Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quoting Rabbis and Missing Theology

Because of my field of study, I have spent much of the last fifteen years with biblical scholars and theologians. One of the good things about this group is the amount of reading they do and the number of ideas they are exposed to. Many pride themselves on thinking outside the realms of traditional theology, which can be a very good thing when tradition has wandered away from scripture. But the other day I was talking with someone online and responded to his theological assertion by quoting a verse from 1 Corinthians and then by paraphrasing a verse from Ephesians and pointing out the tension between the verses. Mostly, I quoted those verses just to give him a hard time because they created some tension with his position and I enjoy ribbing my friends. But he responded by saying that I had missed Paul's theology on the issue. When I got the response, I thought, All I did was quote scripture. How did I miss his theology? I wondered if he realized that I was simply quoting scripture. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, the guy had a Master's Degree in biblical studies. But his response left me wondering.

Unfortunately, people getting so wrapped up in theology that they forget scripture is nothing new. The rabbis of Jesus' day commonly taught by reading a passage of scripture and then quoting all the famous rabbis' interpretations. The people were so used to synagogue services filled with nothing but quotes from scholars that when Jesus finally came along, They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority (Mar 1:22, HCSB). Jesus didn't quote all of the theologians, he pointed at the scripture and then laid out what God intended when it was first inspired.

As I say this, I know that we do not have the clarity of understanding that Jesus had about scripture.   I can't give you a definitive declaration of what scripture meant because it is always possible that I can be wrong. But what I can do is point you back to scripture, to the words God preserved in the first place, the words that the Apostle Paul said were inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HCSB).

Theological study is good. I've spent more than two decades engaging in it myself. But never get so invested in your personal theology and theories that your first instinct is to explain away scripture to preserve them.  Don't be more loyal to your denomination, or to your Bible study leader, or to those ideas that you like than you are to scripture.  Every word is profitable to us, whether we know the latest theological trends or not.

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