Why A Biblical Study Center?

 

Modern Trends in Biblical Literacy

     All Nations Biblical Study Center believes that the Bible was intended to be studied by all believers and not merely by members of the clergy.[1]  However, statistics indicate that there is widespread “biblical illiteracy” among Christian laity.[2]  Unfortunately, this is due in large part to the prevalent opinion that laity are not expected to be as knowledgeable in the Scriptures as members of the clergy.[3]  Regrettably, many Christians do not recognize how important Biblical knowledge is to their Christian experience.[4]  For instance, one Barna survey of 1,008 adults found that the majority of Christians felt they were living out faith principles and were highly developed in their worship, yet were average or below average in Bible knowledge and sharing their faith.  As this survey demonstrates, most do not see the connection between Bible knowledge and sharing their faith with worship and living out faith principles.[5]  After a recent American Bible Society survey found that forty-six percent of Americans couldn’t differentiate between the teachings of the book of Mormon, the Quran and the Bible, its president Lamar Vest stated, “There are probably five Bibles on every shelf in American homes. Americans buy the Bibles, they debate the Bible, they love the Bible . . .  they just don't read the Bible.”  This study also found that among those surveyed, only thirty-three percent read their Bible at least weekly.[6]  Research shows that biblical illiteracy is a major factor contributing to spiritual apathy, general selfishness and lack of purpose that is exhibited within the modern American church.[7]  Research also indicates that modern trends pertaining to “Bible study” are overwhelmingly focused upon topical studies of current Christian interests.[8]  This approach has failed to provide a comprehensive biblical education for laity.[9]   The results of extended research concluded that the goal of the local church should be to help constituents become mature disciples.[10]  The implementation of such a task requires time and effort and a long-term approach.[11]  All Nations Biblical Study Center strives to do its part in fulfilling this vital need in the Christian community. 


The New Testament Mandate for Discipleship

 

     The organizational name and general mission of All Nations Biblical Study Center is based on what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission,” recorded Matthew 28:19ff. It reads,

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (“18 καὶ προσελθὼν Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων· ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς. 19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθʼ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.[12] ).”[13]

 

     Traditionally this passage has been interpreted primarily as a charge to proclaim the gospel message to all nations or peoples. However, the primary emphasis in this commission is to make disciples of all nations or peoples.  As Donald Hagner notes, “The commission itself is given by means of one main imperative verb, μαθητεύσατε, ‘make disciples,’ together with three syntactically subordinate participles that take on an imperatival force because of the main verb.  The first of these, πορεύθεντες, precedes the main verb.  The disciples are to ‘go’ and ‘make disciples.’  Since the main verb has for its object πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, ‘all the nations,’ it is implied that the disciples are to go into all the world.”[14]  As Newman and Stine point out, the participles “Go … baptizing … teaching (verse 20) are each dependent upon the main verb make disciples of.  But in such a construction it is not uncommon for the participles themselves to assume the force of an imperative.  However, the command to make disciples is the primary command, while the commands to baptize and teach are ways of fulfilling the primary command.”[15]  After emphasizing that the main verb in the commission is the imperative “make disciples,” Craig Evans notes, “What is translated ‘go’ is in fact a participle, that simply assumes that the disciples will go forth – throughout Israel and eventually throughout the whole world. The commission is not so much fulfilled in the going, but in the disciple-making.[16]

 

     When discussing the central command of Christ’s commission to “make disciples,” Craig Blomberg points out, “To make disciples of all nations does require many people to leave their homelands, but Jesus’ main focus remains on the task of all believers to duplicate themselves wherever they may be.  The verb ‘make disciples’ also commands a kind of evangelism that does not stop after someone makes a profession of faith.”[17]  Therefore, the emphasis of the church’s universal mission is not placed primarily upon the initial proclamation of the gospel message but upon the far more demanding task of discipleship.

