Monday, January 09, 2006

One Thinks What One Reads?

"A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five." --Groucho Marx

I recently promised myself that I would stay away from the topic of religion on my blog for a variety of reasons, not the least of, it tends to cause division between myself and some of my readers for whom I have a lot of respect. I don't want to breed hard feelings against them, nor do I want to be the source of hard feelings against me.

In short, I like to be liked.

Also, I am far from an authority on the subject. Therefore, my opinion is no better than anyone else's, and if someone is wrestling with an issue of spiritual importance, I can offer my view on it but would heartily recommend they go to their pastor for validation or rebuttal, whichever is appropriate.

With that in mind, I respectfully address a recent comment made on a blogger buddies blog, to the query, "Tell me about your Bible(s).

What translation is it? What tradition, editor, etc.? I'm thinking about buying myself a new one, for a return to something akin to regular reading and study.

What do y'all use? What do you recommend?"

This was one answer, and the principle one I want to address:

"If you are serious and want to STUDY the Bible and not what someone says about the Bible, then I recommend the following...."

There followed several paragraphs of recommendations including "a scholarly History of the New testament, that is a HISTORY not a commentary and one for the Old testament as well."

And then, the Commenter finished up with this instruction:

"Read your basic scripture from any version you feel most comfortable with, and then go to these seven books to form your own understanding of it. Then, and only then, check the "commentaries" for what insight they may bring."

All of that in answer to, "What versions do you use and what do you recommend?"

Hooo boy!

Let me first point out a paradox of sorts. Go Back to the first statement,"If you want to study the Bible and not what someone says about the Bible..."

And then return to the last statement, "then check the commentaries for what insight they will bring". Well, excuse me, but wouldn't that be what someone says about the Bible?

Sometimes I think one can be a mite too educated. I wonder if when these people who own doctorates are faced with an issue or a thought provoking statement, if they actually think about their answer or if their brain automatically triggers a snippet of memory from one of their myriad classes and the professors teaching them. Do they give the matter personal thought or do they simply recall a profound statement that issued from the learned vocal chords of an instructor in one of their institutions of higher learning, and then, repeat it?

Perhaps they have lost the ability to separate whether it is an original thought from their own brains logic center, or a photocopy of a statement made by a mentor somewhere in their academic past.

When asked, "What do you think?" do the wheels of the mind turn independently,and give voice to the thought that presents itself, or do they, like some organic VCR, simply replay what someone else they respected thought back when they roamed the halls of ivy, in search of the ultimate truth?

Do they go immediately to their reference library and select an appropriate book to see what, exactly, they do think?

I think some people may be afflicted with the enigmatic ocular malady which prevents them from seeing the forest for the trees. But in these cases more accurately, can't find the original thought amongst the tons of scholarly volumes stored on the dusty bookshelves of the mind.

Don't jump to the conclusion that I think these Doctors and Masters cannot think for themselves. But I do wonder how much and how often? I wonder if they themselves know.

I am not denigrating these people. I have tons of respect for anyone who can put themselves through the difficulties of higher learning and actually finish. I don't think I have the patience to jump through all those hoops. More power to them.

My nephew has recently received a doctorate. My brother (his father) is a true genius and he chose not to continue his education past his Masters degree. That was his choice and I think he is pretty satisfied with himself overall.

By the way, the commenter also mentioned relying on the King James version of the Bible, and many fine Christians agree that the King James is the definitive authority on the Word of God. I enjoy the challenges of interpreting the "olde English" myself.

But the King James is, like the New International Version, just one of many very good versions translated directly from the original Greek. The purpose of King James in commissioning a translation of the original Greek into the language of 17th century England was so that it could be understood by 17th century Christians. Like wise, many of the versions available today are also direct translations of the original Greek into the language of today.

So they are fundamentally the same. The modern versions are just easier for the average reader of today to understand them.


jgf said...

Very interesting point of view. Enjoyed your thoughts on over-education.

Just a comment on the King James Version--some say it is actually one of the least objective translations, due to being set up by the king. I don't know. Personally, I like the New Living Translation or the NIV.

Son of Lilith said...

Hoo boy...

No, us educated folk do not just simply spout back what are professors told us, no more than what people lacking a college degree parrot what their parents said. Yes, there are some of us learned people who don't think for ourselves but as for me I use what my teachers said only as part of my reasoning, not the be-all end-all of it.

