July 18, 2005

Reliance upon consensus

The recent discussions regarding the notion of scholarly consensus are helpful, I think. (See Mark's post for a catalog of some of them.)

I'd like to make two points:
1. We depend on consensus. And by we, I mean me. To an even greater extent, church pastors and just-beginning-junior-schoars, of which I am both, depend on the summary assertions of scholarly consensus in order to build upon understanding. Bible scholarship is a big picture that gets painted, a story that gets told, and it is only through reliance upon consensus that we can create and shape the story, so that we can in time expore different facets, consider the nuance, and decide for our own.

In my Intro NT course in seminary, I was told about 2SH, and then (is "minority" the right word here?) assertions were mentioned. When I took my first course in Synoptics, I studied the issue in depth. I marked my Synopsis. I read the material. I began to formulate my own opinions, opinions that have even begun to change (grow?) in the last few years. This is the way it should has to be.

Frankly, we can not decide for our own on every issue within Biblical scholarship--not even the most senior scholars can do that. One simply does not move from extensive study to the necessary intensive study of every single topic. We depend upon others' dating of material, generic conclusions, authorial speculations, etc. This is why we must be careful in these discussions to not suggest scholars, commentary writers, etc. should not appeal to consensus.

In the absence of it, we are empowerd to say nothing.

2. Having said that, a real downside is that the senior scholar is innately resistant to being convinced by an argument that overturns a consensus assertion when it would seem to render her/his past publications that assume that opinion outdated and hardly worth reading anymore. (The exception might be, of course, if the challenge to consensus is the work of their own scholarship.)

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