One of the best investments a Christian can make is a pilgrimage to the holy land–the land of the Bible. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, called the Holy Land pilgrimage “the Fifth Gospel.” You read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from the Bible, but you read the “Fifth Gospel” as you walk the land.
Bargil Pixner, Benedictine monk and New Testament scholar, adds this thought, “Five Gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books. One you will find in the land they call ‘holy.’ Read the fifth gospel, and the world of the four will open to you.”
These quotations confirm my own opinion that there is nothing that will strengthen a person’s spiritual life and enhance their understanding of the Bible as much as a visit to the Holy Land–the land of Israel. My first visit was in 1973 when my wife Nancy and I spent the summer studying in Jerusalem at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, renamed the Jerusalem University College. Although I had already been through three years of biblical studies at Western Seminary, my summer in Israel greatly enhanced my understanding of Scripture giving me an appreciation of the geographical, cultural and archaeological backgrounds that are so essential to understanding the Bible as the original readers did.
In the Biblical period, Jewish people set aside one tenth of their annual income to go to Jerusalem to attend religious feasts three times a year (Deut. 16:16). Sadly, many Christians will go a life without visiting Jerusalem even once! Many will object to the costs of travel. Tours range from four to five thousand dollars depending on the season and quality of accommodations. That’s not pocket change! Yet many people will spend 25-30 thousand dollars on a new car, 10-20 thousand dollars on a year of college, and 2-4 thousand dollars on a computer and never make the financial investment to experience the land of the Bible.
Because of the importance of experiencing Israel my wife and I determined to make sure our children got to Israel at least once. So we invested $15,000 in a family trip to Israel. I rented a car and was the tour leader for three weeks introducing my children to the land where Jesus lived, taught, died and rose again. I could have spent the money on a car or a cruise or a remodeling project. But I knew that nothing would enhance their Christian faith like an encounter with the land of the Bible. It is one of the best investments I have ever made in the spiritual life of my family.
Over the years it has been my privilege to take hundreds of students and a dozen seminary professors to Israel. I don’t need to see Masada again or take another dip in the Dead Sea. But I take students to Israel because I know it is the very best thing I can do to help them love God and His Word more than ever before. A tour of Israel is not a vacation. It is a time of intensive Bible study, spiritual growth and prayer. So don’t go through life without doing what Jesus so often did. Go up to Jerusalem! Maybe I’ll see you there this May with thirty of my Western Seminary students.
About J. Carl Laney
J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Loving Your Enemy: A Biblical Alternative to Revenge” (Ministry: International Journal for Pastors, July 2011).