    

     In order for the church to fulfill the command to make disciples of all nations, it is necessary to have a proper understanding of the term “disciple.”  In fact, the issue of discipleship is essential to the Gospel of Matthew, as the noun “disciple” is used seventy-two times. The word “disciple” is based on the Greek word μαθητής, which means “learner” or “pupil.”  It is used to describe one who engages in learning through instruction or teaching from another.[18]  Robert Mounce observes, “The Greek verb mathētēuō  means “to make a learner” (coming, as it does, from μανθάνω, “to learn”).  A disciple is not simply one who has been taught but one who continues to learn.”[19]

 

     The command to make disciples is strengthened via a specific reference to “teaching” in Matthew 28:20a: “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded.”  As previously noted, the Greek participle διδάσκοντες, “teach” functions as an imperative.  In this passage Jesus commands his disciples to do as he had done. The writer of the gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ role as teacher throughout the gospel (i.e., Matthew 4:23; 5:2; 7:29; 9:35; 11:1; 13:34; 21:23; 26:55). Hagner calls attention to the object of the participle διδάσκοντες (“teach”) noting, “The object of the participle is the clause τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν, lit. “to keep everything whatsoever I have commanded you.” . . . it is the particular responsibility of the church to hand on that teaching and to see to it that new disciples make it their way of life.”[20]  Blomberg observes, “Teaching obedience to all of Jesus’ commands forms the heart of disciple making. Evangelism must be holistic.”[21] He goes on to note that if new converts are not faithfully and lovingly nurtured in the whole counsel of God’s revelation, then the church has disobeyed one of the central parts of the commission. Finally, Blomberg concludes, “There must be a balance between evangelistic proclamation and relevant exposition of all parts of God’s Word. . . So, too, the ministries of the church overall must reflect a healthy balance of ‘outreach’ and ‘inreach.’”[22]

 

      The commission of Matthew 28 (and the gospel itself) concludes with a lasting promise.  After commanding his disciples to make disciples of all nations, Jesus promises to be with them to accomplish this commission.  The gospel writer draws attention to the magnitude of the promise with the initial ἰδού, “look.”  The following promise is that ἐγὼ μεθ͂ὑμῶν εἰμι, “I am with you.”  He ensures them that he will be in their midst to empower them to accomplish the commission he has given them.  It is important to note that Jesus’ promise to be with them is not confined to the original disciples.  He promises to be with them πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος, “all the days until the consummation of the age.”  In the Gospel of Matthew “the consummation of the age” refers to the end of the current age brought about by the parousia (coming) of the Son of Man and the final judgment (cf. Matt. 13:39–40, 49; 24:3).  Therefore, according to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ promise to be with the disciples as they carry out their commission applies to all future disciples.

 

     Hagner provides an apt summary of the commission of Matthew 28.  He observes, “Here Jesus commissions his disciples and in effect the church of every period of history. They are to go everywhere with the message of good news in the name and authority of Jesus.  Theirs is indeed an awesome responsibility: to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize, and teach.  The risen, enthroned Jesus promises to be with them in their fulfillment of it, not intermittently but always.”[23]  Warren Wiersbe rightly notes, “In many respects, we have departed from this pattern . . . The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” is with a systematic discipleship program.”[24]  All Nations Biblical Study Center was established to provide such a systematic discipleship program.

 

The General Model for All Nations Biblical Study Center

A. The Importance of Education in Jewish Culture

     In antiquity, biblical education began at childhood in Jewish culture.  Children were educated “by living in community and at the feet of their parents,” with customs and biblical instruction being passed from generation to generation.[25]  Parents were responsible to educate their children and train them in the ways of the LORD.[26]  Biblical education included recitation of the She’ma[27] and wearing tzitziot[28] and tefillin as visual aids representative of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah.[29]  Great events in Israel’s history would be celebrated each year during the moedim.[30]  Milestones were remembered by erecting monuments in stone.[31]  As author Michael J. Anthony observes, “The entire experience of a child’s development was interwoven with instructional overtones . . . everyone would know that this was a family that took the teachings of Scripture seriously and that they were committed to following the LORD.”[32] 

 

