Biblical Illiteracy amongst the Experts

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. – Hosea 4:6

Something that has become more and more apparent in reading the scholars of our day in a wide range of fields is that they have only a tenuous grasp of the Bible. And I am referring to fields that ostensibly are tied to theology. Scholar and gentleman, Alastair Roberts puts it well in this post:

A faithful interpretation arising from profound Spiritual attentiveness and attunement to the text can be hard to arrive at for various causes, many of which are powerfully operative in the Church today. Among these reasons one could list a limited knowledge of or exposure to the whole body of the biblical text, the absence of exposure to the broader hermeneutical ministries of the body of Christ (including such things as the life of the liturgy), sinful resistance or a slothful inattentiveness to the text.

The fact that those who hardly know the Scriptures at all, handle it very selectively, avoid the contexts in which its meaning is revealed, fail to make diligent use of the means of interpretation provided to them, come to the text unwilling or unprepared to be attentive on account of a prior agenda, or do not consistently expose themselves to the ministries of faithful interpretative communities arrive at radically different understandings of the text tells us nothing whatsoever about the perspicuity of the text itself. Given the levels of biblical literacy in the Church today, should interpretative pluralism really surprise us at all? I would suggest that, before questioning the perspicuity of the text, we should be far more suspicious of ourselves.

I’ve seen seminary-educated folks with a seeming blank spot when it comes to reasoning in anything other than an immature way when it comes to our ultimate norm – the Scripture. There are lots of appeals to history, standards, Aristotle and Kant, but precious little to the Bible aside from a verse here or there. John Milbank comes to mind here.

This is why James Jordan has called for us to “return to the Bible and become fanatically and ferociously and radically and fully saturated with it.” If our knowledge of the Bible is surface deep and we aren’t meditating on the Torah day and night, our theology will show it. We really face a generations long struggle to turn the tide in this area, but it can start at any time.

The Calvary Chapel Method

One imperative for the life of the Church is Biblical saturation. The doctrinal and textual ignorance of Christians can never be underestimated – myself included. Sunday morning sermons are not the primary place to combat this problem. In the context of the liturgy, sermons must hold to a certain, shorter length and they do not allow for interaction. My belief is that the pastor should hew to the lectionary cycle and preach from it on Sunday mornings.

So how can the Church address the wider deficiencies amongst Christians? I think that what Calvary Chapel has done in their verse by verse exposition of Scripture is one helpful approach. A pastor or another teacher could take one night a week and go through every book of the Bible, verse by verse, basically riffing on the text as he goes and perhaps taking questions – though not necessarily. Calvary does this admirably, but unfortunately with some preconceptions (i.e., pretrib rapture is a tenet of the faith) that hamper their results. Nevertheless, gettings taught on everything instead of just the things that interest the pastor leads to a much deeper appreciation of Scripture, theology and the sweep of God’s story. This is something that can be done ecumenically, no single denomination has a monopoly on the Bible. Any church can do it, all of us should do it.

Ishmael the Archer

Hagar leaves Ishmael in the desert to die and goes “about a bowshot away.” When Ishmael grows up, “the lad…became an archer.” Genesis 21.16, 20. In Hebrew the terms are something like “shooting-of-bow” (Qesheth) and “one being grand (with) bow” (Qashshath).

As an old magazine I found says, this might be an archer’s description of the scene, possibly given by Ishmael himself.

Sailhamer on Eve

John Sailhamer argues that Eve’s first post-Fall words may be taken in a less than favorable way. Traditionally, they are translated:

With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.

Which sounds positive. Sailhamer says, “But her words can also be read in a less positive light:

I have created a man equally with the Lord.

Sailhamer says:

In this sense, Eve’s words are a boast that just as theLord had created a man, so now she also had created a man.

The immediate context offers little help to decide between two such diverse readings of the passage. Two considerations, however, suggest that the latter interpretation is more likely. First, throughout the narratives of Genesis, a recurring theme is that of the attempt and failure of human effort in obtaining a blessing that only God can give. God continually promised a person a blessing, and that person pushed it aside in favor of his or her own attempts at the blessing.

My Current Scripture Reading

For my Scripture reading last year I read Deuteronomy over and over. This year I am attempting to dig into the Wisdom books. I have been reminded that the road to Christian maturity is one of meditation on God’s Word, a constant approach and re-approach to the same texts, seeing them through the lens of Jesus and His Church.

I don’t have the discipline right now to follow a lectionary style of reading every day and I don’t want to launch out on another read the entire Bible project. So in these overly busy years I want to try and focus in on something that I can benefit from by repetition. I also want to feel some freedom about where I read, because I tend to feel very rigid about starting in one place and proceeding on until the end, not hopping around. I am trying to break away from the feeling that I should constantly be reading the lectionary or doing Genesis to Revelation on a cycle.

Part of the problem with my Scripture reading is that I find myself addicted to reading news and social media throughout the day every day. I need to drive a stake through those habits so that I can spend more time reading quality material and less on passing fancies. Lent might be a good time to try and change those habits.

The Petrine Office

This is me thinking out loud. The prominence of Peter in the New Testament is striking, but it does not mean what the modern RCC says it means. So what does it mean? I’m not sure. The famous passage from Matthew 16 says:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It looks to me like Jesus is addressing Peter, not everyone. Peter features prominently in the Gospels and the early part of Acts. He is given a lot of attention. His post-Resurrection restoration by Jesus is portrayed at length. Why? Why the focus on him?
Peter was flawed, he was not infallible, he made mistakes.
He was not in charge of the church in Jerusalem.
Paul says Jesus appeared to him first of all.
A party in Corinth claimed to be of him.
He led the church in the earliest days.
Peter was the rock, the leader of the early Church, but it was leadership in council, a conciliar model. He was not even first among equals, but one of perhaps a triad of leaders.
I believe that he did go to Rome.
The NT cannot possibly lay obedience to the See of Rome on believers as a necessity.
Jesus built the church on Peter in some sense.
The gates of hell did not prevail in some sense.

Queen Elizabeth on the Scriptures

She wrote this in probably 1576 or later in her copy of the Epistles of St Paul:

I walk many times into the pleasant fields of the Holy Scriptures, where I pluck up the goodly green herbs of sentences by pruning, eat them by reading, chew them by musing, and lay them up at length in the high seat of memory by gathering them together, that I, having tasted thy sweetness, I may the less perceive the bitterness of this miserable life.