Friday, June 9, 2006

The Genius of Humility

Dr. Adam Clarke, a scholar of biblical languages, was a contemporary of John Wesley and a Methodist minister. He authored the classic Wesleyan commentaries that bear his name. After describing some of the different approaches others used in interpreting the book of Revelation, Clarke refreshed the academic world with these words in his preface to his commentary on the Apocalypse:
My readers will naturally expect that I should either give a decided preference to some one of the opinions stated above, or produce one of my own; I can do neither, nor can I pretend to explain the book: I do not understand it; and in the things which concern so sublime and awful a subject, I dare not, as my predecessors, indulge in conjectures. I have read elaborate works on the subject, and each seemed right till another was examined. I am satisfied that no certain mode of interpreting the prophecies of this book has yet been found out, and I will not add another monument to the littleness or folly of the human mind by endeavoring to strike out a new course. I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows any thing more of it than myself.
Clarke writes further, "I had resolved, for a considerable time, not to meddle with this book, because I foresaw that I could produce nothing satisfactory on it".

And yet again:
Shall I have the reader’s pardon if I say that it is my firm opinion that the expositions of this book have done great disservice to religion: almost every commentator has become a prophet; for as soon as he began to explain he began also to prophesy. And what has been the issue? Disappointment laughed at hope’s career, and superficial thinkers have been led to despise and reject prophecy itself.
Isn't that fascinating? A scholar writing a set of commentaries covering the entire Bible shrugs his shoulders at the book of Revelation and says, in effect, "It beats me!" This elevates the famed scholar, Adam Clarke, LL.D., in my mind. It takes a great person to say, "I don't know." May we all get used to saying it!