Attention NT Profs: Times Have Changed…You Have More Work To Do

I have been admiring, as of late, the scholarly work of David Scholer. Today I found particularly interesting his comment, made in a 1988 article, on how times had changed for how he taught NT courses to seminary students. As a bit of background to this article, before getting to a key quote, Scholer was reflecting on his journey of defending women in ministry as a legitimate Christian perspective. Scholer came to understand, over several decades of Biblical interpretation, that just hashing out viewpoints and potential historical background of debated texts was not going to settle the matter or provide serious traction in the debate. He came to realize that seminary students need training in, not only the backgrounds and grammatical study of Scripture, but also the philosophy of interpretation and hermeneutics. Here is what Scholer writes (again, over two decades ago)

Twenty years ago when I started teaching my course on women in ministry in the New Testament I thought my whole responsibility was to do exegesis. Today when I teach my course, I know that I need to talk deeply about hermeneutics, about the history of the Church, about the character of God and about human sexuality before it is possible to do anything resembling exegesis on the question of men and women in the Church. That is what I think I have learned in twenty years. I may not have always learned it well, I may not always be able to communicate it well, but it seems to me that all of us need to be able to admit, to recognize and to name ‘out loud’ these issues of hermeneutics, history, God and sexuality both in the academy and in the Church, so that together we may work for the equal partnership of men and women in the ministry of the Church to which we have all been called through the biblical witness. (p. 107-108)

D.M. Scholer, “Participation in the Issues of Women and Ministry in the New Testament,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 15.2 (1988): 101-108.

This is a helpful reminder that we Biblical scholars and seminary professors who follow after Scholer (who died in 2008) must work beyond our grammars, our discourse analysis charts, our color-coded inductive analyses, and archaeological finds (though these are all helpful). I feel compelled, in almost every course, to begin with the question: What IS Scripture, what is it for? How does it relate to God? How does it relate to us? Where does its truth and authority come from? [NT Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson,  Joel Green, John Goldingay, Clayton Croy, and John Webster have been immensely for me in this regard]

Scholer is asking and expecting us to be better at our jobs. To read and know more. Not to burn us out, but to better equip our students for handling Scripture properly. Was it Barth who said that we should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other? I think Scholer would add – and sit in front of a mirror while you are reading! 

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