I was excited when my new book arrived in the mail, "A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ" by the imminent historian and theologian Emil Schurer, D.D., M.A. His work is a primary source for New Testament research, and I have seen his writings cited time and time again by all the most prominent historians, so I was eager to get my hands on my own copy to study.
But in the very first paragraph of the introduction I was disappointed. I had to take exception to something he said. I have encountered this same spirit in other scholars and it always disheartens me, especially when it comes from someone whose learning I so greatly respect. Dr. Schurer said: "No incident in the gospel story, no word in the preaching of Jesus Christ, is intelligible apart from its setting in Jewish history."
Now it seems to me the good Dr. Schurer is saying that without knowing the Jewish history in which the Gospel is set, one cannot really understand the Gospel, it's not really “intelligible” to the average person. But my question then would be .... if that is true, then how can anyone be saved without first having a knowledge of Jewish history? How many people actually have a knowledge of the Jewish history of the New Testament period before they are saved? And how many countless millions have been saved without having such knowledge? One must have some understanding of what the Gospel means in order to even recognize their need for a Savior, let alone that Jesus is that Savior.
I think perhaps there is a bit of an arrogant spirit that seems to haunt the halls of academia, that perpetuates this idea, and Christians are not exempt from it. Through the years that I have been engaged on public Christian discussion forums I have seen it mostly in those who have studied Greek and especially those who have studied Hebrew. They have this same attitude. That you can't really understand the Gospel unless you can read it in the original languages. THEN you understand what the words mean.
Don't misunderstand. I certainly believe that knowledge of Jewish history and of Hebrew and Greek can most certainly add to our understanding of the Gospel, can flesh out the form and figure so to speak. However, NONE of these scholarly pursuits are necessary to understand the Gospel. Indeed, God has intentionally made the Gospel of Jesus Christ so simple that even a child can comprehend it.
I have studied New Testament history and archaeology as well as Greek and Hebrew for over 40 years and my studies have served to build up, strengthen, and give me a better understanding of things pertaining to the Gospel. But I also know that it was the simple message of the Gospel, that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that won my heart and saved my soul. And that simple message is "intelligible" to anyone and everyone, even without an education in Jewish history or Hebrew.
However, I will enjoy studying the work of the good Dr. Schurer and no doubt will learn much about Jewish history ... but I pray God will give me the wisdom and humility to always keep in mind that it is His Spirit that opens the eyes of my understanding and makes the Gospel not only intelligible, but enlightening, and most importantly … transforming.