Before there were Bibles
“He awakens Me morning by morning. He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened My ear…( Isa. 50:4-5)
Back in Old Testament times, there were no copiers to turn out millions of copies of the sacred texts. They were hand-written by Scribes, so very few people had any. Unlike today, where you can get a Bible virtually anywhere, the written Word simply did not exist for most. The only way the Word of God was transmitted was through teaching and hearing. No doubt, the way most who taught were able was through hearing from God. If you check it on your concordance, you will find fewer than 50 references in the OT to people “reading” the law, and the vast majority of those God’s prophets and priests reading to the people because they were the only ones who had copies. If you look up “voice, hear, hearing, heard, spoke, spoken, said, etc.” you will find hundreds of references. Therefore, growing in the Lord back then was very personal, as seen in a father sharing wisdom with his son in the Proverbs, and as we see Isaiah doing above.
On the contrary, when someone wants to grow in the Lord today, we simply say, “Get into the Word” and we go our way. This could be likened to the phenomena of texting and emailing vs talking or calling. It is far less personal, and oft times things are written that would never be spoken because of the thought that is necessary when addressing someone face to face. Think about this: if you want to teach someone how to build a cabinet, which way is going to help them more: simply giving them an instruction manual and saying, “Good luck,” or working side-by-side with them showing them how? Would you be more likely to “make a cabinet-building disciple” giving them the manual or apprenticing them through the process? So, the question becomes, did we lose something when the Word of God became so easily available in print?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying having the written Word so readily available is necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder has it not led to believers in the church, who should be a community of personally involved brothers and sisters, into being as fractured and disconnected as they are today? Is the loss of necessity to teach through personal interaction, both between God and man and man and man, at least partly to blame for the church being so impersonal, and for it having become a Sunday event rather than a lifestyle? If people still had to spread the Word, teach the Word, and grow in the Word through personal communication wouldn’t things have to be different? Wouldn’t we have to be more of an integrated community? Wouldn’t we have to know each other better? And, I think, the way things were done in OT times makes it clear there would be a lot more personally inspired wisdom instead of book-learned knowledge.
In my last blog in this series [http://theawakenedchristianman.org/2019/10/23/hearing-and-understanding-or-studying-and-observing/], I discussed how the two main words used in the Greek for the “Word,” Logos and Rhema, were really a lot closer in definition than modern teaching would indicate. They both carry an element of God’s utterance to us, revealing the importance of hearing and understanding in our hearts as well as reading and gaining knowledge in our heads.
The “Book of wisdom” begins with these words, “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” Solomon is saying to receive everything he is about to write throughout the 31 chapters of the Proverbs, the wise man must hear to increase in learning and the understanding man must seek out wise counsel. The wise man is to hear from God, and then hear again from wise counsel. That’s the way to growth! Nowhere in these passages does it say, “A wise and understanding man reads the ancient texts daily.” As we will see, this idea of hearing to grow is a common theme in the Proverbs. And, as I discussed in my last blog, nothing has changed since.
Solomon goes on in vs. 20 to say, “Wisdom calls aloud outside! She raises her voice in the open squares! She cries out in the chief concourses, and at the gates of the city she speaks her words!” Wisdom calls aloud, raises its voice, cries out and speaks its words.” Again, nowhere was wisdom “written” that we might find it. God follows this with a stern rebuke to those who refuse His guidance and are complacent towards His voice. But then He says, “But whoever listens to Me will dwell safely.” Th message here is God’s Word must be heard and not just read.
In chapter 2, one of my favorites in all the Bible, we witness an urgency in Solomon’s exhortation that is palpable. In vs. 2 he implores us to “inline our ears to wisdom and our hearts to understanding.” In part 1 of this series, I discussed how we need to hear God speak to us for the Word to penetrate to our hearts, and that merely reading to acquire knowledge can lead to mere observance of the Word without transformation of the heart. Here Solomon concurs that hearing leads to understanding. He then adds “From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” I could go on and on, but I hope you get the point.
I don’t claim to be enough of a biblical historian to prove what I’m about to say, and perhaps there wouldn’t be any way to know for sure, but I believe it would be true. I believe when copier technology got to the point where that Canon of Scripture became available to the common man, we lost something. The Great Commission to “Go make disciples,” which required relationship both from a standpoint of physical nearness and personal nearness, became “Go get in to the Word,” which required neither. As a result, at least in part, we now have little true Christian community and few disciples being made. Ah, but we have lots of Bible-readers sitting alone, at home, during their “quiet times.”
If you examine Paul’s treatises on Christian community in his Epistles to the Corinthians, you will see the body requires personal time together—lots of it. It says of the church of Acts, “Everyone was together and had all things in common.” To the contrary, those who had been in charge of God’s community before Jesus arrived on the scene did a lot of reading of the sacred texts, and Jesus rebuked them saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life. It is these that testify about Me and yet you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life…you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5). It was these, who read much but understood little, who had left God’s house in shambles.
So fractured and misunderstanding had God’s people become under these book-learned teachers, that Jesus’ sole mission while with us was to reach “the lost children of the house of Israel.” He then passed this commission on to His disciples (Matt. 10:5-6). As I wrote in the Community First! Series
, the commission to the Gentiles did not go out until after Pentecost. How much more have all the Bible-reading leaders in the church caused so many to be lost in God’s house today? When in history have we had more Bible-reading, un-discipled lost sheep in God’s house? Can we honestly believe things would not be a lot different, and we would not be “making” a lot more of those disciples Jesus commanded us to, if there were no Bibles and everything had to come through mentors being living examples of the Word and teaching their apprentices through personal contact?
Upon reflection, it is my belief we have lost a great deal in modernity through the absence of believers hearing from God rather than merely reading about God. If there were more personal contact between mentors and apprentices, perhaps there would be greater personal contact between God and all believers. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Wise words from the Proverbs as well. For around a century now, we have been training up converts in the “written Word,” and as they age all the polls reveal few mature. They have the Holy Spirit within them, and thus a far greater opportunity to hear from God directly than did those in OT times. But if they’re not trained to hear the Word in the first place, doesn’t it stand to reason “when they are old, they will not depart from that?”
Perhaps it’s time to start training God’s people up in a more personal way, through the spoken Word, so as they mature, they will hear from God as well as reading about Him. The book of Revelations begins with, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this book,” and ends with, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book…” All of this is just one more profound reason we need to get back to true Christian community, where personal interaction rules. I can’t help but believe we would see a lot fewer sheep lost within the walls of God’s house then.
Think about it.