I apologize if you've encountered the wrong people Mark but surprisingly most of people with fancy letters behind there names are as humble and down to earth as farmers. Their vocabulary may be bit more advanced and their thinking a bit less linear, but they know the value of hard work and sacrifice. Universities don't hand out degrees for free; tuition is high and grades are earned.

I hope you start having some positive encounters with so-called "educated people" (I prefer to specify COLLEGE-educated people as everyone is educated). We're not all that bad.

Mark said...

Yeah Brandon, I know that. I had just noticed how often when some people make points on a subject, they often recommend some book to read to bolster their argument and it makes me wonder if anything they say comes from their own brain and not a testbook.

I was just thinking out loud, so to speak, since I couldn't think of a subject for todays post.

Poison Pero said...

I don't believe in "over education".....What we have is a problem with "over propagandization".

Higher learning is a wasteland of Liberal "training," and the biggest tragedy of the college/university system is the systematic destruction of Conservative thought.

They preach of diversity, but really mean perversity, and have no use for anything from the right (religion, economics, legitimate history, etc.).....Take away the natural sciences and mathematics, and you have nothing short of the DNC Convention, Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, NAMBLA, etc., etc., etc.

There is no diversity of though.....Only Leftwing thought. Radical Leftwing thought, too boot.

Again, the problem isn't "over education," the problem is "over propagandization."

Fish said...

I personally prefer the KJV but that's a personal choice. I do have several other versions on hand to compare any particular point I'm studying.

I was asked once "What is your religion". Knowing a bit about this person, I knew they were one of those with the "One and True Religion" and I didn't feel like justifying the church I was attending. I answered "It's taken me my whole life to formulate "my" religion and would probably take about that long to explain it. How much time do you have?

KEvron said...


Timothy said...

I think the problem I have with the entire subject is this idea of "independent study" in order to find the truth. You can't do an independent study in order to find the truth of the text. If you do, it will not be truth because our fallen natures will take the truth and corrupt it to our own leanings.

Christ never intended us to learn in a vacuum, that idea is straight from Satan... in that it stems from the same lie found in the garden.

Christ gave some to be apostles, prophets, pastors/teachers, evangelists, for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. He never inteded us to learn on our own. This idea has led to all kinds of schisms and factions within the church and should be readily condemned.

He also never intended us to learn apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And that guidance would be contrary to God's word, if it was to be independent from the church, and the pastors/teachers that God has given us.

The balance is that the ultimate authority is Scripture, but God gives us pastor/teachers to help us understand the ultimate authority. To think we can come to truth independently, especially realying on those who are "scholars" of which Christ did not give the church, is the height of arrogance... it is living the lie of the garden, that we can be like God if we want to. It lacks humility as well. For us to know, we must humble ourselves to those who have gone before us and are currently with us, in order to learn and understand God's truth.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of arrogance, in my humble opinion it is:

--the idea that common folk cannot make their own decisions until they are transmitted through the almighty pulpit.

--That God gave us minds but doesn't want us to use them.

--That we need an additional intercessor besides Christ.

Now that's arrogance. The same kind of thinking sparked the Reformation.

Anonymous said...

Of course, all of us need a leader or teacher at times to guide us, but Timothy's idea of a preacher holding an exalted status that believers must bow to is way overblown. The schisms in the church that he speaks of are due to too many ministers who flaunt their power over people too willing to let others tell them what to think -- not because people are reading the bible on their own. I suppose that Timothy would prefer the days when the high priest was the exclusive possessor of the Bible and told the common rabble what it said.

Mark said...

Actually, I wasn't referring to study of the Bible exclusively. This whole post xcan be reduced to a single statement:

Some people have so much book learning that they can not formulate a thought without consulting a book first to tell them what they think.

And I don't believe Tim is saying that we need any intercessor besides Christ. A pastor's duty is to lead, not tell his parishioners what to think.

I have often seen, however, people who make gods out of their pastors, but that is because of their own dependence on others to validate their faith. That is not the pastor's fault.

Timothy said...

Those are easy things to sit there and say... that we've all been given minds to use. Yes, I agree, and we all need to use them, but we are dealing with spiritual truth here. One doesn't come to believe in the Trinity without the help of the Spirit of God and the pastors and teachers who have gone on before us to help us understand these truths.

