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Bible Q

Can scholars be trusted? Are the experts always right?

The answer to this question depends on about what?

Humanism, scholarship, science and atheism?

Scholars probably have had a bad rap from Christians – as there was a perceived assault on the Bible from many scholarly fronts during the 18th and 19th Century from archaeologists, Bible text experts and then scientists which challenged the faith of many Christians.

Yet in the late 20th and early 21st Century the attack of experts on the Bible has somewhat sprung back the other way; archaeologists have found substantial evidence for much of what is described in the Bible, even if allowances have to be made for statements in the Bible that reflect the viewpoints of the inspired writers and the genres of literature. Likewise science can accommodate much the Bible, at least when parts that were probably never intended to be read strictly literally do not have hyper-literal readings forced onto them.

Generally the Old Testament view is that education, wisdom, expertise, are good things an most importantly – a multitude of counsellors:

Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

Proverbs 24:6 For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counsellors there is safety.

These three repeated verses do not give much comfort to the conspiracy-theorist, the person who believes that when all linguists, translators, archaeologists, scientists, doctors, are all unanimously wrong, and the lone amateur with a blog on the Internet is right. The whole point of these three repeated verses is to say that wisdom comes consensus, community and open weighing of facts.

And, theologians, church scholars?

But when it comes to Christian scholarship, that’s perhaps a different question from virologists and palaeontologists. Those qualified in theological seminaries attached to specific denominations naturally have both a pre-selection dependent on the creeds and traditions of that church, and also a need to stay within that doctrinal framework to further their careers. Those scholars of religion in secular universities may also have one foot in the world of seminaries.

So, when there’s a question such as – should we trust the views of staff at Trinitarian seminaries on the Trinity, then no. Some may well be independent minded, but there is a conflict of interest – such as the medical experts employed as consultants to the tobacco industry during the 20th Century.  This is also an issue with Bible translation, where translation committees may have doctrinal parameters to observe, even if these are unwritten. Less of an issue, but it can become a problem for certain “key” verses where both the denominational connections of a translation committee and the weight of tradition makes it awkward for even the most objective translator to undo poor translations carried forward from older versions.

Nevertheless, the best Christian scholars are often much better individually, than the histories of their churches would lead us to expect. It becomes a case of respecting scholarship in areas where there is no clear conflict of interest with those scholars’ involvement in their churches.

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