the weblog of Alan Knox

Listening to the Experts

Posted by on Nov 9, 2009 in discipleship, edification, gathering | 15 comments

A few weeks ago, my friend Rodney was teaching the church from Matthew 23:1-12 where Jesus begins to warn the people about following the example of the scribes and Pharisees. At one point, Matthew writes:

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:5-7 ESV)

While discussing the Jewish leaders’ desire to have the “place of honor at feasts,” Rodney read a similar statement from Luke’s Gospel:

When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11 ESV)

Since I’ve been studying “religious feasts” in both the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, I shared a few things about what might be the “place of honor” and the “lowest place” at such a feast.

Rodney thanked me for sharing, and reminded everyone that they could share something to help in the teaching. He said (something like), “If you have expertise in any certain area, feel free to share about that.” Now, I agree with what Rodney said, but as I’ve been thinking about this, I also realize that the idea of “expertise” and “experts” can be a problem for the church. (By the way, I talked to Rodney about this, and, as I suspected, we both agreed on this subject.)

You see, the problem is not that some people have expertise in a certain area. This is certain. For example, I know a little about Greek and a little less about Hebrew. Thus, when we’re studying Scripture together as the church, there will be some things that I may be able to offer to the discussion because of that knowledge.

But, like I said, this is not the problem. Expertise becomes a problem when the church begins to believe that only certain areas of expertise or knowledge gives someone the right or even the responsible of interpreting Scripture. I think this is one of the problems that we still have today from a decision that was made by the Reformers. (I’ve written about this in more detail in my post “Reformation period church meetings.”)

During the Reformation, I think the early Reformers correctly wanted to turn the church’s attention back to Scripture. However, their understanding of “teaching” came primarily from their University background. Since the majority of people did not have a university education, they could not teach Scripture in the way that it “should” be taught. Thus, while the Reformers attempted to do away with the clergy-laity divide, they actually perpetuated it between those who could (were allowed) to teach Scripture, and those who were not.

Today, that same mentality persists. In fact, when I talk with many Christians about interactive church meetings and community hermeneutics, I’m usually asked one of these questions at some point: 1) But I’ve studied Scripture more than they have, and I’ve been taught how to interpret Scripture… or 2) But what if someone teaches heresy (meaning, what if someone teaches something that I – or my denomination – disagrees with).

I think it is good to have a theological education – obviously, since I’m in a PhD program at a theological seminary. I think that people can gain certain types of expertise (knowledge) from this type of education, and this knowledge can help the church in understanding Scripture.

The question that we should ask ourselves, though, is this: Is theological education the only type of expertise that can benefit the church in interpreting Scripture?

I think for many Christians, the answer to this question (whether expressed or not) is, “Yes.” We can see this answer in the way that churches meet.

However, I think that the answer to this question is “No.” I think there are other types of knowledge that can help the church interpret Scripture. I’ll discuss this more in my next few posts.

For now, what do you think?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-9-2009

    I personally find it interesting that the only field that people that they have expertise or can exercise what they think is expertise is church or to ministers. I mean most ministers went to seminary, college, most have masters degrees. Our minister has a PHD in religion. Yet people who don’t have degrees are the ones telling them how to do it “right” or “do it my way” or “your wrong because of such and such.”

    You don’t see people telling their doctors what to perscribe or how to do it the “right way!” You don’t have people telling layers to do it this way or this is the right “law to persue in this case.” Yet ministers get run over all the time. I believe this is one of the reasons for burnout, depression, and suicide among ministers. Yes, depression and suicide which is caused by members of congregations placing unrealist expectations and constantly questioning everything they do. I am doing a post on this topic and have reports from experts in leading causes for depression and suicides among clergy. The article was in USAToday and shines light on the issue.

    I think if we had less experts and believers would let their pastors do their jobs things would go alot better in our churches.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. 11-9-2009


    I think it is a good thing for pastors to listen to others. I’ll keep explaining my position in two more posts.

    However, I agree with what you’re saying about professional ministers and burnout. I don’t think its associated particularly with other people “telling them what to do”, but with the expectations placed on them by themselves, the current church system, and others.


