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« The Catholic Presence Makes a Difference | Main | Daily Readings - John 11:38-44 »
Monday
May292017

When "scholar" isn't necessarily a compliment

On two occasions this past weekend, I read comments by women who resist the use of commentaries in Bible study. Both women suggested to me that simply studying the Bible for themselves, in context, without relying on commentaries meant that they were relying on the Spirit of God to teach them, not the voices of other people. One of the people, a friend, said to me that she is not the "scholar" that I am, and simply gets more out of Bible study if she just listens to the Spirit.

The last comment reveals two attitudes: first, there is a division between the Christian who is seen as a "scholar" and one who is not; and second, the Spirit is prevented from working through scholarly pursuits. I reject both of those premises, and it frustrates me that such attitudes remain common, and not just among women.

That my friend says I am a scholar is amusing. I've finished half of my MTS; I'm hardly a scholar. And even if I were, that doesn't automatically mean I am out of reach of the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit and intellectual pursuit are not mutually exclusive. I certainly don't think every woman needs to study as much as I do, and yes, there is a danger that Bible study can become mere academic exercise. However, that I love to study does not mean I am in a different class than another Christian who is "doing it on her own." There is an attitude of individualism rearing its head when one takes pride of doing it "on her own."

The idea that commentaries interfere with the Spirit suggests that in order to really engage with the Spirit, one must disengage from her intellect. Yes, the Spirit is our teacher, and yes, he does work mightily through our study of Scripture, but by consulting a commentary, I am not out of the Spirit's reach. A commentary will help me unravel the meaning, and as I understand more of what Scripture means, the Spirit teaches me. The Spirit is not divided up into little compartments within me, out of reach of my intellect. The Spirit affects my whole person, and walking in the Spirit does not necessitate rejecting the expertise of commentators.

As long as many women hold such views, they will prefer books which emphasize experience and emotions. It will be seen as more "spiritual" to study a book which is not too intellectual. I think this is why there are so many such books marketed to women: they're buying them. I'm re-reading Gone With the Wind right now, and one passage comments about how Scarlett O'Hara's mother only pretended to be interested in politics to please her husband, because real women aren't interested in such things. Are "real" Christian women seen as those who disengage from their intellects?

A friend on Facebook shared with me this quotation from Spurgeon. Spurgeon is talking to preachers in this passage, but the principles are applicable to study in general: 

It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences."

--Spurgeon, "Lecture 1," Commenting and Commentaries

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Reader Comments (2)

I found your blog because you liked a Twitter post on a blog I wrote. I really like this article. It's a constant issue for many women, and as an Aussie I think the Canadian experience and the Aussie experience are more aligned than either is with the US experience. That dichotomy you spoke of is so unhelpful to the whole scholarly experience and is, in a sense, a put down. I particularly loved that idea that you are, in your scholarly pursuit, "not beyond the Spirit". Really vivid and true!

June 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterStephen McAlpine

Thank you, Stephen, for your comment. I have often thought that the Canadian and Australian experience was similar.

June 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKim Shay

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