What is a Bible scholar?Question: "What is a Bible scholar?"
Answer: A scholar is someone who has done advanced study in a special field. Therefore, a Bible scholar would be a person who has done advanced studies in Bible, perhaps by going to seminary or graduate school. Perhaps a “Bible scholar” would be differentiated from a pastor, as the pastor’s primary job is to shepherd the church whereas a “scholar” may work in isolation, writing and doing research. A “Bible scholar” may also be differentiated from a theologian in that a theologian is working to put together a comprehensive system of doctrine whereas a Bible scholar may be content to simply clarify what the Bible says without trying to systematize it. Seminaries today often have separate departments corresponding to the distinctions above. A seminary may have a “Pastoral Studies” department, a “Theological Studies” department, and a “Biblical Studies” department, among others.
Having said that, there is no authoritative, technical standard for what it takes to be a Bible scholar. Some who have never been to seminary but have studied the Bible extensively and availed themselves of good resources may indeed be genuine Bible scholars—they are students of the Bible. Likewise, there need not be a sharp distinction between the various seminary departments mentioned above. We would hope that every pastor and theologian would also be a Bible scholar. One would also hope that every Bible scholar would be able to use the knowledge acquired to minister to people.
Because of the wide variety of approaches to the Bible and the many attacks on the reliability of God’s Word today, it is often necessary to add an extra modifier to Bible scholar. Today, the church is served by many fine evangelical Bible scholars who believe that the Bible is God’s Word and seek to clarify the meaning of the Bible for the good of the church and to the glory of God. Unfortunately, there are many liberal Bible scholars, critical Bible scholars, and even skeptical Bible scholars who believe that the Bible holds no authority, being merely a book of literature or a historical record of the religious experiences of people in the past. These scholars often put themselves in the position of judging the Bible rather than the other way around.
It is interesting that the word scholar can also mean “student”—anyone who is studying at any level. Today, some schools in the United States refer to their students as “scholars”—even Kindergarteners. Using this definition, every Christian could and should be a “Bible scholar.” It is sad that much of the church today is biblically illiterate.
Scripture teaches us the importance of studying what it has to say. This study is not limited to taking a class at a Bible college or seminary or even Sunday School. Christians are supposed to feed on God’s Word in whatever ways are available to them—reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word; reading good books that help explain the Bible; attending church services where they can hear Bible preaching and teaching; listening to Christian radio; and, of course, utilizing good online tools like Got Questions.
Below are just a few of the verses that speak of the importance of studying God’s Word and being a “Bible scholar”:
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:15–16).
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
“But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:4).
“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4).
There were a number of Bible scholars who interacted with Jesus on a regular basis. These scholars were called the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes were professionals whose job it was to know the law of God and copy and interpret it for others. The Pharisees were a very strict sect of Judaism who made it their business to know and fastidiously keep all of the laws of God. However, simply knowing the facts of Scripture is not enough.
Jesus warned, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). The scribes and the Pharisees studied the Scriptures, and that was a good thing. However, their focus became the book, the words, the body of literature. They thought that by knowing the Word of God they would gain eternal life. In their zeal for the Word of God, they missed God Himself. If they had really understood what they were studying, they would have come to Christ, because all Scripture points to Him and is fulfilled in Him. The scholars’ intellectual and legalistic pursuit of God’s Word had blinded them to the very subject that God’s Word attempted to illuminate.
In the final analysis, there is no benefit to being a Bible scholar if the scholar does not submit to the authority of the Bible. There is no benefit to knowing God’s Word if one does not get to know God in the process. The Bible does not give us eternal life, but it points us to Jesus who does. It is difficult to understand who God is and the life that is available in Christ without making it a priority to study the Bible.
Recommended Resource: Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck
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