The Bible as Inspiration for Academic Research

Kia ora koutou katoa! Greetings to you all!

Many thanks to those who have already let me know they would like to be part of this network and those who have responded to the last Blog. Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about what we can learn about research through the Bible. The following are some thoughts on one particular story. Maybe you can add thoughts to mine, or talk about another story or principle in the Bible that can teach or guide us in our work and study.

I was reading Luke 2: 41-53, and was reminded of academic research. Some of you may prefer a different English translation to the one I have here, or you may be more comfortable with a translation in a different language. The following is from the New Living Translation, and I like it because it helps me to see how normal and human Mary and Joseph are as parents, and the mystery of Jesus growing up as Messiah: from a baby, through childhood, young adulthood to the fulfilling of his ministry and destiny.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was with friends among the other travellers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him. He was in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, discussing deep questions with them. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers.

His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son!” his mother said to him. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.” But they didn’t understand what he meant.

Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them; and his mother stored all these things in her heart. So Jesus grew both in height and wisdom, and he was loved by God and by all who knew him. (Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Luke 2: 41-52).

I have always liked this story. I often wonder what exactly Jesus did over those three days.

Did he think about his parents being worried and looking for him?

Where did he stay overnight?

Did he eat?

Who gave him food?

Did they all sit around in the Temple talking for three days and nights or did he spend time in the homes of some of the teachers?

What about Mary and Joseph? How did they feel?

The three days of looking must have been agony for them. Did they have confused feelings of fear, relief and anger when they finally found Jesus, like I would have in the same situation? I am a parent and grandparent and so I know something about the commitment, responsibility and absolute determination and need to protect and nurture our children, and, of course, Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus was a very special child. I cannot imagine what a nightmare it must be for parents to have to keep searching for days, weeks and even months and years for their missing children. So, I don’t in any way belittle or minimize the effort of Mary and Joseph and other parents, but Mary and Joseph’s search reminded me of researching.

In research, you may believe that you can come up with a new approach, find answers to a particular question or prove a particular hypothesis. So you proceed with your study or experiment but, at the same time, you search the literature, the reports or presentations of other researchers, or those presented on the internet. You know you need to find evidence of what has been done previously, how others have made similar discoveries or proved hypotheses that are connected with what you are doing. In this search, like Mary and Joseph, you begin with the sensible, the obvious, the sources near to you.

Then, in the same way as Mary and Joseph failed to find Jesus among the relatives and friends traveling with them and so retraced their steps back to Jerusalem, you may need to retrace your own or others’ steps to look deeper. You may need to go back to the original sources, the original reports and publications. You may need to spend time looking in the repositories of original research and knowledge, such as old libraries, laboratories, historic sites. It may take time and effort, be frustrating or exhausting, and result in dead-ends or failed experiments or searches. Perseverance, determination, even stubbornness may be needed. The rewards may be small. The results of your search or experimentation may present more questions than they answer. But you may feel satisfaction that you succeeded or, at least, that you tried. Then, of course, the results may also be significant. You may find or create a new and intriguing piece of knowledge.

~ Debbie Bright


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