It is possible for a Bible-loving culture to see itself as committed to Scripture and to know so much of the language of the Bible and to not know the Bible. I know this because it is my story.
I grew up in the most loving home imaginable and it was a Bible home. By this I mean that we heard Bible stories each morning before breakfast and at night we did not watch TV but rather Moody film strips of Bible stories, accompanied by dramatic narration from the record-player (this was the 70s). My sisters and I were in two Bible memory programs.
I went to a Christian college and took Bible classes and was amazed that while I knew so much Bible, there was just so much more to know. I spent hours each day reading and re-reading the Bible. I minored in theology and learned Greek to prepare for seminary. And there I learned that there was even more and was again stunned that with all I knew, there was just so much more to know.
It felt to me that there was an entire unexplored world within the Bible that I did not know about, even with all I had previously known about it.
When I was leaving to begin my Ph.D. someone asked me, “what more do you have to study? Don’t we already know it all?” I didn’t have the words at the time to express my sense that there was more.
There is much more to say, but this is what I came to see: it is possible to know the vocabulary of the Bible, but not its grammar. It is possible to know the statements that are in the Bible, but to put its logic together wrongly.
I wondered at this. But I also learned that this has happened before.
I learned this about the first-century culture to which Jesus arrived. It was a culture shaped by the Bible far more than my inherited culture is. They knew the Bible stories far better than I do even now. Its land was occupied by foreign oppressors and so its people were desperate for God to save. They prayed for God to heal their land more often and more passionately than I pray for God to return and redeem.
And this Bible-educated, desperate-for-God people took a three-year long look at Jesus and concluded that he should be put to death.
I wonder often at the reality that it is possible for a people to know the language of the Bible but not understand its grammar. It is possible for people to love the Bible and to know so much of what is in it, and at the same time they do not know it.