Re: Computers and misinterpretation of Scripture

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 04 1998 - 07:51:39 EDT

At 11:11 AM +0200 8/04/98, Ruben Gomez wrote:
>Dear b-greekers,
>Allow me to leave my lurking mode for a moment.

Let me say at once, after reading your message, that people like you should
not lurk but should speak out more often; perhaps there's a corollary that
I myself am now violating: some of us that speak out more often should lurk
more often and let the lurkers talk!

>Maurice A. O'Sullivan's signature included something that really caught my
>>"With computers we can now misinterpret Scripture at speeds never before
>I don't know if that's an original quote or someone else's, but at any
>rate, it reminded me right away of a thread we had sometime ago, i.e. A
>little Greek is a dangerous thing. I have been thinking about this whole
>area of computer-assisted Bible study, and am well aware of the potential
>dangers and pitfalls associated with it. Well, okay, I must admit it's been
>one of my concerns in recent times...

Yes, this is an eye-catching little tidbit, and, IMHO, Maurice is one of
those relatively infrequent posters who always has something meaningful to
say when he DOES post. And I've noted that squib of his with a snicker too,
without pondering it for very long. When I have pondered it, I've
concluded, perhaps all too quickly, that it is a half-truth: that what
technological "advances" do in general for humanity, they do also with
regard to Biblical studies: they have an exponential impact on the human
capacity to do good and evil without, I believe, fundamentally altering
human nature and the human capacity to do mischief or to make creative use
of whatever resources one can learn how to use. To cross the T's and dot
the I's simplisticly, I think I'd say that computer programs for Bible
study enable the student of the Bible to do mischief or be creative in ways
that the student is already inclined to do mischief or be creative without
such programs.

>With all our present computer technology and user-friendly Bible software
>available in the market, I fear that misinterpretations will not only
>become more numerous, but also more frequent. Any comments on how this
>trend could be stopped or its effects reduced to a minimum? Who is to be
>blamed for it? Bible software companies? Incomplete and misleading manuals?
>Users? A school system that definitely does not equip students for
>classical studies in general, and linguistic and exegetical studies in
>particular? Sometimes I wonder whether we are placing an F-16 (a fighter
>plane) into the hands of teenagers? (metaphorically speaking, of course!).
>But, on the other hand, do we have any right to withhold knowledge and
>technical tools from the public arena and confine them to the academic

It may appear that I am exceptionally cynical in the first place and that
my own studies of history (I was a history major as an undergraduate) have
only strengthened my tendency to take a jaundiced view of both the
Renaissance rationalist assumption that education must surely make human
beings more humane and the Reformation assumption that putting a vernacular
translation of the Bible into the hands of a literate layperson must surely
make human beings more ready to come to faith and be obedient servants of
God in Christ (I should add that this does not make me any less ardent a
promoter of good education or of the promulgation of good, inexpensive
translations of the Bible. Yet this much of a Calvinist upbringing sticks
with me long after I have abandoned much else of that upbringing: I do not
believe that the educated person is NECESSARILY more humane than an
uneducated person, nor do I believe that a Biblically literate person is
NECESSARILY more likely to be a "good Christian." Attendance at and
observation of a few university faculty meetings will likely dispel any
illusions about the humanity of scholars, and as a lifelong Presbyterian,
I'd have to say that attendance at and observation of many Presbytery
meetings has dispelled any rosy notions I ever had about the collective
wisdom and servanthood of Biblically-literate lay people; I must add that I
have seen miracles happen at both university faculty meetings and
Presbytery meetings, despite the conclusion that most such meetings are
uninspired and uninspiring and hardly more likely to enhance one's judgment
of the value of education and of Biblical literacy.

For these reasons (if they can be called reasons) I am not particularly
anxious about the dangers of enhanced misinterpretation of Scripture
inherent in the computer revolution. Although I am of an age that I might
have been expected to reject the computer as a tool, I have welcomed it and
exploited it with open arms for every purpose I've been able to apply it,
including Biblical study. I have become an ardent user of Accordance as a
tool for my own Biblical study and for compiling data and examples for use
in my own posts to B-Greek, and although I doubt that there are tools as
good for those who work with Windows, I know that there are some that are
quite good. Nevertheless I think that the creative and fruitful use of
these tools must depend on the character and habits of mind--yes, and the
grace of God more than anything else, that one brings with one when using
them. Sloppy minds will use them to enhance sloppy arguments; malicious
minds will use them to promote sectarian strife and even witch-hunts; but
creative scholars will, I believe, produce all the more creative
scholarship through their use. A better educational program and sounder
parenting and more civil institutions may strengthen the possibilities of
creative use of the tools, but I don't think that can guarantee it.

>For those interested in the subject, I think there are a few good links
>on-line worth checking out:
>On a more general key I warmly recommend Barr's work, The Semantics of
>Biblical Language (a classic), and Carson's Exegetical Fallacies, as well
>as some of Moises Silva's books on Linguistics and Hermeneutics, to mention
>just a handful. I know these titles have been referred to a number of times
>before. But wouldn't you agree that their main theses and warnings are even
>more sorely needed now than when they were first written?

Thanks very much for both the URLs and the recommendations. Some of us are
aware of them and others will, I'm sure find them quite helpful.

>Now back to lurking mode.

Hey: please let us hear from you (electronically, that is) more often!

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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