Word Study #199 — Search, Study, Read

In the course of the previous study three words that would seem to the reader of English somewhat synonymous with “seeking” were conspicuous by their absence! Perhaps they may be regarded as either the methodology or the direction of the “seeking”, or even its result, since earnest seeking after the Lord and his ways is never finished. In any case, they are worthy of our attention.
Search” appears in the New Testament much more rarely than “seek”, although it encompasses four separate Greek words. In none of these do we find any implication of searching for an object, person, or condition of life, as was common with zeteo (“seek”) , except for the single incident (Mt.2:8) where Herod commanded the Magi to “search” (exetazo)for the child Jesus, and report back to him. Even there, the primary concern was for information.

The predominant word, ereunao, (L/S: to inquire or search, to examine into a question, or to perform exploratory surgery) appears 6x, and is exclusively rendered “search”. Three of those involve careful perusal of the Scriptures (Jn.5:32, 7:52; I Pet.1:11), which at that time would of necessity have been the LXX; and three refer to God being fully apprised of the condition of people’s “hearts” [motivations] (Rom.8:27, I Cor.2:10, Rv.2:23). Peter uses the intensified prefixed form, exereunao, in I Pet.1:10, of the urgency of the prophets’ investigations – the only New Testament use of that word.
Exetazo, (L/S: to scrutinize, examine closely, to question a person intently, or approve by test), in addition to the Mt.2 reference above, appears with two other translations: Jn.21:12 when the disciples “did not dare to ask Jesus who he was”, and Mt.10:11 where they were instructed to inquire for a worthy person with whom to stay, on their journeys.
The fourth word, anakrino, is rendered “search” only once (Ac.17:11), of the Bereans’ “searching the Scriptures” to authenticate Paul’s message. L/S lists “examine closely, interrogate (legally), to examine one’s qualifications for a position, to dispute or wrangle” as alternatives. Most of the New Testament uses refer to courtroom examinations (Lk.23:!4, Ac.4:9, 12:19, 24:8, 28:18) or other sorts of evaluation (I Cor.2:15, 4:3,4; 9:3, 10:25,27; 14:24).

The idea of “searching the Scriptures”, quite common in the usage outlined above, leads logically to the idea of study. Oddly, that (English) word only appears twice in the New Testament, each time from a different Greek source. This seems strange, until one realizes that most “study” in ancient times was done as the “disciple” of a teacher (see #51), and not independently. Notice the comment of observers in Jn.7:15, when they wondered how Jesus came by his expertise, “never having [studied] been a disciple.” The words rendered “study” by traditional translators both incorporate a sense of diligent effort, not simply “book-learning”.
Spoudazo (L/S: to be busy, eager, in haste or hurry; to pay serious attention; to work hard, to study, lecture, or teach), is rendered “study” only in II Tim.2:15. All its other appearances simply imply serious, diligent effort (Gal.2:10, Eph.4:3, I Thes.2:17, II Tim.4:9,21; Tit.3:12, Heb.4:11, II Pet.1:15, 3:14).
Philotimeomai (L/S: to be ambitious, to aspire, to strive eagerly, – or literally, to seek after honor), appears only three times: II Cor.5:9 traditionally translated “labor”, referring to Paul’s aspiration to be pleasing to God; Rom.15:20, to his “striving” to preach in places where the gospel had not previously been carried; and I Thes.4:11 where it was rendered “study”, but where if one considers the entire thought in vv.11 and 12, it plainly advocated pursuing the goal of a peaceful life.

“Reading”, of course, for most of us, is an integral part of “study.” It represents only a single Greek word: the verb anaginosko (33x) and the noun anagnosis (3x). Early in its history, before Homer, it signified “to know for certain, to recognize, to persuade or convince”, but as literacy became more widespread, there was a shift to “recognizing written characters,” and thence to “read, or read aloud”

While “scribes” were customarily employed for legal issues or documents (rather like a modern notary), or, in the case of the Jewish culture, for sifting and interpreting the intricacies of their Law, basic literacy was not rare in the first century Roman world. Luke’s notation that Jesus went into the synagogue and “stood up to read” (Lk.4:16) implies that this was customary behavior. There was no objection until he started to preach! It was his message that bothered them. See also the invitation extended to Paul and Barnabas (Ac.13:15) in Antioch.

Jesus’ challenge to the scribes who opposed him, “Haven’t you read …..?” (Mt.12:3, and parallels Mk.2:25 and Lk.6:3; Mt.12:5, 19:4, 21:16; Mt.21:43 and parallel Mk.12:10; Mt.22:31 and parallel Mk.12:26; Mt.24:15 and parallel Mk.13:14), and to the young lawyer (Lk.10:26) did not assume a negative reply. Of course they had read the accounts to which Jesus referred! They prided themselves on their “knowledge of the Law”, had only scorn for those with less expertise (Jn.7:49), and delighted in debating all of its many irrelevant details. I am sure you have encountered their contemporary “cousins” who can quote “Bible verses” by the yard – if not the mile! – and offer “proof-texts for the most intricate of “doctrines” (see #47), but remain not only blissfully unaware of Jesus’ own standard of “judgment” (clearly outlined in Matt.25!), but scornful of folks who consider it vital to faithfulness! No, “having read” does not necessarily assume understanding!
With similar attitudes, passersby read the sign Pilate had attached to the cross, and complained about its wording! (Jn.19:20)
There is ample evidence of the custom of public reading from the Law and the prophets in a synagogue meeting (Ac.13:27, 15:21, and II Cor,3:14,15). Paul asserts that, just as it was for the scribes who argued with Jesus, familiarity should have enabled them to recognize him: but something akin to Moses’ use of a veil (see Citizens of the Kingdom, chapter 8) prevented their understanding.
Philip (Ac.8:28-32) “heard” the Ethiopian traveler reading from Isaiah’s prophecy, and quickly recognized what he was reading. Many newly literate people find it easier, especially in a foreign language, to understand what they are reading if they read it aloud.
To Timothy, Paul sent instructions for “reading, exhortation, and teaching” to be emphasized among the brethren (I Tim.4:13).
He also directed that his own letters be read in the churches, and passed around to neighboring groups (II Cor.1:13, Eph.3:4, Col.4:16, I Thes.5:27).
John strikes a similar theme in Rv.1:3.
Perhaps these are adaptations from the Jewish synagogue practice.
The writing and reading of letters was the normal method of communication for many centuries, before our electronic age! See Ac.15:31. They provided a vital link, for instruction, for maintaining affectionate contact (II Cor.3:2) with scattered brethren, and even served as official communications (Ac.23:34).

So by all means, let those who “seek” for the Lord and his ways include “searching”, “study”, and “reading” in their “seeking” , as well as the concerted efforts described in the studies of discipleship (#51) and “following instructions” (#55).
Be aware of the context of all these admonitions, which are almost uniformly directed to a group of seekers after faithfulness. Be aware also that the shared discernment of a faithful brotherhood is vital to the faithful results of any search.
May we help each other toward that end!

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