How to Teach the Bible in the Holy Spirit
"The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed." —Psalm 126:3
The Lord is doing "great things" in Cincinnati, Ohio. Through our Bible teachers' training program, He is rattling the dry bones of His body, the Church, and raising it to life by the power of His word (Ez 37:1-14). Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord is raising up, equipping, and sending out everyday Christians to be Bible teachers.
The initial goal of our Bible teachers' program was to equip twenty teachers per year, who would reach out to ten others each week in a regular Bible study. After one year, there would be twenty teachers sharing the word with two hundred people. The Lord greatly exceeded our expectations, for this training program has equipped several hundred Bible teachers with a total outreach in the tens of thousands.
What a leaven of renewal! We see faith growing and momentum building for a new movement of the Holy Spirit. We have written this book in thanksgiving to the Lord for the great things He is doing and for the privilege of yielding to the Holy Spirit in every detail of our lives, especially in every detail of teaching the Bible. Come, Holy Spirit!
This book is not meant to be a complete instruction on Bible teaching. Rather, it is intended to put us in touch with the Holy Spirit, Who will give us "on-the-job" training. Ideally, the book is to be prayed through and studied in a group of committed Christians. Use as directed.
Table of Contents
1. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher
"The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in My name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you." —John 14:26
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit's lead." —Galatians 5:25
"Being the Spirit of truth He will guide you to all truth." —John 16:13
"God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit. The Spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God." —1 Corinthians 2:10
In preparing to teach the Bible informally or in a Bible study, above all we must rely totally on the Holy Spirit. Since the Spirit will instruct us in everything (Jn 14:26), life in the Spirit is absolutely necessary for understanding (2 Cor 3:15-17) and teaching God's word. Of ourselves, we have no power to change anyone's heart, even with the word of God. By the power of the Spirit, however, we can be used to transform lives. Pope Leo XIII taught in Providentissimus Deus: "The Sacred Books cannot be likened to ordinary writings, but, since they have been dictated by the Holy Spirit Himself and have extremely serious contents, mysterious and difficult in many respects, we always need, in order to understand and explain them, the coming of the same Holy Spirit" (Address on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 9, Pope John Paul II, April 23, 1993, Rome).
Bible teachers are God's instruments. We must let Him "play" us, yielding to His lead as a violin yields to the violinist's touch. A good instrument conveys exactly what the musician intends; good Bible teachers convey God's word exactly as the Spirit leads.
We "team-teach" with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Head Teacher; the Bible teacher is the Teacher's helper. We teach with the Spirit rather than instead of Him. If we remember our subordinate, yet important part in the Spirit's teaching, every teaching we give will be Spirit-filled.
2. Trust and Teach with the Holy Spirit
"All depends on faith, everything is grace." —Romans 4:16
Despite the necessity of totally relying on the Spirit, we find it extremely difficult to let the Spirit lead us because the Spirit and the flesh (our self-centeredness) are directly opposed (Gal 5:17). To teach in the Spirit, we must crucify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:24), deny our very selves (Lk 9:23), trust God rather than ourselves, and yield to the Spirit — before, during, and after the Scripture teaching.
A. Trust and Wait before Teaching
"By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies." —Isaiah 30:15
Before teaching, we should trust and wait, taking time to pray and listen to the lead of the Spirit. We stifle the Spirit if we refuse to wait. We slow down the Spirit when we take control and try to speed up our preparation.
We sometimes refuse to wait because of the fear and pride of the flesh. We're afraid that we'll be unprepared, look bad, or be a failure. Yet if we kept in mind that the Holy Spirit is the Head Teacher, then we would not be afraid; instead, we would be confident, since the Spirit will not fail.
Also, we should not presume the Spirit's permission to plunge into indiscriminate research, but rather let the Spirit lead us to specific resources. The Spirit is like a librarian, and we're not allowed to check out and read any books without His permission.
B. Trust and Risk during Teaching
"The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes but you do not know where it comes from, or where it goes. So it is with everyone begotten of the Spirit." —John 3:8
While teaching, we should trust and risk. We should not organize our teachings inflexibly. Being comfortable or looking prepared are not important, but openness to changes the Holy Spirit may inspire is important. We may be called to bring up things not included in our research or notes. It's difficult to make these snap-decisions to change, add, or subtract. However, if we are motivated by the Spirit in our decisions, we will usually be correct.
