I have had the opportunity on several occasions to attend or read religious debates. In every such debate, at least one of the disputants has been in error. Sometimes, they both have been. Yet, I know for a fact that the debaters often spend hundreds of hours studying what the Bible has to say concerning the subject at hand. Whether the topic was instrumental music in worship, the necessity of baptism, the mode of baptism, church support of institutions, miraculous spiritual gifts or Sabbath keeping, I have always been impressed with the tremendous amount of Bible study, thought and preparation done by each participant. Their laborious effort shows. Personally, I have never heard a debate in which I didn’t learn many new facts, some of them from the person who was defending error. One can have a lot of facts and still not have the truth!
The same holds true for preachers and Bible class teachers. Many spend a great deal of time studying and preparing, and can present a lot of true and valuable information. Yet, many are in error on certain points. Is it because they don’t study enough? Maybe, in some cases. But maybe there is more to understanding God’s truth than just studying. Maybe there is more to learning the truth than just learning the facts.
How do we come to know the truth of God’s word? Is it through study? Yes. But something more than study is necessary.
- Study must be coupled with the will to know the truth, and not with a desire to reinforce our opinions or defend our positions. In John 5:39-40, Jesus told the Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” The Jews did not discover the truth about the Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures because they were “not willing.” Even though they searched the Scriptures, they remained in error because they didn’t want the truth more than they wanted their own opinions and traditions. We will do no better than they as long as we cherish anything more than the truth. Proverbs 23:23 commands us to “Buy the truth, and do not sell “
- Study must be thorough, and truly include all of the related information in the Bible on a given subject. Psalm 119:160 states that “The entirety of Your word is truth.” If I want to know the truth, I must take “the entirety” of God’s word. If I dismiss or ignore certain passages of Scripture because they don’t fit with my view of truth, I will not learn the truth.
- Study must be done with the humility of one who is ignorant, not with the pride of one who already knows. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, the apostle Paul writes, “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” The person who doesn’t know, but doesn’t know that he doesn’t know, has a lot to learn, but he is not likely to learn it. One who is proud in his knowledge does not receive instruction and correction; so, he remains in error. “He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray” (Proverbs 10:17).
I am troubled that there are well-studied brethren who are wrong. Aren’t you? I am keenly aware that I might be in the same shape myself, and just as blissfully ignorant of it as many others seem to be. I must study. I must study more earnestly, more honestly, more thoroughly, and more humbly. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).