Why we need to Study Theology
As I watched my Grandson, Daniel, dressed as a donkey in his nativity play, with all his classmates as kings, shepherds and angels visiting Mary and Joseph in the stable, I began to wonder what the Bible actually says about the birth of Jesus. I went back to the Gospel accounts and was quite surprised how little was recorded of this very familiar story. Only Matthew and Luke mention the story of Jesus birth.
The Bible records that Mary, who was pledged to be married to Joseph, was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel had visited both of them to explain the situation. They did have to go to Bethlehem, where the child was born. We don’t know how long they stayed there. At the time of Jesus birth there was no room for them in the Inn, so we don’t know where Jesus was born, only that his crib was a manger.
Luke mentions the shepherds, who were told of the birth by a host of angels and came to visit the baby. Matthew talks about Magi, not kings, Magi were wise men, possibly astrologers as they followed a star, they did bring 3 gifts of Gold, Incense and Myrrh, but there was no mention of the number of people in the group. In those days, the chances are they would have travelled in large groups with servants, for safety. The timing of their arrival is not clear either. We know it was in the reign of King Herod, but it could have been up to 2 years after Jesus birth, because Herod had all baby boys under 2 years old killed, when he found that the Magi had come to look for a king whose star had appeared at that time.
When we hear the stories we grew up with from an early age we tend to accept them, but when we go back to the source of these stories we sometimes realise that they have been added to or distorted. This is why it is so important that we don’t just accept, with blind faith, everything we are told (even in church!), but check it out by going back to the source, in this case the Bible. This is called Theology, which to some sounds very intellectual but does not need to be, it can be simply reading the Bible and observing what is actually there.
As we study the Bible, we find out more about who God is, and the relationship He wants to have with us. Why His Son, Jesus Christ came to earth as a baby, and why He had to die on the Cross. We also recognise that we have an enemy. The Bible talks about Satan, ‘the Prince of Lies’, who can deceive us today just as he deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Christian theology is in part, a pursuit of truth to avoid the deception of this enemy, so the more we understand the better prepared we will be for the many battles that may lie ahead.
The Bible tells us that Jesus will return, but we don’t know when, and that Satan will deceive many in the last days. Already many believe that God is not relevant to today’s society. Given the plurality of voices around us how do we know what to believe? It is possible to presume we know what scripture says (and thus, make ourselves susceptible to the lies of the enemy).
It is only by being theologians, those who study the Bible, doctrine and history, learning from others who have studied in more depth, that we can know who God is and be prepared for what the future may bring. It enables us to have the relationship with God that He longs for. The beauty is we can all start somewhere, and we can study theology whatever level we feel comfortable, be it as lay people, ministers or scholars.
As for the donkey so wonderfully betrayed by Daniel, it didn’t get a mention…not until Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.