Can Biblical Scholars be Questioned by Self-Educated Scholars?

Sometimes a word as used in the Bible does not align with the secular meaning, but academics assign it as such. Then someone notices that contextually or thematically this doesn’t make sense. At this point, are only academics permitted to say something, or can lay-people question academic inconsistencies when double-standards are discovered? 

Lay-people and non-degreed Christian leaders can and should speak out…though this can bring about persecution and ridicule designed to put the “unqualified” in their places.

The word, “beginning” in John 1:11 is a good example of what this article is about and, since it is virtually without controversy, is a good place to start. In this passage, the familiar account of Jesus’ “BEGINNING of miracles…” is told.

Let’s look at how the word “beginning” was translated from Greek to English. The Greek word, archē, is translated, here, as the innocuous word “beginning.” No argument there. But wait, the word archē can also be translated as origin, the extremity of a thing as in the corners of a sail, or leader. The word has a variety of meanings and is even used of powerful beings at the top of the angelic hierarchy, called archēs or archEns. Most of us know them as archangels. But in John 1:11, the word, archē, simply means it was the first in a series of miracles that Jesus did. It was not even listed among his greatest miracles.  

What is the significance of noting the variety of usages of the word archē, one use being the title of the powerful archangels and the other being the extreme opposite...the extremity of something so common as the corner of a sail or being the first in a series of things (either good or bad, important or menial things)?

The significance is to highlight the double standard of theologians, depending on their biases, in assigning narrow and unquestionable definitions to some words [against biblical evidence to the contrary] while allowing for greater variety in others. A few words in question have to do with carefully protected doctrines, such as that of hierarchy: Kephale (often translated as head with the meaning of leader) and Hypo (hypotasso often translated as submit). These words have other meanings and shades of meaning that in biblical usage do not always line up with the biased translation and narrow biblical definitions assigned to them. They have a variety of meanings, some being polar opposites, one example of this being the gamut in meaning of the single word, archē, from the powerful archangel to the relatively unimportant extremity of a thing. Kephale and the Hypo words can be shown to have variety of application as well.

Translator bias exists in even the most respected resources such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, W. E. Vines Expository of New Testament Words, and virtually all other lexicons and Bible dictionaries. Everyone knows that in certain places honored Bible commentaries [whose writers held to archaic ideas] must be taken with a grain of salt. Do we toss out the baby with the bath water because of that? Of course not! What we do is read and study critically.

Obviously, our Creator has not called everyone to acquire degrees in theology. Indeed, this is not even attainable for everyone. So, we happily defer to theologians for insight in certain areas, and rightly so. What we do not do, is surrender our power of reasoning to them.  What we do not do, is allow them to believe that God has appointed them as guardians of his Truth. He has not.

But the Christian community, in their worship of titles and doctorates, appears to have largely forgotten this. Seminarians also seem to have forgotten that they are not any more intelligent than many without titles and seminary degrees, they simply have a specialized body of knowledge that they paid a great deal of money to attain and put in an extraordinary amount of time to acquire. 

This writer has witnessed theologians dismissing, talking down to, and being highly critical of self-educated Christians expressing biblical conclusions that differ from those taught in seminaries. There has always been a “them and us” mentality between laity and clergy, which the Bible says is sin. In fact, John wrote that God hated it.

The doctors (PhD’s) and lawyers of Jesus’ day were a class consisting of the scribes and politically powerful sects of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Jesus did not say "Don’t become highly educated." He simply warned against using education wrongly and withholding knowledge from the people.

But my goodness, look what happened in the Middle Ages, when the Bible began to be translated into languages lay-people could read. The ruling class [including many educated clergymen] went berserk. Their exclusive applecart was upset indeed.    

Of course, academic double-standard extends beyond word definitions, and there are always exceptions to every man-made rule. A privileged few are accepted into the ranks of the ruling clergy (the mainstream Christian leadership) without holding degrees in theology or ancient languages. These are not without controversy but are usually permitted to address audiences across denominational lines. 

Even so, their qualifications are strictly enforced. They do not all possess expertise in certain areas of non-theological study, though some do. Some are simply self-educated theologians, no different from the unsanctioned Lollards of Wycliff's day. BUT: 1.) They are all men. Men are given leeway for lack of theological training, whereas most women [scholars or not] are simply written off as feminists and ignored (not referring, here, to denominations and groups that accept women scholars and leaders) 2.) These untrained men either have powerful connections or are prolific and/or best-selling authors.

This writer appreciates the examples and encouragement of these non-theologian gatecrashers in assuring all Christians that they too can [and should] research and learn for themselves.

We must hold theologians to account. Don’t let anyone ever say that simply reading our Bibles is not enough. Indeed, it is always the first thing we must do. Just read it. And we must do this every day.

READ OUR BIBLES EVERY DAY, ALWAYS PICKING UP TODAY WHERE WE LEFT OFF YESTERDAY. That is the only way to gain a comprehensive knowledge of what the Bible says and does not say. When we do this, then, and then only, can we build a foundation for further study. 

A scholar is "...anyone who has an aptitude for study." Our Creator does not limit his gifts and callings to a certain sex or to those within academia. Anyone can become a biblical scholar. And many [who are told they cannot] should.

This article is not written to disparage theological academics. It is written to highlight the dangers of dependence on the academics and to encourage all Christians to read and study for themselves. Then, and only then, can we spot inconsistencies and biases when we read scholarly conclusions from academic works.

In summary, hold theologians to account. Think for ourselves. Use the vast number of resources available to everyone in this technological age we live in. For the first time in history, the unwashed masses can [not only read the Bible for themselves but also] have access to much, if not all, of the resources that were previously available only to academics and professional scholars.

The beloved disciple, John, wrote that, “…the anointing which you obtained from HIM abides in you and you need not that any man teach you but as the same anointing teaches you of all things and is truth and is no lie and even as it teaches you, you shall be remaining in HIM.”

No comments:

Post a Comment