Who Can Be a Theologian?

  • Brian Overholtzer
Bible with highlighted text

On July 24th, 2020 my wife gave birth to our first child, Hannah Kelly Overholtzer. We choose to name her after Hannah, the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament because we were inspired by her prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Her prayer reflects that she was a theologian. Our hope is that one day, Hannah will not only be a believer, but she will also be a theologian.

Theologian. When you read this word, you probably paint a certain picture in your mind. Perhaps you imagine a long-bearded gentleman sitting in an elaborate study. He has a ladder with wheels to reach his towering bookshelves which encase enough books to fill the Oxford Bodleian Library. Certainly, only a scholar could be a theologian, right?

Some would agree to such legalistic boundaries that are placed around knowing God. Some would also postulate that one must accomplish years and years of academic study before being able to study the person, attributes and works of God. Is this really the case? Is the study of God (Theo, “God” + logian, “one who studies”) only for those with prefixed letters attached before their names? Some would insist that studying God is only for the scholarly elite. By God’s gracious wisdom, Scripture speaks clearly and authoritatively into this matter.

Concerning the study of God, Scripture reveals 1) Who is unable to study God’s Word with accuracy, 2) Who is able to study God’s Word with accuracy.

Who Is Unable to Study God’s Word with Accuracy?

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Those who are lost in their sin, who are condemned already (John 3:18) and do not believe in Jesus Christ are not able to study God’s Word with accuracy. Their eyes are actually veiled to the gospel. As unbelievers, their minds have been blinded by Satan (the god of this world) in order to keep them from seeing the gospel that God has revealed in His Word. This gospel is the glorious revelation of Christ and Christ is the very image of God (see also Hebrews 1:1-4). Unbelievers can spend a lifetime studying Jesus and even write lengthy commentaries. But they can never know Him. They can never know Him for who He really is.

Who Is Able to Study God’s Word with Accuracy?

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

If Satan has blinded eyes to the light of the gospel, what then is the solution to such a grim predicament? As the passage above clearly reveals, just as God spoke light into the dark void of the universe at creation, so God shines light into our hearts. God is the causing agent and we are recipients. Who are the “we”? Those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord. This is not a superficial acceptance or whimsical decision to try something new. Rather, it is a submission to Jesus as Lord of one’s because they believe by faith alone that Jesus is Lord. Believers are therefore illumined by God in order to know the truth that God has opened their eyes to see. The believer has been enabled to grow in the knowledge of Christ by studying His Word while depending on the Holy Spirit to illumine him or her to the truth.

Hannah the Theologian

The first woman is Hannah, the mother of Samuel. In 1 Sam. 1, Hannah was barren. This caused her great pain, embarrassment and distress. She prayed to the LORD fervently for His intervening help. The LORD answered her prayer and opened her womb. The next chapter recounts Hannah’s prayer response to the LORD’s miraculous intervention. In this lengthy prayer, Hannah recounts God’s accomplishment as a victor in battle defeats His foes. This is because Hannah was being taunted by her adversary for being barren. Hannah prays that she rejoices in His salvation. Such language is reminiscent of how God has saved Israel in the past from their enemies. Hannah praises God because there is no one besides Him; a theme very prominent in Deut. 6:4. She also echoes Deuteronomy that there is no rock like her God.

We see a pattern that Hannah’s prayer is not a “feel-good” prep talk. It is a highly theological articulation of truths from Scripture. Often, we can determine how often a person reads their Bible by how often they quote it when they pray. Hannah’s prayer reflects that such gave much attention to her Bible and to sitting under the leaders that God had chosen to preach it. A final note about Hannah’s prayer is one that is often overlooked. Hannah’s prayer is the first occurrence of the use of the word Messiah! Woah. How is this overlooked? Now to be clear, Hannah is not a prophet but she knew her Scripture and knew that God promised a coming deliverer (Gen. 3:15) and her prayer gave this holy one (1 Sam. 2:9) the title Messiah (1 Sam. 2:10). The English Bible will say “exalted the horn of Your anointed.” Anointed is the word Messiah which carries over to the Greek New Testament as Christ. Hannah’s prayer reflects that she knew her Scripture which informed and shaped her hope in Christ. Hannah was a theologian. Her prayer then inspired the second woman the Bible highlights as being a theologian. Mary, the mother of Jesus also prayed a highly theologically prayer (Luke 1:46-56). She even quoted much of Hannah’s prayer. It’s as if Mary knew that Hannah’s prayer was about Christ. How appropriate is it that Mary prayed her prayer.

Hannah’s example of being a believer who depended on Scripture for her understanding of God has inspired my wife Elizabeth and I to name our first-born child after her. We have the great privilege to be parents to a beautiful little girl made in the image of God. Our hopes and prayers are that God will one day open her eyes to see the light of the gospel in the face of Christ and that she too will be like the Hannah of the Bible in that she is a genuine believer and grows in her knowledge of God by reading her Bible, pays attention in church, and takes time to study God’s Word. Our prayer is that our daughter will be a theologian. Do you have a desire to grow to know God more? If so, what is keeping you from such a great privilege? If you have the Spirit of God, the Bible and sit under a faithful pastor who exposits the Word then you have the enablement and all the right tools to be a theologian.