Becoming a Scholar

Just finished Ben Witherington’s Is There a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar (2011).

Witherington reminds those on the path of scholarship that they need to be:

Readers: “If you read good modern English literature and absorb it, will help you become a more articulate person and a better writer. We could use some better writers among biblical teachers and scholars. Too much of what passes for lesson plans for classes and Bible, and textbooks for those classes, is dull as dishwater and twice as murky” (60).

Teachable: “The Bible is not just intended for information and education. It’s not intended to be just a great piece of literature that merely intrigues or mildly inspires. It’s intended for human transformation, and a teacher who cannot help an audience with the latter is handicapped. Indeed, the teacher who has not personally been transformed by the text cannot properly embody it, embrace it, model it, call for emulation of it, and the like. The Jewish or Christian teacher who is constantly coming to grips with the text will be closely challenged to live it” (125).

Humble: “Another aspect of Christian character that is needed to be a good and godly Bible teacher and a scholar is a willingness to give the text the benefit of the doubt before leaping to the conclusion that the text is: (1) riddled with contradictions, (2) is unclear, or (3) is hopelessly antiquarian and thus obsolete and irrelevant. One of the things that has often surprised me about some Bible scholars is that they will not give the Bible the same benefit of the doubt they will give their colleagues theories even if the theory is wild and wooly” (129).

I liked his definition of a critical scholar: “A critical scholar is one who is capable of being self-critical and self-corrective, as well as being able to cast a discerning eye on the biblical text. The critical scholar is one who is honest about the text and about what they do and don’t understand about the text” (131).  He observes on an earlier page that some scholars mistake skepticism for critical thinking.

For those in PhD studies or those wanting to be, it is worth the read.