When the apostle Paul arrived in the city of Athens, he was “reasoning…in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (Acts 17:17). This soon brought him into contact with men from some of the schools of philosophy for which Athens was famous. When they heard Paul, some of the philosophers sneered, “What would this babbler wish to say?” (verse 18).

“Babbler” here is literally “seed-picker” (Gr. spermologos). The term pictured a bird flitting about, picking up scattered seeds, and became slang for a person who went around picking up scraps — in this case, scraps of philosophy. Such a person would collect bits of learning here and there, then repeat them and try to pass himself off as an intellectual. You can imagine ancient Athens attracting a lot of people like that. You can also imagine how irritating they must have been to devoted students of philosophy.

I suppose just about every field of knowledge has its “seed-pickers” — people who want to be well-informed about the subject, or at least want to appear that way, but are undisciplined in their pursuit of it. Some won’t commit to the hard work of real learning. Others get distracted by a multitude of bogus sources and so don’t focus on what they need to know. Such people collect scraps of information (and often misinformation) here and there, thinking that this is the same thing as being knowledgeable.

Some people seem intent on being seed-pickers when it comes to knowledge of the Bible. Instead of devoting themselves to the Scriptures, they flit hither and yon, grabbing up disjointed (and often contradictory) bits of “learning” from all kinds of sources. A book here, a TV documentary there, an internet blog over there — it doesn’t matter, as long as it claims to have something to do with the Bible or Christianity. And if an author or producer has no regard for the Bible’s authority, integrity, or message? The seed-picker pays that little mind.

People who approach the Bible this way are often easy to spot; they are some of the most mixed-up people you’ll ever meet.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Unless we focus on the Scriptures, the spiritual knowledge we need will elude us.

But even when we concentrate our Bible study on the Bible, it is still possible to be guilty of a form of seed-picking. One way it can happen is if our approach to Bible study is random, haphazard. A chapter in Genesis today, a few verses in Mark tomorrow, a couple of paragraphs in Isaiah the next day…to what end? There are many rewarding methods you can use in study: diving into the message of a particular book; outlining a series of historical events; researching what Scripture has to say about a particular person or topic; or various other approaches. Having no plan at all is sure to accomplish nothing. Churches need to consider this, too. Some do little or no planning with regard to Bible classes (what topics need to be addressed, how to organize the material, etc.). Such a church does its members (and visitors from the community) a disservice.

Even more importantly, our Bible study will be only so much scrap collecting unless we have the right objective. The aim of Bible study is not just knowing about the Bible, but knowing God, having a relationship with Him, taking His message into our hearts, and being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Our goal is not just knowledge, but spiritual wisdom; not just the command of information, but right thinking and decision-making. Paul said to the Philippians, “This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10). We want to be able to discern truth from falsehood, good from evil, helpful from harmful. If our Bible study isn’t aimed at making us wise servants, then we are doing little more than seed-picking.

This is vital not only in our personal study, but also in our efforts to teach, both individually and congregationally. The ultimate aim of our teaching should be to cultivate spiritual wisdom. It’s not uncommon to find young Christians (and some not so young) who have been taught a lot of Bible information, but not how to apply Bible principles in evaluating life situations and making choices. To put it simply, their spiritual education emphasized knowledge, but not wisdom. That highlights the duty of every parent, every preacher, every elder, every teacher, every church: we want those we teach to become “complete, equipped for every good work.” “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). We are not just teaching students, but training disciples, equipping them to live lives that glorify God. If we aim for anything less, we will be teaching them to settle for scraps.