Studying To Do, Doing To Teach

God’s Plan for the Transfer of Knowledge and Understanding

Beit Midrash for calendar_month November 2022

Learning has always been sacred to the Hebrew people. In fact, the dictum Learning is Life, and Life Is for Learning describes the Jewish lifestyle. The progression from knowledge to understanding to wisdom has been the quest of prophets and sages, of apostles and teachers, of men and women of God from time immemorial. The passion to know with a view toward doing and understanding is central to Jewish individual and corporate identity. This is why literacy and education have long been the hallmark of those people whom the God of the universe has uniquely identified as his Chosen People.

When God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, he accomplished much more than merely oxygenating the lungs of a lifeless clay body. The breath of the Almighty imbued the likeness of the living God into the terrestrial creation by imparting the power of reason and an inherent understanding of divine instruction. With such an endowment, the very first human being was immediately entrusted with the monumental task of naming the rest of the terrestrial creation, and Adam and Eve were given dominion over the entire earth and everything in it. The apostle Paul even teaches that as a result of God’s act of breathing his own neshamah into Adam and Eve, the Torah, God’s instruction, is implanted into the life of every human being in the form of the God-designed conscience that either excuses or condemns human actions (Romans 2:14).

In the seventh generation from the Edenic family, Enoch was said never to have experienced death because of his determination to walk with God and to please God (Genesis 5:24). His very name in Hebrew, Hanokh, means “dedicated” or “educated.” For this reason, Enoch is believed by the Jewish people to be the first human who was wholly dedicated to the process of learning and was, therefore, the first scientist and the first educator. He was the first human being who so pleased God that God “took” him from earth to himself (Hebrews 11:5).

Subsequent generations of the descendants of Adam and Eve also featured men and women who were passionate for knowledge and understanding of God and the world that God had created for their sustenance and pleasure. They individually and corporately heard God’s voice as it communicated profound insight to them. They were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” so that the words they spoke and wrote were not theirs but God’s (1Peter 1:20-21). Together they recorded the greatest document of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom ever produced, the Holy Scriptures.

Study as Worship

Ultimately the biblical people came to understand that the passion that they had for study was actually a form of worship, perhaps the highest form of worship. Though this concept is foreign to virtually all Christian thinking, analysis of the core idea of worship makes this ancient Jewish understanding very clear. Intensive study of the Word of God is the most reliable way in which God can speak to us and cause us to understand his will and his ways (Psalm 1:2). Even our most intense and profound subjective experiences must be judged by the written Word of God (2 Peter 1:16-19). Study of the Word of God, then, with a view toward doing the Word, is an act of submission to the divine will, which is the essence of true worship. When we pray, we speak with God; when we study, God speaks to us.

Humbly submitting to the wisdom of God revealed in the Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures) was, indeed, worship, for the very words used in Scripture for worship literally mean to “prostrate oneself” before the Eternal. The Hebrew word for worship, shachah, means to “bow down or do obeisance to,” with the connotation of total submission to a superior (as the king). The Greek translation of this word, proskuneo, is even more graphic, meaning to “kiss as a dog licking its master’s hand.”

The decision to study God’s Word in order to do God’s Word is a meaningful act of submission and reverence―in short, it is worship. Study carried out with this motive is the very essence of Jewish learning. This is not study in order to understand; it is study in order to do. Abraham Joshua Heschel encapsulated this Jewish approach to study by saying that the Greeks study in order to understand while the Hebrews study in order to revere. God’s Word and ways are ineffable. This means that only by doing them does one come to understand them. This is why Israel responded to God’s Torah by saying, “All that you have said, we will do and hear [understand],” and in that order (Exodus 24:7). We are obligated to do God’s Word even before we understand it!

Study of God’s Word in order to mold one’s lifestyle to that Word is also worship in the truest sense of the English word worship, which means to “ascribe worth to.” When we fully submit our lives to God’s Word, when we study what he has said with such devotion that we do what God has said, we ascribe worth to the Eternal: we worship him.

The Ezra Methodology

In the post-exilic rebuilding of Jerusalem, Ezra became the shining example of this strong Hebraic concept. Scripture tells us that “Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10, nrs). The method is clear: study in order to do and then to teach. One should never study God’s Word simply with a view toward teaching it. This has been the fundamental mistake of so many Christian teachers and preachers in history. Studying God’s Word must be done first in order to do God’s Word, and, only after one has done the Word is he or she qualified to teach God’s Word. In actuality, study produces observance (the “doing”), and doing becomes teaching in itself. Studying to do always leads to teaching because the doing is a form of dynamic modeling, which is the most powerful form of instruction. While “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a frequent parental dictum to children, in reality, “Do as I do, not as I say” is the most powerful and effective form of instruction and the transfer of godly lifestyles from parents to children. Dynamic modeling is always a more powerful teaching mechanism than mere talking or haranguing.

