Word Study #159 — Study, Learn

“Study” is another requested word, which appears only twice in traditional English New Testaments – and not at all in some of them – although the idea is quite prevalent, in references to disciples (“students” or “learners”) #51, teachers #46 and 47, and “following instructions” #55. Please include these studies as you consider the present topic.

Two Greek words are involved. Philotimeomai, translated once “study” (I Thes.4:11), once “strive” (Rom.15:20), and once “labor” (II Cor.5:9), was used classically of ambition, earnest endeavor, or aspiration, in addition to the meaning of its component parts, which indicate “to love or seek after honor”. It’s not hard to see that translators must have puzzled over that one!

The more common word, spoudazo, also only once rendered “study”, in Paul’s familiar admonition to Timothy (II Tim.2:15), appears a total of 11 times, with 7 different translations! Its noun equivalent, spoude, is also represented by seven different translations in twelve appearances. Classical usage of both of these includes a sense of urgency, of serious attentiveness, strenuous effort, engagement, or pursuit, and sometimes hurry, eagerness, or ardent zeal, although in the middle of these, lexicographers Liddell and Scott include “to study, lecture or teach”.
Paul uses the same word in urging Timothy (II Tim.4:9, 21) and Titus (3:12), to try really hard to meet him at a particular place and time; in encouraging the Corinthian church to get their act together regarding the relief offering (II Cor.8:7,8:10) and to straighten out their problems (II Cor.7:11,12); and in expressing his concern and that of others for the welfare of the brethren in Thessalonica (I Thes.2:17) and Corinth (II Cor.8:16).

Peter, also using the same word, urges his readers to make faithfulness their top priority (II Pet.1:5,10; 3:14), as well as expressing his own eagerness (1:15) to provide them with helpful reminders of his teaching. “Diligence” is the traditional translation here, but the word is still spoudazo.
Both Paul (Eph.4:3) and the writer to the Hebrews (4:11) advocate similar determined effort, translated “endeavor” in Ephesians and “labor” in Hebrews, still making use of spoudazo.
None of these really fit into a modern English idea of “study”, and for this reason, the II Tim.2:15 passage would probably also be better understood in the sense of “make a strenuous effort”.

Nevertheless, any folks who are committed to such an effort most definitely have a lot to “learn”. In addition to the frequent admonition to discipleship already treated in #51, manthano, a related verb, appears 25 times, 24 of which rendered “learn” and one as “understand”. Manthano was classically used of “learning from a teacher” or “learning by study”, ever since Homer! It also referred to forming a habit, or “learning by heart” (memorizing). This is the word with which Jesus challenged the Pharisees to “learn” Gods desire for mercy as opposed to sacrifice (Mt.9:13), and invited his disciples to “learn” by sharing his yoke (Mt.11:29). Both Matthew (24:32) and Mark (13:28) include his instruction to “learn the parable of the fig tree.” Jesus’ opponents used the same word to critique his failure to seek apprenticeship under their approved teachers (Jn.7:15), which was the only culturally acceptable way to become recognized as a legitimate “teacher”.

Paul is quite specific about the “course syllabus” for the Kingdom’s “citizenship class”, including Rom.16:17 – the original teaching they had “learned”, I Cor.4:6 – “learning” not to go beyond what has been written and start elevating particular individuals, I Cor.14:31 – that all may “learn” from wisdom given to / through other members of the Body, Eph.4:20 – “learning”to sort out what is or is not compatible with what they had already “learned”, Col.1:5-7 – the word of the genuine Gospel which they had “learned”, I Tim.5:4 – “learning” to show one’s devotion to the Lord by his life in his/her own family, and Titus 3:14 – “learning” how to maintain good works.
He also speaks of his own having learned (Phil.4:11) to be content under all circumstances, adapting equally well to adverse or pleasant conditions, and warns against “learning to be idle” (I Tim.5:13), or making such a fetish of “learning” as never to settle in upon the truth (II Tim.3:7).
Hebrews even speaks of Jesus himself needing to “learn obedience from the things that he suffered” (5:8), in order to be merciful to his people, as well as to serve as their example.

The other primary word associated with learning is paideuo, traditionally translated “learn” only once out of 13 appearances. Here, traditional translators have seriously skewed our understanding of a vital concept. The word itself, lexically related to pais, “child”, is classically defined as “to teach or educate, to rear a child” (or, in the passive voice, to be so taught), and only marginally “to correct or discipline”. (The word “discipline” does not occur anywhere in traditional translations of the New Testament.) Unfortunately, traditional translators chose this secondary sense as their primary rendering of paideuo, and then compounded the error by using “chasten” six times (I Cor.11:32, II Cor.6:9, Heb.12:6,7,10; Rv.3:19), and “chastise” twice (Lk.23:16,22). This error has prompted most interpreters to promulgate the notion of “punishment”, a concept which does not exist at all in the lexical meaning of the word! These translators (who should really be called editors or revisionists!) used “teach”, the primary meaning, only twice (Ac.22:3 and Tit.2:12), and “instruct” once (II Tim.2:25). This is an egregious distortion of the idea of “educating” or “rearing” a child of the Kingdom!
The perversity – ubiquity – and tragic results – of this error will be explored in a later study.

Two other words translated “learning” are treated in other studies.

In Romans 15:4, where Paul asserts that the purpose of former writings is “for our learning”, the word is didaskalia, teaching – see #47; and in Ac.26:24, using gramma (a derivative of grapho, to write) – see #148 – the frustrated and uncomprehending Governor Festus shouts at Paul, “Your much learning/study/writing has driven you crazy!”

You may also find the words translated “understanding” helpful. They are explored under their more common translations, akouo – listen, hear, #27; ginosko – know – along with eido, oida, and epistamai, #29; and nous – mind – #96,

Suniemi, mentioned briefly in #130 – wise – is usually (25x) rendered “understand”, in the sense of figuring something out, or comprehending a point of teaching (or being unable to do so). Two of these, Lk.24:45 and Eph.5:17, involve specific enabling granted to people earnestly committed to following the Lord to understand his ways, and one, Rom.15:21, refers to people who have yet to make such a commitment.

Neither “study”, “learning”, nor “understanding” is ever represented as a purely intellectual exercise, except possibly the situation described in II Tim.3:7. Practical results are always expected!
Toward this end, all of these efforts are of value, but only as they enable faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and service to his people.
As such, they deserve our most “strenuous effort”!


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