Bill Fiess emailed me a blog from October 23, 2017. The blog is from Logos Bible Software. It is called the LAB, or Logos Academic Blog. Here is what Dr. Matthew Bates said in response to the question, “What makes a good Bible scholar?”
I think some of our best biblical scholars…act like crime-scene investigators. The truth is paramount! So they pore over Scripture and previous investigation reports again and again. They read broadly to crack open new horizons. Eventually, a set of questions and observable patterns are discovered that have eluded previous investigators. It is easy to be creative without being faithful to the Scripture, or faithful without being creative. The best manage both.
Bates’s answer reminds me a joke Dr. Art Farstad told me and Zane Hodges over lunch one day: Did you hear about the New Testament scholar who retired after 40 years of an illustrious teaching and writing ministry? He was asked if he had any regrets. He said, “I only regret that I never actually studied the New Testament.”
The retired scholar had studied and written about the writings of other scholars. He had not actually studied the text of the New Testament.
Bates mentions two things which Bible scholars study: “they pore over Scripture and previous investigation reports…” In reality, current Biblical scholarship majors on the latter and minors on the former.
Notice that Bates hints at this when he says, “They read broadly to crack open new horizons.” He doesn’t mean that they read broadly in the Word of God. He means that they read broadly in the commentary and journal literature.
“Crack[ing] open new horizons” is how Bible scholars make a name for themselves and improve their academic and financial positions. New Testament scholar Eta Linnemann, who moved from liberalism to conservatism, makes this excellent comment:
The exegete’s task [in non-conservative circles] is to discover and solve “difficulties” in the text of the Bible. The better the interpreter, the more ingenious this will be. For to amount to anything a professor must “make a name”…It is necessary to strive for human recognition, even if the professor is characteristically disinterested in such accolades…They are under compulsion to make a name for themselves and to strive for human honor (Historical Criticism, pp. 87-88).
If someone writes a commentary on say Romans, he will be an expert on what has been written about Romans. He will have studied all the major commentaries on Romans and some minor ones too. He will have read all major journal articles and monographs on Romans. When he goes to write his commentary, he will compile all his notes. And, if he is smart, he will “crack open new horizon’s” by “solving ‘difficulties’ in the text of the Bible.” That is, a clever Bible scholar will tweak the ideas of the other scholars and come up with some new explanation of a text. He doesn’t come up with this new explanation by prayerfully meditating on the text. He does so by meditating on all the other explanations of the text and thinking of a new way to explain it.
Zane Hodges wrote a commentary on Romans. But that was not his approach. While he had read some of the major commentaries on Romans, his approach was to carefully study the text and write a commentary on what he saw in the text. Only after he had written the first draft of his commentary would he then go to the commentaries to quote various authors who either agreed or disagreed with his views.
Because Hodges died before he completed his first draft of the Romans commentary—he stopped at Rom 14:15, he never did add in the works of other scholars. His commentary on Romans is purely his understanding of the book. Now his understanding was influenced in part by some of the works he had read. But his commentary is radically different than most commentaries on Romans because he actually is giving his insights into the text. He is not simply giving us a compilation of the various comments by others about the text. Of course, because of that, his commentary is not cited by Bible scholars. It is not considered scholarly.
Rene Lopez received his doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary. He quoted Zane Hodges and Jody Dillow in his dissertation. One of his advisors told him that he should only be quoting from scholarly works. “Why aren’t the works of Hodges and Dillow scholarly? Hodges taught at DTS for 27 years. Dillow has a doctorate from DTS.” His faculty advisor responded, “You should quote from journals that are peer reviewed and from books that are from recognized publishers. Self-published works, books published no-name publishers, and non-peer reviewed journal articles are not scholarly.”
The Lord Jesus’ opinion of who is a good Bible scholar is, I believe, different than what Rene’s faculty advisor and Matthew Bates suggest. The Lord values the person who prayerfully meditates on His Word. Of course, some who are regarded as good Bible scholars today are not even born again. But of those who are born again, some will learn at the Bema that the Lord was not pleased with much of what they wrote. The praise of men is a poor substitute for the praise of God.