There’s an interesting little sentence tucked away in one of Paul’s letters. Paul writes to his young disciple Timothy: “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)
We don’t know which books Paul was asking for. Some speculate that these “biblia” (Greek) contained the earliest forms of the gospels. The parchments may have been copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, seeing that the Jews of that day wrote their sacred books on parchment made from animal skins.
Paul wrote these words from prison, likely in Rome. Paul could have asked Timothy for a special ‘care package’ of his favorite food — but Paul was more interested in feeding his mind than his body. Paul could have asked Timothy to bring a lawyer to secure his release, but he didn’t.
Commenting on this little verse, the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote the following words: “He is inspired, yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, yet he wants books! He has been caught up into the third heaven, and has heard things which it is unlawful to utter, yet he wants books! He has written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books!”
Paul was a well-educated man. He grew up in the city of Tarsus, an outstanding center of Greek culture, ranking next to Athens and Alexandria. But Paul was mostly educated in Jerusalem as a pupil of the famous rabbi Gamaliel. Since Paul’s parents were Pharisees (Acts 23:6), it was only natural to send their son to study under the most illustrious Pharisee of the day.
In the school of Gamaliel Paul became as proficient as possible in the traditions of his people. Paul himself claimed to have outstripped his contemporaries in the knowledge and practice of the Jewish religion.
The Jewish people have always had a high regard for education. The education of children at home was a religious duty. It was the father’s duty to explain the meaning of the commandments by telling the stories of the nation’s history (Deut. 6:20-25). This instruction was reinforced by the celebration of the major festivals in the home and in the wider community.
It seems that the prophets were responsible for the first schools in Israel. Disciples of various prophets regarded these men as teachers and would faithfully memorize their sayings and transmit them orally until these traditions were later collected and written down (2 Kings 8:4; Jer. 26:17ff).
During the reign of Solomon there was a need to write down the oral traditions for use in the court, temple, and local worship centers. As a result men known as Scribes were trained in schools for this purpose.
The Levites, in addition to their other priestly duties, were involved in education (see Deut. 33:10). Ezra was both priest and scribe. He undertook the task of calling the people back to God by teaching and explaining to them the Law (see Ezra 6:6,10). As he taught the Law section by section he was aided by the Levites, who “helped the people to understand.” (Neh. 8:8)
Synagogues likely emerged during the Babylonian exile and were established to provide a place where Jews anywhere could gather to study the law. The synagogue provided a community-wide system of adult education.
And then there were the academies established by rabbis for promising young students. Each house of study was directed by a great Pharisaic teacher. It was in such an academy under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, that Paul the apostle studied as a young man. In a Bet HaMidrash or “House of Study” rabbis conducted theological discussions. Many of these discussions were written down and are contained in the Jewish Talmud.
When we look at the history of the Jewish people we see that education embraced the whole of life from the cradle to the grave. One was never too old or too young to learn the Scriptures. That’s why the Jews became known as “the people of the Book.”
There were things about the Pharisees that he would eventually harshly criticize following his becoming a disciple of Jesus, but Paul never despises the Pharisee’s high regard for the study of the Scriptures. On the contrary, after began to follow the Lord he continued to immerse Himself in God’s Word and taught it faithfully wherever he went.
So much was Paul committed to the study and teaching of the Scriptures that he says in his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” (Acts 20:27). Paul was not content until the Ephesians learned everything there was to know of God and His Word.
Many of us read the Bible every day. Reading is essential. But we also need to study the Bible in order to properly understand it and apply it. Study takes discipline and hard work and often means getting help from others who have expertise in the interpretation of Scripture.
Martin Luther said he studied his Bible as if gathering apples. First he shook the whole tree; then he shook each limb; then he shook each branch, and after each branch, every twig; and then he looked under every leaf. Luther said that it was good to read the Bible as a whole, shaking the whole tree. Then shake every limb ‑‑that is, study book after book. Then shake every branch, giving attention to the chapters. Then shake each twig, by a careful study of the paragraphs and sentences. And then if you will look under each leaf, by searching the meaning of the words you will be richly rewarded.
Which study tools have you’ve found most helpful, whether books, software, or online resources? I’d love to hear your comments.