C. Trust and Pray after Teaching
"Ever since we heard this we have been praying for you unceasingly and asking that you may attain full knowledge of His will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight." —Colossians 1:9
After teaching, we should trust and pray that the Spirit will work with all who have heard the word. When we stop talking, the Bible study may be just beginning, for the Spirit the Head Teacher continues to speak. We should pray these prayers after the Bible study:
- to stop anything from being misunderstood or confused.
- for the Spirit to highlight and/or repeat any part of the Bible study.
- for others to receive the right impression of us as teachers. Often the devil gets the students angry at the teacher and thus turns them off to the message (see 2 Cor 6:3). When we trust and pray after the Bible study, the Holy Spirit will guide the students to relate to us in the way that will be most helpful in their relationship to God.
"In God (the Spirit) We Trust"
In working with the Holy Spirit before teaching, we must be careful not to act out of the flesh in fear or pride. We should not take the heart out of the teaching by being afraid to risk during it or take the power out of a teaching's long-term effects by not praying afterwards because we thought the teaching was over when we stopped talking. We must always be aware of the Spirit as Head Teacher and ourselves as Teacher's helpers.
"He it was who told us of your love in the Spirit. Ever since we heard this we have been praying for you unceasingly and asking that you may attain full knowledge of His will." —Colossians 1:8-9
"Without vision, the people perish."—Proverbs 29:18, KJV
To be Bible teachers, we do not necessarily have to be educated, articulate, or mature, but we must be in love with Jesus, for without love we are nothing (1 Cor 13:2). When we have reached the conviction that, since Jesus died for all, we all have died, we are impelled by Christ's love and no longer live for ourselves but for Him (2 Cor 5:14-15). We must have kingdom-vision to properly direct this motivation. We need full knowledge of His will through perfect wisdom and spiritual insight (Col 1:9) in order to see that, if we love Jesus, we must then express this by feeding His people with the spiritual food of His word (Jn 21:17).
1. The Plan
"He wants all men to be saved and come to know the truth." —1 Timothy 2:4
The Lord wants all to be saved because He loves us all. Therefore, His plan of salvation is worldwide. Four billion people have not heard the good news of Jesus. If we love Jesus, we will feed the sheep — not only physically, but also spiritually. We will meet the ultimate need of the human person: the need to know and love Jesus personally.
2. The Power
"Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it." —Isaiah 55:10-11
The word of God is the means by which the Lord accomplishes His worldwide plan of salvation. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:18), faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by God's word (Rm 10:17). He promises that His word will always be effective (Heb 4:12). This has been proven throughout history. At present, we see the effectiveness of the word in the evangelization of millions in Africa, the raising up of over 100,000 Christian communities in South America, the new Pentecost of South Korea, spiritual renewal in the Philippines, and an unprecedented evangelistic explosion in China and Russia. The word of God has done and will always do the job of fulfilling His worldwide plan of salvation.
3. The People
"It is He Who gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers." —Ephesians 4:11, our translation
A. Teaching as a Charism
"One who is a teacher should use his gift for teaching." —Romans 12:7
Twelve simple men began the race (see 2 Tm 4:7) that carried the good news to the "ends of the world" (Ps 19:5). Now the disciples have passed the baton to us. Millions of Christians with the charism of the spiritual gift of teaching are called to put their gift at one another's service (1 Pt 4:10) and fulfill God's plan of salvation by proclaiming His word. There is a natural gift of teaching and the skill of teaching, but to teach God's word in a world-changing way, we must identify, equip, and send forth those with the supernatural gift of teaching.
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations." —Matthew 28:19
After we are equipped for the ministry of Bible teaching, we must not only teach but also disciple others to teach. God's kingdom, the living body of Christ, grows just as other living things do — through cell reproduction. A cell multiplies by dividing and becoming two; the two become four, and so on. Discipling results in cell reproduction in the Church. Just as an apple bears fruit by reproducing apples and a tomato by reproducing tomatoes, a Christian bears fruit by leading others to Christ, and Bible teachers are fruitful by discipling others into the ministry of the word. If one Bible teacher disciples at least one teacher a year, who in turn disciples another teacher each year, in ten years over 1,000 teachers will be touching tens of thousands of lives for Christ.
