I'm Not a Scholar, But …

I'm Not a Scholar, But …

by Doy Moyer

It's interesting to me how we sometimes couch our arguments with disclaimers that may end up casting doubt upon the very arguments we are trying to make. I tend to get a little suspicious of the argument when someone starts that way (including my own). Now that doesn't necessarily mean that the argument will be a bad one, but it may highlight the idea that our argument may not be on the best footing to start with. It's like saying, "I'm not sure I know what I'm talking about, but let me talk about it anyway." Maybe it's meant to sound humble rather than ignorant. After all, if we start an argument with, "I'm a scholar, so …" we probably won't get much further than a few eye-rolls.

I'm not saying that we have to pretend we are scholars on something if we are not (no one is a scholar on everything), nor do we have to pretend to be ignorant if we do have some knowledge (false humility is not a righteous trait), but the best remedy for any of this is to do the hard work up front and research the position so that we know we have our foundation in place. We don't have to be scholars, but we do need to be people who work hard at 1) knowing our subject, and 2) coherently presenting the argument. Striving for excellence to the glory of God should be the norm for God's people.

This is particularly an issue with language arguments. I heard the warnings early on and have tried to pay attention: a little knowledge of the language is dangerous. "I'm not a Greek scholar, but… here's an argument based on an extremely limited understanding of the language." Recently I've run into this issue as it concerns the use of the article. I was reading over an argument made by a Messianic Jew who insisted that when Paul spoke of "the" Law of Moses, the article (the) was used in Greek, but when he didn't use an article, he just meant (a) law in general. This is manifestly false. For example:

In Romans 2:17, Paul says, "But if you bear the name 'Jew' and rely upon the Law and boast in God…" "Law" here does not have the article (just in English), but the Law of Moses is clearly in view. Then, in Romans 2:25, he writes, "For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law…" Again, "Law" is without the article, but is a reference to the Law of Moses.

With or without the article in Greek, "law" and "the Law" are, at least sometimes, used synonymously, which means that making the argument based on the article or lack thereof is not the way to make the point. Rather, context and usage determine meaning, and we get that from the bigger picture. But that takes much study.

The same mistake is made by "Jehovah's Witnesses" when they try to prove that Jesus wasn't the Almighty God by pointing to John 1:1, "The Word was [a] god." The article isn't used for "God" here, so that means "a god" is the proper translation, and Jesus was therefore created. Of course, they aren't consistent on this. Verse 18 doesn't use the article either, but they don't translate it, "No one has seen [a] god…"

Here's another one I've seen over the years, and it makes for a nice little chart. However, it's based upon the way an English translation words things: we believe "unto," repent "unto," confess "unto" (Romans 10:9-10), but are baptized "into." What's the problem? The same word, "eis," is used for all of these, so the argument really doesn't work. And no, making this point about this argument is not a denial of the need for baptism. Baptism is not proved by contrasting "unto" with "into" based on English rendering. It's made by showing the contexts and following the arguments in which we find it.

What's the point of this? First, let's be careful. I've been unhappy with myself because of arguments I've made only to find later that I had failed to do my homework well enough. Of course, none of us can claim flawlessness here, but we can commit ourselves to work harder at knowing what we are talking about, doing our study, and presenting coherent and consistent arguments.