Those who read scripture need not be scriptural scholars to profit from them. As Karl Barth argued, those who read the scriptures attend to the divine message in them and, more important, to the revelation of God that can come through that reading. For that they need not know the history of the text in question or the language from which it has been translated.
The tools of history and language can give a reader additional insight, but to say that a text is scriptural is to say that it points us to something that can be seen and experienced without those tools.
Reading scripture, though, is not what we sometimes assume. It is not like reading a manual of instruction or a history. In those cases, I come to the text with a question for it to answer: What should I do if I wish to . . . ? What are the details of that event? Reading scripture, I come to the text to be questioned, to be brought up short.
I may hear Samuel's "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. 12:7) and find myself convicted. Or perhaps Jesus' admonition to the rich young man will strike my heart, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor" (Mt. 19:21), and I will wonder about the state of my soul. Moroni's admonition to ask the Father about the truth of the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4-5) may strike a non-Mormon seeker, bringing her to her knees in prayer—or it may make a lifelong Mormon wonder whether her witness is what she has always thought it was. In any such case, openness to such possibilities is openness to the Spirit. It is openness to being taught.
If I come to scripture open to the possibility of such experiences, of being surprised by the Holy Ghost and its demands, I will learn from them, though I cannot know in advance what I will learn. My life is shaped by scripture when that happens. Presumably that shaping is the point of the admonition to daily scripture study.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.