The joy of archaeology or fossicking is in the finding – especially a new find. It spurs people on to more. I can only imagine the excitement, joy, and sheer wonder as the Dead Sea Scrolls came to light – literally and also in the academic world. Wandering around Malta you can pick up fossils straight off the beach, see them in the pathways, and I wondered whether in my wanderings I might find something from Paul’s shipwrecked time there. What if I’d found a jar in which there was a summary of the Faith – study notes almost – that Paul had written for Publius (the chief man of the island – Acts 28:7 – and who traditionally is regarded as Malta’s first bishop)? What would that do to New Testament studies? (It depends on what it said.)
In Bible Study last week we asked lots of questions about Jesus – many of which we couldn’t answer. It’d be nice to know the answers – in the way that it is nice to know more about a person – but our lack of knowledge doesn’t change the fact that we do know Jesus – and most importantly we know what is important – that he is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name (John 20:31 ESV).
Sometimes people ask why studies of the Bible and history of those times and of the Church continue. Surely we now know all that we need to know?! Yes, we can and do know the Faith but two things are ever changing – ourselves and also our world – and so continual studies results not necessarily in more knowledge – though that may happen (this week I read mate-rial on the ‘letter carriers’ of the ancient world and learnt some things about their importance that makes me read parts of the New Testament in a new light) – but rather continual studies are for us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We need the two things together – grace and knowledge – to grow as we struggle with our sins (which really are wanderings away from God’s Word – our lack of trusting Jesus) and as we face the changing world.
Continual studies also help us work out differences between what is essential in the Faith and what is not; what is theological and what is cultural; between public doctrine and pious opin-ion (which is often the ‘battle ground’ for church ‘fights’).
The joy of all sorts of theological, biblical, doctrinal, ecclesiastical, confessional studies no matter where – on a mother’s knee, in Sunday School, at a Bible Study, at seminary or uni-versity – is one, I think, not of our own self importance but rather that we seek to hear God’s Word and when we do – then, like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’ll say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32 ESV). — GS