A LITTLE LEARNING
T. PIERCE BROWN
I believe it was Alexander Pope who said, “A little learning is a dang’rous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Even if you do not have the least idea that the Pierian spring was inMacedoniaand was supposed to give poetic inspiration to the daughters of Zeus, you can still appreciate the wisdom of Pope’s remark. However, as I was reading from a book by a Greek scholar, who doubtless knows ten times as much about the Greek language as I do, I was impressed with the fact that a lot of learning may also be a dangerous thing. If we wanted to be more technically accurate, we would probably say that it not the lot of learning that is dangerous, but one’s attitude toward it. As Jeremy Taylor said, “To be proud of learning is the greatest ignorance.”
My point now is not to point out the danger of being proud of learning, of which I think I could give several examples, but another danger. Those of us who do not have either the wisdom or scholarship of others may trust too much in their wisdom or scholarship. Let me try to clarify and emphasize by giving some examples from the Greek scholar to whom we have just referred.
He does a fantastic job of pointing out many fine distinctions of the Greek verbs that help to give insight into the meaning of the original text. Here a careful distinction needs to be made. You may trust his scholarship in pointing out the meaning of the tenses and various Greek words. It does not follow that you should trust his scholarship in giving an exegesis of the passage or the proper application of the truth about the tense of the verb.
For example, in Ephesians 2:5, he correctly points out that where the King James Version says, “By grace are ye saved,” the more accurate translation (as in the ASV) is, “By grace have ye been saved.” It is a perfect tense, which refers to an action that has taken place in the past, the results of which are still present. An awareness of the tense and its use can throw a great deal of light on many passages. “It is written,” is often, if not always, a perfect tense, and suggests, “It was written, and still stands with the same meaning and authority it had then.”
In the case to which we refer, the author gives his assumption about the application of the expression, “By grace have ye been saved,” by this illustration: A ship has run aground. The owners give the assurance, “All passengers have been landed.” That means that they were safely taken ashore and are still safe. He then says, “The New Testament teaches a salvation by grace, and if a man could be saved yesterday and lost today, saved tomorrow and lost the day after, it would not be salvation by grace, but salvation by luck: if he chanced to die on a day when he was saved, all would be well. Thus once again we are brought fact to face with Christian certainty.” He is claiming that this passage teaches the impossibility of apostasy–“once saved, always saved.”
It is tragic that many will assume that since he is a scholar and knows what the Greek verbs mean, his exegesis will be accurate. A person with a little more discernment will realize that although the statement of the ship-owners means “you have been saved, and are now safe,” it has absolutely nothing to do with whether they could get on another boat and be lost in a storm tomorrow, or that they could get killed on the way home. In the same way, the statement of Paul that means, “You have been saved, and are still safe” has nothing whatever to do with the fact that they could do something tomorrow (or even today) that would cause them to be lost. The security of the believer is plainly taught in the Bible. It does not preclude the fact that the believer may become an unbeliever and then be lost. It does not take a scholar, or even a particularly brilliant person to know that if the Captain of the ship had said, “Everyone on board the ship is safe and will be saved,” it would not prevent a person from leaping overboard and being lost. Not does it take a Solomon to realize that the expression in the Bible which means, “You have been saved, and are now safe” has nothing to do with the fact that you may be lost later as a result of sin.
There are dozens of examples like this in this, in almost all other scholarly works. For example, J. R. Mantey wrote in 1923 just after I was born, “When one considers in Ac. 2:38 repentance as self-renunciation and baptism as a public expression of self-surrender and self-dedication to Christ, which significance it certainly had in the first century, (Emp. mine,TPB) the expression “eis aphesin ton hamartion humon” may mean for the purpose of the remission of sins.” Then he denies that it means that, and assumes, because of a preconceived theological bias, that it means “because of remission of sins.” He does not try to explain how one can repent because of remission of sins.
Even Young’s Concordance, on page 70, defining baptism says, “To consecrate (by pouring out on, or putting into).” Then he gives 23 references. If you will try to use his definition in place of “baptize” as you read those references, you will see how ridiculous it is. The amazing thing is that such a tremendous Greek scholar as Dr. Robert Young could make such an egregious error, which even a high school student can see.
We should give the proper appreciation to wise and scholarly men for giving us insights into things we would not otherwise know. We also need to be extremely careful that we are able to discern between their knowledge and their assumptions and conclusions which may be based as much on preconceived notions and theological assumptions as it is on their knowledge of the meaning of the Greek words.