Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pete Enns on "What Biblical Scholars Do"

No matter what job you have in life it's usually a safe bet that someone is not going to understand it and wonder what exactly it is you do. This happens quite a bit for those in ministry. People who don't see what  the pastor does day in and day out will sometimes assume that all that a pastor does is preach once or twice a week and do the occasional wedding or funeral. They have no idea what all makes up the job description and duties of a pastor.

I remember a time when someone misunderstood my job as a youth pastor. I was preparing to take my youth group on a weekend trip and a young man named Nick happened to be off school that day. So I took him with me as I ran a number of errands and purchased supplies for the trip. Later that night at the youth group meeting Nick announced to everyone that he wanted be  a youth pastor because "all you do all day is drive around in the church van."

I am pretty sure that people wonder what biblical scholars do. Some of you are thinking right now "you write blog posts on inane subjects." And while that may be true we do try to make other important contributions to society. 

Pete Enns has a piece today on "what biblical scholars do." It is not about what our daily schedules look like and how many naps we take (for the record I limit myself to only two). No, what Pete is talking about is the way we do biblical interpretation and how why develop the hypotheses that sometimes leave you scratching your head wondering why we don't' all agree. Here's a little preview of what Pete has to say. Do go read the whole piece here

Biblical scholarship is like building a picture puzzle. The box says 1000 pieces, but there are only 200 in the box. Biblical scholars, working with this limited data set, take those pieces and try to come up with an overall picture of what the entire puzzle looks like.

They begin by sorting the pieces out by shape and color. Pieces with straight edges form the periphery of the puzzle. After grouping the pieces together, one can see a picture forming: a patch of grass here, a path to what looks like a barn (or is it a farmhouse?) over there, a sky with patches of blue and clouds up to the left, mountains off to the right.

This looks like a compelling overall picture, and puzzle experts generally agree. Some point out, however, that there are some pieces that don’t seem to fit the scene very well. Two non-joining pieces are gray and shiny and look like two sections of fighter jet. Some puzzle experts write books on what kind of fighter jet it is. Some suggest that, if it is a fighter jet, it is out of place in a farm scene and so abandon that model. Others think it is fully compatible with the farm model, although some adjustments need to be made (e.g., the farm scene is post World War 2, not nineteenth century as was first asserted). Some reject the fighter jet hypothesis entirely because it is so out of place with farm the model, that otherwise seems so certain.

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