The Necessity of Bible Teachers
By Jonathan Teram
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
– Acts 27:17
The Bible is for everyone. It is simple enough for a child to understand, and complex enough to keep scholars busy and employed the rest of their lives. It is for both men and women. It is for every ethnicity. It is meant to be read and proclaimed. It is meant to inspire and rebuke. The study of the Bible is both challenging and fulfilling. The bible is one of the ways we connect to God. So go home and study, study, study!
But if the Bible is for all, and can be understood by all, even a small child, why then do we need Bible teachers? Can we not all read the Bible on our own and come to all the correct conclusions? This reminds me of the Ethiopian eunuch. He was reading a passage from Isaiah 53. Phillip asked him if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). It seems the eunuch believed that a Bible teacher was absolutely essential to understanding scripture. The eunuch understood that he was not wise enough to understand scripture by himself.
One of the misconceptions about Bible teachers is that they simply know more verses than the average person in the pew. While that may be true, quoting book, chapter, and verse does not make one a worthy teacher (cf. Jas 3:1). A teacher must read with understanding. A teacher must read with wisdom. A teacher must have a solid understanding of hermeneutics. And most of all, a teacher must read with humility.
The reason Bible teachers are essential is that reading/studying the Bible is a community effort. The Bible is for each one of us, but it was always meant to be read by the community as a community. This has several implications.
For one thing, the church must not despise scholarship. That is not to say scholarship is perfect. No one is perfect! However, the church despises scholarship at its own peril. Without scholarship none of us would have a Bible. We rely on scholarship for translation (which is essential, obviously) as well as for the cultural/historical background (which is also essential). We also rely on scholarship for interpretation.
We must never think that we are the only ones who have thought seriously about the Bible. Long before any of us were born, people of faith had debated and written about the Bible. What they wrote about the Bible must be taken into consideration. Not that those who came before us always got things right. Indeed, the major blind spot of Christian interpretation has always been the lack of understanding of Judaism. Scholarship is finally catching up to that.
The point I am making is this: if you come up with an interpretation of a passage on your own, good for you for studying and thinking, but please check with commentaries and scholarly sources before you accept your own interpretation as gospel truth. (If you are the only one who has come up with that conclusion, it is highly likely that your conclusion is false.) Or, at the very least, bounce your idea off to someone else before accusing someone of sinning (when they really might not be sinning at all). And even if you stick to your guns, as it were, regarding your interpretation, if there are other valid interpretations, recognize that your interpretation is simply your opinion and that you have no right to judge others on matters of opinion (cf. Rom 14:1). And finally, always have the courage to change your views of scripture as you learn and study.