Ode to a Mudlark, The Joy of Inquiry
At times when you dig into a subject thoroughly, you might come to a startling conclusion that does not align with what you were taught. What do you do with these revelations? How do you validate your conclusions?
My two young grandchildren love to go “mudlarking.” This hobby—scavenging bits of history from river shores—is most famously done on the River Thames in London, England. But here in Pittsburgh (USA), we have the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, where access is limited, the shores nontidal and history young. Nevertheless, there are places and times to mudlark here—and finds to be made!
Their father, who is a trained archeologist, guides them to a likely spot and equips them with the proper gear: spade, bucket and, yes, boots! It’s mud-larking, after all. He teaches them to keep their eyes open for unusual shapes and colors. They eagerly approach the outing with the question: “I wonder what we’ll find today?”
Occasionally one or the other takes off ahead and then circles back with a “find” to show the rest. Sometimes it’s a wedge of pottery or a shard of blue glass. Sometimes it’s a piece of coal (so ordinary in the Pittsburgh area) or a chunk of brick. These are tossed back in the river. Inevitably someone slips and slides into the river’s shallow edge. It’s a messy business.
Back home, the sorting and organizing begin. Collections of similar items are organized and displayed. We put our heads together to see what we’ve found. Maybe more can be learned by looking it up in a reference work? Maybe we can get clues about activities that went on here in days past? Perhaps we can guess what items were unvalued and tossed away?
The thought occurs that mudlarking is a bit like Bible study, a metaphor if you will.2 It’s an unusual hobby—not everyone we know does it. It’s hard work, but it’s also addicting and fun! While some avenues of research lead to ordinary ends, others reveal treasures, just waiting to be shared. Sometimes we slip and end up “all wet.”
Mudlarking is a pursuit anyone can do. So, too, is Bible study.
We ask: Where are the special places to look and what are the proper tools? How do I approach the subject with an open mind? What will I find today? What have I overlooked? What research tools do I need? Who can help? How do I organize and share my finds?
Mudlarking is a pursuit anyone can do. So, too, is Bible study. In fact, it’s imperative that we all participate. In some Christadelphian communities, it’s often only the brothers who have the obligation and opportunity to share the results of the Scriptural treasures they unearth. As a result, sisters, young people and the newly baptized sometimes get the idea they can forgo the pursuit, thinking it’s unnecessary or too difficult. On the contrary, there are no gender or age restrictions spoken of in these and other passages:
As for the “messy business” part, at times when you dig into a subject thoroughly, you might come to a startling conclusion that does not align with what you were taught. What do you do with these revelations? How do you validate your conclusions? How do you share them and display them?
What do you do when you encounter someone who disparages your find, based on the notion that your new ideas go against our community’s traditional positions? Is it “heresy” to have a different opinion? The word translated “heresy” comes from the Greek haeresis, its original meaning being “choice.”
It is a neutral word referring to a “sect,” without judgment about its character; a heretic is one who makes a choice. In the early Christian church, it came to be used negatively to depict false doctrines contrary to religion’s established rules.
We might agree with the latter sense when we’re considering a first principle subject. It’s a slippery slope, however, to apply this concept to topics no human being could possibly be certain about. There are so many Bible areas where choice is appropriate. If we think otherwise, we might rightly be called a “stick-in-the-mud.”
We Christadelphians like to describe ourselves as “The People of The Book.” We take satisfaction in using the whole Bible to validate our beliefs. We are told in I Thessalonians 5:20-21, “Do not reject prophecies, but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good.”
When it comes to examining both sides of a divisive topic, we actually already have a tried-and-true template. It’s our method of showing an outsider the tenets of our faith:
- Agree to have an open mind and temporary suspension of pre-fixed belief.
- Find common ground between the two sides.
- Avoid negative or derogatory characterizations of the other’s convictions.
- Use the entire Bible to establish the predominant message on the topic.
- Make a thorough study of the outlier passages to explain why they appear to differ.
We are grateful to our pioneers for their diligent pursuit of truth. Dr. Thomas in Elpis Israel exclaims, “O that [one] could be induced now to devote themselves to the study of the scriptures without regard to articles, creeds, confessions and traditions! These things are mere rubbish…If they could be persuaded to ‘search the scriptures daily’ for the truth as for hid treasure, they would soon… rejoice in the liberty of that truth which alone can make them ‘free indeed.’”4
And yet, even our pioneers’ understanding and appreciation of truth developed over time. Should we expect less from ourselves? At the judgment seat, would we be surprised to have Jesus say to us, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God”? (Matt 22:29).
WHY AND HOW
Bible study is essential to living the Truth. It is not optional. We need it to transform our mind and behavior; to teach others; to express love for God and His Son; to know God’s purpose for the earth; to determine for ourselves what is true, rather than merely relying on others or tradition to tell us what to believe. We are called upon to be active, not passive, receivers of Bible precepts. With these thoughts in mind, here’s a Baker’s Dozen approach to Bible study:
- Just do it. Set aside a time and special place with all your tools at hand. Eagerly undertake to search the Scriptures daily.
- Pray for help and enlightenment. The Father will reward your quest.
- Vary the type of Bible study you do. Biographical, topical, chronological, cultural, words, geographical, one book of the. Bible in-depth are all different approaches.
- Find out the who, what, where, why, how and “So what?” Look up names and places, cross-references, historical setting, author and intended audience. Interrogate the Scriptures to establish context.
- Build a library of study aids. Concordances, atlas, Bible dictionary, lexicons, chronologies, commentaries, Christadelphian books and magazines —all useful in their own way.
- Always be on the hunt for books. Pick up finds from Bible School and second hand bookstores and Christadelphian publishers such as Tidings. Christian bookstores are great sources for Bible versions and language references but avoid books on theological interpretations.
- Develop an ear for Bible echoes. Where have you heard this before? Remember, there is no limit to the types, shadows, analogies, echoes in Scriptures. Follow names, places, words, concepts. Collections can reveal a bigger picture.
- Know that there are no idle words in the Bible. They are all there for God’s purpose. It’s up to us to excavate their intent. This task even includes repetitive sequences, genealogies and little words.
- Write down your questions in your Bible. Sooner or later, the answer will surface in your reading or a talk you hear. Jotting it down may even inspire you to dig into doing a deeper study.
- Develop a Bible marking system. Curate your finds. Document them in handy retrievable places, such as Bible margins or notebooks. Have Bible marking tools ready: pencils, eraser, ruler. Mark key verses on first-principle doctrines.
- Remember, the Bible is inspired. Time and again, the Bible is backed up with the discoveries of archeology, new manuscripts, and word studies. Seek out these fresh findings.
- Iron sharpens iron. Find your go-to people to sound out developing ideas on. Collaborative thinking can change something of limited value into a precious treasure.
- Pursue opportunities to share your Bible gems. Don’t hide your treasures under a bushel basket. Pass them on to others. Get yourself a job teaching Sunday School or a Bible class.5
Tidings is always looking to publish thoughtful and well-researched articles. It’s essential for our salvation that we approach the Bible with the excitement of two mudlarking kids searching for treasures by the river’s edge. The process is hard work, but they don’t mind that. Nor do they mind the mess. They have an open mind and eyes peeled. Their discoveries bring great joy and happiness. And so, we too are reminded that
TITLE With apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelly. To a Skylark, 1820.
2 “A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.” https://www.grammarly.com/blog/metaphor/
3 All references are from the New American Standard Bible.
4 John Thomas, Elpis Israel, 14th edition, The Christadelphian Office, 1973, pp 198-9.
5 See Harry Whitaker, Exploring the Bible, The Christadelphian Office, 1965, p22.