Sometimes people ask me, “How can someone study the same passages of Scripture as us and come to such different conclusions?” Sometimes, others might say, “Wow. I’ve never understood that passage like that before. I don’t think I can fully understand Scripture like you with your education. I wish I knew Greek and Hebrew.”
The truth is just because someone has studied the biblical languages and has advanced degrees doesn’t mean they are understanding Scripture. Also, just because someone knows the Bible well doesn’t mean they believe in Jesus or are a Christian. I’ve been to a professional conference where there were scholars from all over the spectrum, many of which would not profess to historic Christian faith, yet, most of which have spent their entire lives studying the Bible in depth, critically. So, how can someone spend so much time in the Bible and study it critically and remain untransformed by their studies?
The answer is simply that their theology is not Spirit-filled.
Somewhere in time, the understanding that the Spirit is helping us to understand the Bible has been lost. Instead, in it’s place, we have placed our own efforts to spend a lot of time studying and reading the Bible, and/or getting an advanced degree/s. In a subtle way, we have taken the glory from God in our understanding of the Bible and God’s redemptive plan in Scripture as revealed and give glory to ourselves.
It’s as simple as saying, “I was flipping through the Bible the other day and came across this text and I found out that it actually means this…”, instead of, “I was flipping through the Bible the other day and came across this text and God revealed the meaning to me (by the Spirit)…”
As a pastor, I often hear people lament the fact that they don’t know Greek and Hebrew (or Aramaic), and so they cannot really understand Scripture fully. The fact of the matter is that if we’re honest, no one can really understand Scripture on their own with or without knowledge of the biblical languages. Advanced degrees or not, many people still struggle to grasp what any given text means and many after years of study are in a similar situation as the person with little study in some cases. How can we make sense of this?
Well, I’ll try to provide a rough analogy to what this is like. It’s kind of like a fire drill in school when there is actually a fire. Many hear the bell, see others lining up to leave, and go about their training as to where to go in the case of a fire. However, there are some who can sense that there is actually a fire aside from the fact that there is a drill which could be routine and mundane going on. They sense the smoke, the heat, and maybe catch a few sprinklers going off on their way out the door. Maybe they even see the flames. Now, when they all get outside the school and are in order where they have been trained to be, some are murmuring to others that there’s no fire, it’s just a drill. Others are saying there’s actually a fire. Others claim there is no fire and they’ve done the same drill countless times and everything is the same to them. The difference, though, is only a few have actually sensed the heat, seen the smoke, been near the actual flame in the building.
The same can be said for those who go to Scripture and see words on a page of a book, and perhaps raw events that happened in history. They see things happening, human authors, key people and events, elements of language/semantics, and various parts that don’t seem to make much sense. To make sense of these things, they claim they must not be true or must be invalid or contradictory with something else or they come from an older, archaic time and we are just more advanced and modern than their writing methods. These are the ones who see only a fire drill, but cannot sense any sort of fire or hint of a flame.
Then, you have the one’s who do. They open the same Bible the other group did, but instead of seeing raw dates, events, names, and archaic semantic techniques, they see a living, moving, real, story of God’s redemptive plan. Not only is it something that is real, that really happened, but they see themselves in the story. It’s like one of those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. They are in the story, they are a part of God’s plan. To them, they not only see the story about Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out on the church, to those who believe, but they experience it as they themselves have received the Spirit by faith which helps them to understand Scripture with greater meaning. To them, it’s not simply the author Luke the Physician, whoever that is, maybe a companion of Paul, recording a tale of a miraculous event which by definition is not possible in a modern world and therefore, is not likely believable in and of itself. Instead, they see God moving through His people and the Kingdom growing as the Church explodes through Acts and beyond, and they’re a part of this same movement that is being mentioned.
How can someone who studies Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, not believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ while someone who has little to no education can believe?
The answer is not ignorance. The answer is the Holy Spirit. There are many who study the Bible critically and some believe and some do not. The difference is that some have a robust Spirit-filled theology when it comes to understanding Scripture as believers while others have a robust theology based on their own efforts of being professional Bible scholars and thus making a lasting impression on their field or saying something nobody has said before. One theology is about bringing glory to God while another is about bringing glory to self. The former is the theology that the church fathers had while the latter is the theology that many modern biblical scholars hold to.
This is why when you read something by Gregory the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, Augustine, or Athanasius you don’t only read theology, a study of God in a technical way, but you also find prayers and doxology interwoven with their theological writings.
Some church members still claim that my own knowledge of Scripture is from my education having studied the Bible critically in college and in grad school/seminary. The truth is I learned a great deal from college and seminary. I was gifted many tools to study the Bible and given many names of famous biblical scholar folk to read and shelf and have many lingering quotes by professors fresh in my mind, but the truth of the matter is that my growth as a believer, as a Christian did not come from a greater understanding of the semantics of biblical Greek or the theological system of John Calvin. My growth as a believer has come from time spent apart from my critical study of the Bible and theology. No doubt, theology has greatly blessed me, especially the older theologies. It has created a system for understanding God and God’s redemptive plan better so that I can explain it to others better. In college and seminary, my growth as a believer came through participating in the local church, worship, reading the Bible in my own language and meditating over it, prayer (personal/group), and living in relational community with other believers.
All that I learned in college and seminary are akin perhaps to building materials sitting idly by, but it was my personal and corporate/relational faith that has made use of those materials. Without my faith, the materials would sit unused or used for the wrong purpose, but with my faith in the biblical, historic, trinitarian faith of Christianity, those materials have been coming together for their proper purpose at their proper time. Even then, it’s as if I am surprised at times by many of the things I say or do. Anyone can study a book and learn clever sayings, but it’s only the wise who can put what they learn to use and for the Christian it is important to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This doesn’t mean we trust God because of our utter fear of Him or our desire to simply be wise, but rather we come to know the holiness of God and when confronted with it we are humbled and driven to trust, obedience, and to love even more.
The foundation, then, for all I have learned since my conversion to Christianity has been my faith in Jesus Christ. All definitions of ‘Christian Worldview’ aside for the moment, simply a Christian Worldview is the world viewed through the lens of Christ, or one’s faith in Christ as understood by Scripture. This foundation isn’t possible without the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit which breaks into our lives as believers and brings to mind sin, helps us to know what is right and wrong, helps us to understand what godliness looks like with street clothes in any given situation, and helps us to understand Scripture being more than words on a page. More than ink and paper and tales of an archaic mythos among many.
The Spirit breathes life not only into our lives making us new creations upon faith in Jesus Christ and sanctifying us to the image of God in Christ, but the Spirit also breathes life into our understanding and reading of the Bible. That is why we can read the same text as Christians multiple times and see the same text in a slightly different way, to come away from it with slightly deeper meaning than the last. It’s not like we’ve forgotten the text, but it’s that the text is indeed the living, active Word of God and is brought to life for the believer by the Holy Spirit. Dates, names, history, semantics, and theology; all quite useful (especially theology I might add), but hold their own against the help of the ultimate Helper, the Holy Spirit, who helps the believer in growing in their faith, believing, and in their reading Scripture.
Apart from the Spirit, the scholar can read whatever he/she wants to read in a text. Apart from the Spirit, the untrained reader can find whatever text can meet their own preconceived agenda and justify it in their own eyes. Apart from the Spirit, it is only a person and book.
With the Spirit, there is life and the eternal, piercing, active Word of God is made manifest.
May our reading of the Bible and our theologies be Spirit-filled, so that our doctrine, theology, and understanding lead us to prayer and doxology like the church fathers as opposed to simply bringing more glory to ourselves and our own egos.