Monday, August 7, 2017

The Apostles were Fishermen

Sometimes I'll hear the refrain that the Apostles were fishermen, blue-collar toughs, who went out into the world with no education and turned it inside out. This is usually an anti-intellectual barb, thrown out at professional theologians and seminarians. The apostles lacked education, so why waste time with so much nonsense? The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles all that they needed. Instead, Christians ought to focus on missions and evangelism.

Now this concept has ancient pedigree, going back to St. Gregory of Nazianzus. And I would agree with the concept on the surface of it. Indeed, seminaries can be all too worldly, fitting comfortably within the education-industrial complex that is imploding all around the United States. Ministry has become perverted into a "career" or "profession" that one gains skills in. In a way, this a particular problem spawned from the Reformation's concept of vocation. However, I despise the anti-intellectual bent of this phrase, and its mechanical and misanthropic view of Human being and development. Here are some points on why the Apostles were not merely fishermen.

1) They were Jews. What this means is that they were immersed in the Scriptures from birth. Especially for those living in the Hellenic age, Jews felt a particular type of defensiveness and anti-thesis; the world they lived in was foreign and strange. The system of synagogues helped inculcate living as God's chosen people. The average Jew would memorize large portions of the Torah, even if they were illiterate, from congregational readings. Thus, the Apostles would've been deeply sculpted by the Scriptures and possess great familiarity with them, even if, as the Gospels testify, they did not understand them. Sadly, the same can not be said for many Christians of all stripes. There are many who are biblically illiterate, not having any basic sense or grasp of chronology, signification, pattern, or logic. While the Apostles were not formally educated, their minds were not foreign to the Scripture, but were rather molded by it.

2) They were taught by Jesus. When Christ rose from the grave, He remained for forty days before His Ascension and the coming of the Spirit. In this time, the Gospels repeatedly testify to the fact that Jesus instructed the disciples on the meaning of Scripture, teaching them that the Christ was to die and rise on the third day. Obviously, this does not mean that Christ Jesus merely taught them this as cipher or a code. Rather, He taught the Twelve to see with new eyes, not how to apply an alien fact on top of the text, but to see how this very truth emerges from the entire body of Scripture. I think it's fair to say that Christ did not sit down, have one Bible study with the Twelve, and they never needed to think about it again. Rather, they spent the rest of their lives in the text, growing, learning, perceiving. What we have left of their teachings in the gospels and letters of the New Testament is Spirit-breathed, infallible, the manifestation of what Christ had taught the Apostles, worked out through their lives and in their own pens.

Pursuing a healthy and strong life of the mind is key to good teaching in Christ's Body. This does not mean formal, accredited, academic instruction (though that's not necessarily a bad thing). However, it doesn't mean an unreflective, anti-intellectual, turns towards pride. What I mean is that one must not only sit down with the Bible, but learn how to read and see. This is the benefit of tradition, particularly a living tradition. Teachers of the faith teach us, who in return teach others, and so on. The perspicuity of Scripture is not in opposition to the fact that one needs guidance in understanding it. This is clear in the number of atheist blogs that claim to have all sorts of proof-texts for the incoherency, immorality, ineptitude, and inadequacy of the biblical text. In some ways, this is God's judgement on unfaithful mutilation of His holy writ.

While you may not need to read philosophy, literary theory, biology, etc. to become a faithful teacher of the flock, you need to be an intellectual, mentally captive to the Word of God. You must be learned, and to do so is not a self-proclaimed task or title, but done by sitting at the feet of those who've gone before, whether living or dead, preserved in writings. Part of learning is purgative, a purification process which helps drive out our own vanities and conceits to make room for hearing another voice. Learning is a receptive activity, involving submission and patience. These are necessary virtues. While the Spirit gives teaching as a gift to His church, I have no idea why some would presume to think this is in opposition to temporal striving and struggle. Instead, may we listen for the Shepherd, in the midst of His flock, teach us, and may we devote our whole mind to loving God to His glory, and our good.

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