Bible Study as an
Ongoing Task of
a Community of Believers
In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Eugene Roop prefaced his work with this important reminder:
"Groups in the Believers Church tradition have long been reluctant to write commentary on the Bible. A number of factors have contributed to this hesitancy. Some of the problem relates to one purpose of commentary. In part Bible commentary arose out of a desire to provide authoritative interpretation of the Bible for the church. The church leaders wanted to be sure the laity and pastors interpreted the Bible correctly.
"Mennonites, Brethren, and Baptists, among others, often found themselves persecuted because they did not follow "authorized" understandings of the Bible. Certainly we expect to witness passionately to what we believe. We do not accept every proposed interpretation of the Bible. Nevertheless, we become uneasy when we hear that a primary function of commentary is to set forth what is "legitimately normative" from Scripture.
"Many times what seems "legitimately normative" has been used by the church to define heresy. Certainly the possibility of physical torture for biblical heresy seems remote in our day in North America. However, it is not so in other places. The problem of psychological coercion arising from claims of authoritative interpretation continues to plague us even in North America.
"The believers church tradition has never advocated Bible study in which Christians merely do what is right in their own eyes. Such simplistic individualism is not the only alternative to control by church or academic authorities. Instead our tradition encourages the community to study the Bible together. The task of leaders is to promote such study and foster responsible interpretation of the texts. Hence a commentary in the believers church tradition must promote regular and careful study of the Bible in the community of faith. Obviously the one who writes a commentary does not need to shy away from his or her own best interpretation of the text. This would reduce the commentary to an academic explanation of words, phrases, and historical backgrounds. But neither will the believers church tradition permit a claim of authority which does not at the same time invite ongoing discussion and discovery in the church."
Genesis, Eugene F. Roop, ©1987,
Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, pp. 9-10.
Dr. Roop is President and
Wieand Professor of Biblical Studies emeritus
at Bethany Theological Seminary.
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