This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.
Bible scholar and professor of Old Testament studies, Joel Edmund Anderson, writes an a glowing book review on (Mis)Interpreting Genesis, a new book which comes down hard against Young Earth Creationism (YEC).
I don’t share the author’s disdain for YEC, but regardless, Joel has some broader wisdom he shares in his review that I wish to highlight here:
Don’t read a passage in the Bible, conclude what it means without ever trying to make sure you understand the original context, and then say, “The Holy Spirit revealed it to me”—He didn’t. It is simply your uninformed and lazy opinion. Don’t appeal to God to cover for intellectual and spiritual laziness.
Oh, my sides! 😄 Joel is really spitting fire here!
But he’s right. A lot of folks don’t bother engaging with Scriptural context and instead punt to the divine revelation argument: the Holy Spirit told me what this means.
The Holy Spirit can help us apply the Bible to our lives, yes. God’s spirit can help us understand what is communicated to us through the Bible.
But that doesn’t mean we can be lazy about Bible scholarship. For a deep understanding of a text, we may need to engage with the context of a particular part of Scripture: its genre, its time in history, its purpose, its culture, its audience.
But wait, the ancients didn’t have that!
But…one thing I haven’t worked out.
The ancient readers (or hearers) of the Bible didn’t have access to Biblical scholarship. The milieu of Apostle Paul didn’t understand Ancient Near East cosmology. And much of the audience of the Bible – indeed most of humanity throughout our history – was uneducated and illiterate.
If ancient readers of the Bible didn’t always have context, and yet gleaned meaning from the text, can’t we?
I think the answer is yes, and Joel in his book review maybe comes down too harshly against that.
Take Genesis 1. When Ezra read the Torah scrolls to the Babylonian exiles, did those exiles have deep historical context and understanding of Ancient Near Eastern cosmology?
Did they understand the basic message of what they were hearing? Did they hear Genesis 1 and understand that God is the creator of everything?
And what they didn’t understand, Ezra and other educated leaders could explain to the best of their understanding, given their education and the Holy Spirit at work.
We too can glean that message of Genesis by just reading the text; no engagement with scholarship is required to understand the basics.
But going beyond that – venturing into questions about cosmology, culture, history, purpose, target audience – I’m convinced that’s where we need Biblical scholarship the most. That scholarship can and should engage with our modern understanding of cosmology, biology, geology. Otherwise, we’re just shooting from the hip and calling it the Holy Spirit.