Words have connotations specific to the language and the culture in which they are used. That is why it is essential to learn about the Hebrew language and culture of Jesus and his first disciples.
When you read the Bible, you are reading it through the eyes of English translators who were part of the 20th-century, mostly American world. Or in the case of one woman who said to me, “if the King James Version was good enough for Paul, it is good enough me,” a 17th-century English world. That may be humorous on the one hand, but this kind of thinking betrays a lamentable lack of knowledge about the history of scriptural translation.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not dismissing the essential work of good and godly scholars or the need to translate the Bible. My point is that we, the readers, look at the world differently from what Jesus and the early church did. And never is that difference seen more clearly than in our attitude toward studying God’s Word.
When you talk about study to an American adult audience, they kind of cringe—perhaps they think of going back to school and how boring it was. Many prominent preachers even dismiss the importance of study in favor of their personal revelations and interpretations.
The Jewish sage Abraham Joshua Heschel succinctly summarized the difference between our Western view of study and the Hebraic view.
“The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The Hebrews learned in order to revere. The modern man learns in order to use.” (God in Search of Man, pg. 34)
Do you understand the difference? The biblical worldview is that you study Scripture to revere the one, true God. Knowing God is more than accumulating information about him. We learn in order to worship him, to sanctify his Name in word and deed. Knowing — biblically — means being conformed to God’s image by submitting to his authority and obeying his will. It means having an intimate relationship with the Father, being in dialogue with him, and being in partnership with him.
Now Adam knew [yada] Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Genesis 4:1
This verse is the first instance of the Hebrew root word yada (to know). You get the picture. So when I say to you that we are called to study, do, and teach, I am not saying to take on the kind of knowledge that puffs up. You know if you are learning the biblical way because it humbles you, it leads you to a more profound reverence and awe.
To study means to draw close. In a word, to study is to enter into life. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. - John 6:63
Do you understand the implications of all this? To lead an authentically Spirit-filled life means to be actively searching out the teaching of Jesus in Scripture; it means to be diligently walking out the Word of God in your life. It means more than having goose-bumps, dancing for joy, and shouting hallelujah — not that those don’t have their place.
Make no mistake about this, the Spirit-filled life is a life characterized by submission to God’s authority. All of which springs from actively searching, studying, investigating, and inquiring of God through his Word.
People say to me, but I don’t have a degree. And I say to them, you can read, can’t you? And if you cannot read, you can listen to recorded audio versions, can’t you? Even better, gather with others and read the Bible out loud together.
What is important is that you seek to hear the Word of the Lord every day; that you input it into your mind, that you hide it in your heart.
The Hebrew word for heart (lev) has the connotation of your mind. King David writes, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11). He is saying; I will commit it to memory so I will act appropriately.
There has been a predominant interest in the Protestant church on evangelism in the last three centuries, and, of course, that is not a bad thing. The way we go about it, though, is often not entirely biblical. The commission is as much about discipleship as conversion.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus is not looking for converts. He is looking for disciples.
He wants more from you than just a decision; he wants a disciplined life. As John Wesley said, the soul and the body make a man, but the spirit and discipline make a Christian.
The word disciple is used 269 times in the New Testament, while the word Christian is used only three. To be a Christian in name only is about as absurd to the Hebraic mind as saying you have faith without appropriate conduct. A body without breath is dead.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. - James 2:14-17
To Jesus, there is no such thing as being a casual believer. “Count the cost,” he says. “If you are going to be my student, you have to be willing to put your hands to the plow.”
This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.