I took the first steps of my journey to becoming a biblical scholar because I believed, as I still do, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that as a person of faith, I had an obligation to listen to its words and submit to its authority.
Some might argue, and with fair points, that such commitments can create serious difficulties in really grappling with a text the way the biblical scholar must. Nevertheless, through all the twists of turns of my journey, I have found that these commitments are actually quite helpful while trying to make the imaginative leap into the worldviews which created and passed on the biblical texts.
Not all texts, to be sure, were always received in this way, but it is hard to read biblical material (say, the writings of Israel’s prophets or Paul) and conclude that they did not earnestly believe what they were passing on. That earnest belief is not incidental to many of the questions biblical scholars seek to answer, and that observation does not only apply to questions of interpretation.
Does an account, for instance, of the transmission and editorial process which bequeathed the documents we now study only make sense if the ancient scribes were disinterested in the content of their project? A disinterested scholar may find accounts of disinterested scribes compelling, but is attributing such disinterest to the ancient context valid?
I would argue that whether we share the theological commitments of ancient Israelites or Christians or not, we have to acknowledge that they held them. And if they held them, then we must account for them, and if we have to account for them, then we must be at least able to hold that belief steady in our minds as we make that account.
So that is how I would answer the question, though with some reservations. A good biblical scholar remembers that the Bible is a text created by people of faith for people of faith and remains with us because people of faith are still deeply invested in its content. The biblical scholar who is aware of this and even sympathetic is not thereby at a loss.
On the contrary, I have always found the most compelling works of biblical scholarship to be those that take these commitments seriously. I hope to do the same.
Raymond Edward Morehouse (PhD St Andrews) is the Outreach Chaplain at Emmaus Church in Redlands, California.