The Irony of Liberal Biblical Scholarship

I’ve spent the last half of my undergraduate studies in the pursuit of gaining a greater knowledge and comprehension of the historical context in which the Bible was written; particularly the New Testament. And my studies have been done in a secular university, under secular professors. Their approach to Biblical scholarship, as best as I can tell, is devoid of any spirituality or worship to the Lord. It’s not surprising, they don’t love Jesus. Their approach to Biblical scholarship is postmodern. Though, not postmodern in the sense that any opinion and argument can be considered valid, such as pluralism. It’s more like ‘limited pluralism.’ People must have supporting evidence and facts as they proffer their arguments. There must be rational sense behind a particular view to be accepted as a possible view. Notice how I use the word “view.” That’s really all it is. As one of my professors once told me during one of our conversations, “in the end if you are able to make a case for the conclusion you draw from the known facts then that’s all you need to see it as valid and plausible.” Of course, there are views that are more plausible than others and some that are refuted as current scholarship advances. So this is how I mean secular Biblical scholarship to be postmodern: no one’s view is considered right and ultimate but many views can be seen as valid so long as there is a case/proof for it. Obviously, there is nothing ironic about this.

The irony of liberal Biblical scholarship are the restrictions consequently placed on a scholar’s approach to Biblical studies because of the postmodern maxim expressed above. It’s restrictive because there is no pursuit for the Truth, only the pursuit of a view that is more valid/plausible. We would expect in liberal scholarship to gain a freer and more diverse set of opinions and interpretations concerning the Bible; which we do. But we are restricted because we come no closer to knowing the Truth. It’s as if we are the Israelites fleeing from Pharaoh and the other side of the Red Sea is freedom. And instead of walking through the separation which Moses had parted we decided to move about the beach trying to build a boat or swim across so that we can express our liberality in differing methods/views so that we can cross the Red Sea. We’re no more free from Pharaoh than when we were digging ditches because we were unable to escape his tyranny even though we chose to express our freedom in trying to cross the Red Sea using a different way. And we end up dying because Pharaoh and his men end up stopping us from building our boat or we drown from trying to swim across. The irony of secular scholarship is its attempt to work outside the confines of interpretations traditionally accepted as right so that differing views and opinions can be considered as plausible. But no freedom on the other side of the Red Sea is gained; no greater knowledge of the Truth is gained. For, Biblical scholarship in the secular world is not ultimately concerned with the matter of whether or not Jesus Christ is who he said he is but what is the more plausible view for interpreting the Bible in its historical context. This is important but it’s not ultimate according to how Jesus speaks about himself. Secular scholarship makes the interpretation(s) ultimate therefore restricting them from reaching the Truth of whether or not Jesus is he who said he is.

I find this ironic that in our attempt to be more free and liberal in our understanding of the Bible, we should also restrict ourselves from knowing the Truth: Is Jesus Christ who he said he is?

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3 thoughts on “The Irony of Liberal Biblical Scholarship

  1. Isn’t the point of literary study to take a close reading of a novel and see what it discovers? One person might see a literal expression where another sees a metaphor, but both only have the text to work with. We cannot ask the authors what they meant, so everything becomes conjecture as a result. Even the translations can be seen as subjective because they are choices of interpretation taken from the original text.

    • Would you agree (please feel free to disagree if you don’t) with me when I say the “text is the thing?”

      What I mean by this is, each text, whatever it may be, has a point and purpose, therefore we must understand literature based upon the grammar, devices, and words it implements. I agree with you that one person can see a metaphor in a text and another person could see a literal expression; but every author has a point to his/her writings. If our approach to literature is to always draw from it what ‘we’ mean it to say, or interpret, then there is no point to an author writing anything or trying to communicate anything at all; because if/when I do this, I am not trying to understand what the author meant, but I am trying to understand what I think/want/feel it to say. Could you imagine if this was our approach to understanding the American Constitution? Fundamentally, it has been a principle of our Judiciaries to interpret the Constitution on the sole principle of what the Founding Fathers were trying to say.

      Thus, in a sense, I think we can ask the authors what they meant because that was the very purpose for which they wrote whatever they wrote. Therefore we must interrogate the Bible (or whatever) and put it against itself to see what it really is trying to say.

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