Book Review: Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew,  Scot McKnight and Hans Boersma

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


Five Things Biblical Scholars Wish Theologians Knew,  Scot McKnight and Hans Boersma, 173pp. IVP Academic, 2021.

I have always been fascinated with the intersection between theologians and biblical scholars. I have seen my share of people in both of these fields. I have seen some of my friends who are biblical scholars lament over some of the errors of theologians. But to be honest, I have almost wondered whether we need a book called “Five Things Philosophers Wish Biblical Scholars and Theologians Knew.” That is why in this volume, the chapter that had the most significance for me was the chapter called “No Plato, No Scripture.”  I have always been frustrated with the lack of philosophical integration within biblical studies. Thus, this chapter kind of hit home for me. I have always wondered if those that are entrenched in biblical studies even think about epistemology or whether they even need a metaphysic.

And what is a Christian metaphysic? According to Boersma, “ We all do metaphysics—it’s just that some of us don’t recognize this, confusing a sola scriptura approach with a non—metaphysical hermeneutic.”- pg 42. Boersma says Christian Platonism (as defined by Lloyd Gerson) display five characteristics: 1. antimaterialism claims that bodies and their properties are not the only things that exist; 2. antimechanism maintains that the natural order (including, therefore, physical events) cannot be fully explained by physical and mechanical causes; 3. Antinominalism argues reality is made up of not just individuals, each uniquely situated in time and space, but that two individual objects can the same essence (e.g., both being canine) while still being unique individuals (distinct dogs); 4. antirelativism rejects the notion, both in terms of knowledge and morals, that human beings are the measure of all things, suggesting instead that goodness is a property of being, and 5.antiskepticism maintains that the real can in some manner become present to us, so that knowledge is withing reach.

According to Boersma, “each of these five metaphysical claims has been historically been vital to the Christian tradition.”- pg. 43. “While biblical scholars often undertake such antimetaphysical approaches to the Christian faith out of a genuine concern to uphold biblical authority, the effect is, in reality, the opposite: scriptural truth cannot be maintained without the five elements of Ur-Platonism.”- pg 44. The effects of this are seen in the debate over realism and nominalism. “Realism assumes universals are real and the objects of sense perception (human beings included) have been participating in universals—what Plato termed “Forms” or “Ideas.” -pg. 44. Nominalism is not just an epistemological claim (that all our knowledge is knowledge of particular or unique objects) but also an ontological claim (that universals don’t truly exist but are merely nomina or names we subjectively assign).- pg. 44. Nominalism can tend to lead to materialistic and mechanistic views which then lead to skepticism and relativism.

According to Boersma, “contemporary biblical scholars reject realism in favor of nominalism because nominalism fits perfectly with historicism that focuses on the individual, unique character of historical events and tends to explain them mechanistically: methodological naturalism continues to be a common mode of exegesis among historical critics and historical scholars.”- pg 45.

Regarding the later Christian creeds, as Boersma points out, even the Shema that Paul utilizes in 1 Cor. 8:6 (referring to Deut. 6:4), can be seen as influencing the creeds. As Jaroslav Pelikan notes in his book Creedo, the Nicene Creed is pointing back to the Shema. So it is not without biblical backing.  Obviously, the biblical authors were not Greek metaphysicians. However, every biblical scholar is utilizing a metaphysic (whether unconsciously, or consciously). The question is what metaphysic is it?

In the chapter “No, Christ, No Scripture,” Boersma, notes that “many biblical scholars tend to be apprehensive about theological exegesis for fear that theological categories will override the obvious meaning of the text.”- pg. 13. The problem is that the Bible is forced to yield pride of place of tradition, so that human authority (tradition) ends up trumping divine authority (Scripture)-pg. 14. I did not understand his comments about how biblical scholars view of sola scriptura leads to the loss of viewing Christ as the deepest truth and reality.”- pg. 38. I don’t read the Old Testament Christologically. I also think the attempt to simply looks for types and shadows in the Old Testament or to say the entire Old Testament is about Jesus leads to a problematic  hermeneutic.

 In the chapter “No Church, No Scripture,” Boersma is correct that there can be a tendency among biblical scholars to be held captive to the latest trend in the academy. Thus, the Bible is held captive to scholarly consensus.- pg. 111.  I don’t see how this is can be avoided. After all, the goal of scholarship is to find ‘new’ insights and ‘new’ paradigms and to come up with ‘new’ ways of dealing with complex issues in the Bible.  Boersma thinks that biblical scholars forget that the primary domain of reading Scripture is not the academy, but the church. The other chapters Boersma discusses are heaven, and providence. I won’t mention much about these two chapters. For Boersma, metaphysics, heaven, providence, Christology, and the church help us treat Scripture as a sacrament. Thus, he wants biblical scholars to view the Bible as a sacrament.- pg. 139. He thinks these five things help us read Scripture. Since I am not a biblical scholar, I can’t say for sure whether Boersma has misrepresented their views correctly or not. There were some interesting insights in this book. But I think I resonated more with the book I will review next:  Five Things Bible Scholars Wish Theologians Knew by Scot McKnight.

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