Dug Down Yet Deeper

07 Dec

Another second take that Joshua Harris made me take while reading Dug Down Deep – I am enjoying this read! Harris observes:

Digging down and building on the rock isn’t a picture of being nominally religious or knowing Jesus from a dug down deepdistance. Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished – a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine.

Good statement. No real second take there, except on the questions raised in the previous post about where such sound doctrine and the irreducible formulation of it is found, which actually leads to my second double take.

What does it really mean to “dig down deep” and “build on the rock” as Jesus describes in his classic story of the wise and foolish builders?

As Harris’ story unfolds, it becomes clear that for him digging down deep was a matter of being handed numerous books of theology, including Grudem’s Systematic Theology which he says is “fatter than a phone book.” He later delights in the fact that when he meets up with the pastor of his former youth group that the current youth group was digging deep into the same book of Systematic Theology, a book usually reserved for seminarians.

I am all for books. I like books. Many of my best friends are books.

In fact, I own far too many books. I manage a church bookstore. I want people to buy books – especially thick books of theology that are fatter than a phone book.

But as I see Jesus sitting on that hillside telling his tale of the wise and foolish builders, I can’t help but scan his audience – an audience filled with peasants, fishermen, and other common laborers. What would “digging down deep” mean to them?

One study discussing literacy rates in the first century draws this conclusion:

“A town in which there is only one who reads; he stands up, reads (the Torah), and sits down, he stands up, reads and sits down, even seven times.” Soferim 11:2

In other words, in some towns there was only one person who could read the Torah, which is a highly (Hebrew) religious reading. This rule appears also in t. Megila though with a slight difference: instead of ‘town’ it says there: ‘a synagogue of which there is only’, etc… Of course, it does not mean that in all rural places there was such literacy, but, on the other hand, if there were towns with 1% literacy, then the literacy of all the towns was not higher than 5% (at most). Therefore, taking into consideration the above rule, together with the fact that there are rules that reflect a zero literacy rate in the rural areas lead to the assumption of a low rate of literacy in the whole population. Even if we assume that in cities (as happens all over the world in urban areas in comparison to rural areas), such as Tiberias, for example, the literacy rate was double and even triple in comparison with the towns, still the figures of literacy are around 2-15%. With the assumption that the rural population was around 70% (with 0% literacy), 20% of urban population (with 1-5% literacy), and 10% of highly urban population (with 2-15% literacy), the total population literacy is still very low. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that the total literacy rate in the Land of Israel at that time (of Jews only, of course), was probably less than 3%. (Read the study at

So, what does “dig down deep” and “build your foundation on the rock” mean to a predominantly illiterate audience? What would Jesus intend for them to see and hear in this story?

peter and groupWas he handing out textbooks to the crowd – ones even fatter than a phone book? (Now there’s a creative retelling of the feeding of the five thousand just waiting to happen: the reading of the five thousand. That will have to wait for another post.)

Now, it’s true, Jesus does quote at least six times from the Torah in his famous Sermon on the Mount, each time prefacing the quote with something like “you have heard that it was said.” Emphasis on heard. These people didn’t own books (scrolls) and couldn’t have read them if they did. They lived in a worldview which said obedience to God did not hinge on learning to read, or to write, for that matter.

And so how could digging down deep involve acquiring and reading thick books?

Add to this the fact that those who owned and read all the books are the ones who killed the Teller of the Story. Bad diggers indeed.

Add to this further  that in this same sermon the Teller of the Tale pointed his illiterate audience to the one book they could all personally read: “Look at the birds of the air, they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns…” “Consider the lillies of the field, how they grow…”

If Jesus didn’t hand them theology textbooks at the conclusion of his story, then why would he assume this is what he would have us do now? Why would we make the connection between digging deep and becoming a scribal culture with shelves lined with theological tomes? Is this what Jesus was after?

Do we perhaps need to “dug down yet deeper”?



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