We need the experts

I can’t help but smile when I hear the likes of Penn Jilllet say that reading the Bible made him an atheist [1], as if simply reading it is all you need to fully understand it. Never mind the fact that theologians and scholars throughout history have been studying it their entire lives and admitting they barely scratch the surface of what the Bible is about. I don’t entirely blame Jillet for his approach though, it’s one that often encouraged in certain Christian circles; “just read the Bible and take it at it’s word” so that’s what people do. That simply is not enough though.

In science there are experts in all fields, they are acknowledged as experts and they are needed to help ensure the correct information is made available. Since the internet, there is so much misinformation around it can be very hard to determine which is correct, which is why I often refer any questions on biology to my friends who work in the field. This is not to say that all experts agree or that the conclusions won’t change, but just because I’ve read a book on physics doesn’t mean I’m in a position to challenge Stephen Hawking. In a similar way, just because I’ve read the Bible doesn’t mean I’m in a position to challenge N.T Wright about Paul or that no one disagree with N.T Wright. In order to challenge their viewpoint I need to have done some studying first, simply reciting the opposing view doesn’t count. I’m not suggesting that we just accept whatever an expert says or whichever expert we choose to listen to, we have to understand what they are saying and what the basis of their conclusion is.

Contrary to assertions from some, the Bible is not a simple book and we need the theologians and the scholars to help us make our way through things. We may not end up agreeing with them but time and care is needed when approaching the Bible and they can help with that as well as the history and culture surrounding the Bible.  As one editor summed up regarding the Talmud:

“This book is actually pulled out when you have to make a legal decision in Jewish law,” she says. “You need specialists in the field. It’s like saying: ‘Do you want everyone to be dabbling in theoretical mathematics?’ I may love theoretical mathematics, I may think that it’s hugely important and everyone should be aware of theoretical mathematics, but I will also understand that to be in any way workable you really have to leave it to the experts.”‘ [2]

To which one person responded:

This is how I feel about the Bible, as someone who studies it academically and has seen firsthand the awful things that can result from the contemporary American rejection of biblical scholarship.

We are to study the Bible, not just memorize what it says. “The Bible says so” is not enough. Maybe “lean not on your own understanding” can also be about individual knowledge and having a wider variety of views and sources helps keep our understanding on solid ground. Sometimes it feels like discussions are operating at such a higher level that I’m just occasionally popping my head out trying to grasp what’s going on but that’s ok, there’s always someone who knows what’s going on and can explain it to me.

Thank God for the experts.


[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/10/29/should-reading-the-bible-make-one-an-atheist-rjs/

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24367959


4 thoughts on “We need the experts

  1. lotharson says:

    I would agree with that and this is why I believe that the (Evangelical) notion that every believer can understand the Bible through the Holy Ghost is pretty dangerous.

    And it is true that it is utterly silly to claim that the reading of any religious text could rationally turn someone into an atheist.

    But there are clearly Biblical stories which are morally very problematic.
    I give one example here:

    • evidence2hope says:

      Thank you 🙂

      The genocides in the Old Testament are very hard to wrap my head around at the moment. I like your responses to it, I’m finding Peter Enns very helpful too.

  2. Meka says:

    Interesting take. Thank you for sharing this

  3. […] All this does raise the issue of how much can the layman question? I was absolutely wrong in my approach and attitude but was I wrong in questioning period? I mean, it’s good to check the credentials of someone, you need to know they know what they’re talking about. But who is in a position to question whether those credentials are valid for the topic? Should I just accept what I’m being told and just drift with the currents of the majority view? History has shown that a majority view does not automatically equate to a true one. Not everyone can study and get a Ph.D in a subject, but we need the experts. […]

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