By Alex Kneen
When Rob first posed this question to me, my mind flashed to a picture of a person sitting at a desk in a dimly lit room with pen and paper and Bible open before him. Hearing the word study conjures an image, and from that image, I took Rob’s question to mean, “Does Scripture command us to sit down with scripture, pen and paper and read it, take notes, look up definitions with a concordance or dictionary, use cross references, and come to a conclusion that is concise and applicable?”
Of course, Rob warned me about using 2 Timothy 3:16, which states, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness….” His admonition was to consider to whom this was written. Timothy was a leader responsible for a group of believers. He stated that this statement is unequivocally applicable to church leaders, but was it applicable to all believers? And if you know Rob, you know he doesn’t like quick unexamined answers based on assumptions. So of course, I feared this was some sort of trick question. I began to rack my brain for verses concerning the command to study scripture.
In my search, I noticed I could make an exception for every command to study scripture. The kings of Israel were commanded to copy all the word of the law (an arduous task considering the lack of word processors back in the day) and to keep it before them all their days. But of course, they were kings! Were the common folk commanded to do so? Not that I could think of. And then I quickly referenced Psalm 119, noting to my surprise no specific command to study God’s Word, or law. Instead, this “love poem to God’s Law” included numerous pledges by the author to study and meditate on the Word. I didn’t think that it was evidence enough to support the statement that Scripture commands us to study scripture.
At the same time, I could not find enough evidence to support the statement that scripture does NOT command us to study scripture. Running through passages like Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Then Luke’s account of the Berean converts in Acts 17:11, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
And in scanning through New Testament references to the word “scripture”, I began to understand that every letter written, whether a gospel account or pastoral exhortation, assumed that believers had at least a cursory understand of scripture, using phrases like, “Have you never read…?” and “This happened that scripture might be fulfilled….” And “Don’t you know what scripture says….?” The book of Hebrews is filled with references to scripture, citing God’s Word repeatedly in a tone suggesting the familiarity of the listeners to the passage quoted.
All I could conclude was that though there is no direct command in scripture that all believers should study scripture, somehow, knowing scripture is very important. But what, exactly, is my relationship to scripture, the written word of God as recorded in the Bible? I am not a leader. I am not a teacher or a preacher. Is it really all that important that I sit down every day with my Bible, pen, paper, and concordance? If I don’t, am I sinning? And if it is that important, what about the millions of people throughout history and around the world in our present day who can’t read or don’t have access to a copy of scripture in their language? Are they helplessly living in violation of God’s expectations? Are they ignoble, unlike the Bereans who searched the scriptures diligently?
Then came the moment where I think the answer to the question and Rob’s intention in asking it collided. I took a step back and asked myself, “Well, what do you mean by ‘study’?” I don’t mean to get overly picky on word choice, but what I really called into question was that very first picture image that popped into my head. I admire Rob a lot, and I’m learning that maybe with him, as with any good teacher, that the process of learning is less the ability to come up with the correct answer than it is the process of learning HOW to think. He wasn’t asking me a trick question to see if I could get the right answer, but he was asking me to think more clearly.
So, does scripture command us to study scripture? I think it asks me to do much more than that. In reading the passage in Deuteronomy 6, I come to the conclusion that I must live it, breathe it, eat it, talk about it. When I read the account of Creation in Genesis, I then look around me to see the effects of God’s spoken Word. I have to be constantly aware of it, defined by it, and dominated by it. I can “study scripture” without being able to read, as many believers have done over the centuries.
Just as Paul reminded Timothy of the usefulness of scripture for himself, he commanded that Timothy devote himself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, and to teaching in 1 Timothy 4:13. So it was important to Paul that believers at least HEAR God’s written word. And there are countless examples throughout the Old and New Testaments of God admonishing His people to hear what He has said. So I should listen to it, memorize it, think about it, meditate on it. And if I have a copy of scripture, or the written word of God, and I am literate, then I should sit down in my dimly lit room with my pen, paper, and concordance, because it is a great way to set my mind and heart on the path to being dominated by that word.
In thinking through all of this, I recalled one of the most memorable things I have learned from a pastor. He shared the opening verses of Hebrews, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….” His diligent study of the scriptures as a leader in the church lead him to teach his congregation that in the Greek, the phrase is “God spoke to us in Son” as if “Son” were a language, like I would speak in Spanish or Hebrew.
God’s Word, all of Scripture, all of Creation, is summed up in Jesus Christ. God did not simply provide for me to have a copy of His written word, He gave me The Word Himself, who dwells in me by His Spirit, and to whom all the written word points. I can learn of Him by reading written accounts, talking about Him, listening to the things He said, and looking around to see what He has created. As I study in my “dimly lit room”, I must look to Jesus Christ to make my time fruitful, so that the result of my study always serves to make me look more like Him.