Saturday, November 21, 2009

Is Christian scholarship the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible?

Kierkegaard, Great Dane theologian and philosopher, once said this, as pointed out by Rosemary, in a comment on a post below:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

This is an excellent challenge from Kierkegaard; a powerful, undiplomatic charge against Christian scholarship that it functions to obscure the plain truth of the Bible, a truth most believers are scared to live by, and so we welcome the assistance scholarship offers in diluting the demands God makes upon us through his written Word.

This is not, however, the final judgment on Christian scholarship of the Bible (i.e. on hermeneutics). It is an important judgment which we do well to pay attention to because scholarship does have ways of diluting the truth of the Bible. One area in which this frequently takes place, and which is welcomed by most Christians is in the realm of money and possessions: sold all yours lately and given the proceeds away to the poor? If not, why not? The answer is likely to include some hermeneutical moves in respect of the text (it does not apply to every reader; looking at other parts of the gospels we find that not everyone gave up all their possessions and wealth; etc).

But hermeneutics also offers considerable help in discerning the truth of Scripture (for example, shedding some light on the meaning of the Book of Revelation, or enabling people to carefully assess two or more competing arguments for some aspect of Christian living (infant baptism v believer's baptism; marriage v celibacy; predestination v free choice)). As a matter of fact, because I understand Kierkegaard's opposition to be to Christendom rather than Christianity, to the State Church of Denmark rather than to churches faithful to the gospel, I do not think Kierkegaard, himself a prolific scholarly writer, would object to most of the work of hermeneutics.

Interpreters of the Bible - following Kierkegaard - should take care not to obscure the plain meaning of Scripture when indeed it is plain and uncontroversial; but when Scripture is not plain and uncontroversial, when even conservative scholars such as Grudem have to set out a series of qualifying steps for sound reading of the Bible, then we should not follow Kierkegaard and pour scepticism upon the great and noble task of hermeneutics!


  1. I think it was Northrup Frye who pointed out that the church altogether was a collective conspiracy or effort to protect itself from the radical implications of the radical Spiritiual Teaching of Saint Jesus of Nazareth.

  2. I was looking for christian scholarships (this is a nice site on by the way) when I stumbled into your site and here is my comments on your subject matter. People that are religious sometime do not realize their sins because they 'know not what they do' as Jesus said on the cross. They are underwater in their believes so to speak and drowning in them. People are born sinners and will always do so that is why we need daily repentance - we know not what we do! Doesn't matter who you are!