Monday, April 7, 2008

One of my Pet Peeves

.... is pastors who say (sometimes in the middle of sermons) "You know, I'm not much of a Bible scholar."

My short, sassy comeback (at least in my head) is, "If not you, who?"

Is there any other profession in which people who often have 4 years of college AND graduate degrees can get away with claiming such lack of knowledge? What could possibly be the point of it? How would you like it if you had a teacher who confessed a rather spotty command of her subject? Or just before you were going in for an operation, your doctor confessed, "You know, I'm not really much of a surgeon"?

That being said, I will confess to being far more familiar with some portions of the Bible than others. For example, I'm much better prepared right now to give a lecture on one of the four gospels than, say, 1st and 2nd Chronicles. But when people call me up and ask me where something is in the Bible, or what it means, I expect I ought to know.

Exception: In the Psalms, I do not know what the word Selah means. Actually, nobody really knows what the word Selah means, for sure.

I think I know where "I'm not much of a Bible scholar" comes from, but I'm not sure. I suspect that we don't want to seem too intellectual; we don't want to separate ourselves too much from our people or seem intimidating. And we don't want to give people the impression: "I understand the Bible and you don't."

I absolutely agree. We don't want to give the impression that only clergy are equipped to read the Bible. And one of our jobs (one of our callings, I think) is to help equip people to read and interpret the Bible. It's right up there with leading worship in a way that is both reverent and celebratory.

If we aren't, in some sense, "Bible scholars", or "Bible experts," of some kind, how can we equip people to read it themselves?

When I go to the bookstore (and not just the Christian ones, either), I do see a lot of Bibles. I also see a LOT of books in the "religion and spirituality" section. My suspicion is that almost everyone HAS a Bible or Bibles, but that many people read the Bible just a little, and other books about religion a lot more.

In other words, I suspect that a lot of people don't feel equipped, or empowered, to read the Bible.

Any other insights, comments, disagreements, or even other totally different pet peeves are welcome.

Clarification: "The liturgical instruction Selah in the Book of Psalms is described by the Jewish Publication Society Version of the Tanakh as 'a liturgical direction of uncertain meaning,'" from Whose Bible Is it?, by Jaroslav Pelikan, p 230)


ROBERTA said...

i never really thought about that before, but you are right, i certainly wouldn't want my surgeon telling me they weren't an expert on slicing and dicing or my accountant telling me they didn't know much about what to do with my money!!!

as for one of my favorite pet peeves, it's when i'm in a store and i've walked up to the counter to pay or ask for help and their store phone rings and the person behind the counter says "just a second", picks up the phone and helps that customer while i am standing right there cooling my heels! Hello?

Anonymous said...

Hit right on the head! This is one of my pet peeves as well. I too feel challenged with some areas of the Bible, but I usually try to find the answer to questions before Bible study is over, or at least by the next time we meet.

And for what its worth...Far as I know, Selah is some what of a musical pause to the cadance of the psalm. It supposedly gives pause in order to place emphasis on the phrase it follows.

FranIAm said...

Diane - you know how much I love your blog and how faithfully I visit you. And I find almost all of your posts excellent.

However, I am not sure that I ever had a great big belly laugh like I did just now, when visiting this blog.

You know I never thought of that perspective- say a surgeon saying that. Wow, that refocuses it for you.

On a more serious note, I love your passion and your commitment to your work,that truly moves me.

Despite our RC heritage, a certain someone at my place doesn't ever say that. Thank God!!

Actually today he preached on literal interpretation and I have some questions that I will email to you.

Diane said...

yeah, but David, nobody really KNOWS that.

P.S. an after-thought said...

I've known some lay people that do know the Bible at least as well as the average pastor. Maybe they don't know all that scholarly background, but they know a whole lot.

But to say that in a sermon??? no, don't do that.

Diane said...

P.S., My point is not that lay people don't know the bible, but that it is one of clergy's job to know, and NOT to keep it to ourselves, either.

One of the arts of leading a Bible study, imho, is to guide the group as they interpret and NOT to pull rank.

Just because I'm a Bible scholar doesn't mean I don't learn thing from my "students."

Jan said...

Diane, I love your honesty! and humor. I don't read the Bible enough. I prefer the Gospels and Psalms. I know parts but not enough. Oh, well. I love my weekly small dose of scripture at the lectio divina group.

And maybe we'll meet this weekend!

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

well i thought "selah" was the same thing as "refrain" since the psalms were meant to be sung...

Diane said...

I'm just quoting Jaroslav Pelikan, who is apparently quoting the Jewish Bible Society...."a liturgical direction of uncertain meaning" is what they say....

Mary Ellen said...

I thought "Selah" was a musical direction...a pause. No?

One of my pet peeves (and I don't mean this as an insult to atheists) is when someone who wants to bash those who are Christians, they use only quotes from the Old Testament and ignore the New Testament. They cherry pick parts of the Old Testament and say "See! This is the evil "god" you worship!" I don't mind if someone doesn't understand the Bible, but I get very frustrated with those who think they do, when they haven't taken the time to study it and then tell me that I'm an idiot for being a Christian.

Another pet peeve...being called a "Jesus freak" or "X-ian". Whether someone believes or not, there is no reason for disrespect.

Diane said...

according to the Jewish Publication society, all we know is that "selah" is a liturgical direction. Could be "refrain." could be "pause."

Cecilia said...

I like your comeback. And i totally agree.

Pax, C.

Ann said...

I suspect that comment, "I'm not much of a bible scholar" may come from people who know REAL bible scholars. I was taught by REAL bible scholars at Yale (Jaroslav Pelikan's stomping grounds, though he was not one of my profs). I wouldn't presume. But yes, I do know the answers, especially when people ask questions like, "Is Acts in the Old Testament or the New Testament?" One of my pet peeves: people who expect parish priests to be REAL bible scholars, rather than competent and knowledgeable. (grin)