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The roots of the question-asking culture

The ability to ask the right questions is considered a sign of great wisdom and maturity in life, in business and in leadership in many cultures today. But it seems that the Jewish culture, already from antiquity was a question-asking culture.

Our Messiah grew up asking the rabbis questions at an early age. As a result the rabbis were asking him questions, too. Was this unusual? Not really.

Let’s find out more.

In rabbinical literature there is much written about the relationship between a talmidim (disciple) and his rabbi.

According to Brad Young, Professor of Biblical Literature in Judeo-Christian Studies at the Graduate Department of ORU, one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the rabbinate, the only way a talmidim was to approach his rabbi was by asking questions. Even when a talmidim had to come to gain some great knowledge, he wouldn’t come to his rabbi boasting about it or arguing. He was to show what he had learned by way of asking questions. This same ethos we see beautifully described in the Gospel record of Lukas.

But first let’s take a look at the educational process of the Jews in those days.

For Jews living in Jesus’ day, there were three separate educational venues.

Bet Sefer

The first was called Bet Sefer. At the ages of six through twelve, Jewish children began their formal education. Both boys and girls attended synagogue school and learned to read and write. The textbook was the Torah and the goal was not just to read but to memorize the sacred text.

Bet Midrash

For the best of the best, the next educational opportunity was called Bet Midrash. Boys who were deemed worthy to continue their educational pursuits went on to study (and memorize) the entire Tanach, as well as learning the family trade. Very few were selected for this pursuit.

The Mishnah says that the time that some began to attend the bet midrash which was a rabbi’s “school” or “study group” was about 15. Adults of all ages could come to listen in on the sessions (including women) when they had spare time, and there were quite a few who studied but never became teachers – they were still called “disciples” even at advanced ages. There were just a few who were dedicated enough to spend years of time in training to become rabbinic teachers themselves.

Even though marriage was strongly encouraged, some young men were so earnest in their studies that they would put it off until later so that they could study full time. Gamaliel II (the grandson of Paul’s teacher) already had disciples when he finally got married.

Bet Talmud

Of those who finished Bet Midrash, again only the best of the best were able to pursue the final educational leg, which was called Bet Talmud. This was the longest in duration; it went from the age of 15 to 30. To participate, he must be invited by a Rabbi and, if selected, he would begin a process of grooming that would lead to the potential of becoming a Rabbi at age 30. Those who were chosen were referred to as talmidim. They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi – desiring to emulate him in all of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.

It appears that Jesus Himself followed this model. At twelve we know that He attended His first Passover in Jerusalem and He began His formal ministry at 30. The Bible is silent as far as His mentors, but we do know that He selected His disciples and, just like those young fifteen year olds when invited to Bet Talmud, they left everything to follow after this Rabbi from Galilee. No doubt they walked in His dust, wanting to be just like their Rabbi!

How does our “church” culture measure up against the rabbinical ethos that existed back in the days when our Messiah dwelled amongst his people?

Can you find any similarities at all between their culture of respect and discipleship and the spirit of today’s youth? Do families today think it important to emphasize the study of Scripture? Do disciples today grow in an attitude of respect for their rabbi? Do we even foster a culture of asking questions, are we the inquiring minds whom God might consider worthy to reveal His mysteries to?

Seems like the culture of asking questions has deep Hebraic roots. Many believes today are rethinking their Christianity in light of these reformative truths and the consequence we are suffering due to neglecting them.

What does ‘revelation’ mean anyway?

So what does ‘revelation’ mean anyway?

Let’s take a look at some texts in the New Testament and try to get some clarity on this.

The apostle Paul wrote about the importance of revelation knowledge on a number of occasions. However, it’s worth noting there is, of course, a whole entire book in the New Testament called The Book Of Revelation.

The Greek term here is “apokalupsis” and yes, it’s root word for the modern day word “apocalypse”. But worry not, we are not going to talk about the end of the world right now, after all, if and when the end comes, it will all be over so why even worry about it, right?

The revelation I want to draw our attention to is the work of the Holy Spirit that has to do with the revealing of things that have to do with the Kingdom of God, with the realm of God, but are not accessible to the natural man.

So let’s begin by looking at the second chapter in the first letter of the apostle Paul to the body of Christ in Corinth. (We know that the chapter and verse organization of the Scripture content wasn’t part of the way these letters were given originally, but nevertheless, the whole of chapter two is dedicated to making a contrast between the natural and the spiritual man, as well as natural and spiritual knowledge.)

Natural knowledge is knowledge we obtain by observation and by the empirical, scientific method, allowing us to make certain conclusions based on the data.

Spiritual knowledge, by contrast, is knowledge, something we become aware of or gain access to, or are able to see and understand, based on the revealing work of the Holy Spirit.

But what does it mean?