     The priests also gave instruction for proper worship and presentation of offerings in the tabernacle, and later, temple, as well as giving Torah instruction.[33]   It would appear there was formal religious training under the leadership of the Levites toward the end of the First Temple Period.[34]  During the Babylonian exile, Jewish education transformed.  Anthony summarizes this pivotal time, “With hearts renewed from repentance, the Hebrews---now referred to in history as Jews---would make a concerted effort to instruct their people how to abide by God’s laws and commands.  To do so, they needed a new form of educational institution.  They no longer had access to the temple, and the home was insufficient for their purposes.  In this context, the Jews established the synagogue.”[35]   

 

B. The Jewish Synagogue and Bet Midrash

     The synagogue was established to function as a House of Assembly (Bet Knesset), House of Prayer (Bet Tefillah) and a House of Study (Bet Midrash), fulfilling the central social and religious needs of the Jewish community.[36]  The bet midrash was the primary place of instruction in the Torah for the local community.[37]  Study of the Scriptures is considered to be one of the highest forms of worship in Jewish culture.  Given this emphasis, the bet midrash was considered to be even more sacred than the main synagogue.[38]  So sacred was this institution that the rabbis would allow a synagogue to be sold in order for a bet midrash to be constructed.[39]  The bet midrash housed the community library, containing the works of the sages and literature pertaining to the Scriptures.  While the bet midrash served as an institute of higher learning in rabbinic studies, it was also the common place for study among members of the Jewish community.  Everyone was encouraged to worship God through study at the bet midrash.[40]  According to Berakot 64a, most synagogue attendees would usually take time before or after synagogue prayers to study in the bet midrash.[41]   The bet midrash allowed members to become knowledgeable in the biblical text, all without leaving their local community and synagogue. For these reasons, the bet midrash was chosen to serve as the general model for All Nations Biblical Study Center.

 



[1] See Deuteronomy 6, Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119, John 14:15, John 15:1-17, II Timothy 2:15, Hebrews 4:12 and James 1:22 for a few examples of this theme in the biblical text.

[2] Lillian Kwon, “Texas Pastor: Biblical Illiteracy is the Church’s Dirty Little Secret,” The Christian Post, 1 Oct. 2010.

[3] Michael J. Anthony and Warren S. Benson, Exploring the History and Philosophy of Christian Education: Principles for the 21st Century, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003), 347, when noting the effect of modern education methods upon Christian education, “To these liberals, the world was changing, and biblical passages written thousands of years earlier could not possibly have foreseen the kinds of issues facing society at the time . . . Liberal religious educators were absorbed with making the world a better place and had misplaced their passion for reaching the lost for Christ.  These liberals tended to provide humanistic or social interpretations to Christianity’s doctrines about God, mankind, salvation, redemption, Jesus Christ, the role of the church, the authority of the Scriptures, and the future of mankind.”

[4] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Follow Me: What’s Next For You, (Chicago, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2008).

[5] The Barna Group, “Christians Say They Do Best at Relationships, Worst at Bible Knowledge,” Survey, 2005,    “By a five-to-one margin, adults were more likely to portray themselves as doing an above average job of ‘consistently living your faith principles’ than to say they were below average on this factor. About one-third of adults (36%) said they were above average in this regard, while a majority (55%) rated themselves as average. Only 7% of adults claim to be below average at consistently carrying out the principles of their faith.  One-third of adults (36%) stated that they are completely or highly developed in the area of worship, with just one out of seven (14%) saying they are below average in this faith domain. Almost identical ratings were provided in regard to providing spiritual leadership to their family (33% above average, 14% below average).  The two aspects of spiritual life that people were most likely to acknowledge struggling with were ‘sharing your faith with others’ (23% above average, 23% below average, with 53% average) and ‘Bible knowledge’ (21% above average, 25% below average, 53% average).”

[6] American Bible Society and Barna Research Group, “State of the Bible 2012,” Survey, 2011.  13% of respondents stated they read the Bible daily.  13% stated they read the Bible four or more times per week.  7% stated they read the Bible weekly.  8% read it once a month, 9% three or four times per year, 10% once or twice per year, 10% less than once per year and 26% never read the Bible.

[7] Editorial, “Willow Creek Repents?” Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur, 18 October 2007. 