  3. 11-9-2009

    Today, when practically everyone gets a decent formal education from the time they are five or six years old, it seems there is no need to have any special training in order to interpret scripture. However, I do think that the translations that we are living with can be misleading at times and sometimes difficult to understand without some knowledge of historical context and original language – so having the help of someone (or of resources) does seem necessary in order to have a more accurate interpretation. Still, I am against elevating those with degrees/PHDs when it comes to interpreting scripture – I think they are a help and an asset but I do not look at them as authoritative. I think that scripture is best interpreted in a community of a group of people that are devoted to Jesus and his way of life. When scripture or the church or the denomination or experts or anything becomes central it (imo) further hinders our ability (which is already hindered and limited and always will be) to interpret scripture. I am one to try to dig into original language and historical context in order to understand better but I must add that real life experience combined with a humble attitude toward God seems to be the best help for me when it comes to understanding scripture.

  4. 11-9-2009

    Very good points Alan. Because of the separation from Rome, the reformers had to then point to something else to make their churches valid, and ultimately the settled on their “marks” These were essentially the “right” administration of the sacraments, including especially the teaching of the scriptures (which eventually became the only sacrament of consequence in the bulk of today’s reformed churches). The reformers view of “sola fide” only made the expert culture worse. Authentic embodiment of God’s love in Christ was no longer relevant to what became the only gospel: justification. What was relevant to that gospel was faith (alone) in the right doctrines, which played further into an academic view of the faith. The right views about the gospel became the mechanism for being justified before God, and the only sacrament that had to be rightly provided (by experts, of course) in order to have a proper “church.”

    I remember reading something from Eugene Peterson to the effect that as disciples of Jesus, we don’t memorize information as much as we acquire “skills in the faith.” If those skills include things beyond study and include walking with Christ in real life situations, then there is much that people with experience in Christ have to offer. And if there is anything to the role that the Spirit plays in “revealing” things to “babes” then anyone could have valuable insights to offer the body.

  5. 11-9-2009


    “Is theological education the only type of expertise that can benefit the church in interpreting Scripture?”

    Looking forward to the “other ways” you are seeing.

    How about Jesus teaching us how to interpret scripture?

    It does take a step of faith to believe and trust that Jesus
    “can speak to you” and “teach you all truth” personally.
    There are a many verses that could lead to that conclusion.

    John 6:45
    It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God.

    Deuteronomy 4:36
    Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice,
    that he might instruct thee:

    Psalms 32:8
    I will instruct thee and teach thee
    in the way which thou shalt go:
    I will guide thee with mine eye.

    John 14:26
    But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost,
    whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things…

    John 16:13
    Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth…

    1 John 2:26-27
    These [things] have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
    But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you,
    and ye need not that any man teach you…

    We do have some examples; Jesus, Peter, Paul.

    Jesus, as man, delclared, “He” could do nothing of Himself.
    Jesus, as God, delared, apart from Him “we” can do nothing.

    John 8:28
    …I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.

    John 5:30
    I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just;
    because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

    John 5:19
    …The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do:
    for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

    Peter understood that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God.
    Jesus declared that Peter was blessed because;
    1 – Flesh and blood “didn’t” reveal that to him.
    2 – The Father, from the realm of Spirit, “did” reveal it.

    Mt 16:17
    Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona:
    for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee,
    but my Father which is in heaven.

    Paul declared that “his gospel” was not of man,
    he received it from God and he conferred NOT with flesh and blood.

    Ga 1:11-16
    …the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
    For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it,
    but by the revelation of Jesus Christ

    16-To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen;
    immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

    Just a thought.
    Do we really want to learn about God from a book or a man?
    Or, would we rather learn from Jesus, “the God/man,”
    “The Word of God,” who wrote “The Book?”

    Who better to “interpret scripture” than Jesus?

    And other sheep I have,
    which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring,
    and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be one fold,
    and one shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

  6. 11-9-2009


    You said, “When scripture or the church or the denomination or experts or anything becomes central it (imo) further hinders our ability (which is already hindered and limited and always will be) to interpret scripture.” There’s alot to chew on in that statement, but I think I agree. Thanks for the comment.


    You said, “If those skills include things beyond study and include walking with Christ in real life situations, then there is much that people with experience in Christ have to offer.” That’s the direction that I’m headed.


    I agree. I think Scripture is clear that all of God’s children can and should work together to interpret Scripture, since we are all indwelled by the Holy Spirit.


  7. 11-9-2009

    Aw whaddoiknow? I’m just a blogger.

    Alan, I think there’s a good passage on thisn that can show some of what you’re saying. The Pharisees reviled the blind man in John 9 saying, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” It is true that this man had no formal education, but he had an encounter with the living Christ that gave him a great advantage over the best of learned men. His point of view had great importance. So important that it was written down in the bible! Shouldn’t that humble us to want to learn from even the least? And as Paul said in 1 Cor 12, we give greater honor to those we deem less honorable.