“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” 1 Cor. 2:7

I can see how some people who are more inclined to seek the thrill of accessing the spiritual realm, would get excited about this verse and others like it. Secret and hidden wisdom of God? Wait a minute, is this a New Age seminar or the Bible we’re reading?

Yes, it is the Bible, and it’s the writing of it’s most prolific New Testament author, as well as probably the most active and productive amongst the apostles if such comparison is even appropriate.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” 1 Cor 2:9-10

Paul states clearly that God reveals to us through the Spirit things that are real to Him but unseen to our natural senses.

So there it is, revelation is the Spirit working to reveal to us things that are reality in the Kingdom of God, but are hidden from our senses, mind, i.e the natural man.

Why is this important for us to define?

Because are we literally drowning in a sea of false “revelation”, also known as the occult. The occult (which means literally “hidden”, as in “hidden knowledge of spiritual kind”), is false “revelation”. It doesn’t reveal anything that is actually real. It only “reveals” things demons project onto people’s minds. It’s deception. A religious deception is also a form of the occult. When Paul speaks of people preaching a “false” Christ, it really speaks of an “occult” Christ, something that really isn’t, a Christ that’s the product of the perverted imagination of people’s minds inspired of demons. These Paul calls “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).

By contrast, when the Holy Spirit reveals something, it is something real, something that actually exists, whether it’s God and his blessed creation or the realm of darkness. If the Spirit opens eyes to something like an angel, it’s because the angel is there, it actually exists.

Not so with the occult.

The occult is actually the false revealing of things that don’t really exist in order to lead us astray and captivate our minds, hearts and will away from God. Satan gains access to our mind, soul and possibly our body when we accept false, occult knowledge about spiritual things.

One more verse:

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14

The natural “person” or in other words, the mind of someone who relies on their senses alone, not only is oblivious to the realities of the Kingdom of God and the spiritual world, to the natural mind all this might is “folly”, as Paul puts it.

Notice when Paul says “the things of the Spirit of God”, he means what the Holy Spirit reveals in regards to Jesus, the cross, the Kingdom of God, etc. So someone whose thought patterns are deeply entrenched for example in Judaism, even though it’s rooted in God’s Truth and in the Torah, as soon as you bring up the Son of God to someone like this, their mind revolts and the reject the revelation, or the truth of Jesus and His Cross and Resurrection. To the natural person, it sounds like “folly”.

Today’s agnostics, atheists, and naturalists are a good example of people who rely solely on their natural senses, even to the point of denying God and the divine origins of life. Notice I said “solely”. I believe in the scientific method and the knowledge that it gives us about the natural world and its laws. However, this method is limited to empirical knowledge and fails completely when it comes to probably the most central of all issues and that is the soul. No one has any understanding of what the soul is, it can’t be measured, quantified or dissected and yet it’s THE most important part of who we are as human beings and the very purpose of life itself. Jesus said:

“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Mat. 16:26

The scientific method can give us much (not all) knowledge about the natural world. But if it can’t account for the soul, the very core of who we are as human beings, what good is it to us? It’s only good for certain limited things and that’s the truth.

The Bible doesn’t give us all there is to be known about the spirit of man, or the soul, but it gives us much, it gives us enough knowledge for us to handle this life and it certainly gives us more what empirically based science has ever given us on this subject.

Furthermore, the natural world itself “reveals” to us there is a Creator by it’s sheer beauty, design, perfection and complexity.

What are some of the things God desires to “reveal” to us? Let me draw a quick list here enough to get you going in your own pursuit of the things of God on this subject:

  • Who He is
  • The correct meaning of Scripture
  • Who we are (as He sees us) – revealing our original purpose
  • Who other people are in Him – how God sees other people
  • The nature of His Kingdom
  • The presence and the work of evil
  • And more…

I can provide many other details for an in-depth study of each of these, but this is not what this article is designed to do. Ask me about The Apostolic Institute for more in-depth studies in the Word of God.

CONCLUSION: For our eyes to be opened to the Kingdom of God we must be born again (John 3:4). But revelation knowledge doesn’t end there. It requires us to remain humble, seeking and hungry so we can remain at a place of continued spiritual growth. Yet God doesn’t “owe” this to anyone. He is not obligated to reveal anything to anyone, especially not on their terms. That’s called “testing the Lord” and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone! Rather, when we humble ourselves and we open up our hearts for him, He is faithful and true to reveal things to us about Him, about ourselves, about our kids, about other people, about things in Heaven and things on earth.

God desires most of all to reveal to us the cross, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. This happens as we dig into the Word of God and apply the effort needed on a daily basis. People who take lightly the Word of God shouldn’t expect much spiritual revelation. God only reveals his secrets to people who love Him and who respect and study His Word – not in an academic manner alone, but mostly relying on the Spirit to illuminate our mind, spirit and soul.

George Bakalov

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