The Role of Christian Scholars
In the chapter on the clarity of Scripture in his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem discusses the role of biblical/theological scholarship. He asks, “Is there any role then for Bible scholars or for those with specialized knowledge of Hebrew (for the Old Testament) and Greek (for the New Testament)?” Here’s his full response:
Certainly there is a role for them in at least four areas:
1. They can teach Scripture clearly, communicating its content to others and thus fulfilling the office of “teacher” mentioned in the New Testament (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11).
2. They can explore new areas of understanding the teachings of Scripture. This exploration will seldom (if ever) involve denial of the main teachings the church has held throughout it centuries, but it will often involve the application of Scripture to new areas of life, the answering of difficult questions that have been raised by both believers and unbelievers at each new period in history, and the continual activity of refining and making more precise the church’s understanding of detailed points of interpretation of individual versus for matters of doctrine or ethics. Though the Bible may not seem large in comparison with the vast amount of literature in the world, it is a vast treasure-house of wisdom from God that surpasses in value all other books that have ever been written. The process of relating its various teachings to one another, synthesizing them, and applying them to each new generation, is a greatly rewarding task that will never be complete in this age. Every scholar who deeply loves God’s word will soon realize that there is much more in Scripture than can be learned in anyone lifetime!
3. They can defend that the teachings of the Bible against attacks by other scholars or those with specialized technical training. The role of teaching God’s word also at times involves correcting false teachings. One must be able not only “to give instruction in sound doctrine” but also “to confute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9; cf. 2 Tim. 2:25, “correcting his opponents with gentleness”; and Titus 2:7-8). Sometimes those who attack biblical teachings have specialized training and technical knowledge in historical, linguistic, or philosophical study, and they use it that training to mount rather sophisticated attacks against the teaching of Scripture. In such cases, believers with similar specialized skills can use their training to understand and respond to such attacks. Such training is also very useful in responding to the false teachings of cults and sects. This is not to say that believers without specialized training aren’t capable of responding to false teaching (for most false teaching can be clearly refuted by a believer who prays and has a good knowledge of the English Bible), but rather the technical points and arguments can only be made by those with skills in the technical areas appeal to.
4. They can supplement the study of Scripture for the benefit of the church. Bible scholars often have training that will enable them to relate the teachings of Scripture to the rich history of the church, and to make the interpretation of Scripture more precise and it’s meaning more vivid with a greater knowledge of the languages and cultures in which the Bible was written.
These four functions benefit the church as a whole, and all believers should be thankful for those who perform them. However, these functions do not include the right to decide for the church as a whole what is true and false doctrine or what is proper conduct in a difficult situation. If such a right where the preserve of formally trained Bible scholars, then they would become a governing elite in the church, and the ordinary functioning of the government of the church as described in the New Testament would cease. The process of decision-making for the church must be left the officers of the church, whether they are scholars or not (and, in a congregational form of church government, not only to the officers but also to the people of the church as a whole).
-Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 110-111.