Knowing the Bible Does Not Automatically Make You More Holy


D. A. Carson, “I Am the Truth,” in The God We Worship: Adoring the One Who Pursues, Redeems, and Changes His People, ed. Jonathan L. Master (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016), 157–58:

Knowledge of the Word does not sanctify us by mere education. I have now lived long enough and have belonged to enough professional biblical societies that there are not many front-rank New Testament scholars in the world whom I have not met. Some of them are very brilliant minds indeed. One chap in Germany used to conduct a postdoctoral seminar in which he wanted only a few people, the brightest of the bright. So on the first day, he offered them a test: write out the epistle to the Ephesians in Greek. Well, that got rid of a lot of the less determined, but there were still too many students for the professor’s preference, so the next class was another test: write out the epistle to the Ephesians in Greek and include the apparatus. If you know Greek, you understand how terrifying that sort of assignment would be, and you know how skilled and brilliant the students that completed the course must have been. But that knowledge is not the sanctifying work of the Word.

When I first went to England in 1972, Professor C. H. Dodd was still alive. He was one of the last of the old-time polite, pious liberals, and he had a massive knowledge. When he was about ninety, a BBC radio interviewer asked him an intriguing question: “What if, by some fluke, every copy of the Greek New Testament were destroyed? How much of it could you reconstruct?” Professor Dodd replied, “All of it.” His mastery of the scriptural text was impressive, but that knowledge is not the sanctifying work of the Word.

In fact, some very technically competent New Testament scholars are self-professed atheists. Many deny supernaturalism or are no more than deists. But they know their text.

Admittedly, even within a confessional evangelical framework, it is possible to think somehow that because we’re spending time studying biblical texts, we’re becoming more holy. But you don’t have to spend too long at a seminary before you realize that sometimes studying all those texts may make you unholy. A certain kind of a pride may set in, or you fall into the routine of just meeting another deadline or taking another quiz. You find yourself studying the New Testament as if you were studying microbiology or nuclear physics or Shakespeare. Mere education does not guarantee anything. Abstracted from the power and unction of the Spirit of God, a kind of idolatry of learning can appear, even in the scholarly work of believers. Such learning of the text does not guarantee the sanctifying work of the Word.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.