  8. 11-9-2009

    The Holy Spirit is key to interpreting Scripture. If we believe that Scripture was written by common men under the guidance of the Holy Spirit… it would make sense that common people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will be able to interpret it.

  9. 11-10-2009


    Thanks for the verse. “He had an encounter with the living Christ that gave him a great advantage over the best of learned men.” Yes, exactly.


    Yes, and not only interpret it, but live accordingly.


  10. 11-10-2009

    As I’ve practiced a community hermeneutic I’ve seen a significant role for leaders to frame and inform discussion without dominating the communication. As the facilitator leads he or she can intentionally draw out and reaffirm the knowledge and wisdom of others. I’ve even found it helpful to highlight issues on which my wife and I disagree sending a message that the environment is safe enough for people to disagree. By interacting together not only knowledge can be passed on but methods of discernment.

    I have no worries at all about heresy because the folks in my church have no hesitation to rip something apart that doesn’t smell right. I think heresy is a greater danger with a pyramid leadership model where all it takes is deception in one person to filter through the whole church. A brief survey of North American evangelicalism reveals that heresy is alive and well.

    The best part about a community hermeneutic is how the Spirit leads and guides specific people to minister to each other by weaving in the wisdom and knowledge that comes from each person’s unique trials and experiences. In an environment of trust and openness people can apply the wisdom of the scriptures surgically, in just the right way to speak to the specific needs of a certain person. The scriptures, like much of what we use to minister to each other are best applied with love.

    This is where I think the community hermeneutic approach works so much better than the conventional one size fits all sermon from an expert.

    It teaches people to discern.
    People remember more of what they talk about.
    It integrates the wealth of experience of the group.
    It can be done in love.

  11. 11-10-2009

    Paul was pretty clear in Phil 3 about his confidence in the flesh. He counted it all dung. Other than Paul the apostles were mostly unlearned men. The rulers, and elders, and scribes…. marvelled and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. Acts 14:13.

    The key here is “they had been with Jesus.” A theological education on it’s own can only be “dung” according Paul. Knowledge puffeth up. 1 Cor 8:1.

    I don’t think we can put ministers, just because they have multiple degree, as experts in the same category as doctors, lawyers, etc. You can have all of these degrees and not know Jesus. I would suggest that burnout and depression in the ministry has more to do with the ministers wrong understanding of their role and operating out of their own strength and knowledge. The flesh will always fail.

    Our tendency is to put confidence in the flesh. It’s a constant battle between the flesh and the spirit. That’s why I think it is so important for the church to be a functioning body. When leadership separates itself from the body as a separate class, then they are on their own.

    We are all sheep in need of one another.

  12. 11-10-2009


    Thanks for sharing some of your experience with community hermeneutics with us!


    “Our tendency is to put confidence in the flesh.” Yep. At least, that’s my tendency.


  13. 12-15-2011

    I mostly agree with this. Good write chap! I think we should be careful in describing all forms of “sharing” in a meeting as “teaching” there seems to be a distinction between “teachers” (James 3:1; Romans 12) and teaching (Col 3:16). I’m not sure that a community of christian are going to come to the same conclusions someone like John Walton does on Genesis 1; that requires a level of academia. Those who aren’t academically trained can still be gifted as teachers; but this isn’t the role of all Christians. Not to mention informational knowledge that comes through exegesis isn’t the only form of learning–there are multiple gifts that others have that all work to build up the church. I think i’m preaching to the choir here though. Shalom

  14. 6-27-2012

    I have come to find that pastors do not have all the answers nor all the expertise. I have gone “toe-to-toe” with people with theological degrees, finding that the Lord had revealed some things to me that their education did not.

    I have high school diploma.

    It is not a matter of how trained or educated a person is. This is good and helpful, but does not reveal all things. Some people depend on what they were taught more than what the Spirit might show them.

    I have also found that some, because of their “position”, feel they are “more anointed”…that the Lord reveals things to them that would not be revealed to the “common-folk”. Funny thing, I figure – the same Spirit Who dwells in them, dwells in me. In all fairness, I do believe the Lord will reveal something to one that He would rather use them to pass it on to others. There are also people who are more gifted in the area of communication, as well.

  15. 6-27-2012


    Yes. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that kind of pride both in the lives of “experts” and nonexperts. We need one another… because, as John wrote, our fellowship is truly fellowship with the Father and Son.



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