Look what Scripture says:
Ephesians 4:7ff But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men…”
…and He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

Christ gave the church the gifts of the pastor/teacher. Yes, we can study Scripture on our own, and we should. No one is saying take the Bible away from the people. But let's not have them learn outside the confines of the body of Christ. Christ didn't give us gifts of pastors and teachers for that to happen.

Let's face it, we would not have pastor/teachers today if it were not for pastor/teachers coming and teaching the men we have in the pulpits. You can spout arrogance all you want, but let me throw a biblical concept back in your direction: humility.

We have to submit to the authority of others, even when we are pastor/teachers. But I'm sure humility is not a part of your vocabulary. With your aventure into your self reliance, you have bought into the lie of the Garden: You will be like God.

One of the wonderful marks about leaders of the faith is the fact that humility is a trait that follows them... for we know that without God's movement in our lives, we would never be where we are. In other words, I only know what I know because He has taught me... And yes, He teaches the laity as well. How? Through the use of pastor/teachers.

Now, if you can dispute my claims using Scripture, go to it. Otherwise, I will take it that you have nothing legit to say concerning matters of the Christian faith.

Anonymous said...

I will refer you to the scriptures you cited instead, neither of which back up your claim that "You can't do an independent study in order to find the truth of the text."

I would also point out, that according to scripture, anyone who wants to be a leader should be the most humble of all.

You write:

"But I'm sure humility is not a part of your vocabulary. With your aventure into your self reliance, you have bought into the lie of the Garden: You will be like God."

You could not be more wrong with that remark, nor could you demonstrate less humility.

Timothy said...

Er, I mean Anon,
Again, you use no Scripture. Yes, I do bring up humility... but what is that but submitting to Scripture and the leaders of the church. That I have done and continue to do. If you want to use it as a bat against me, sorry, your argument is not legit.

Again, you arguing for the use of bashing the pulpit and the leaders that Christ has given the church. By what authority do you argue against such? Again, how about some Scripture instead of your exalted opinion. Yes, I am attacking your opinion. It is based in humanism, not Scripture. There is truth to be known, and truth is found in Scripture. It is solid. It doesn't move, and you want to put a humanistic twist upon it. Sorry I reject your opinion. Your opinion is the essence of the rebellion found in the garden, that you can know good from evil, without the body of Chirst and outside the body of Christ, independent of the pastors and teachers that Christ has given to the church. AGain, they are His gift to the church. Do you want to dispute His gift? Then your argument is with Christ, not me. It is His word, His truth... yet you want to dispute Ephesians 4? Here is a book about the church and the roll that we have in the church, and what He has done for the church, and you want to dispute that?

Of course, your going to say: not Him, but you Timothy? Great, find me another interpretation that is workable... one that comes from the leadership of the church, where elders agree upon is true and right? Not a schism or a cult after your own making.

Anonymous said...

Woe there, buddy, you have left the field of play!

I don't argue for any "humanistic" view and haven't put any twist on anything. I simply noted that I do not believe the verses you cited back up your position against independent study of the Bible.

The Holy Spirit can move in someone's heart, reading scripture alone.

I don't bash preachers, if that is what is upsetting you, I just don't believe the pastor is unassailable, as you seem to.

I have acknowledged in the earlier post that, yes, we do need pastors and teachers to lead us.

Lighten up. For someone to disagree with you is not necessarily to rebel against God.

These forums are for argument and discussion.

Timothy said...

But Anon aside,
I do believe that the laity should sit with their Bibles open on their laps as the pastor preaches. I do encourage my congregation to do the same. I want them to see that what I am teaching is true and right according to Scripture, not me. And I have had to defends some points and concede some as well. That comes with the territory.

Yet, to decide sound doctrine on their own, or even me on my own, I would never consider. That is arrogance because what it says is that I am spiritually discerning enough, and intelligent enough, to come to the Bible and determine what is right about God... a God who's ways are not mine, and who's thought are not mine. No, I need help, just as any other follower of Christ does.

