3 Scholarly Cop-Outs In Biblical Studies

Within the field of New Testament studies, there are three appeals that researchers make that are just plain absurd.  These three appeals, in my opinion, need to be completely removed from the field.  This is because they are cop-outs; they are akin to simply pulling the scholarly wool over readers' eyes! (Keep in mind that this happens in other academic/scholarly realms too, not just biblical studies.  It also happens in churches, very frequently from pulpits on Sunday mornings as well.  Since I am part of the biblical studies guild, I shall offer my insider opinion on this sphere.)  I this brief post, I simply want to draw attention to them and say a few words about them; I am not going to belabor the point, however.

#1: "The majority of scholars believe" - It is probably the case that if you have ever read anything in NT studies,  you have come across this statement.  It is in such widespread use among scholars that it has almost become "THE" sort of default argument or proof.  For me, however, when I see a "scholar" using this cop-out, a red flag goes up in my mind.  The fact is, 99.9% of the time when someone uses this argument, they 1) Never cite this majority, either in name or in work.  2) They use it as a default for getting out of deep research.  3) They are not well-read enough in the topic that this is they must use this.  4) Related to the previous point, they remain only within their narrow circles so that they are unaware of many other views.  There are other reasons that I could name but you get the point!  The truth is, the "majority rules" opinion is hogwash.  Who cares if the majority holds a certain view?  So what!  That does not mean that you as a researcher are no longer responsible for proving the point in your own study!  So, I propose that we remove this statement from the realm of biblical scholarship; it is not helpful in the least and is nothing more than a weak-armed ploy that misleads readers.  Finally, it is a logical fallacy (argumentum ad populum) and on those grounds alone, it should be avoided (again, unless the "majority" is actually cited and engaged in a detailed manner).

#2: "The Burden of Proof" - Another popular argument within NT literature is that of the "burden of proof".  On many occasions, scholars disagree with one another.  However, it is not always the case that these scholars use research to bolster their defenses but rather, they attempt to shift the "burden of proof" to their opponent to either 1) Have their opponent attempt to disprove their (the opponent's) argument, or 2) Have their opponent further prove the argument they initially laid out.  Much of this simply results in speaking past one another.  The fact is, instead of an arguer pointing to their opponent suggesting that the burden of proof is with them, what they should do is further support their own claims with additional evidence.  Of course, this could go on forever and typically leads to nothing but ad types of arguments and reasoning.  This is yet another instance where, when I see it taking place, a red flag goes up.  The "burden of proof" argument really gets us nowhere because 1) It is rarely ever used correctly, and 2) It is rarely ever substantiated in any meaningful way.  This is why I avoid using it and would challenge other scholars to do the same.

#3: "Expert A says X, therefore we should agree with it" - To many, it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to list this as a problem because in fact, the whole guild seems to rest on "expert" opinions in some sense.  After all, don't academics make a living by arguing with one another and/or taking sides with one another?  As a researcher myself, it is necessary to engage the work of other scholars.  This is, indeed, what keeps the field going.  However, part of what I'm getting at is 1) When the appeal to an expert functions as a cover-up for doing one's own research in the primary sources, and 2) When the appeal to an expert simply assumes that the expert's opinions become so prominent that they cannot be questioned.  Before you reject this notion and contend that the field of NT studies is above it, stop and think about issues such as Q, the Disputed/Undisputed Paulines, etc.  It seems to me that the proper way to interact with scholarly research is to cite scholars' opinions and then substantiate or challenge those views with your own research.  This, of course, is not the same as citing their work as if it is the say-all-end-all.  And that, in large part is what I'm critiquing here!  We can, for example, say, "Expert A says X and I agree with it based on my findings, which are A, B, C, D, etc."  I would, once again, challenge scholars to avoid using the sort of logic being employed here.  It is typically just a cop-out!

Well, those are 3 problems that I see persisting within the guild.  I hope that this post can be something of a conversation-starter or even catalyst to my generation (and perhaps those before and even those coming after) to stop using these types of logic.  Our field can only be bettered by adopting such a stance.  Indeed, we only weaken the field and diminish the seriousness with which it is taken when we continue reproducing the sorts of fallacies/errors mentioned above.  
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