BY HEATHER ROOTE FALLER
Biblical scholar Samuel Pagán (Th.M., 1977) came to study at Princeton Seminary from Puerto Rico. After majoring in chemical engineering in college, he discovered he loved to study the Bible and preach, and went to the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico to pursue a Master of Divinity degree. But Pagán’s ministry would not focus on preaching. “From the first twenty-five minutes of the first lecture, I discovered that the world of scholarship is my world,” he said. “Within an hour, I knew I wanted to go on for a Ph.D.”
Pagán fell in love with the study of the Bible and with the life of the scholar. And scholars reciprocated. While still an M.Div. student in Puerto Rico, Pagán sent one of his papers to PTS professor Charles Fritsch, who immediately asked Pagán when he would be arriving at Princeton Seminary as a student.
One day, after Pagán had been in Princeton’s Th.M. program for a month, Fritsch asked him what he was doing that afternoon. Fritsch, who was working on a manuscript of the prophet Habakkuk from Hebrew documents discovered at the Dead Sea, invited Pagán to come see the rare manuscripts and cuneiform tablets in the library. “When I saw the ancient manuscripts, I was so impressed,” said Pagán. He says his Princeton Seminary education gave him two things: An understanding of what it means for scholarship to be in service to the church, and also the riches of the Seminary library. “Since that day, I have never failed to find a document or book that I needed at the Seminary library,” he said. “In my field, I have never failed to find a book, in Spanish, in English, in French, in German.”
At Princeton, Pagán studied under Bernard Anderson, Bruce Metzger, and Fritsch, “teachers who loved and were committed to the church, scholars at the service of the people of God,” he said.
Princeton Seminary scholars continued to shape Pagán’s future. While Pagán was working on his Th.M. at Princeton, Metzger called him to talk about Ph.D. studies. Pagán had been translating the Bible into Spanish, and Metzger wanted Pagán to study Hebrew, suggesting he go to Israel. Fritsch had another idea for Pagán: the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. At his admissions interview there, the dean asked Pagán if he knew Hebrew, and the dean opened the Bible to Genesis 18—“one passage I almost know by heart,” said Pagán. Pagán was accepted, and studied with the bright stars of Judaism, including some of the best disciples of the distinguished scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel.
After graduating from JTS with a doctorate in Hebrew literature, Pagán was invited by the United Bible Societies in Miami to work on its Bible translation, and he led the revision of the Reina-Valera Bible of 1995, one of the most-read Bibles in Spanish. Altogether, Pagán has edited five study editions of the Bible; he is also the author of more than thirty books and more than two hundred academic and pastoral articles on biblical theology. His most recent book, En el Principio, In the Beginning, is an introduction to the Hebrew Bible from a Latin American perspective, taking into consideration the Israel/Palestinian conflict and challenges. The 1,000-page book will be published by Editorial Patmos in Spanish and Portuguese and translated into English. Pagán is currently teaching at Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem, Palestine.
In 1982, the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico called Pagán to become its dean, a position he held until 1985. He served as president of that seminary from 1995 to 2003, building the library to 70,000 books. “For some people, libraries are warehouses of books; nowadays, however, libraries are learning and transforming centers, encouraging dialogue and research,” he said.
Pagán is very excited by the vision for the new Princeton Seminary library. “Internationalization is the next stage,” he said, “meaning that if I’m teaching in Bethlehem or Jerusalem and I can tell my students, we don’t have that resource here, but you will find it at the Princeton Seminary library, and they can access that resource, that will be a major contribution toward the globalization of theology.”
He believes Princeton Seminary’s new library will also be “a major contribution toward the globalization of Reformed theology specifically, which is in dialogue with contextual theologies all over the world.” He thinks its unique holdings of documents on the Reformation and Reformed theology, and the Karl Barth collection, are of particular value to the world church.
For Pagán, the new library’s value is, first, that it will affirm the importance of contextual and transforming theologies around the world, and, second, that it will be a special resource for twenty-first century students who do not have the ability to move to Princeton for three years of study. “One of the most important elements of continuity from 200 years ago [when Princeton was founded] to the next 200 years is the library,” said Pagán. “It stays and grows. It is an eternal presence and it represents scholarship of not only Princeton and the Reformation, but of scholars in the U.S. and around the world. It’s because of the library that we can engage in dialogue with the luminaries of the church.” Pagán is one of those bright lights, and many of his books, in both English and Spanish, are found on the shelves of Princeton’s library for students of today and tomorrow, in Princeton and around the world.