Therefore, where do we turn? We turn to the body of Christ... After all, it is a body, and we were never meant to operate in a vacuum. I look to those who have gone on before me who have proven to be right on their doctrine and I learn from them. Men like Augustine, Calvin, J.C. Ryle, James Montgomery Boice, William Hendriksen, and the list goes on. Are these men to be elevated to the level of Scripture? No. But what they teach about Scripture is true and has stood the test of the church. It is sound doctrine.

Yet, there seems to be very little room for sound doctrine, as Anon is making aboundantly clear. Men today, want to determine what truth is, instead of having Scripture do that. They think truth is something they can pick and choose like a Luby's cafeteria. Yet it is not.

Poor anon. People like anon hate authority and anyone who has any at all, they want to tear down. Yet we must realize that there is true authority in the world. Men are given authority to teach and preach the word of God. That, by God's grace, has come my way. he called me, I didn't call Him. But the reality is that God has given me the authority and responsibility to teach faithfully. I can't help it that men like Anon, cannot handle that reality. I only take that which has been given to me, because I'm not alone in that authority. There are men who can come and take it from me,and I submit to their brotherhood and authority as well. If I begin to teach out of bounds with sound Scriptural doctrine, I do hope they take that from me. For my goal is never to teach that which is contrary to Scripture.

Do I deserve to be in this position? No, but I am. And therefore I contend for the truth of the faith. When someone like Anon comes along, I have a repsonsibility to point out his error. I wish that he would listen, but only God can convince him of his error. Yet the responsibility is still there. That is the roll of all pastors. How do I know? That is what is spelled out in Scripture for the roll of the pastor/teacher... God's word.

Timothy said...

OK... I wrote past you on that last post... I honestly thought you were someone else. Forgive me for that.

Again, the verse I am siting are pointing to the need for teachers and pastors within the body to help us understand the truth. As I said before, I don't beleive that we can come to the Scripture, and independently come up with doctrines like the Trinity, Justification by Faith alone, etc. It is when those who have been gifted by God to teach in the body help us see those things that we do grasp them and see that they are there.

For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity is still in dispute even today. When we read Scripture, we see passages that help point to that, but many would never see it without teachers and pastors. We need those to come along side us to point out these truths.

(By the way, I don't say that I would come to it without teaching as well. But the point is, someone had to teach me about that... someone with the gift of teaching and preaching, i.e. a pastor/teacher. That pastor was and is a gift to the body of Christ, just as all true pastors are.)

Again, study your Bible. But also be willing to admit that the truths found there, are more than you can understand, and you are going to need help, help from someone gift in that.

The same is true for me.

Anonymous said...

God bless you pastor, I know you're doing your best.

You couldn't possibly be more wrong about me, but I won't take offense.

Timothy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Timothy said...

Please forgive me, I honestly thought you were someone else, and that someone else seems to have my number...

Anonymous said...

Apology accepted, 70 X 7 times.

I apologize for calling you arrogant in my initial posts.

I suspect we just may have some miscommunication on certain issues and probably agree more than it appears here.

Anonymous said...

One final thought: Timothy derides "scholars," whom he says the church was not given.

Then, if you notice later in this same string, he lists several scholars that he prefers.

So, as he demonstrates, there is nothing whatever wrong with comparing and learning from scholarly biblical commentaries. There is nothing wrong with examining why certain passages were written, to whom they were directed, nuances of language, and whether the passages equal theological statements or are related to local custom at the time. And this is not to exclude your pastor from the process. By all means, seek the pastor's guidance.

Timothy says we Christians are not to learn "in a vacuum," and I agree.

In the best Bible studies I have participated in, the leader guides but does not dominate the study. The Bible comes alive in a communal setting, when experiences are shared among believers.

God is big enough to stand our questions and blesses those who seek him.

Timothy said...

I agree with most of what you have just said, but would like to point out that the men I listed were all pastors as well. They were not thought of as just scholars, as many of the modern scholars are. I don't separate the office of pastor/teacher. Some might be stronger as pastors than teachers, and vice versa. But Calvin, Augustine and the rest were all pastors. You can see it in their writings... They wrote with a view to teach and guide the sheep. Most of the modern scholars of academia, write with a view towards scholarship. They are trying to influence opinion, and not shephed (I'm thinking of most liberal scholars).

BTW, my best Bible study is the one where people interrupt me and ask questions. I love answering or looking into the questions that they have. Those ARE the best bible studies...