How important is it to understand the ANE, the location of the Temple, the Roman cast system, honor and shame, client-patron relationship, and several other topics when we study our Bibles? These are very interesting topics, and they are important for a deeper understanding of the biblical text. If we fail to understand the culture of the biblical authors, then we risk filling in the blanks with ideas from our current culture. This can cause us to misread or misinterpret what the authors were really trying to tell us. In this way, for students of the Bible, it is important to study and understand these concepts.
However, we must remember that not everyone is a biblical scholar. There are people who need to study these topics and present them in an easy to understand way for the average person, but most people are not going to spend weeks or months breaking apart scripture, doing word studies, and applying the proper cultural background to the text. They are simply going to read their English translations, and the truth is, that is enough! N.T. Wright in his book, The Day the Revolution Began, uses a great analogy to explain this point! Not everyone is a trained chef, but that does not mean we cannot enjoy a gourmet meal. Anyone can have a professionally prepared gourmet meal. However, someone must be trained to cook that meal so we can enjoy it. To add to Mr. Wright’s analogy, we don’t have to eat gourmet meals to survive. We can survive on dry toast or rice and beans. That means when the average person reads their Bible, they are going to come away with the basic, most fundamental and important things that the scriptures teach us, love God, love your neighbors, and Yeshua died and rose again. If a person reads the bible and comes away with only these three things, that’s enough!
We don’t all have to be bible scholars to be ambassadors for the Kingdom. Knowing about the ANE and other subjects will have very little impact on how we carry out the weightier matters of the commandments or whether we are producing the fruit of the spirit. Many great believers have been true ambassadors for the Kingdom without having the slightest clue of honor and shame or ANE culture and politics. Knowing the location of the Temple has nothing to do with how we treat our fellow man and when we keep Sabbath has nothing to do with how well we take care of widows and orphans.
Please don’t think I’m diminishing learning about these things, they are important, but they should not be our priority. The truth is, for many people, once they start learning about these cultural concepts, it brings the scriptures to life! That causes many of us to get excited, and we dig in even deeper. This is all great stuff, but it can become consuming! We risk consuming ourselves with gaining knowledge and unbeknownst to us, our relationship with the Father suffers as a result. I can say this with a great deal of certainty because not only have I seen it happen, but it has happened to me.
The first bit of truth I learned was that God had a name, from there I learned about Jesus’ Hebrew name, Yeshua and that led to learning about the Torah and reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. One thing led to another and before I knew it an entire new biblical world was opening up around me! I was seeing scripture in a new light and studying biblical context became a sort of drug for me. I was consumed with learning as much as I could and felt like the more I learned about the Bible and God the closer I would get to Him. Several months ago, I had a revelation. I know ten times more about the Bible today than I did six years ago, I understand ANE concepts, know how to do word studies to trace back words to their Greek or Hebrew root word, and have a bookshelf full of books and resources to help me understand the Bible. Despite all this, what I realized is that while I know more about God today than I ever have, I feel like I “knew” God better when I was just a pew warmer in church.
I was recently talking with my friend Matthew Vander Els from Founded in Truth Fellowship, and he mentioned that he was getting off caffeine. He’s not shy about admitting his excessive use of caffeine, and he told me that even after adding about 120mg of extra caffeine to an energy drink that already had over 200mg he really could not feel its effects anymore. His body was so used to high amounts of caffeine that it no longer influenced him. As he was telling me this, I had a revelation. Caffeine is like knowledge! It makes us feel good, ramps us up and makes us want more and more. The problem is, eventually we become numb and the caffeine or knowledge no longer has the same effect. We can give our bodies artificial energy for only so long before it stops being effective. What we should be focusing on is feeding our bodies the fuel it needs and getting the rest we need in order for our bodies to produce its own energy. Our relationship with God is the same way.
Knowing God (knowledge) and knowing God (relationship) are not the same thing and one does not lead to the other! Y’all know I love analogies, so here is one to illustrate my point! Take your significant other and imagine that you want to know as much about them as possible. So, you spend time with their relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances so you can find out everything there is to know about them. You spend years learning about their childhood, social life, work life, etc. by spending your time with all these other people. You start to feel like you have a really good idea about who your spouse is, you know almost everything there is to know about them, but do you see the problem? For years, you have spent all your time trying to get closer to your spouse by spending time with everyone but your spouse. So, you know almost everything there is to know about them, but you have no relationship with them. All the years we spent with everyone else has caused our relationship to suffer, and the whole time our spouse was begging us just to sit with them and talk.
In our quest to get to know God on a deeper level by increasing our knowledge it is possible to cause our relationship to suffer. It’s easy to think deep study will lead us to a deeper relationship, but the reality is, one day we wake up and realize our relationship is lacking! The caffeine no longer has an effect on us. If we chose to take on the yoke of doing biblical study, we must make sure we maintain the proper balance and not lose our relationship with the Father in the process. This is easier said than done because gaining more knowledge about God can feel like it is drawing us closer to Him when it’s not. If you are a serious student of the Bible, don’t let your relationship suffer in an attempt to gain more knowledge. Learning is great, but all the knowledge about God, Yeshua, or the Bible is going to save us. It’s our relationship, an intimate personal relationship that saves us.