By Randy Limbird
The true sign of an educated person, in my opinion, is an awareness of how much they don’t know. What’s surprising is how much you have to learn before you truly realize how much more you need to learn.
That’s the realization I’ve come to after a lifetime of reading the Bible, a process that began with Sunday School lessons as a child then accelerated after a conversion experience in college. It’s been on-and-off, but more consistent in the last few years. Despite all these decades of studying scripture, I’m still discovering new layers of understanding that make me feel like I’m reading it for the first time.
One catalyst that reopened Scripture for me this past year has been the BEMA Discipleship podcast (go to bemadiscipleship.com or look for it on your podcast app). Hosted by Marty Solomon and Brent Billings, it’s an in-depth, weekly journey through the Bible that began in 2016 and now offers nearly 150 episodes as it approaches the final books of the New Testament.
Solomon, the main teacher of the two hosts, is head of a college campus ministry in Idaho who comes from a Jewish background. He has studied extensively in Israel, and focuses on the Jewish historical, cultural and religious context that early readers of Scripture would have taken for granted. Modern American readers, however, overlook much of this context and tend to overlay the text with a Western mindset.
The series actually begins with “Episode -1,” which tells people about BEMA (the name comes from the raised platform in the middle of the synagogue where the scriptures were read). The Introductory Lesson, “Episode 0,” is a masterful overview of the differences between Eastern and Western perspectives. The series starts slowly, taking 16 episodes to get through Genesis, stays at a fairly leisurely pace into Deuteronomy, accelerates through the rest of the Old Testament then has an extensive series of episodes setting the scene of the New Testament before launching into the Gospel narratives. Most of their lessons comes with PDF presentations as well, available on the website or some podcast platforms.
If any FishNet readers get hooked on this podcast and are interested in starting a local discussion group, send me a note and we’ll explore that option.
The BEMA podcast prompted my interest in learning more about the cultural context of scripture, which led me to the late Kenneth Bailey’s award-winning book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.” Bailey, a minister who worked and studied in the Middle East for decades, brought together scholastic expertise in linguistics, literature and cultural studies to unravel mysteries and confusion surround much of the gospel texts. I’ve since read two of his other books and am working my way through one more. If you don’t mind stepping into the deep end of the pool intellectually (some of his literary analyses get quite involved), his works may revolutionize your understanding of Jesus’ teachings.
By the way, I don’t recommend diving into academic approaches to scripture as a first step to studying the Bible. These should not be substitutes for getting to know what’s in the Old and New Testaments. Since this is the beginning of not just a new year but a new decade, I urge you to consider committing to a regular reading schedule if you’ve never worked your way through the entire Bible. Pick a plan that’s best for you. Createdisciples.com offers a list of the “Top 11 Best Bible Reading Plans” on its website. You can also choose from three different options at navigator.org.
Randy Limbird is editor of
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