For the past several years I keep hearing whispers by spiritual minded Christians that Bible learning and schooling in Bible colleges is bad for Christians. The idea is that somehow too much learning hinders one from hearing the Holy Spirit influence our minds and hearts. In addition to that we hear that all one needs is a good memory and the clear words of the Scripture will be sufficient.
First a few words from a friend about rightly dividing the words of Scripture as 2 Timothy 2:15 says we should do.
“When I come upon a baffling passage or set of passages, it is an indicator that I need to dig deeper, seeking more context. The whole Bible is inspired by the Spirit, but a human is limited in what they can hold in their mind at one time. If I am given a few jigsaw puzzle pieces and am informed that they are part of a larger picture, yet I cannot get them to fit together, I suspect I need to look for more pieces.”
What my friend is describing is inductive study. Inductive study has to do with reasoning into. I like to think of it as leaving the Scriptures in their Biblical context and see the meaning from within Scripture. The opposite is deductive study, which means to deduce from one’s own thinking. In other words if we take a Scripture out of the context and reason from that particular set of words it’s meaning, that is deducing. Deductive study can and does create a barrage of ideas according to the thinking of different people with different ideas and experiences. What Christians desperately need to do is to do inductive study, leaving the Scriptures in their context and finding the meaning from the context of the book they are written in as well as the entire Bible.
I am fairly certain that all Bible Colleges have courses on how to properly study the Bible outlining exactly how to do inductive, contextual Bible study. This is essential for everyone and in my opinion pastors, preachers, and Bible study teachers should have the training to be instructing Christians how to do that. It would indeed cut in half the amount of dissension in the Body of Christ. Instead we have a large number of untrained, uninformed, opinionated Christians following believers who talk the loudest and sound spiritual. And often these people like to say that college almost always shuts down a person’s ability to hear the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us.
However, there is a believer in Scripture that was a diligent Torah observant Jew, who was trained by the most famous Hebrew teacher of that era 2000 years ago. Gamaliel was the grandson of the famous Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder. Almost any Hebrew book or set of Torah translations will have notes by Hillel. Gamaliel, influenced in his studies by his grandfather Hillel, became famous for his knowledge and understanding of the Torah and writings. He became a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the time of the early church. Paul of Tarsus who wrote a large part of the New Testament letters is the believer who was instructed by Gamaliel. In fact, Gamaliel even defended Paul and the apostles when the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin, wanted to kill Paul and the apostles. [i]
Now Paul, a highly trained student of the Scriptures, used his training and knowledge to impart understanding of God’s Word. Anyone who thinks the Holy Spirit did not inspire him is being foolish at best. Paul is one of the best examples of using our minds and hearts to understand God’s messages to us. Paul extensively used examples from the Torah and writings. He praised the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if what they heard were true. [ii]
If more believers learned how to effectively search the Scriptures we would have less divisions in the Body of Christ today. And we would have far fewer injustices being proclaimed as God’s ways. Searching the Scriptures does not mean only doing a search on one word and compiling Scriptures into a teaching. Believers need to learn what it means to read in context. One compelling picture of “context” is to put oneself in the authors’ cultural setting and to hear as if one were there at their feet listening. This would include a picture of life in that era, knowledge of the things they might experience and insight on what was happening around them. It would also include some degree of understanding that the language we read Scripture in was not the language spoken by the apostles of the New Testament or the writers of the Old Testament. We read a translation. Thus, sometimes it really does help to find a means of understanding something of the original words used, whether going to a book (or app) written by some studious college trained person, or by seeking out a linguist. Just as the Holy Spirit used Paul with all his training and knowledge, so we can be not only helped in our studies by the Holy Spirit, but also directed by the Holy Spirit through our studies. College training need not get in the way.
Context also means to read before and after the verse one is reading. Often the writers set the stage for a point. If we read before, often we will see what he was thinking about. Reading after may give us some further clarity. Sometimes we best see the picture by reading the whole epistle or story and then go back and note all the elements. Not doing these things is how one gets odd and often antiBiblical concepts and teachings.
Bible College training does not get in the way of hearing the Holy Spirit speak to our spirit. Rather if submitted to the Lord, our learning will amplify our ability to hear.
[i] Acts 5:27-42, [ii] Bereans Acts 17:11