Biblical Vocabulary

Can you think in “Bible?”

In college Hack #5, I argued that factual knowledge precedes skill. I used the metaphor of language. You can’t think in German if you didn’t learn the vocabulary. I was reminded of this recently when talking to a student who had spent a year in Japan. By the end of his study abroad, he was having dreams in Japanese. He told me he spent an entire weekend recently watching Japanese language TV without subtitles, just to get to where he could think again in Japanese. I think this is a good metaphor when it comes to understanding how God thinks. What’s your Bible vocabulary?

  • Renew the mind. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” How are we transformed? I would argue that part of this transformation is in our thinking, as we shed our faulty thinking learned from this world and come more and more to understand how God would think about different situations. As our thinking changes to be more in line with God’s will, we start to understand what God’s will is. However, this is only possible if you’re well-versed in what God has to say, which is revealed to us in Scripture. God is unique among all the so-called deities of the world in that he has revealed Himself to us extensively. And the ultimate revelation of God is through his son, as the author of Hebrews makes clear: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
  • The mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16 says “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The context here is the things that God reveals to us by his Spirit. No one knows the mind of God (Romans 11:34), but Paul here says that we can understand how Jesus thinks. One reason we can know how he’s thinking is because said so in John 15:15 “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
  • Bible vocabulary. Lately some writers on the blogosphere are talking about biblical illiteracy in America. Their diagnostic quizzes tend to consist of trivia, such as who parted the Red Sea and which disciple was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I agree with the premise that American Christians today don’t understand the Bible very much, but I would argue that the best Bible knowledge is not names and dates and places, but rather passages that describe God’s will on various topics. I’ve been teaching for a number of years now in my local fellowship, and I’ve been listening to good expository preaching for decades. Lately I’ve started to notice how different passages of Scripture will come to my mind when I’m faced with different situations in life or questions that people have. I’m fond of saying “What does the Bible say?” in response to people’s questions, and this is a cue for me to try to recall relevant passages. I usually don’t know them word for word, but I remember enough to get by or to look it up. Sometimes things get to the point where I undertake a detailed study to collect the passages that pertain to a certain topic. Sometimes I learned surprising things this way, which inform my thinking even more.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to write theology here. This is a devotional, really. I am suggesting that if you want to transform your thinking and begin to have a certain fluency in the thought patterns and ideas of Jesus Christ, one element you may find necessary is a broad background of biblical knowledge. You can’t speak German without learning the vocabulary words, and you probably can’t think biblically without being able to easily recall what the Bible says.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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