In mid-August I wrote “Educate Yourself 101” which you may read here. In that post I suggested that if everyone who desires to know God would read their Bibles consistently and in the order of the Biblical story the education of the community would increase a hundred-fold.
That may have seemed too low a goal for education. Reading the Bible? Surely everyone in MJ and in the churches have done this and do it repeatedly, right?
It would be interesting to do a poll. When is the last time you read Ecclesiastes (the scroll for this Sukkot holiday we are now enjoying)? Leviticus? Ezekiel?
Maybe I should ask other questions. What is the audience of the letter to the Romans like? What are their main issues? What does Romans have to do with Jewish people?
Or I could choose a different book. Who was Ezra? How did he relate to Nehemiah? What is significant about him biblically? What is his role in Jewish history?
Or I could get even more personal. When is the last time you made an aliyah in congregation? Can you lead prayers? If your cantor and other leaders are out for a week, are you a person who can step in and fill the void?
What about being a ba’al keria (a reader of Torah)? When have you done it since your bar or bat mitzvah? Can you?
How about not just reading, but singing the trope?
My oldest child is eighteen and she is in her second year at college here in Georgia. We had a nice father-daughter talk a few days ago (more than nice, it was a great talk for her and for me).
One of the things we talked about is the value of studying theology. I told her the more I study the less answers I have and the cheap answers I gave people early on in my career kind of embarrass me now.
So, why study theology if it makes the mystery grow larger? It’s a good question.
I told her, and I believe this, that people who read and study and learn their way around the texts and the issues have two advantages over people who don’t.
First, they know God better. I know this doesn’t jive with what I said about the more study the more mystery. But consider that the way we know someone is not to know facts about them or to be able to predict how they will act in every circumstance. We know someone by intimacy, peeling away the outer layers and knowing the person inside. To some degree, I think theology does this with God. We can’t predict him or figure out from beginning to end what he has done. But in getting rid of false perceptions (God is always nice or, alternately, God is always angry) and growing to appreciate the immensity and mystery of his presence, we know him better than at first.
Second, they can help people. Knowers of divine mysteries are people that others like to talk to. People have a deep seated need to discuss life and the divine and the future. You can be an expert in medicine or nuclear physics and not be a good person for someone to talk to when they find out they have cancer or when they lose a loved one. And it’s not only in times of grief or fear that people want God-talk. It’s anytime people are tired of the illusion of wellness and want to explore the deepest longings of the heart.
So, educate yourself. It’s not your rabbis job or your pastor’s job. And no, the Holy Spirit does not teach you whether God gives us free will or determines our steps; the Holy Spirit will not teach you the proper outline and purpose of the book of Romans. That is and has always been a misunderstanding about the role of the Holy Spirit. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God (2 Tim 2:15).
Some Ideas and Resources for Study
Frequently on my blog I review resources for learning. Some are books on topics that are good for us to read. Others are more systematic, teaching Hebrew or Torah in a systematic way.
Here are a few top recommendations.
(1) Hebrew: use the Flame Foundation Materials for a slow and participative way to learn (most people think they want to learn Hebrew quickly and find out they don’t really). Jot and Tittle will teach you the alephbet through the year of Torah readings. Search the Sidra will teach you words and vocabulary and a little grammar through the year of Torah readings. Sing the Sidra will teach you chanting the trope as you go along through the year. They participate with the synagogue readings and this is what makes them a great tool for congregations. Study Torah with the Walk Series also from Flame Foundation. I believe in these materials and decided to make them available all in one place on my publishing website. Find them here.
(2) Torah: You could simply get a chumash and study with little or no help. You could get modern commentaries and read on your own. I don’t think these are a good starting place. And even for those with degrees in theology, there is value in reading Torah integrated with Yeshua-faith. You can get your Rashi and Ramban, but I wouldn’t start there. Start with Messianic Jewish resources. The Walk Series I mentioned above a great place to start. You also can’t get a better introduction to Torah from a Messianic Jewish perspective than in the First Fruits of Zion Torah Club. Start with year one. Daniel Lancaster, who writes them, is brilliant and very sound. You will get some rabbinic insights blended with good interpretation, application, and theology that is integrated with Yeshua-faith. Get info on FFOZ’s Torah Club here.
(3) Advanced Torah: After you have been studying Torah for a year or two, you are ready to add more resources. You want a chumash but not just any one that is on the market. First, a simple one that I use as my main one-volume chumash is The Soncino Chumash by Dr. Abraham Cohen (author of Everyman’s Talmud). I much prefer it to the Stone Chumash by Artscroll. But the best chumash of all, in my opinion, is The Sapirstein Edition Rashi, a five-volume set that not only includes Rashi’s comments, but also explains them (more needed than people think before they buy a set of Rashi and find they don’t understand it). Both of these are available at judaism.com. Also, when JPS finishes the set, you won’t want to go without The Commentators’ Bible, a set which now has Exodus and Leviticus available. It is the most complete rabbinic compilation available in English. Available on amazon or click this link at jewishpub.org. (Also, read my review of The Commentators’ Bible from February here).
(4) A free resource that will hopefully grow (and not everything will be free) is mountolivepress.com, my small and fledgling publishing venture serving the Messianic Jewish community.
(5) Good books on theology and Biblical studies. Soon I will be reviewing the not-yet-released Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament, edited by John Walton. While I haven’t seen it yet, I know John Walton and this is a resource you will want. I can’t wait to review it and periodically comments on portions from it. Good books on theology and Biblical studies abound by the thousands. You can’t read them all and many you’re better off not reading. Get a recommendation from a teacher you trust when you want a book on a certain topic.
You may think you don’t have the time. But you do. Time is what you make of it. Even fifteen minutes a day of Bible reading is an education that will take you to new heights. The time is now and if not now, when?