Raymond Edward Morehouse on “What makes a good Biblical Scholar or Theologian?”

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.

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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.

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  • Just a couple of thoughts…food for thought…about Dr. Morehouse’s answer.
    When Dr. Morehouse says, “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.” I have to wonder where God is in the “good biblical scholar’s” thinking.
    It seems to me, in many places, the Bible makes it clear that it exists not as a creative work of men of faith but as a revelatory work of God produced by Him in and through men of faith.
    (20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20–21 NIV.)
    And that it was given not only for people of faith, but, and perhaps more significantly, to bring people into faith.
    (16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Ro 1:16 ESV and,
    8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:8-17 ESV).
    And, finally, that it is still extant, not because men of faith are invested in it, but because God is invested in it.
    (Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Lk 21:33 NKJV.
    And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Lk 16:17 NKJV.
    23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the LORD endures forever.” 1 Peter 1:23–25 NKJV.)

  • As you say, God’s self-revelation in His word requires us to accept scripture’s statements about its origin, purpose, methodology and even its format. If these are indeed all His intentioned choices, I would add to Keith’s previous comment, by saying that it then becomes incumbent upon us to understand and yield to it in the normal and literal way that it (scripture) tells us He (God) intends it. Jesus models this discipline for us. Starting with a prior literary, hermeneutical or theological commitment is simply the wrong way round. God’s Word is the one and only lens through which all else is evaluated. Our task is to carefully and painstakingly accept, learn and teach God’s Word, as the inexhausible cistern of living water that it is: Christ Himself, poured out and ministerd to hearts by the Holy Spirit of our living God.

    For the LORD gives wisdom;
    From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
    Proverbs 2:6.

Written by Tavis Bohlinger