***A Guest Post by Lawrence Garcia.
Scholars, we energetically read their books, we quote their work to lend credibility to everything from blogs to school papers, and yes, some of us self-proclaimed “up-and-comers” emulate them aspiring eventually to become actual biblical scholars ourselves. But do we really have what it takes? Are we even aware of the years of the economic, emotional, physical and mental travails that sit unmentioned behind the polished covers of our favorite scholar’s works? If not, Ben Witherington’s Is There A Doctor In the House: An Insider’s Story And Advice On Becoming A Biblical Scholar is a sobering concoction of scholarly advice, warning, and autobiography that will help to crystalize our decision of whether or not to embark on the journey toward becoming a Biblical scholar. Witherington writes:
In other words, to be a serious student, much less a teacher or scholar of the Bible, you must love learning—and not just learning during a particular period of your life, but lifelong learning. At the outset of my journey toward becoming a Biblical scholar, I realized that this huge undertaking would require more than just a commitment to some intensive years of education. I would have to follow Johannes Bengel’s dictum: “Apply the whole of yourself to the text, apply the whole of the text to yourself.”
Is There A Doctor In the House functions much like a practical guide for those few souls who are either considering, embarking, or even currently on the formidable path of becoming a scholar of the Bible. We will need to seriously consider (and re-consider some more) which University to do our PhD work, the pros and cons of studying at home or abroad, and the selection of a mentor—the person who may or may not “help you develop your own critical thinking and your own views.” Like the character Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, at times we will enjoy strengthening companions along the way and at others we will experience fierce competition from “fellow-degree seekers, particularly the ones in the same class and stage of the program as you.”
We future scholars likewise glean valuable principles from hearing the tales of Witherington’s own experiences while choosing to study abroad at Durham, under great scholars like C.E.B Cranfield and C.K. Barrett. One particular example struck me while Witherington retold of a nightly-scholarly meeting he had once attended (the names of those present make you wish you could have been a fly on the wall); Witherington then recalled one of the prestigious attendee’s command to go:
“Let’s go ad fonts”—that is, to the original sources—is still ringing in my ears. No matter how many commentaries you read, theologies you study, histories you ponder, if you study the requisite languages , you have settled for taking other people’s words for the meaning of this or that sentence, phrase or word. You have settled for the use of secondary sources. Secondary sources are necessary, but they are no substitute for God’s Word in its original languages… because the Bible’s instruction to “study and show yourself approved” is referring to your own direct engagement with the original language biblical text.
However, even if you aren’t planning on becoming a biblical scholar this book is still for you. Anyone who teaches and preaches from God’s Word, be it on a street corner or in a home group, can glean insight and wisdom from the work that will assist them in becoming better biblical teachers. After all, sensitivity to cultural context, familiarity with the biblical languages, and a working knowledge of ancient history are necessary for anyone who wants to understand the Bible, how much more so for those who presume to teach it to others. And if you think the scholarly journey may not be worth it, here is a brief snippet from one of Witherington’s poems that happened to be peppered throughout the book:
When Mission is on the move
By those whose efforts serve to prove
That nothing’s wasted in God’s hands
When we respond to his commands
Then we shall hear him say “well done”
To those who worked under the Son.
Lawrence is the Senior Teaching-Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. He is a pastor devoted to the educational growth of his congregants, and the raising up of a new generation of disciples, who will think, tell, and live out the Christian story. Lawrence is currently attending Liberty University.