I had someone recently comment on my Facebook page about the role of scholarship. It started with a comment about a book that presents a variety of theological positions. If theologians cannot agree with each other, why listen to them? It is so much better to just read our Bibles instead of worrying about what theologians and other scholars say.
There seems to be some wisdom in this. After all, when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, they did not wait until someone wrote a commentary before they read it. They read the letter and they understood it (we assume). Why can’t we do the same thing?
There is a difference. The people who first read these books, spoke the language they were written in. They lived in the culture that Paul was writing in and alluding to. They understood all of the cultural background that these books presuppose. We don’t have any of that. We rely on translations. We read genres of writings that we are unfamiliar with. We come across images and cultural symbols that are foreign to us. We are separated from the Bible geographically and chronologically.
Do you need a commentary or a theology book to read the Bible? No. There will be aspects that you will not understand, but you will get the basic idea and get the big picture (hopefully). However, you are not untouched by scholarship. You are likely not reading the Bible in Hebrew or Greek. You are reading the Bible in a translation. A translation does not happen with a computer program, with a Greek word simply replaced with its English equivalent. Translators are scholars who immerse themselves in the type of scholarship that is sometimes looked down on. These scholars learn about the cultural, religious, theological and linguistic background of the passage they are translating. Everyone who reads the Bible is relying on scholarship, whether they like it or not!
Sure scholarship can be abused. If you rely on what some “expert” says when it seems to go against the plain meaning, there may be some problems (but not necessarily). It is good to read from a variety of perspectives, always going back to the original text. Scholarly resources are helps and are not the revelation itself. Use them wisely, but do not shun them. Scholarship is important and is extremely helpful when used properly. They should especially be used to help bridge the gap between cultures. And remember, you are already relying on scholarship.