Soli Deo Gloria.
With a sharp mind trapped inside a body that was slowly shutting down, Rod suffered through the roughest winter of his life. Unable to return to his classes at Baptist Bible Seminary, he invested his remaining energy writing at home, confined to a chair by the fire, warmed by wood he had chopped ahead of time. He was ready for what he called the “inescapable reality” of death.
“I’ve been ‘terminal’ for over 60 years,” he said with typical humor and theological precision.
Eight years earlier he had built his house across the road from the farm where he grew up. Despite his growing reputation as a New Testament Greek scholar, he never strayed too far from his rural roots.
“God took a farm boy and placed him in the ministry, eventually into graduate studies, and then into the classroom to train young pastors,” Rod had said, summarizing his life as “grace from the beginning.”
Rod Decker, author, seminary professor, and an internationally known New Testament scholar, died on May 25, 2014. He was 61.
“He always cared about others more than himself, always deflected praise, and always gave God glory,” says Mark McGinniss, a faculty colleague who had seen the soli Deo gloria in action.
Rod grew up on a farm near Tunkhannock, Pa., the son of Pastor Victor and Agnes Decker. His father, a 1952 graduate of Baptist Bible Seminary, was pastor of Osterhout Bible Church. Rod came to Christ at age 5 through the influence of his mother.
In 1970 he showed up on BBC’s campus wearing his blue corduroy Future Farmers of America jacket. He had planned to study forestry until a traveling missionary suggested he try Bible college for a year. Decker stayed on, took his first Greek class from Bob Williams, and discovered his natural affinity for languages. He would continue to study with Bill Arp and Ken Brown.
In 1974 he graduated from the pastoral studies program and married his wife, Linda, on June 15 (his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary). Then Decker continued in Baptist Bible Seminary’s MDiv program, graduating in 1978. There he was mentored by Richard Engle, who joined the faculty after 10 years of pastoral ministry. “I saw a blend of the Biblical languages, theology, and ministry, which convinced me that if I was serious about Scripture, I had to be serious about the Biblical languages,” Decker said.
After ordination at Osterhout Bible Church, Decker served as pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, Glen Mills, Pa. His life direction changed after a conversation with Jack Jacobs, former head of BBC’s Bible department, who had recently transitioned from a teaching ministry to pastoral ministry. Jacobs saw a young, gifted scholar and offered advice that was exactly opposite of his own path: He suggested that Decker leave the pastorate for additional education and an eventual teaching ministry.
Decker enrolled in the ThM program at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and graduated in 1980. During his Detroit years he ministered with Pastor Tom Swedberg at Calvary Baptist Church, Ecorse, Mich. After graduation, he was pastor of Wahjamega Country Church, Caro, Mich., for eight years, then joined the faculty of Calvary Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.
Decker discovered that the world of New Testament studies was shifting—young scholars were changing the way Biblical Greek was taught and used. His own education had begun in an era that emphasized definitions, grammatical parts of speech, and word studies. Preachers who were reared in this teaching tradition would engage the Greek text long enough to extract simple devotional insights from words like agape and ecclesia. But such approaches did not lead to a full understanding of the text’s central idea.
So Rod Decker’s classroom approach changed as he steered students away from what he called the “golden nuggets” approach (a name popularized by a long-running Moody Monthly column, “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament”). After enrolling in Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Decker found a kindred spirit in Ed Glenny, who became Decker’s dissertation adviser.
By the time Decker graduated from Central in 1998, he had returned to Baptist Bible Seminary, where he would spend the rest of his teaching career. He wrote prolifically and began to sketch out ideas for a new Greek textbook that would reflect his inductive, reading-based approach to Greek study.
Strongly influenced by the methods of Moisés Silva and D. A. Carson, Decker came to advocate an approach he called grammatical minimalism, placing the least weight on the individual grammatical pieces and the greatest weight on statements in their context. But as this transformation was occurring, Decker found himself outflanked by another problem—churches did not necessarily expect their pastor to have competent Greek skills. Seminaries were dropping language courses in favor of more “practical” subjects.
“Rod stands out as an unusually gifted and diligent teacher in a technically challenging discipline,” says James Ernest, senior acquisitions editor at Baker Academic. “At a moment when many seminaries and denominations are giving up on expecting ordinands to become competent in either Hebrew or Greek, Rod’s first-year Greek textbook will be a critically important new tool in the hands of those who refuse to abandon that undertaking.”
Decker’s ideas—“a blend of the Biblical languages, theology, and ministry”—were demonstrated during decades of church ministry. During the Kansas years the Deckers were members of Faith Baptist Church, Lee’s Summit, Mo. Returning to Pennsylvania, they joined Heritage Baptist Church of Clarks Summit, then helped plant North Valley Baptist Church, Mayfield, Pa. When Rod’s parents grew older, he purchased a few acres of the family farm and moved back to Tunkhannock, joining Northmoreland Baptist Church, where he taught the adult Sunday School class.
His blog, NTResources.com, became the connecting point for his two worlds of scholarship and church ministry. While it would become one of the most popular websites for beginning Greek students, its origin was less auspicious. Workers were painting the hallway outside Rod’s office and took down his infamous bulletin board. Then the seminary leadership kindly suggested the eclectic mélange of papers and notes had grown “aesthetically unpleasing.” So the hallway bulletin board never returned, but Rod started what he called his “bulletin blog” for students of New Testament Greek.