The idea of studying and doing is powerfully encapsulated in the Shema, the prayer excellence of the Hebrew Scriptures. The prayer is so named because the Hebrew word shema is its first word: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai echad. The word shema literally means to “hear and do.” This is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). James reiterates this Messianic teaching: “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a person who looks at himself in a mirror and immediately forgets what kind of person he was” (James 1:24).

In Jewish life and culture in biblical times, teaching by example was the most common means for transferring knowledge. Sages employed the “come-walk-the-road-with-me” method with their disciples. Rather than gathering in a classroom to hear a lecture in order to expand their minds and curiosity to hear or tell some new thing, they followed the rabbi who taught them from true-life experiences first by example and then by word. This was the Jesus method as well. “Follow me,” he instructed his talmidim (disciples). The greatest honor of that era was to be “covered in the dust” of one’s rabbi, and this was evident in Jesus’ talmidim, of whom it was said that anyone could tell “that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Studying in order to teach is a Gentile idea that has come to pervade most of the Christian church. As long as leaders are good pulpiteers, they are usually considered to be great teachers/preachers. This kind of philosophy produces lackluster performance of the Word and will of God in the lives of far too many Christians.

The church must return to the Hebraic method that Jesus employed, that of studying in order to do and then doing in order to teach.

A Holistic Worldview

Because of their holistic view of life, Jews do not make a vast distinction between “spiritual” and “secular” knowledge, for all knowledge is from God and is designed for the human good. Elihu of ancient times encapsulated the truth about the origin of knowledge: “There is a spirit in man: and the neshamah (breath) of the Almighty gives them understanding” (Job 32:8). All knowledge is the product of divine inspiration, often received by men as a “flash of insight.” Most of the great inventions and discoveries of history have been made not merely from the accumulation of empirical evidence. They have come from a flash of inspiration. Both spiritual understanding and secular knowledge come from the same source, the “inspiration” or breath of the Almighty. 

If all of life is sacred, then both traditional “spiritual” and “secular” knowledge have relative importance to man. For the Jewish people, therefore, there can be no withdrawal from society into monasticism or asceticism that denies the “secular” or material through constant self-abnegation in order to elevate the “spiritual.” Gentiles, on the other hand, have often thought that nearness to God could measured by withdrawal from the world.

The Greek fathers who Hellenized the earliest church took their cue from neo-Platonic philosophy and Gnosticism, which declared that the spiritual good had become entrapped in the material evil. Official Christendom sought to escape from the material world by concentrating its erudition on the spiritual to the neglect of the natural and by cloistering what knowledge it had among the sterile elite, thereby denying their knowledge to the larger “secular” world and even limiting the spiritual knowledge of their own constituencies. This philosophy of education plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages of human ignorance, superstition, depravity, and disease.

The religions that sprang from Eastern Monism sought escape into nothingness as the ultimate experience that could be produced by meditation and separation from the material. There was, therefore, no thought of improvement of the human scene. The only hope for them was to achieve the degree of enlightenment by which they could escape from the endless cycle of reincarnation, the transmigration of the soul. Is it any wonder, then, that the nations that feature such monistic philosophy experience a profound toll in human suffering and in environmental, social, and economic disasters.

For the Jewish people, on the other hand, the way to be close to God is not to withdraw from the world but to involve themselves in the “nitty-gritty here and now,” taking the knowledge and wisdom that they have acquired and using it to improve the human situation. Even Jesus prayed, “Father I do not pray that you take [my disciples] out of the world but that you keep them from the evil that is in the world” (John 17:15). Human beings are not on a mindless treadmill of fatalism, “good” spirits trapped in “evil” bodies and in an “evil” world. All of life is to be celebrated to its fullest and is to be dedicated to God and his service.

The Spirit of Improvement

Continual improvement in the earth is the goal of true biblical faith, as man works in partnership with God for the improvement of his environment―physically, socially, economically, and spiritually. This is, no doubt, the reason for which so many Jews have chosen professions which deal with health and welfare. Those who understand this holistic approach to life can never have one set of ethics for the “spiritual realm” and another for the “secular realm.” They cannot abuse their environment, their society, their government, or their religion. Jewish emphasis on education, then, is based on the philosophy of continuing self-improvement and the improvement of the world around us. And that emphasis has produced some of the greatest accomplishments in virtually all fields of learning, as Jews have led the way in the betterment of the human race.

