Benjamin G. White on “What makes a good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

This is a complex question because it requires an attribution of value, which can vary from person to person and generation to generation. But that’s exactly my first point. A good theologian or biblical scholar effectively communicates the content and significance of the gospel within their context.

I make this point first because it is tempting to spend much of one’s life simply mastering the tools of your scholarly trade. But our end goal should never be to master the Bible, but to be mastered by it, and to communicate what that looks like to others. The best theological scholars today, whether Stanley Hauerwas, N.T. Wright, or Kathryn Tanner, are always saying things that perk our ears and allow us to make connections between the world of ideas and the life of the self, one’s family, city, and society (much like the biblical authors themselves). To paraphrase J.I. Packer, there are plenty of people who can articulate orthodox or erudite theology, but few who communicate that theology in a manner that is transformative for their audience.

My second suggestion is a counterbalance to the first. While I think that reading the Bible should not be an end in itself and should always lead to knowing God and helping others along this path, you are less likely to achieve this if you read the Bible poorly. It is necessary to be as erudite as possible, knowing the key languages, the historical context, even modern philosophy and literature. Having a thorough knowledge of at least a couple of major theologians is absolutely essential. Read deeply, but also widely.

Finally, and most importantly, read your books on your knees. The task of being a theologian is next to impossible, not only because it involves great skill, but because there is an existential gap between the theologian and his or her subject matter. We don’t naturally think theologically and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we contradict the very things that we routinely read or say to our students. We need divine grace to overcome these barriers and to turn our hearts into something that they otherwise are not. If we understand this and look to God for help, we can be bold like Luther: if God can speak even through the mouth of a donkey, then he also can speak through me!

Benjamin G. White is full-time instructor of biblical studies at The King’s College, New York City.


Was this article helpful?

Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is Editor-in-Chief of the Logos Academic Blog and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

View all articles
  • I venture to say the Apostle Paul was a good biblical scholar, but he was first a broken man of God waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. In that understanding lets go to the Bible for understanding of “What makes a good Biblical Scholar?” 1) “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 The majority of Seminaries and “Biblical Scholars” have already failed this test. Bending and breaking to popular opinion is a favorite pastime of seminaries proven by the precipitous slide into heresy of many once great schools, and scholars. 2) “Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know”. 1 Cor 8:2 If there is one thing that permeates the “Biblical Scholar” crowd is intellectualism and “know it all” attitude. They need to become fools to become wise, but they would write a book about it first. 3) “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” 1 Timothy 2:12-14 The majority of seminaries and scholars dont have the backbone or love of the truth to teach that ONLY men are to teach and preach the word of God. The beginnings of error, waywardness and heresy in all denominations and seminaries is allowing women to teach, this opens the floodgates of error. I could go on, but these few points should make everyone hate me. Mat.10:22

    • Interesting thoughts Daniel…

      I had the impression that Apostle Paul was a master blaster Pharisee, trained under Gamaliel, knowing the Scriptures left and right, yet not knowing Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior.

      After he met Him, he then realized he really knew nothing but traditions and interpretations of men.

      It was not until the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in his life, that Paul became the master blaster of Christian theology.

      As far a women goes, they cannot teach the congregation where adult men are, but can perfectly teach other women, children, etc. They can also have major roles like Praise (music) leaders, use the gift of prophecy for the benefit of the Congregation, Administration gifts, etc.

      As far as being hated by all because of Jesus name, I think has to do more with Acts 2:38, when Peter uttered those words, the exact way to enter into the New Covenant was set (he had the keys to the Kingdom).

      As far of knowing it all, there are things very clear in the Bible that if taken at face value make you a know it all concerning that topic:

      e.g. how to enter into the New Covenant:

      hear, read, understand the Gospel message.
      repent of your missing the target, and turn from the wrong stuff (metanoia)
      confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and confess to Him your sins
      Baptize as per Acts 2:38
      receive the Holy Spirit, and His bestowed gifts
      worship and prepare for Kingdom service (and for every good deed individual and collective)
      walk humbly with God your Lord doing as He directs you to walk in the good deeds He prepared you to walk on from before the foundation of the world (saved for good works, not by them).

      Many will dislike what I post here too, welcome to the club 😉

Written by Tavis Bohlinger