The Biblical Key to Learning 

 

Sometimes a student will ask me, “How did you learn the Bible so well?” The easy answer is that I have been studying the Bible for 45 years. And over the years one tends to pick up some of the historical details and theological truths revealed in God’s inspired Word. But long ago I found the key to learning and have been applying this principle throughout my student years and academic career.

The biblical key to learning the Bible (or any other discipline for that matter) is repetition. I discovered this key tucked away in Deuteronomy just after the greatest commandment in the law, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Moses continues his exhortation in the verses that follow: “These words, which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7).

The Hebrew word translated “teach” is the verb shanan which means “say again” or “repeat.” Moses is telling the parents of the Israelite children that they need to “repeat” the words of the Torah in many different contexts and situations—when sitting, when walking, when lying down and when rising up. What I learned from this text is that repetition with variety is the key to learning. In other words, people will learn best when their lessons are repeated.

The concept of repetition as a key to learning is thoroughly ingrained in the Hebrew patterns of worship and celebration. Week after week the people of Israel would be reminded of God’s work of creation and the importance of rest as they observed the weekly Sabbath. Year after year the Israelites would be reminded of the great things God had done for His people as they celebrated the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles—all of which focused their attention on spiritual lessons. The Sabbat service in the Jewish synagogues features the reading of the Torah through annually. On the Sabbat evening that Deuteronomy is completed, they roll the scroll back to Genesis 1 to repeat the reading once again during the following year.

The biblical key to learning the Bible (or any other discipline for that matter) is repetition.

Paul recognized this key to learning and applied it in his own teaching. He writes the church of Rome saying, “But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, . . (Rom. 15:15). He instructs Timothy to “remind” the believers at Ephesus of the things he taught (2 Tim. 2:14). Peter writes to stir up the minds of his readers “by way of reminder” (2 Pet. 3:1). And although Jude admits that his readers “know all things,” yet he says, “I desire to remind you” (Jude 1:5).

Throughout the Bible we see the importance of repeating God’s truth in different contexts and by different methods to ensure that it is being learned, not just being taught. That is why no rabbinical student would object to studying the Torah again because they did it the previous year under a different rabbi. What they didn’t learn from the previous rabbi they would learn from the next. And they would repeat their lessons again and again and again until they had learned (and memorized) vast sections of the Torah and could discuss and debate a variety of interpretations. They understood that the only way to learn the Torah was to study it again and again under different circumstances and by different teachers.

Seminary students will sometimes ask if they should repeat the Bible classes that they took several years ago in their undergraduate program. I understand the cost in time and money to repeat these classes, especially when a short cut is available. But I am also reminded of the words of a dear friend (a Western Seminary graduate) who has told me many times and again last week, “I wish I had taken the Bible classes at seminary instead of transferring credits from my college program.”

If you want to learn the Bible and to teach it with certainty and confidence, remember the divinely revealed key: Repetition with variety is the key to learning (Deut. 6:7).

 

 

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).