The Sufficiency of Scripture and Biblical Scholarship: Reading is a Big Deal

Jesus thinks reading is a big deal. After all, He wrote a book.

“Reading has always been at the core of human scholarly pursuits. Indeed, the ancient and long-standing view of a scholar has been one who has the ability to read (not necessarily speak) in multiple languages and synthesize this reading accurately. On more than one occasion Jesus criticized the official and unofficial leaders of God’s people for being poor readers.”

 

Jesus thinks reading is a big deal. After all, he wrote a book. And Jesus thinks reading his book is a big deal, because, well, he is. For a blog post on the sufficiency of Scripture and biblical scholarship this may seem overly simplistic. Aren’t scholars supposed to talk about really complicated things that impress others with their erudition and expansive vocabulary? While it is possible for most scholars to do such things, it is also true that erudition and expansive vocabularies ought to result in scholars helping people see the simplicity in matters marked by complexity. Believe it or not, it is likely safe to say that many scholarly debates turn on someone’s misreading of a particular text or a particular author. Given the cultural factors that hold in America today, as well as the sinful corruption of every human soul, there is a powerfully toxic blend of factors that undermine faithfully accurate reading in general, and of Scripture particularly, even by people who memorize the latter, write a lot about it, and have declared intentions in helping others understand it.

Reading has always been at the core of human scholarly pursuits. Indeed, the ancient and long-standing view of a scholar has been one who has the ability to read (not necessarily speak) in multiple languages and synthesize this reading accurately. On more than one occasion Jesus criticized the official and unofficial leaders of God’s people for being poor readers (Mt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31). Jesus was confronting them with their sin. The texts to which Jesus referred were certainly ones with which the leaders were very familiar. In one sense they had read them, but in another sense they had not. As it turns out, moral deficiencies corrupt intellectual analyses and conclusions that have practical results in every aspect of life. According to Jesus, their failure to rightly interpret the text meant they really had not read it.

When Jesus confronted the leaders of God’s covenant people with their sin by questioning their reading, he accused them of not paying attention to what was in fact right in front of their eyes, and what they had heard. Their intellectual activity was corrupted by their moral disposition, by their refusal to receive the truth and repent of their failures to obey it (cf. Rom. 1:18-25). It is the truth that sets us free from sin (John 8:32), or sanctifies us, and it is God’s word that is truth (John 17:17). Physical sight and hearing are regularly used in Scripture for the ability to know, to have some measure of purity from sin, while physical blindness and deafness are sometimes used symbolically for the inability to know, or for ignorance of truth, or sin (cf. Deut. 28:28-29; Isa. 29:9-19; 35:5; 42:6; Lam. 4:14; Matt. 5:8; 23:16-26; John 9:40-41; Rev. 3:17).

Just as blindness and deafness inhibit in various ways one’s ability to interpret the data of sense experience, so too sin skews our abilities to draw proper conclusions from the data of sense experience. This sense experience was created and is providentially governed by God and relates to every human intellectual pursuit. Creation reveals God. All human knowledge relates to God and is revealed by God. We, the knower, have our being in and through God. Both the objective and subjective aspects to all knowledge originate in and glorify God. But Western culture’s rejection of these beliefs—a rejection that can be traced back hundreds of years—has resulted in a pattern of thought and an entire way of life that reinforces a disconnect between human learning and our moral condition before God. This rejection perhaps found its crowning work in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), while perhaps its most “honest” and perceptive proponent was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). It can be summarized as the belief that humans must do what God has already done, is doing and will do.

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