The Bible And Anti-Intellectualism

I’ve been told more than a few times that I rely too much on the opinions of scholars when it comes to reading and interpreting the Bible. Instead of reading books that talk about the Bible, I’m told I ought to “just read the Bible” and “believe what it says.”

Those who advocate this just-read-the-Bible-and-do-what-it-says approach fail to acknowledge, however, the centuries of Biblical scholarship that have taken place in order to allow them to read their Bible in the first place.

The truth is, all of us, especially those of us who don’t know the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Aramaic for the OT and Greek for the NT), are dependent on the work of countless scholars who have devoted their professional lives to sorting through the wealth of ancient manuscripts in order to determine which ones are the earliest (more on this in another post) and then translating these manuscripts into English so that we can read them in our native language.

There simply is no such thing as “just reading the Bible” apart from the work of modern Biblical scholarship. If you read your Bible in English then you are dependent on the work of modern scholars.

The great irony of anti-intellectual Fundamentalism is that it’s fully dependent on centuries of rigorous intellectual achievement. That is, those who claim we ought not concern ourselves with the work of modern Biblical scholarship but instead on the Bible and the Bible alone are themselves dependent on the very scholarship that they scorn–and often unknowingly!

As if the Bible dropped out of the sky, bound and translated with a nifty 1 year reading plan placed at the back for your devotional convenience…


See also: Reading the Bible Is More Complicated Than You Think OR Why Proof-Texting Is Bad OR The Lens Through Which I Read the Bible



2 responses to “The Bible And Anti-Intellectualism

  1. Not only has our current English translations of the Bible passed through countless scholars hands, but we also are looking at a couple thousand years of social and cultural evolution. And especially for us in North America, we are even further removed from the original context having a distinctly Western and First World perspective when we approach the Scriptures.

    Not only is the just-read-the-bible-and-do-what-it-says approach ignorant of historical, literary, and cultural context, but I can guarantee every person who would claim to do this has some section of the Bible that they read and don’t do what it says.

    Not only is this view of Scripture shallow and narrow-minded, but it becomes idolatry very quickly, holding up the KJV or NIV as the Divine Word of God, rather than acknowledging Jesus as the Word. Not to say that the Bible is not inspired by the Spirit. We just fall into this notion that as soon as the last line of Revelation was penned, the Spirit stopped speaking to us. All we are doing is following in Israel’s footsteps because we can’t handle a Theocracy….we want a king. We want something other than God himself to tell us what to do and how to live, so we have elevated His scriptures above all else. While they are absolutely the primary way God has spoken and God’s story has been made known, a particular organization of translated ancient texts is not where God’s Word ends, it is where it begins.

    The living and active Word of God goes beyond the pages of our leather-bound ESV study bibles, beyond the countless men and women who have spent their lives studying and working out the smallest details found within it’s pages, and somehow, mysteriously, speaks to our hearts and has the power to change us. This is not the power of the written word, but the Living Word. The Word who was with God in the beginning; who was God in the beginning. The Word who became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

    Thanks for the thought-break Garret. Miss you my friend,

    Darcy Wood

  2. I agree with everything you said, but a little constructive criticism:

    The core problem with dogmatic biblical and the anti-intellectual injunction to just simply read the bible and do what it says is not so much that we cant interpret the bible properly without scholarship, the core problem is that such a position makes so many unjustified assumptions about the nature of the bible.

    To make the fundamentalist claim that one ought to simply read and follow everything the bible says presupposes the bible as inspired – a presupposition which is:

    1. Completely assumptory
    2. Completely unjustifiable
    3. And as such, completely dogmatic

    The underlying essence of the fundamentalist is ultimately an utter and overt dogmatism, and this was my bane when discussing theology with my mother, for example.

    She would always tell me, “Why do you listen to all these philosophers? Just read the bible and believe what it says,” and I was always very frustrated hearing this, not on the grounds that the bible needs scholarship for proper understanding, but on the grounds that to make such a claim is to succumb to a dead dogmatism that can only be advocated by committing a sacrificium intellectus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s