Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Bible Scholar or Biblical Scholar?

Posted by NT Wrong on December 9, 2008

It’s the term which is most used to describe practitioners of the discipline. But it’s routinely rendered in two different ways. What should it be: “Bible scholar” or “biblical scholar”?

This is the sort of debate which has the potential to make the Jew/Judean debate insignificant in comparison.

The term “biblical scholar” appears to be more prevalent in the scholarly literature. But “Bible scholar” is used not infrequently. Can we get assistance from comparative disciplines? “Classical Scholar” is the normal designation, but “Classics Scholar” also gets employed. Is the use of one term over the other a recent development? While Google Scholar states that the biblical scholar : Bible scholar ratio is 16:100, the ratio for works since the year 2000 is… 16:100. Is there a distinction to be made between those who study the Old Testament or Tanakh and New Testament, and those who focus on non-canonical literature? The adjective “biblical” should encompass related literature, whereas the noun “Bible” does not. Does the magisterium, the Society of Biblical Literature, assist us? Not really. For every couple of references to “biblical scholar” on the SBL site, there’s one to “Bible scholar”. The discipline does seem to prefer “Biblical Studies” as the object of its study, however. After all, “Bible Studies” sounds a bit too much like an eager church group than the rigorous discipline which is Biblical Studies…

The entry for Naomi Liebowitz (“The World’s Greatest Bible Teacher”) in Great Jewish Women (1994) uses both “Bible scholar” and “biblical scholar” on the first page. Hector Avalos et al, in their introduction to This Abled Body (2007) describe Bruce C. Birch as a “Hebrew Bible scholar” but in the next sentence describe Janet Lees as a “socially committed biblical scholar”. Is the adjective more feminine? Is it less authoritative than the definitive noun? Is ‘biblical’ a little more postmodern? Bob Ekblad, in Reading the Bible with the Damned (2005) describes himself as a “biblical scholar” in one sentence, and then as a “Bible scholar” in the very next. How can the discipline continue with such terminological confusion?

What do you think?

Update: The results are overwhelmingly in favour of “biblical scholar” over “Bible scholar”.

16 Responses to “Bible Scholar or Biblical Scholar?”

  1. danielandtonya said

    Why only 2 options on the poll?

  2. ntwrong said

    Hmmmmm… I was just trying to decide which was the better of the two terms. But I guess there’s others.

    Please suggest other terms, if you prefer them. Once the winner between “biblical scholar” and “Bible scholar” has been determined by a fair and learned vote, we could have a play-off with the other terms.

  3. So how often is Google scholar used rather than Googlical scholar?

  4. Thanks for raising the question. I had never really considered it. I usually refer to myself as a(n) (aspiring) New Testament scholar. More recently, I’ve been trying out “historian” for myself. Neither “Bible scholar” nor “biblical scholar” feel quite right. I would probably be more likely to say “biblical studies scholar” for myself.

    Another interesting point is that “biblical” sounds a bit like a descriptive adjective, describing not the subject matter of the scholarship but its character. To say “I am a biblical scholar” sounds a bit like you’re saying the Bible has some sort of model for scholarship to which you adhere. So, you could be a “biblical Bible scholar” or a “biblical ethnomusicology scholar.”

  5. steph said

    I think people like David Peabody, NT Wright, Blitherington, Tintin and Billy Craig are Bible scholars, as in scholars of the Christian Bible and Martin Hengel, Michael Goulder, Roger Aus, Maurice Casey and Matthew Black are biblical scholars as in scholars of the biblical text.

  6. Ben said

    Maybe it depends . . . on the audience.

  7. ntwrong said

    Patrick – There is that ambiguity in the adjective. It would be worse for Islamic scholars, because the government wouldn’t allow them to fly to conferences.

  8. My first time here, mainly because of your blog handle, NT Wrong. I just dropped out of an adult class of DVD lectures by N. T. Wright (I don’t know the title of the series) about how radical Jesus was in his associations with the outcasts of his day. The talk was interspersed with silent re-enactions of scenes from the life of Jesus. I loved the scene showing him dancing at the wedding of Cana.

    But, I digress. I’ve read some of Wright’s opinions on the position of gays and lesbians in the church, and he came to seem rather hypocrital in his endorsement of Jesus’ radical associations, while at the same time excluding gays from full participation in the life of the church.

    I voted for “biblical scholar” in the poll, but I like what Steph says, too. I’d call Wright a Bible scholar.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to run on so.

  9. ntwrong said

    Do come back, Grandmère.

  10. anonymous said

    Perhaps the difference is that Bible Scholars believe in inerrancy and Biblical Scholars don’t.

  11. steph said

    Wright says what he thinks sounds good Mimi, he makes it up as he goes along and makes sure he’s being a ‘good Christian’ all the time. He has a very high opinion of himself – the new messiah or something perhaps … he notes in the preface of his babble ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’ that he hopes what he writes help establish peace in the Middle East. He has a huge following of faithful defenders and disciples – he even has a fanclub, ‘Wrightsaid’, which worship everything he says … I don’t think he’s a hit in the Middle East though. 🙂

  12. Matt said

    Hopefully, his Eminence and loyal servant, Steph, will excuse my ignorance, but who is “Tintin”?

  13. steph said

    Well he’s short and shrill and looks a bit like Tintin and Austin Powers, he blogs, and teaches in a Christian school and when he grows up he wants to be famous. 🙂

  14. NT Wrong? said

    Steph, are you my loyal servant? It almost sounds like fighting words, Matt. Leon called you “mildly clever” earlier, too, Steph. And he should know, because he’s the only one who understands what’s going on.

  15. Matt said

    Wow! Clear as mud. Thanks.

  16. steph said

    Of course I’m your loyal servant my lord. And I’m extremely humbled to have such an honour bestowed on me by the all knowing Leon himself.

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