This dedication to improvement of the human lot is in the context of God’s command to Adam and Eve to “subdue the earth” (Genesis 1:28) by “serving” and “guarding” it (Genesis 2:5). “Dominion over the whole earth” is achieved only by serving and guarding the earth. This is an ongoing work that is generational and universal. Working in concert with God is such a massive job that no one person or no one generation can ever accomplish his plan. Working continually to improve is the essence of the spirit of the perfection that is enjoined upon believers by Jesus himself: “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This perfection is not the achievement of an apex of human development; it is the process of continually walking with God to make constant improvement, a process that requires continual study.

The spirit of improvement is the factor that has contributed to the value which Judaism has traditionally placed on education. It is reflected in the Jewish view that the role of humankind in the earth is to be the same as it was in the beginning of creation: the keeper of the garden. Jews believe that God has called man into a partnership with himself to work at improvement of the planet to which man has been assigned, a process that is described by the term Tikkun Olam (restoring the world).

If continual improvement is to be made by each succeeding generation, then the knowledge acquired in each generation must be passed on to the next.

This was one of the primary reasons for which Yhwh had chosen Abraham, the first Hebrew, in the beginning: “For I know [Abraham], that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Genesis 18:19). Jewish perspectives on learning, then, involve both the acquisition and transmission of knowledge.

Being Led Out

The word education comes to us from the Latin ex ducere, which means “to lead out.” It is a simple fact that learning leads us out of ignorance, out of darkness, out of superstition, out of misery, out of suffering. While all of Europe was being decimated by the Black Plague during the fourteenth century, Jews were spared from this malady because they had the knowledge to “be clean, and change your garments” (Genesis 35:2) and to keep their homes free of rodents and the attendant fleas that spread the plague. While the Gentile world has been dominated by superstitions founded in false religions that have produced pantheons of gods or just worshipped an impersonal force, the Jews have enjoyed the freedom and fulfillment of worshipping the God who is the one and only God but whom they can approach as Avenu, Malkenu (“our Father, our King”).

Training Up Children

The importance of educating children is also seen in Solomon’s dictum in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This text has often been misinterpreted to mean that if one trains his child in the knowledge of God, the child will never depart from that understanding in his adult life. The true meaning, however, is that parents are responsible for training their children in the discipline to which the child is inclined. How many parents have forced their children to be educated according to their own preferences or their own unfulfilled dreams and have consequently enslaved their children to professions that they despise? It is the responsibility of parents to discern the gifts and interests of each of their children at as early an age as possible and then to see that all of them are educated to the greatest degree possible to facilitate their performance in whatever field of endeavor toward which they are inclined.

This truth is seen in the responsibility incumbent upon every Jewish father to teach his children both Torah and a means of livelihood. The home is both the center for spiritual growth and the primary source of life training. The acquisition of secular knowledge, then, when subordinated to learning the Word of God, is also an act of worship. It is a response to the commandment of God that man should “work six days a week.” In this context, work is also worship, another concept that is foreign to the Christian mind because of the influence of neo-Platonic thought. Indeed, the Hebrew word abodah means both “work” and “worship.” There is no such thing, therefore, as a menial job. All work that is done in obedience to the commandments of God is an act of worship and, therefore, of immeasurable import.

Study for Approval Before God

The importance of studying the Word of God is seen in Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “Study to shew yourself approved unto God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. . . . from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, totally furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17). Intense study is necessary to avoid the shame of inaccurately interpreting God’s Word. This is in keeping with David’s description of the righteous man: “His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The meditation to which David refers is not Eastern Monism’s mindless repetition of a mantra in an effort to focus the energy of the mind on the third eye in the center of the forehead (where the pituitary gland is located) so as to achieve the understanding of one’s own inherent deity. It is the repeating over and over again (like the rumination of a cow) the words of Holy Scripture until one so ingests God’s Word that it becomes a part of the very fiber of his being.

This is the vision that keeps God’s people from casting off restraint: “He who keeps the Torah, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18). Without the prophetic vision of God’s Word, people “run wild.” With the understanding of rightly divided Holy Scripture, they can be taught, corrected, and instructed in righteousness, thereby becoming mature (perfect) and completely equipped unto all good works. It is then that the light of God’s Word can shine through them so that others may see their good works (not just their faith)and glorify the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Study is indeed a high form of worship, for it is the subjection of human reason to a conscious act of the human will to believe what God has said that manifests the faith that is credited for righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3). When we believe God and act on our faith, we receive the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. When we study God’s Word with a view toward obeying it, we become wholly submissive to God and can then walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. In such a state, there is no condemnation to us, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has liberated us from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1, 2).

O that men everywhere would seek the Lord and worship before him in the beauty of his holiness, studying his Word and his ways, then dynamically modeling his instructions, thereby conveying by example the teaching of the living God and the good news of his grace!

About the Author
John D. Garr, Ph.D.
President & CEO