I was excited when my new book arrived in the mail, "A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ" by the imminent historian and theologian Emil Schurer, D.D., M.A. His work is a primary source for New Testament research, and I have seen his writings cited time and time again by all the most prominent historians, so I was eager to get my hands on my own copy to study.
But in the very first paragraph of the introduction I was disappointed. I had to take exception to something he said. I have encountered this same spirit in other scholars and it always disheartens me, especially when it comes from someone whose learning I so greatly admire. Dr. Schurer wrote: "No incident in the gospel story, no word in the preaching of Jesus Christ, is intelligible apart from its setting in Jewish history." (emphasis mine)
Now the word intelligible means capable of being understood, comprehended. It seems the good Dr. Schurer is saying that without knowing the Jewish history which is the setting of the Gospel, one cannot really understand the Gospel. My question then would be .... if that is true, how can anyone be saved without first having a knowledge of Jewish history? And how many countless millions have been saved without having such knowledge? One must have some understanding of the Gospel in order to be saved.
I think perhaps there is a bit of an arrogant spirit that seems to haunt the hallowed halls of academia, and Christians are not exempt from it. Through the years that I have been engaged as an apologist on Christian discussion forums I have seen it most often in those who have studied Greek and especially those who have studied Hebrew. They have this same attitude. That you can't really understand the Gospel unless you can read it in the original language (the original language they happen to be scholars in). Only then can you really understand what the words mean.
Don't misunderstand. I certainly believe that knowledge of Jewish history and of Hebrew and Greek can certainly add to our understanding of the Gospel, can flesh out the form and figure so to speak. However, none of these scholarly pursuits are necessary to understand the Gospel. Indeed, God has intentionally made the Gospel of Jesus Christ so simple that even a child can comprehend it, even in English.
I have studied New Testament history and archaeology as well as the original languages, and my studies have served to build up, strengthen, and give me a better understanding of things pertaining to the Gospel. But I also know that it was and continues to be the simple message of the Gospel, that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that won my heart, saved my soul, and brings me back to the Gospel day in and day out my whole life long to drink in its message like water from the well of salvation. And that simple message is "intelligible" to anyone and everyone, even without an education in history or languages.
However, I have enjoyed studying the work of the good Dr. Schurer, and his learning has contributed to my understanding of the Jewish world in which the Gospel took place ... but I pray God will give me the wisdom and humility to always keep in mind that it is His Spirit that opens the eyes of my understanding and makes the Gospel not only intelligible ... but enlightening.
Study to show yourself a workman approved of God,