“Read your Bible!” they say. “It is essential to the Christian life. Read it, study it, memorize it, meditate upon it and let it be your guide…But do not read it for knowledge. Rather, read it to get to know the Author. We read the word to get to know the Word. Knowledge puffs up! Don’t make the mistake of seeking knowledge.”
Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but I think many of us who believe in Jesus (especially in the Protestant tradition) have heard something along those lines. It is as if the only people who are allowed to study the Bible for knowledge are atheist/agnostic scholars who pick the Bible apart in order to attack the faith; or non-believing scholars who merely study the ancient texts as they would any other early document.
Maybe, just maybe, a select few genuinely Christian scholars are allowed to study for knowledge since many people see it is their (dry) task to equip pastors with deeper insights who then equip the rest of the people in the church.
It is beautifully good to study the Bible. I have the privilege of spending the majority of my time studying it on my own, teaching it to others and journeying alongside other people studying the Bible in-depth.
I sincerely believe that all people are called to get to know the loving God revealed in scripture through reading scripture. We should be reading, studying and meditating upon it. It is a precious gift from God. A divinely inspired (yet deeply human) beautiful library that is relevant to everyone on the planet!
And this Bible study includes studying for knowledge.
But knowledge puffs up! Yes it can. The early church leader Paul said it. It’s right there in the Bible. However, a good friend of mine also stressed to me that knowledge doesn’t have to puff up. “God is the knower of all things and also the most humble being in the universe” he told me. That had me thinking for a while.
For some reason knowledge based academic Bible study seems to be polarized from devotional prayerful Bible study. Why?! The English scholar and former Anglican Bishop N.T Wright wrote this about a situation he encountered during his early days in academia: “I was once advised to keep separate Bibles one devotional and one ‘academic’. Fortunately I took no notice.”
Hopefully I am interacting with God as I am studying ancient Greek, the thoughts of various theologians and the best ways Jesus’ followers can serve the world. I am sharing intimacy with him as I write essays. He can even commune with me through theological exams!
Here are a few reasons why I think we should study the Bible for knowledge:
1. We need Biblical knowledge to wrestle with the Bible for ourselves.
In his last letter the Apostle Paul writes to his dear friend and mentee Timothy. He instructs Timothy with these words: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2nd Tim 2:15 ESV). Paul was telling Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth. To be wise as he communicates and understands new depths of the good news of Jesus and of the scriptures. This was to be done by Timothy doing his best (ESV, NIV), working hard (NLT), being diligent (HCSB, NASB) and/or studying (KJV).
Obviously, Paul wasn’t telling Timothy to get his PhD in Old Testament studies or Theology. But he was telling him to actively seek knowledge and wisdom (which are related) as he handled truth.
How are we handling truth today?
How many of us have so little knowledge about God, scripture and the foundations of faith (theology) found in scripture! Rather we rely on a person (likely a man) to spoon feed us small bits of scripture once a week during a religious service. And many of us don’t even bring a copy of the Bible with us to these meetings and actually think through what we’re being fed!
How are we to wrestle with the deeper questions of life (who is God? how can I relate to Him? is God a Him or a Her or an It? who am I? what is the purpose of humanity? how shall I live? how do I deal with pain and joy and beauty? who is Jesus? are all religious systems ultimately correct? why is there suffering in the world?…and a million more) if we are not seeking knowledge from the Bible? I for one desire a faith that seeks understanding. A vibrant relationship with the divine Trinity where I seek more and more understanding (knowledge) through studying the scriptures and meeting God in that process.
I acknowledge that any knowledge I attain is only going to be like a tiny crumb of an old chocolate bar found in a forgotten corner of a chocolate factory. Ultimately I am just a finite, confused man seeking after the infinite being who sustains the universe! My pursuit of God through knowledge is not unlike a toddler trying to understand a meeting at the United Nations. But this pursuit of God through attaining knowledge is worth it!
2. Biblical knowledge can lead to insight and revelation.
As the early Apostles (a word meaning “sent messengers or envoys”) travelled around the Roman Empire spreading the exciting message of Jesus, there were a group of Jews in a place called Berea who were described as noble. Instead of rejecting the message and person of Jesus (as many others had done) these Jews “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). In a way, they searched for Biblical knowledge daily to see if the message they were hearing was legit.
I can just imagine these Jews pouring over the Old Testament prophecies to see if this Jesus they were being told of really was the Messiah. Ultimately the Holy Spirit used their knowledge of scripture to draw them into fresh insight and revelation.
The Holy Spirit does the same thing today. As we read the Bible looking for knowledge, with the historical context in the back of our minds and our Bible dictionaries and commentaries around us, the Holy Spirit often gives us fresh insight and revelation! As we dig into familiar texts with new knowledge we often receive deeper insight into who Jesus actually was and is.
When we know that Paul is writing to privileged Roman citizens in his letter to the Philippians it makes his statement that they are “citizens of heaven” so much more rich and profound! When we read the first line of the Gospel of Mark with new eyes we realize that when the author says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1) he is not casually using religious jargon but making a dangerously politically charged statement that Jesus, not the Roman Caesar was the Son of God! There are many other examples of how knowledge seeking Bible study can bring us deeper insight and revelation that affects our faith and hopefully our daily lives!
Has every Biblical scholar or person with deep knowledge and understanding been led to connection with God? Definitely not. Has every person with deeper Biblical knowledge walked in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Unfortunately not. But let us not throw baby knowledge out with the bath water!
3. God loves it when we walk in our gifts.
However strange it may be to you, there are people out there (like myself) who actually enjoy reading theological books, studying, learning, contemplating, thinking and pondering. Maybe you are one of us. This desire for knowledge and enjoyment of academic pursuits is not evil, but actually God given! As a dear friend once told me “God gave us our brains for a reason!” When I am trying to memorize 1st century Greek paradigms and reading theological books I believe that God delights in me because I am walking in the potential that he instilled in me! He is not only pleased because I am hopefully sharing (and will share) what I am learning with others, but simply because I am being me.
The 1924 Scottish Olympic Medalist Eric Liddell put it this way: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God loves it when we are truly ourselves, rejoicing in him as we do the things we love.
So if you have a desire to dig into the Bible for knowledge, don’t feel ashamed! Embrace this Godly desire and gift. In the same way if you enjoy photography or tennis or knitting do not feel ashamed but rather embrace these Godly desires and gifts! As the influential American pastor John Piper wrote: “God is most glorified in us as we are most satisfied in him.” Therefore we ought to delight ourselves and satisfy ourselves in God and in the gifts he has given us. This includes studying the Bible for knowledge, especially if this is a gift and desire that God has given you!
So should we study the Bible for knowledge? I think yes!
As 1st Samuel 2:3 says “…the LORD is a God of knowledge…” Doesn’t that settle it? But I’m almost definitely taking that verse out of context. Hold on a few minutes while I prayerfully go get my commentary…