The Bible's Warning to Theology Students
We all know someone who studied Biblical Studies at a Christian college or went to “seminary.” As a Bible major surrounded by Bible majors, I can say that being one is an awesome opportunity and I wouldn’t give it up for any other degree. However, it comes with its own challenges.
Getting a degree in Bible/theology can produce arrogance and hypocrisy. Obviously, the Bible doesn’t have any direct warnings written to Bible majors, but there are a number of passages that apply to Bible majors as a warning. I’m sure that not every Bible major struggles with these issues (nor do I have anyone specific in mind), but the temptation is ever-present.
Knowledge Puffs Up
Nobody likes a “know it all.” Sometimes we can use our knowledge to abuse those around us. Notice Paul’s words in the context of eating food offered to idols:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. (1 Cor 8:3)
Knowledge makes arrogant (1 Cor 8:1). Likewise, if anyone supposes he knows anything, he hasn’t yet arrived at true knowledge (1 Cor 8:2). The context in First Corinthians 8 is regarding those who knew that idols were nothing but still decided to eat meat sacrificed to idols around their brethren who were offended by the practice.
There is an obvious application for those of us who spend hours on end toward a Bible degree. Not only can our attained knowledge lead to us being arrogant in regards to our understanding in matters of conscience, but it can also lead to general arrogance.
So, what should our response be? Temper knowledge with love. We can know everything there is to know about the Bible, practical ministry strategies, and biblical languages, but if we don’t have love it’s all meaningless (1 Cor 13:1-3).
This isn’t to say that knowledge in the above fields is a waste of time or dooms studiers to arrogance. Rather, we must remember that our academic endeavors are a means to an end and that end is serving. Remember not to get a big head. The goal isn’t to be puffed up, but to build up. Building up takes love.
Disqualification is Possible
Akin to the arrogance that comes from knowledge is the sense of spiritual invincibility. The attitude which leads to the belief that I am above yielding to temptation and the pitfalls of life. Just the opposite is true. It is the person who thinks they stand who is encouraged to “be careful that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12 NET). Even the apostle Paul expressed the importance of exercising self-control:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24)
If the apostle Paul is not above disqualification from the race of faith (i.e. falling away), certainly neither am I. God forbid that those of us who study the Bible and theology academically, after amassing so much knowledge about God and His word, would fail to keep our bodies under control thus being disqualified.
Don’t Be a Hypocrite
Jesus’ words to the scribes and Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 23 are perhaps one of our Savior’s most stern moments. Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees as “blind guides,” “blind fools,” “whitewashed tombs,” and “vipers.” Jesus condemns such actions as “shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” “neglecting the weightier matters of the law,” “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel,” and outwardly appearing righteous to others while being full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Jesus asked them, “how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matt 23:33).
The scary part is, the scribes and Pharisees were the Bible majors of their day. They were learned men, knowledgeable of both the Scriptures and the tradition of their ancestors. But they let manmade traditions, greed, and arrogance get between them and God.
Though the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat and had religious authority, they didn’t practice what they preached (Matt 23:2-3). The result was catastrophic.
Bible majors must strive to not repeat the mistakes of the scribes and the Pharisees. There’s no reason for us to compete with each other for who gets the most speaking engagements, best internships, or coolest ministry experiences.
We shouldn’t be making our phylacteries broad and fringes long, doing all of our deeds in order to be seen by others and therefore invited to places of prominence (Matt 23:5-7).
We must not grow complacent in our faith or outgrow our humility. Being a student of the Bible and theology is not a status symbol, nor is it a competition. We’re all on the same team: Christ’s, and we’re all the same rank: slave. When we forget this, we begin to tread a dangerous path.
Preparing to be a resource to the church is a blessing. Being a Bible major isn’t about being superior to anyone or competing with brethren. I must confess that I have some praying and repenting to do. Will you join me in striving to exhibit love, self-control, and sincere humility?