Decker was a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, where he frequently presented papers at regional and national meetings. He also participated in the Dispensational Study Group, Bible Faculty Leadership Summit, Society for Biblical Languages, and the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics. His final two books (Mark: A Handbook on the Greek Text and Reading Koine Greek) will be released this fall.
Rod is survived by his wife, Linda; three adult children, Rob, Rachel, and Ryan; and 12 (going on 13) grandchildren.
Enjoying a small surge of energy in May, Rod posted a few articles of encouragement to others who struggled with death and dying.
“In the big picture I can say with all confidence that I am not afraid to die. My Savior has conquered death: ’Death has been swallowed up in victory’ (1 Corinthians 15:54, NIV, fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 25:7, 8). Although death came into our world through Adam, the sure promise of resurrection comes through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20–22).”
“Death is not the end. Although my body will be buried in the earth one day, I will be very much alive.”
Read Rod Decker’s Baptist Bulletin articles
- “Can We Trust the ESV Bible Translation?” (May/June 2009)
- “Evaluating the New International Version 2011” (September/October 2011)
- “The Courage to Die” (March/April 2014)
Rod Decker Tributes
I am saddened to learn of the loss of an exceptional scholar, Dr. Rod Decker. His contribution to the preparation of men to more insightful study and communicate God’s Word was of extraordinary value. His humble manner of life and service left a deep impression of likeness to Christ on all who knew him. May the grace of God he found sufficient through the days of his earthly struggle sustain his dear wife and family.
John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.
I speak for the whole Baker Academic team in expressing condolences to Linda, the whole Decker family, and the Baptist Bible College and GARBC communities on Rod’s death, but also and especially in giving thanks to God for his life—and his new life in Christ. We have the honor of working with many excellent scholars and authors in all theological disciplines, from many denominations, and from a broad range of universities, seminaries, and colleges. Even amid that stellar company Rod stands out as an unusually gifted and diligent teacher in a technically challenging discipline. At a moment when many seminaries and denominations are giving up on expecting ordinands to become competent in either Hebrew or Greek, Rod’s first-year Greek textbook will be a critically important new tool in the hands of those who refuse to abandon that undertaking, preferring rather to seek better ways of accomplishing it more effectively. We expect that his book will equip many students over the course of many years to delve more deeply, and with greater exegetical insight, into the Scriptures that Rod himself honored so highly. We look forward to releasing this remarkable book later this year and regret only that we were unable to place a finished copy in Rod’s own hands. We expect that he will see, and hope that he will approve, from his place in the “great cloud of witnesses.”
James Ernest is senior acquisitions editor for Baker Academic.
Rod Decker was a master of the Greek language who was intent on helping others gain a fuller understanding of the New Testament so that they can “rightly handle the word of truth.” Even as he was suffering from the debilitating effects of cancer treatments, Rod never stopped pushing forward to complete his final literary offerings to the Lord and final gifts to God’s people. Students of the Gospel of Mark will continue to benefit from the insights Rod gained from a lifetime of meticulous study through his Mark: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series, 2014, two volumes), and future Greek students will be blessed to have Rod as their teacher through his masterful Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook (Baker Academic, 2014). These major works, which will be released later this year, serve as testaments of Rod’s meticulous commitment to teaching God’s Word, a commitment that flowed out of his exemplary devotion to his Lord.
Martin Culy is associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Briercrest College and Seminary, as well as editor of the Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament series.
The office next to mine now sits empty. My dear friend and colleague, Rod Decker, has been called to his Savior. His gain is my loss.
Rod was the consummate New Testament scholar, brilliant thinker, and committed churchman. He was a model seminary professor who invested in his students through his scholarship, classroom teaching, and in the individual lives of his students. His greatest joy was teaching, and his greatest disappointment was when cancer took him out of the classroom. Rod’s teaching was not confined to the seminary classroom. For years he taught adult Sunday School at his church.
Rod’s teaching impact will live on through his students and publications; however, we have lost the man whose humble character and dogged devotion to the Word drove his life and teaching ministry.
Our friendship was formed in joint ministry and the crucible of suffering. His was an aggressive form of cancer; mine, trigeminal neuralgia. He always believed that I had the more difficult path, since my disease would not take my life, but his would! And he knew (barring a miracle) he would be delivered from his suffering much sooner than me. This sentiment expressed Rod’s heart: he always cared about others more than himself, always deflected praise, and always gave God glory. Now he is enjoying the presence of the one Who he so diligently taught others to know and love.
Mark McGinniss is associate professor of Old Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary. Read “The Courage to Live” (March/April 2014).
Rod Decker was a good friend, brilliant seminary colleague, and one of the best Greek teachers in the entire world. But the thing I will remember more than anything about Rod is that he loved the Word of God like no one else. He was a stickler in the Biblical languages and literal interpretation. That helped to keep the seminary faculty anchored in the details of the Bible. It was God’s Word that mattered, not our words. His clear and scholarly work was a constant reminder to all of us to take scholarship seriously while remembering that what we were doing was for God’s church. He loved men who were being trained for ministry and did not want to fail them. But above all, Rod loved the God of the Word and the precious gospel that brings men to faith in Christ. Up and down the hall at Baptist Bible Seminary, we are mourning a great loss. Dr. Decker’s role will be filled, but he will not be replaced. His legacy in written works and remembered testimony will live on—“he being dead, yet speaketh.”
Mike Stallard is dean and professor of systematic theology at Baptist Bible Seminary.