Dilettantes and the Bible

Jim West is absolutely right, such people have no right to be interpreting the Bible. However, that said, I am not sure that I trust most biblical scholars with the task of interpreting the Bible either. As Stanley Hauerwas observes, biblical scholarship and fundamentalism are two sides of the same coin, both assume that the biblical text should be accessible to anyone without the necessary mediation of the Church.

The most essential training in biblical interpretation that we will receive is not that provided by a theological degree, important though that is, but the training provided by belonging to a faithful Christian community under wise and faithful pastors. For this reason I am as suspicious of the assured interpretations of much modern biblical scholarship as I am of the interpretations of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others like them. For all of their valuable linguistic gifts and scholarly credentials, biblical scholars outside of the Church are dilettantes who lack the basic training to interpret the Church’s Scriptures aright (this theory that I had to study last semester is a good example). Those who have not undergone and are not undergoing the paideia of the Christian Church, living as a community of discipleship under the Word of God, have no right to interpret the Scriptures. For this reason we should not even enter into debate with them on questions of interpretation.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Dilettantes and the Bible

  1. Jim says:

    Indeed! You are right and I agree— Barth called this the hermeneutical circle. If one is inside the circle (a part of the faith and a faithful Christian community) then one is far more qualified to interpret scripture than one outside. I believe him to be right.

    Still, I take more seriously the work of trained scholars outside the circle than untrained ones inside.

  2. Josh Klee says:

    I think this leads us towards more of a communal understanding of Scripture rather than the individual’s understanding of Scripture which, like most everything else, has its benefits and drawbacks. But, I believe this is the safest and surest way to understand what G-d is telling us as His people.

  3. Pingback: Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot » Blog Archive » Dilettantes, Interpretation, and Scholarship

  4. Pingback: Blue Cord » Blog Archive » Exclusivizing Interpretation

  5. Jim says:

    Chris and others don’t seem to recognize that the logical conclusion of their positions is found in sites such as this one- http://www.littlegeneva.com, a racist “reformed” site which encourages dilettantism. Such neo-nazi thinking really has no place in civilized society. But, again, such a viewpoint is the end result of Chris’s ideology.

  6. Al says:


    I entirely agree.

    Sometimes I wonder whether the Internet encourages dilettantism. The vast majority of the material online would not be published by any respectable publisher. The Internet is full of self-proclaimed authorities writing for people who lack the training necessary to discern the good from the bad, most thinking that they have a right to their own opinion, a conviction sustained by the ease of access to the medium. Unless you know a subject pretty well (or have a good nose for bad scholarship) it can be hard on occasions to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    In many respects I am writing as a dilettante. As one who is still a young member of the Church and an undergraduate, I am well aware that on the majority of issues I haven’t received anywhere near enough training to deserve a right to my own opinion. I have a lifetime of submission to the training of the Church and the academy ahead of me. I have absolutely no right to put myself forward as an authority. If I am ever to be an authority, the title will be one given to me by the Church or the academy and not one that I have conferred upon myself.

  7. Vynette says:

    John 7:15

    “The Jews therefore marveled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”

    It was a sore point with the establishment in Jerusalem that Jesus was not one of the select community of scholars – it has been a sore point with scholars ever since.

    Yes – to the learned ones, Jesus was another “dilettante”.

  8. Steven Carr says:

    And Christians have no right to comment on Islam.

  9. Pingback: DailyHebrew.com » Biblical Studies Carnival VII

  10. Jon says:

    Alastair the dilettante! I like it! Can I be one too?

  11. Pingback: alastair.adversaria » Why Devotion to a Life of Prayer is Essential for the Practice of Theology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.