Presuming objectivity appears to be a leading occupational hazard for biblical scholars. For example, consider this recent reflection from a well-known NT commentator and scholar:
As a professional biblical scholar, I always try hard to resist falling into such 'ruts,' though I am much aware of my fallibility in this respect. My goal, at least, is always to let scriptural exegesis more than presuppositions, 'functional nonnegotiables,' or theological traditions determine my conclusions.I actually laughed out-loud when I read that line, "As a professional biblical scholar..."! There's even a little " :)" in the margin of the book to mark the moment of hilarity.
What tickled my funny-bone is that the guild of "professional biblical scholar" is wedded to more presuppositions and "nonnegotiables" than any other demographic of Bible-readers. Do not misunderstand, holding tenaciously to presuppositions is essential to the scholar's job security, advancement, and plain ol' r-e-s-p-e-c-t from their peers. Just because their presuppositions do not appear in any creed or confessional statement does not mean they are objective (as they strangely often assume).
So, for this reason, I was so refreshed to read the following in the introduction of Thomas Schreiner, Galatians (my copy arrived on Saturday to great fanfare!):
Amazingly, Gordon Fee writes from quite a different perspective, saying that his goal is to help people read Galatians 'as if the Reformation had never happened' [citing Fee, Galatians [2007), p. 1). On the one hand, Fee's goal is laudable. He wants to read the text on its own terms. On the other hand, it is remarkably naive and ahistorical, for he pretends that he can read Galatians as a neutral observer of the text apart from the history of the church. I am not suggesting that we must read Galatians in defense of the Reformation, nor am I denying that the Reformation may be askew in some of its emphases. But it must be acknowledged that none of us can read Galatians as if the Reformation never occurred. Such a reading is five hundred years too late. Nor can we read Galatians as if the twentieth century never happened or apart from the works of Ignatius, Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and the like. We can consider whether Reformation emphases were wrong (I will argue that they were not), but what we cannot do is read Galatians as if we were the first readers (p. 21).Preach it, brother! It takes courage for a "professional biblical scholar" like Schreiner to write that paragraph. Courage he likewise showed in the preface, when he wrote:
I know it is out of fashion in some circles, but it seems to me that Martin Luther and John Calvin were substantially right in their interpretation of the letter and that their pastoral application of the letter still stands today (p. 13).I can already tell, this commentary is going to be worth every penny.
But more to the point, not only can we never read Galatians as if we were the first readers, but we should not even lament this fact! We are privileged to stand on the shoulders of two millennia of faithful Christian teachers who yet lead and equip us by their writings.
They are gifts to the Church, and gifts not to be implicitly despised under the guise of presumed objectivity.