Understanding Bible more important than knowing facts

Curtis Shelburne

“Wow! That person really knows the Bible!” I hear that comment made fairly often, and I always wonder what the speaker means.

Usually they mean that someone is quite familiar with the words of the Bible, its many facts and wonderful stories, etc. On one level, that’s great, since most studies these days show that the general level of factual Bible knowledge among even Christians is appalling.

But then I wonder, how much does that person whose Bible knowledge is being touted really understand about God’s written revelation? For example, how much does he understand about the various types of literature that are contained in the Scriptures? Does she realize that being serious about learning what a particular book of the Bible has to teach means being serious enough to learn something about its context and setting? And on we could go.

I don’t doubt for a moment that one doesn’t have to have credentials as a Bible scholar to derive great blessing from simply reading the Bible and learning about the amazingly Good News of God’s love.

But neither do I doubt that those who have worked hardest to truly know the most about the facts, the message, and the meaning of the Bible are the very last to ever claim to know much about it at all. You might as well claim to truly know the Milky Way, and only the most foolish and blind astronomer would ever make that claim.

I’ve been enjoying Dr. Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. One of Peterson’s most truly wise and learned teachers at the Johns Hopkins University was Professor William Albright, then perhaps the world’s leading scholar in biblical archaeology and Semitic studies.

Peterson says that one day Dr. Albright walked into the classroom greatly excited. For years scholars had been debating the exact location (and meaning) of Mount Moriah, where Abraham had “bound Isaac for sacrifice.” Dr. Albright had awakened that morning to suddenly realize that he had discovered some very important answers. He stood before his doctoral students and laid it all out, filling the chalkboard with Ugaritic, Arabic, Assyrian, Aramaic, and Hebrew words pertinent to the issue. He’d gone on for twenty minutes when one of his best students raised his hand and asked, “But Dr. Albright, what about . . .”

Peterson says that the Professor stopped, considered for twenty seconds, and said, “Mr. Williams is right—forget everything I have said.” Amazing humility! And true humility is always impressive.

Most folks don’t even begin to realize how much we are blessed by those like the good Professor and so many others who have devoted their lives to helping us better understand God’s written word.

May we never forget that the real purpose of God’s written revelation—every page—is to help us know and become like the Lord behind it. Knowing its facts but not its Author would be sad indeed. The more we truly know Him the more truly humble we will become.