So I finally borrowed a couple of books about the Gospels, from our pastor.
One is An Introduction to the New Testament by D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. That’s right, a textbook. So far I’ve read the introduction, which talks about the history of the New Testament and the study of it, and most of the chapter introducing the three Synoptic Gospels, which addresses such issues as form, source, and redaction criticisms. It seems to be written from a trustworthy perspective — not blindly dogmatic, nor suffering from the naturalism assumption, but guided both by a love for God and a desire to be faithful with knowledge. And I’m enjoying it.
Not without ambivalence.
There’s this doctrine called the perspicacity of Scripture, that says that the Bible is sufficiently clear by itself that anyone who can read it can understand its essential message. That’s not the same thing as saying that every passage is equally clear. But it does suggest that no extra-biblical scholarship is required to understand the Bible’s basic message.
It often bothers me that I would want or need to turn to other resources to understand the Bible better. I suspect that if I really wanted to understand it, the best thing is to immerse myself in it and do my own study. Instead of reading a book on the harmony of the Gospels, for example, I should make my own. Actually I did once. I read through each one, made notes about what bits were included and in what order, and then compared my lists.
I don’t remember anything I learned from that.
Which just goes to remind me that understanding the Bible is not going to just happen and be done — it’s a continuing process of going “further up and further in” (Lewis, The Last Battle).
Anyway, studying the Bible just by myself is fraught with danger, too. My perceptions are not infallible, and my interpretations of my perceptions certainly aren’t. I need the correction of my pastor, other Christians in my church and among my friends and in the Church at large and in the past.
Most of all, what I need is God himself. God himself is why someone with no access to anything but the Bible can nevertheless understand it. He’s why someone with no other teachers or fellow believers to correct him can nevertheless understand it. And he’s why someone who has studied in seminary and continued to do research with primary documents and the best of old and new scholarship can nevertheless understand it. I guess I should take what resources I have available as God’s gifts, and trust God himself and look to him to guide me into the right knowledge.
Here’s a bit left over from the first draft of this post. I think it’s worth keeping, but I don’t have a good transition to it.
There are passages that tell us that “knowledge puffs up,” and that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (I Corinthians 8:1 and 1:25).
There are also passages recommending knowledge:
* “For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
* “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way” (Proverbs 19:2).
* “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…” (Philippians 1:9).
* “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge…” (2 Peter 1:5).
Not to mention the greatest commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'” (Mark 12:30).
The “all your mind” part suggests that the pursuit of knowledge is not in and of itself a bad thing. The passages seemingly against knowledge are qualifications, not oppositions — knowledge is good when pursued with love for God and one’s neighbor as one’s self, but knowledge pursued without these things is empty or worse: “‘Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering'” (Luke 11:52).
None of these passages tell us what resources — besides the Bible and God himself — we should look to in order to gain knowledge, but I don’t think any of them exclude extra-biblical resources. And although the ultimate knowledge is knowledge of God, I think loving him with all our mind can include pursuing knowledge of anything in creation, whether music or science or anything else that he has made.