I was recently reading through various commentaries on Isaiah and what experts had to say.

One expert. The fishers of men are there to harry Israel into slavery and dispersal. This is one of Alter’s commentaries.
And the other. Fishers of men are there to bring Israel home in triumph. From the Jewish Study Bible.

While the two disagree about Jeremiah 16:16 et alli, what struck me more is that the author of the one commentary is a principal contributor to the other commentary.

In a very real sense, not only do the commentaries disagree with each other, it isn’t much of a stretch to see the expert disagreeing with himself in these two excerpts.

If I go with one version President Nelson is spot on in how he uses the verses. Using the other makes it look like President Nelson’s use in the latest Sunday School lesson is the worst of proof texting.

If I go to the larger context in the Bible it gets more interesting as the authors of the Bible engaged in proof texting as what often looks like a primary tool of interpretation. So instead of proof texting looking like a failure, it looks like fidelity to how the Bible treats itself.

A definition of proof texting (I don’t want to be too redundant but don’t want to be too terse so I’m providing a link to a neutral discussion of what proof texting is).

Fast flowing quick sand

So while I tend to look at proof texting as building a house on sand, I often have to step back and acknowledge that it has an authoritative history.

Reading the commentaries and thinking about then left me realizing that the experts did not agree on what looked pretty straightforward. As an attorney who used experts for almost forty years that happened from time to time at work.

So, it wasn’t a surprise so much as a reminder that while experts in some areas have strong science and methods, often expertise is not as firm.

At Church and with scripture I used to think that the experts ought to agree more often on what scripture meant. As I have grown older I have realized that any place there is an expert, there is room for disagreement.

In many ways this is a feature rather than a bug.

  • It allows for a scripture to have multiple applications. In the example above, the same scripture can be used to discuss the scattering of Israel and the gathering of Israel.
  • This means I can liken scripture to myself and not treat it as locked to one use in the far past.
  • Disagreements are a good reminder that you should not just turn off your ability to think and rely on an expert.
  • At the same time, it is a caution that some things do move from disagreement to consensus. Sometimes as we learn more, expertise moves from opinion to something more solid.
  • There is a great deal that is firmly established. You can’t just ignore experts.
  • It makes our understanding of scripture something we can be more humble of rather than certain about. The reminder we should be humble fits with the scriptural message that God expects trust and faith from us rather than certainty.

What do you take away from experts and their disagreements?