The Complexities of Being a Biblical Scholar

I think that among the various fields one can specialize in, being a biblical scholar has to be one of the most rigorous fields—of course there may be a bias there, but I say this because of the complexities involved in being a biblical scholar. On the surface, it seems fairly simple: one is a specialist in either Old Testament or New Testament or perhaps engaging in both Testaments. But being an OT or NT scholar is not just that; there is much more to it, especially if one wants to be an effective OT or NT scholar. Because of the nature of biblical studies, being a good biblical scholar means one is capable in a variety of other fields as well.

When one does biblical scholarship, what does that mean? For one, it means that biblical scholars must be good historians, for they are studying the ancient world and its context. There must, then, be some level of competency in doing good history or interpreting history. It also means they must be good linguists, because the Bible is written in ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. One cannot expect to be a good biblical scholar without being competent in one or more of these languages; of course an NT scholar should be knowledgeable in Greek, and an OT scholar in Hebrew (and Aramaic). And there are other related languages as well, including Coptic, Latin, and Ugaritic, as well as modern research languages like German and French. But being a linguist isn’t just being competent in various languages; there are many polyglots who aren’t linguists. A linguist is one who is knowledgeable in the scientific study of language, including basic concepts like semantics and lexicography, among others. Continuing on, biblical scholars must also be good philosophers and theologians, because they have to synthesize the biblical data to try to bring them together systematically. Critical and logical thinking is crucial for a biblical scholar. They should also be competent in archaeology and papyrology, since they are dealing with ancient manuscripts, inscriptions, artifacts, and other ancient witnesses. Good biblical scholars are also hermeneuts because they necessarily deal with interpreting texts. In that vein, they should also be aware of literature and have literary sensibilities in general. Furthermore, they should be good writers and speakers, because a large part of their occupation deals with communicating their thoughts and ideas to others.

So I have pointed out the possibly discouraging idea that biblical scholars must be competent in many subjects other than the Bible but related to their field: history, linguistics, philosophy, theology, archaeology, papyrology, hermeneutics, literature, and pedagogy. There are probably other fields I haven’t mentioned here (science comes to mind for those who specialize in the Creation-Evolution debate). But I think that rather than this be a discouragement, the situation should be an encouragement for those of us striving to be biblical scholars to be better educated in these other areas in order to do biblical studies properly. If we, as Christian scholars, want to glorify God by putting forth the very best and rigorous scholarship we possibly can, we must then learn the very best ways in which history, linguistics, philosophy, etc. are done in the world. Perhaps, we as Christian scholars should be even better than those in the secular arena. To borrow Jesus’ language, we should let our scholarly light shine before others so that they see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. We may not be the most competent in every related field listed above, but perhaps we should choose which ones to be competent in and strive for excellence there.

— David I. Yoon

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2 thoughts on “The Complexities of Being a Biblical Scholar

  1. Pingback: A Response to Runge’s Response to Porter’s Response to Runge in the latest BBR | DOMAIN THIRTY-THREE

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