Knowledge or Wisdom? Scholar or Child?

Knowledge or Wisdom? Scholar or Child?

When it comes to Christianity, I don’t think this is a tough choice.

It is more of a “no-brainer”.

During a recent Bible study at my church, the exercise for the study consisted of a comparison of academic viewpoints between two renowned Biblical scholars (John Stott and Daniel Bailey) regarding Romans 3:25…

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – Romans (3:25)

which was couched in Romans 3:21-26 (v. 25 italicized)…

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

In the space of less than 1 hour, we were asked to: 1) divide each table of people into 2 halves, 2) assign Stott’s dissertation to one and Bailey’s dissertation to the other, 3) briefly discuss each half within the sub-team that it was assigned to, 4) reunite into one group to discuss both of the viewpoints, and 5) choose a “winner”.

We were informed that these 6 verses encompassed the Apostle Paul’s entire argument for, and indeed the essential meaning of, the Gospel… and that unpacking the precise meaning of the words therein had been occupying Biblical scholars almost continuously from the first century onward. To make things even more intricate than they already were, we were further informed that the 2 dissertations by Stott and Bailey were opposing interpretations of the Greek word “hilasterion” in verse 25… and that an entire doctoral thesis had been authored on that one word! At the time of the Bible study, I did not know what that word even meant (but I assumed it was ‘sacrifice of atonement’ from being told that the word was in Romans 3:25), and at this point in the post, I am taking time to find out the proper meaning…

From a Biblical hermeneutics site, I took this definition:

The word ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion) is often translated in Romans 3:25 as “propiation,” “atonement,” or “sacrifice [of atonement]” in Western conservative biblical translations. In Hebrews 9:5 it is generally translated as “mercy seat” or “atonement cover,” where this is the clear meaning of the word (the NET also translates Romans 3:25 this way). Translations of 4 Maccabees 17:22 render it as “propitiation,” “expiation,” or “atoning sacrifice.”

Needless to say, for the vast majority of the study participants, “hilasterion” remained undefined except for an educated guess based on the content of Romans 3:25, and there was not nearly enough time allotted for either careful perusal and dissection, or detailed discussion and in-depth comparison, of the 2 dissertations. In the end, according to the leaders of the study, Bailey’s dissertation was declared as the more nearly correct in terms of the precise meanings of the word “hilasterion”.

What I found amusing was that the vast majority of the study participants thought Stott’s dissertation was the “winner”.

Although I did not think of it at the time of the study, a famous quote that I didn’t quite remember correctly (I am getting older!) just popped into my head that seems appropriate to account for the divergence in opinion that occurred between the study leaders and the study participants:

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” -Mark Twain

Exercises like the one I have just described leave me slightly nauseous. The reason that I feel that way is my belief that these exercises do nothing to move those who are studying the Word of God closer to Him. Please do not get me wrong here… there is a definite need for the careful, deliberate and rigorous study of Holy Scripture, with the use of appropriate principles of hermeneutics applied to the original languages, to arrive at a precise meaning of what any particular passage of Holy Scripture actually means. Very many thousands of academic careers have been consumed upon the detailed exegesis of Holy Scripture, and those efforts have yielded a bumper crop of aggregated ‘knowledge-about-knowledge’ that is, by any standard, monumental. There is only one observation I have on this body of ‘knowledge-about-knowledge’:

It has not saved a single soul.

The bottom line is that God sent His only Son to give His life on the cross for a sinful humanity that it might have eternal life.

Let’s forget the fancy academic interpretations of a single Greek word and focus on the core of what the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, says in plain language:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Because of this Gospel, the Good News, we further understand what we must do to be saved:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

It is evident that God did not make His Holy Word impossible to understand, accept and live by unless one studied it diligently and academically. Why is that evident? One need only to understand that the people Jesus Christ brought the Holy Word to were mostly unschooled: fishermen, simple artisans, farmers, laborers… only a common language of Aramaic allowed for communication, and almost all of them were unable to read or write.

The Good News, the Gospel, was intended by God to be easy to understand. Indeed, when Jesus Christ preached from His knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, promises and the Old (Mosaic) covenant, re-working those into what would become the New Testament scriptures, promises and the New covenant of His once-for-all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, scholastically deficient people were not only able to relate to what He was saying, but accept what He was saying as their basis for living renewed lives garlanded with grace by faith unto salvation leading to sanctification and justification before God.

People related to Jesus Christ, and to the Word of God, because they heard… and they understood… and they accepted… as children:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37)

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.” (Luke 9:46-48)

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

All of us are God’s children… and children are the ones that God gives wisdom and understanding to, but there is something critical to understand here, as these are not exclusively people of a very young age, but are people who, no matter what their age, are children because they believe with a pure and trusting innocence:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:25-26)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6)

Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ” ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” (Matthew 21:14-16)

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:13-15)

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Luke 10:21)

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

In 3 of the 4 Synoptic Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, children are mentioned… it is evident not only how important and precious little children are to Jesus, but even more so how important it is for people at and beyond the age of accountability to have the gentle innocence, pure motivations and disarming trust of a child. Even though children are born with a sin nature, they have not yet learned how to fine-tune the compulsions of sin: how to lie, how to cheat, how to steal, how to hate. The love of a child is the absolute essence of the type of worship that the Father wants… when we, despite all the reasoning, wealth, power and allure of the world, turn to Jesus Christ with a whole-hearted, trusting love like that of a child…leaving the world behind because we know that what Jesus Christ offers is better than a billion worlds… that is worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.

It is therefore all the more revealing what John writes (italic emphasis mine):

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

While as complete a knowledge as possible of Holy Scripture is a good and blessed thing for Christian believers to have at their disposal, it is not necessary for the saving of lost souls and the living of lives according to Christian values. Christians should study the great doctrines and tenets of the faith they profess, to strengthen their belief, and to discourage unbelief and apostasy… Holy Scripture itself indicates this is so:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Additionally, a deeper understanding of Holy Scripture is necessary for standing against the evil one (italic emphases mine):

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

Hear the Word, read the Word, study the Word, proclaim the Word, but…

Always love and trust in it, and in Jesus Christ, as a child.

About On A Journey

It's About Jesus!!
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