[8]During the twentieth century, education within the church began to adopt the philosophies of its progressive, secular counterparts.  Instead of focusing on the biblical text, education within the church became less focused on the meaning of the text, with more teachers and pastors moving to social-leaning interpretations for modern times. More than a few regarded the Bible as irrelevant to modern society, citing the changing times.  See Anthony and Warren, Exploring, 347-349.  Also see Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, (Chicago, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2011).

[9] Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? (Chicago, IL: Willow Creek Association, 2007).

[10] Editorial, “What Reveal Reveals,” Christianity Today, March 2008, Volume 52, No. 3.

[11] James Lawrence, “Where Are The Young Leaders?” Part 5, Lead and Learn [journal on-line]; available from http://www.willowcreekevents.org.uk/ministries/leadership/where-are-the-younger-leaders-part-5-leading-generations-2-james-lawrence/

[12] B. Aland, K. Aland, M. Black, C.M. Martini, B.M. Metzger & A. Wikgren, The Greek New Testament, 4th edition (Federal Republic of Germany: United Bible Societies, 1993), 87.

[13] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA Logos Research Systems, Inc, 1971), Mt 28:18–20.

[14] D.A. Hagner, The Gospel of Matthew (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33B; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 886-889.

[15] B.M. Newman & P.C. Stine, A Handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), 886.

[16] Craig A. Evans, Matthew-Luke (The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary; Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2003), 531.

[17] Craig Blomberg, Matthew (The New American Commentary, Vol. 22; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 431-432.

[18] W. Arndt, F.W. Danker & W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature , 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 609.

[19] Robert H. Mounce, Matthew. New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), 268.

[20] Hagner, The Gospel of Matthew, 886–889.

[21] Blomberg, Matthew, 431–432.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Hagner, The Gospel of Matthew, 886–889.

[24] W. W. Wiersbe, The Gospel of Matthew (The Bible Exposition Commentary; Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), Mt 28:16.

[25] Anthony and Benson, Exploring, 25.  Also see Psalm 78:5-7.

[26] Ibid., 27.

[27] The Sh’ma is from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.”

[28] Numbers 15:38, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the corner of each tassel a cord of blue.” See also Deuteronomy 22:12.  Tzitziot are tassels or fringes on the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl).

[29] Deueteronomy 6:8, “And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.” Tefillin, also translated phylacteries, are small black boxes with straps of Scriptures inscribed.

[30] The moedim (appointed times) of the LORD are given in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29 and Deuteronomy 16.

[31] See Genesis 28:18-22 and Joshua 4 for examples.

[32] Anthony and Benson, Exploring, 26.

[33] Ibid., 28

[34] Ron Moseley, “Jewish Education in Ancient Times,” Relevant Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 2.  Also see II Chronicles 7:7.

[35] Anthony and Benson, Exploring, 34

[36] Variant spellings for the Bet Midrash include, but are not limited to, Beit Midrash, Beth Midrash, Bet-Midrash, Bet HaMidrash and Bet (Ha)Midrash.

[37] The Bet HaSefer, distinct from the Bet Midrash, functioned as a school for children.  Though voluntary at first, by 64 A.D., attendance was required for children ages 5 through 13 by order of the high priest Joshua ben Gamala.  Every community with ten children was required to have a school.  The primary basis for a child’s education was the Torah, with large portions of Scripture memorized.  Math and writing were also emphasized.  For more on the Bet HaSefer for children, see Michael J. Anthony, The Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), s.v. “Synagogue Schools.” 

[38] R. Joshua b. Levi ruled that a synagogue could be turned into a bet midrash, but not vice-versa, saying the Bet Midrash is “a place where Torah is exalted” whereas the synagogue is "a place where prayer is exalted" (Meg. 27a).  See also Lee Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First 1,000 Years, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 476. 

[39] JT, Megillah 3:1, 73d.                                                                           

[40] Sirach 51:23, “Draw near to me, you who are uneducated and lodge in the house of instruction (bet midrash).”

[41] Berakot 64a, “One who goes directly from the synagogue (after services) to bet ha-midrash (to study) is deemed worthy to welcome the Divine Presence.” Deuteronomy Rabbba 7:1, “Whosoever enters synagogues and houses of study in this world will be privileged to enter synagogues and houses of study in the world to come.”