.
Many of us who know you know that you have a God-given knack for learning languages! Tell us what languages you have learned over the years.
The Lord has enabled me to learn many languages for reading, research, and writing. My desire is to use my knowledge of these languages to minister to the Body of Christ, as well as share the Gospel with those who do not yet have saving faith in Jesus. I know a few modern languages: Spanish, German, & French. I also know several ancient languages; from oldest to most recent they are: Proto- Semitic Studies, Sumerian, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Canaanite, Phoenician, Hebrew (proto & biblical), Aramaic (proto, imperial, biblical, & Palestinian), Greek, Syriac, Coptic (the language of the Gnostic, Nag Hammadi texts) Latin & Arabic (classical, as well as some of its pre-classical roots).
Praise God. That is quite the lengthy list of languages! How did you develop such a passion for biblical languages?
My passion for wanting to learn and know the biblical languages began in college. Soon after I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, a Southern Baptist pastor told me that I should begin studying the Bible as though it was another course. So, I did, and I developed my own, independent Bible study. My study was based primarily on reading the Scripture, but I would also read other related works to aid my study. In addition, with my double major in History and Philosophy, I would read a number of challenging books that would cause me to dig even further into the biblical text. In doing so, I would read authors referring to the Hebrew and Greek meaning of words, and that raised my curiosity. One of the things that the Lord did in my heart was to teach me to be a critical reader and listener—that is, to not simply take someone’s word for something of a serious nature, but rather to go and find out for myself the truth of the matter. This became especially important with regard to the linguistic references I was encountering. Thus, the Lord put within me a deep hunger to know the biblical languages as well as I possibly could, and that eventually led me to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), which, at that time, next to Dallas Theological Seminary, offered the best study program available that included a solid and inclusive, biblical languages curriculum.
After being at NOBTS, that which the Lord put within me was an even deeper hunger to know not even the Hebrew and Greek more extensively, but also to know the whole of the Semitic Language group from which Hebrew came. That in turn led me to much prayer about where God would have me to go to pursue that study. In January, 1978, while pastoring in Louisiana, the Lord opened the door for my family and me to go to California and enroll in Fuller Theological Seminary’s MA Program in Semitcs Study. However, after one year there, the Lord miraculously opened the door for me to attend UCLA in their Near Eastern Languages & Culture Program under the Professors I previously named, and that was indeed the apex of my academic studies.
The Lord was the One who not only opened the door for me to attend there, but He guided me in my studies, in what He wanted me to learn in order to minister His truth to others. And what is even more important, the Lord is continually guiding and opening up new areas of learning and application of the truths He has. He is teaching me through my formal, as well as informal studies. He has put within my heart to pursue, and that is the way it should be for all of us, no matter what the learning interests and pursuits He has placed within our hearts.
Do you believe that biblical language studies are necessary for all Bible students?
My own personal conviction is that every serious student of the Bible should have at least some introductory knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek, and this is especially true for every pastor who stands in a pulpit and proclaims the Living and Abiding Word of God.
God gave His Living and Abiding Word in the Hebrew and Greek for a very good reason, and that is because they express the totality of His Truth in ways that no other languages at that time or since have been able to duplicate or surpass—in other words, God certainly knew what He was doing, don’t you think? Therefore, that being the case, it my opinion it behooves us as believers who want to be serious students of His Word some knowledge of the biblical languages or how to use the language tools readily available to the Body of Christ.
More info on Justin
Crossroads Baptist Church – Mantee, MS (1967-1968)
Mayhew Baptist Church – Mayhew, MS (1969)
First Baptist Church – Columbia, MS (youth pastor – 1970-1971)
Empire Baptist Church – Empire, LA (1973-1978)
Arcadia Christian Center – Arcadia, CA (assistant pastor – 1978-1980)
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA (assistant pastor – 1980-1983)
Calvary Chapel of Parker, CO (1983-1984)
Calvary Chapel of Colorado Springs, CO (1984-1997)
Academic Teaching Experience:
Adjunct Instructor in Biblical Languages, Fuller Theological Seminary Extension in Colorado, Springs, CO (1986-1996)
Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, CA (1997-1999)
Adjunct Professor, Haggard Graduate School of Theology (APU’s Seminary) in San Diego, CA (2004-Present)
Other Ministry Experience:
Pre-College Course on World Views for Seniors at Calvary Chapel High School, Calvary Chapel Murrieta, CA (1999-2009)
Navigators Ministry, Colorado Springs, CO (Fundraising Consultant – 2010-Present)
Word in Life Ministries, where Justin teaches seminars from Simplified Hebrew & Greek to theological and historical topics such as Middle Eastern History & The Emergence of Islam, etc. (1999-Present)