It sounds like work. With a few nerdy exceptions, people think of studying as a negative thing. We study . . . well, cram . . . for tests and exams. That studying involves long hours of crowding a multitude of facts into our brains so that we can accurately regurgitate them at the appropriate moments. We moan, “I have to study;” we don’t celebrate with “I get to study.” Even when the topic interests us, studying doesn’t. At best, we say, “It doesn’t even feel like studying,” which itself connotes a negative attitude toward studying.
Come on, admit it. We approach this in the same way, if only subconsciously. We study the Bible so that we can know things—mostly facts—which we then regurgitate at the appropriate moments, whether it’s giving the “Sunday School answer” or quoting a verse to a grieving friend.
Jesus scolded the Pharisees for this kind of studying. He said, You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39). They studied day-in and day-out, but their loyalty didn’t change their lives.
We need a new word.
I like to say that we will never finish studying the Bible. Sometimes, however, that comment evokes a look of exhaustion or frustration on the face of the person to whom I say it. I don’t think it’s the “Bible” part that bothers them. I think it’s the “studying” part. We need a different word.
I like “Bible engagement” except it sounds like you need a diamond ring. “Bible examination” sounds even more intimidating than “study.” How about “Bible investigation?” No, it makes me think we need a P.I. (Magnum or Remington Steele, anyone? Yes, I’m that old.) A couple of years ago, “Bible inquiry” might have worked, but these days the government launches inquiries into just about everything so that even saying “inquiry” makes me feel kinda sick. In Multiply (pg. 99), Francis Chan says, “reading the Bible is listening to the voice of God,” so we could say “Bible listening.” Nah. My best offering is “Bible experience,” but somehow this phrase takes my mind to roller coasters.
Maybe “study” needs a make-over.
I looked up “study” at www.dictionary.com. (Yes, it’s on my favorites list because I am, afterall, a #wordnerd.) We’re encouraged to study our spouses (but not in a freaky, stalker kind of way). That’s definition number twenty. Monet’s Haystacks were studies of the same scene under different lighting and weather conditions: definition number five. Neither of these uses of “study” reflects anything negative. We study our spouses in order to know them better, and Monet studied those Haystacks at least twenty-five times (!!) so that he could correctly portray light in his paintings. So maybe, rather than changing the word–a colossal if not impossible task–we simply need to protect and combine the alternate definitions of “study.”
When I scrolled down to definition number seventeen—17, I tell you!—I found it: “to apply oneself; endeavor.” Then I continued, stopping at number twenty-five: “to consider, as something to be achieved or devised.” We undertake a study (something between “endeavor” and “consideration”) of the Word of God in order to know Him better, like a spouse, and to correctly portray Him in the world, like Monet. Francis Chan (Multiply again, pg. 97) states, “We search diligently to know the truth about God and to rid ourselves of any misconceptions we hold about Him.” Paul encouraged Timothy, Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15—Yes, I had to go KJV to get the word I wanted.)
Searching for truth?
Those are a far cry from cramming for an exam.