In John 21:25, John makes an emphatic statement. “And there are also many things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” A beautiful statement of the bountiful deeds that Jesus performed and the endless ways those who saw him could expound upon their meaning and impact. Now, a brief glimpse at the bookshelves in a small, local Christian College makes this verse particularly staggering. This is only a mite-sized portion of the available data and it hurts to look through it after just a few minutes of perusing the titles. And this is with having the limited detail. Just imagine all the libraries in the world and not to mention those books throughout history that we have lost! This is part of biblical scholarship; its is vast, it is multi-faceted, and it is wonderful. But I do have a question: How important is biblical scholarship to the normal everyday Christian? And if not very, should it be?
I suppose the argument could be made that Jesus himself was no academic, although he astounded the scholars of his day with his understanding, even as a boy. The New Testament also claims in certain parts that Jesus’ disciples after him were not especially learned. The prophets on occasion were men of the field or wilderness wanderers. So, God tended to use those who were not particularly “academics” right? Yet, Moses was brought up in Pharaoh’s house, Daniel learned all the literature and language in Babylon, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee from the Diaspora in Tarsus, and Apollos was a great orator from Alexandria. Don’t even get me started on church history. So it seems there is a little more of a mixed bag. So the question remains: How important is it?
Within the past year or so, I have tiptoed into this area and learned so much. There are many scholars looking to bridge the gap between the academy and the laity, and provide research to those who are gasping for the air of deeper study. These are to be commended. I was previously aware that scholars existed, but only new of them vaguely through a sermon here or there that would mention what they say on obscure background information or something like that, but always wondered who they were and what they do all day. I was unaware of their devotion to Jesus in most cases. So, as to importance, in my mind it is very important, to honor men and women who devote their lives– and in many cases incur great debts– to this study of Scripture in all of its subcategories, whether backgrounds, languages, exegesis.. And to gratefully and prayerfully consider their research. But this is a hard thing for us modern Christians, in the West, to even get our feet wet in; when many of us, between family, work, and church life, have barely the time to read our Bibles, pray, sleep, and repeat. There is also the temptation, as I have done in the past, to be so foolish as to say that I don’t need to read what “men” say about the text, I just need my Bible, thinking I will have all the answers. These are two different views that end with the same result: neglect.
There may be many other ways we could slice up the pie of why biblical scholarship is or isn’t important to every individual Christian, but these seem common. I know that scholars can get lost in their own debates, interact with so many other academic works that sometimes it is hard to follow their points, and in the end you don’t have to be a scholar to understand and preach the gospel, or teach the Christian faith. But without their earnest dedication and hard work, we would definitely be at a loss. So I don’t want to sound a clarion call, but I just want to reinforce that God has used many in the biblical writings and beyond from a variety of different backgrounds, and though this is the case, each one has to have one thing in common.. The Spirit of God. This was the joining factor for all of them: commitment to Yahweh and the moving of His Spirit on them. So as we attempt to discern God’s will in all things, let us take into account those who labor in the Word in whatever vocation, those who labor in ministry, and let us all labor in love, as this is what binds us all together and will show that we are truly disciples of Jesus.