I am indebted to my first Navigator mentor who valued scholarship. He invested summers at Dallas Seminary back in the mid-70s; and when he saw my strong interest in studying the Bible, he encouraged me to apply. Although I was accepted to begin in 1976, I delayed two years to get more practical ministry experience by helping to begin a new ministry at a different campus. In August 1978 when I arrived at Dallas Seminary, I remember walking through the parking lot which then had names of the professors written on “their” parking spots: Hendricks, Ryrie, Walvoord, etc. What a privilege this lifetime investment would turn out to be.
This article begins a short series on the life of Paul, who I call a competent scholar. If you are a grassroots/practical person you might have a negative connotation of the word scholar. Paul was the best of both worlds: intellectually astute and interpersonally effective.
Paul studied under and was mentored by the best Hebrew thinker of his day, Gamaliel. In Acts 22:3-4 we read: I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city (referring to Jerusalem), educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. We know from Acts 5:34 that Gamaliel was a Pharisee and a teacher of the law in the Jerusalem council and held in honor by all the people. Probably, he was the senior scholar of his day.
The time Paul spent learning during his early years was foundational for his lifetime of ministry. Certainly he had large portions of the Law and the Prophets memorized. His thinking was deeply challenged in the process-oriented and life-application focus of the Hebrew schools (in contrast to the more academic and philosophical Greek schools), by other students and teachers. He emerged as a man approved of God, rightly handling the Word of Truth. (2 Tim 2:15)
How much do we value the serious study of the Word of God today? Few Christians seem to have time for in-depth Bible study or challenging one another’s thinking with rigorous dialogue. I fear that many churchgoers and even Christian workers have succumbed to the quick intake of shallow or predigested teaching. Investing time to wrestle through the message of the entire Bible and all theological categories is left for only a few “professional” students. We would not have the Epistles today with their deep transforming truths if the Apostle Paul had not engaged in a serious and life-long study of God’s Word.
How long has it been since you got preoccupied with Bible study? When you lost track of time and invested far more than was expected? Oh for the days when we were like Job (23:12) and Jeremiah (15:16), when the study of Scripture was likened to that of the essential nourishment of food. Oh for the days when we searched the Scriptures to find answers and confirm what we are told like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Due to the internet, it has never been easier to engage in scholarly pursuit.
Thankfully, some people have more of a natural bent toward scholarship. Those of us without such tendency should be grateful and learn from the gifting and hard work of others. However, unless we personally give attention to the deeper study of Bible passages and topics, we will become susceptible to drifting into unhealthy patterns of thinking and living.
Next Blog: Paul modeled life-long learning