The Imperative to Study
Dr. Keita Kenyatta
One major accusation against Believers in Yahshua is that we don’t invest enough individual effort and time to gain a firm grasp of what exactly it is that we believe. This would include a historical, contextual, textual, literary, cultural, and philosophical understanding of what the Scriptures tell us, as well as the development of “Judeo-Christian” religion since the time of Moses. In response to this accusation, I would say that, for the most part throughout the ages, this has been true. However, we must remember that power and authority is kept in the hands of a few if the masses are kept ignorant. Therefore, it is not surprising to discover that this laconic spirit was inculcated by the clergy, and has been subtly encouraged. The lay believer has been left to trust the ministers to do their thinking for them, resulting in the common practice of mimicking “preacher talk.”
This scenario seems antithetical to the dictates of the Scriptures themselves. A prime example would be the familiar text:
“Study to show thyself approved…” 2 Timothy 2:15a
This appears to be a clear command to every believer to incorporate study as part of his/her lifestyle and devotion. An examination of the Greek text from which it is taken reveals a more profound directive. Looking at the first two words of the passage,
spoudason seauton ...
Transliterated, this would be pronounced spoodason seawton. It begins with a verb in the imperative case, i.e. the command mode, and its’ basic root meaning is to hasten or to speed. As a command addressed in the second person, the imperative sense of it would take on a more intense, emphatic meaning. It does not mention study here (the context will be added later), but the command is to Hasten yourself! Make all diligence and effort, with all zeal! The picture presented is that of strenuous, aggressive exertion and work. This is in direct contrast to the passive scripture reading we are accustomed to, but is in keeping with traditional Hebrew Torah study.
To answer the obvious questions: How? and What for? Let us continue our translation.
The next segment,
dokimon parasthsai tw Qew (dokimon parastaysai tō Theō),
will need some helper words to make sense in English, i.e. to be proved, tried, or approved after careful examination in a state of readiness, placed to/for the God (the definite article is used in Greek to distinguish the Creator from other deities). The following clause,
ergathn anepaiscunton (ergatain anepaischunton),
translates simply as a workman or laborer who is without cause of shame, irreproachable. Now we come to the context of the command, it is the participle (a verb used as an adjective) orqotomouta (orthotomouta), the root meaning of which is to cut straight. Here, in this context, we would translate it as cutting straight, directing aright, or setting forth truthfully without perversion or distortion. The final clause is the direct object of the previous participle,
tόn lόgon thςalhθeiάς (ton logon taisalaitheias),
the word of truth, or as implied, “the divine Word of Truth revealed to man (1 John 1:17).
So, viewed from this standpoint, the gist of the text is that: In the process of determining the accurate sense of the Word of Truth as revealed to man, Motivate and impel yourself Believer!!! Exercise rigorous, determined, and consistent effort, employing and utilizing every resource, tool, analysis, and perspective available to you in the course of research! In so doing, as a worthy workman, laborer, and obedient servant who leaves no occasion for accusation, shame, or reproach, you will gain the approval of Yahweh after His careful examination of your efforts.
This passage of Scripture conveys the idea that individual effort and work is required of us by the Almighty in this life for the purpose of getting to know the character and nature of the Holy, Infinite One we ostensibly worship and honor as Creator and Lord, thus establishing a relationship. A familiar response to this is, “It doesn’t take all that!” This opinion is born out the misconception that since salvation and grace are free gifts, the obligatory “preacher talk” and recitation of positive prosperity verses are the extent of the study requirement. Of course, this is in contradiction to the exhortations, “To whom much is given, much is required.” And “Faith without works is dead.” It goes to answer the famous question, “How shall we then live?” The very nature and characteristics of the Infinite Creator are revealed in His Word/Laws (Torah), His encouragement, reward, condemnation, and judgment of those who serve Him, and His promises of redemption and resurrection. Therefore, it would behoove us to acquaint ourselves, to the best of our ability, with what this whole thing is about, and to conduct ourselves accordingly.
Our study and research should not be limited to the Scriptures alone, for much of it would be difficult to fully appreciate its’ significance without historical, comparative literary, linguistic, and idiomatic/cultural analyses. We should also familiarize ourselves with the traditional customs and writings of neighboring nations and tribes, lest we arrive at the conclusion that ancient Hebrew-Israelite religion and culture sprang up and developed in a complete isolated vacuum. Another useful tool is determining the etymology (the study of word origins) of Biblical names and terms. As with any ancient document, it is the aim of the interpreter to place himself, as nearly as possible, into the seat of the original writers, whoever they may be, and not to impose current considerations or viewpoints on the document. And lastly, we must take into account the political, historical, ecclesiastical, and academic influences on the document and/or its’ copies since its’ original writing.
An example of a crucial learning tool to understanding the Scriptures, but which is largely ignored by New Testament emphasizing theologians, is that which goes by the acronym, PARDES (Hebrew for “paradise”). The acronym stands for Pashat, Remez, Drash, and Sod. These are the four Hebraic levels of understanding and interpreting the Holy Scriptures, as used by the rabbis. Their meaning is as follows:
· Pashat or P’shat (“simple”) – The plain, simple, or literal sense of the text, what modern interpreters call grammatical-historical exegesis.
· Remez (“hint”) – Peculiar features of the text are regarded as hinting to a deeper truth than that conveyed by its plain sense.
· Drash or Midrash (“search”) – Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Bible, other literature or life in order to develop an allegorical or homiletical application of the text. This involves eisegesis – reading one’s own thoughts into a text – as well as exegesis, which is extracting from a text its actual meaning.
· Sod (“secret”) – Anagogy, or mystical interpretation. One operates on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters; for example, two words whose letters add up to the same amount would be good candidates for revealing a secret through “bisociation of ideas.(also known as gematria)”,
This would seem to indicate that the revelation of Scripture is layered, where the deeper levels don’t discount the surface layer, but build upon it. This tool can even be useful when interpreting New Testament passages, for we must always bear in mind that this is essentially a Hebrew religion, and that the Scriptures, both New and Old, were written primarily to and for Hebrews. (I declined not to use the exclusive terms Jewish or Judaic presently in favor of the more inclusive terms Hebrew or Hebraic, which will be explained later) I realize that it is intended to have a universal appeal, but its’ fundamental character and nature remains Hebraic. Once we are clear on this we cannot take comfort as having arrived at the Truth, we must press on and ask ourselves, “Who were/are the Hebrews?” and “From whom/where/how/why did they spring forth?” In other words, we must conduct a “reverse engineering” operation to continue the pursuit of Truth. The Japanese were very astute at this in jump-starting their economic recovery after World War II, they would take a device or machine to study how it was made, what made it work, and determine a better and cheaper way to produce it themselves. All we are trying to do is get at the original idea and context of Scripture, without the clouds and fog of contemporary doctrine and prejudice.
Now, with the groundwork I have laid, we can proceed with the pursuit of Truth, unfettered by unwarranted allegiance to the current paradigm. Our investigations may take us into unfamiliar waters, unfamiliar only because these waterways have been obscured or deleted from the charts by ecclesiastical redaction and censorship. But, thanks and praise to the Holy and Infinite One who has seen fit to preserve the evidences of the path to those who are willing to invest the effort and time.
 Stern, Daniel H., Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel (Israel: Jewish New Testament Pub., 1988), 22.