May have to give up spider research, since I’m not a spider

It’s true, according to Bible scholar Joel Green, who argues that in order to be a good Bible scholar, one must be a devoted Christian.

The best biblical scholars genuinely love Scripture, and come to its pages ready to hear God’s address. They exhibit both a certain posture vis-à-vis the text and their own formation in relation to it, and a commitment to the hard work of reading Scripture that takes seriously the nature of the text.

The former involves the life of discipleship, of Christian formation, of worship, and of prayer. As I have written elsewhere: “Formed by our reading of Scripture, we become better readers of Scripture. This is not because we become better skilled at applying biblical principles. The practice of reading Scripture is not about learning how to mold the biblical message to contemporary lives and modern needs. Rather, the Scriptures yearn to reshape how we comprehend our lives and identify our greatest needs. We find in Scripture who we are and what we might become, so that we come to share its assessment of our situation, encounter its promise of restoration, and hear its challenge to serve God’s good news.”

Huh. I’d argue sort of the opposite. The challenge of being a good scholar is to maintain some objectivity and ability to assess one’s biases. Being a devout Christian doesn’t help studying the Bible as a historical document — it also doesn’t preclude it, although it does generate many subjective obstacles. It also makes you a crap scholar if you automatically dismiss the contributions of atheist, Muslim, and Jewish scholars.

So I can keep studying spiders after all! Yay!


  1. Howard Brazee says

    And in order to have an opinion on women’s rights (or for that matter, on either side of the abortion debates), one must be a woman. Or minority rights, one must be of the proper minority. Or to use a piece of culture, one must be of that culture.

    We’re not allowed to study things if there’s a chance we will find reality disagrees with TRUTH.

  2. Ed Seedhouse says

    So, the Earth is still flat, because the astronomers who proved it isn’t weren’t believers in the flat Earth. But I am infallible because the people who say I’m not do not start from the belief that I am.

  3. says

    He seems to be saying, “reading scripture will give us an understanding equivalent of a bronze age scribe.” Which seems accurate enough.

    If he means that someone who studies a subject must have a certain devotion to that subject, I think that is also pretty correct. I don’t think that he’s saying that devotion engenders a blindness to facts in evidence. He himself is obviously blind to facts in evidence which means he’s not nearly as devoted to the subject as he thinks he is. We could discuss what instead of scripture he appears to be devoted to.

  4. elfsternberg says

    I find it hilarious that, even if we take Green’s statement as true, it’s not indicative of a single interpretation. There are Bible scholars who are deeply Christian, and yet who approach the Bible with brilliantly critical approaches that lead to significantly less fundamentalist interpretations than Green’s. Green’s form of Bible “interpretation” is concordance-driven, and not very well-informed; he’s always ignored the Talmudic debates over the Old Testament, as if the people who’ve lived with it twice as long as Christians have, have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Green’s people really, REALLY want you to ignore the parts of Deuteronomy that clearly and precisely talk about economic justice and the state’s responsibilities toward the poor, the widow, the disabled, orphans and veterans, but also really, REALLY want you to pay attention to their specific (like, super-specific, and not even agreed upon by all) interpretation of the parts that let them hate teh gayz.

  5. mond says

    Sounds very familiar.
    Presuppositional apologist Sye Ten Bruggencate has refused to discuss the bible in debates.
    He does not engage in ‘bible study’ with non-believers.

  6. thirdmill301 says

    The problem with Christianity, as with all closed, revelatory belief systems, is that it has no mechanism for testing its foundational principles. Suppose the Bible isn’t inerrant, or that God doesn’t exist, or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Since all of those things are accepted as givens, with no contrary evidence entertained, there is no way within Christianity to determine if any of them are true. One can only examine their truth by going outside Christianity, and Christianity only accepts evidence from within Christianity. It’s the ultimate in circular arguments.

  7. says

    We’ll forget, of course, that Jesus “was” a rabbi. And that rabbis have been studying the Old Testament for a loooooooooooong time and just might have developed some insights during that period… such as pondering why the rabbis can’t enjoy a shrimp cocktail before a pepperoni pizza, but the evangelical-christian scholars can… and whether there are more than 144,000 evangelical-christian scholars who will make it to the Kingdom of Heaven…

  8. says


    Maybe you can cocoon some theocrats in thread, inject them with enzymes that will dissolve their mesodermic/endodermic tissues, and suck some of that goop down for nutritive purposes.

    Having had the essential experience of being a spider, then arachnid research might be possible!

    But even if that fails, I would recommend you try, try again!

  9. nomdeplume says

    This is the same argument that loons like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind use – that the Bible can’t be questioned, so that any discussion about the world in 2019AD must begin by accepting the accuracy of what a Bronze Age goatherder thought an Imaginary Friend was telling him in 500BC

  10. KG says


    I’m continually surprised by the range and depth of your ignorance. There are self-identified Christians who deny all three of your supposed “foundational principles”.

  11. curbyrdogma says

    @nomdeplume I had the recent unfortunate occasion to share some time with a family member and her husband, both fundie fans of Ken Ham. “If it weren’t for that crazy Bill Nye and his ideas about science…” “What do you mean by ‘crazy’?” “Well, he’s secular. Science was originally used to validate the Bible. But modern scientists have strayed from their original purpose”. I attempted to explain how science involves gathering evidence, testing hypotheses, exploration and furthering knowledge, etc. …which prompted strong disagreement and a sermon about “faith”. They also compared Ken Ham’s creationist ideas wrt the “establishment” to the tribulations of Galileo.


    Although we can laugh about how ridiculous Kon Scam is, the unfortunate reality is there’s a lot of Americans (grown, adult Americans) who sincerely believe his BS.

  12. Ichthyic says

    There are self-identified Christians who deny all three of your supposed “foundational principles”.

    i suppose it depends on your definition of Christian. I think there are over 100k now?

    so many as to make the word entirely meaningless.

    to be sure though, there are definitions that make more sense than others.

    If a young flat earth creationist tries to tell me they are a geologist, I’m probably going to reject “geologist” as a label for them, regardless of their claims.

  13. thirdmill says

    KG, No 15, the key words in your comment are “self identified.” I can self identify as the Queen of France, but that doesn’t mean I’m the Queen of France. (And no, that comment is not directed at the transgendered so please don’t go there.)

    The purpose of language is to communicate, which requires that words have objective meaning. If anyone may define a word however they like, then communication becomes impossible. For a person to say, “I believe in none of the tenets of Christianity but I’m still a Christian” makes no more sense than it would to say “I believe in young earth creationism but I’m still a scientist.”

    And even if I were wrong about all of that, the context of this particular conversation is that we are discussing a specific subset of Christians, for whom my comments are right on the mark.

  14. Anton Mates says

    The practice of reading Scripture is not about learning how to mold the biblical message to contemporary lives and modern needs.

    Wait, what? The gospels were written in order to mold religious messages to the contemporary lives and needs of their audience. That’s why they’re in Greek and Coptic! That’s why early churches packaged them with Paul’s supposed letters to his audiences! Otherwise, the New Testament would just be a stack of Jesus’ sermon transcripts plus a title page saying “LEARN ARAMAIC, CHUMPS.”

    I know that anyone who can write a bible commentary and still come away talking about “the biblical message” probably gave up on intellectual honesty a long time ago, but sheesh.