2 — First year
32 — Fifth year
|64 — Sixth year
1024 — Tenth year
In about twenty years of teaching people to teach the Bible, we have found that making disciples of new Bible teachers is the most critical issue. The graduates of our Bible teachers' program usually do teach in the power of the Spirit, day after day, formally and informally, for years. However, they don't do as well in raising up new teachers as they do in teaching. But we know that God's grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9). Pray every day to accept God's grace to recognize and disciple new Bible teachers.
4. The Perseverance
"I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing —constantly teaching and never losing patience." —2 Timothy 4:2
One other thing is necessary to fulfill God's plan of salvation. We must "stay with this task" of teaching others and discipling those who will also teach and disciple. The call to teach the Bible is a lifetime call. Therefore, teachers must not drop out after a few years but persevere. When older teachers persevere and new ones begin, there is continually accelerating growth in spreading God's word.
5. The Problems
"He said to him, 'Do you really grasp what you are reading?' 'How can I,' the man replied, 'unless someone explains it to me?' " —Acts 8:30-31
If perseverance in supernaturally teaching God's word and discipling others to do the same will fulfill God's plan of salvation, why aren't we doing this? The great commission (Mt 28:18-20) has become the great omission because some do not love God and His people enough to care whether or not humanity hears the word and knows Jesus. Self and sin have eclipsed service and salvation. Others have lost faith that God's plan can be accomplished. However, some do care and believe yet do nothing because they are confused.
In modern times, literacy and access to the printed word make it possible for us to delude ourselves into thinking that we can read the Bible ourselves and fully understand it. Some act as if they don't need people with the supernatural gift of teaching.
Others are confused in believing that we only need a few persons like Billy Graham or Pope John Paul II to mass-produce the teaching of God's word. This in effect denies the Incarnation, where God has shown He is working primarily in personal rather than impersonal ways. Mass media are quite useful to God's work. However, mass media do not decrease the need for live teachers but increase it, as people begin to taste the word and want something deeper, incarnate, and more personal. Pope Paul VI emphasized this: "Nevertheless the use of the means of social communication for evangelization presents a challenge: through them the evangelical message should reach vast numbers of people, but with the capacity of piercing the conscience of each individual, of implanting itself in his heart as though he were the only person being addressed, with all his most individual and personal qualities, and evoke an entirely personal adherence and commitment.
"For this reason, side by side with the collective proclamation of the gospel, the other form of transmission, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important. The Lord often used it (for example, with Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, Simon the Pharisee), and so did the apostles. In the long run, is there any other way of handing on the gospel than by transmitting to another person one's personal experience of faith? It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual's personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique word that he receives from someone else" (On Evangelization, 45, 46).
"Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ." (St. Jerome)
"Do not continue in ignorance" (Eph 5:17); be a part of God's plan of world-salvation through His word. Until the Church equips for ministry (see Eph 4:11-12) millions of lay people with the spiritual gift of teaching, most people will not personally know Jesus. For "how shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how can they believe unless they have heard of Him? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach? And how can men preach unless they are sent? Scripture says, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who announce good news!' " (Rm 10:14-15)
"If you are called, reply, 'Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.' " —1 Samuel 3:9
1. Hearing God's Call
"At that time Samuel was not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet." —1 Samuel 3:7
We must be called by God to teach the Bible. Only those called to be a Bible teacher will receive God's grace to persevere in teaching the word and discipling other teachers. However, we may not hear His call because, like Samuel, many of us are unfamiliar with the Lord. But Jesus promises us: "Whoever is of God hears every word God speaks" (Jn 8:47). When we have a personal relationship with the Lord, His voice is familiar to us and not strange (Jn 10:4-5).
Even when we know the Lord personally, we may still have trouble hearing Him. Although all baptized persons have spiritual hearing, we may not be accustomed to picking out God's voice. For example, almost all children can hear from birth, but they don't understand words and sentences because they cannot at first differentiate one sound from another. To pick out God's voice, we must become familiar with Him and His ways of communicating. He often speaks through Scripture, Christian community, prayer, and the circumstances of everyday life. In these ways, we will hear God's call to teach the Bible.
"Faith, then, comes through hearing, and hearing is the word of God." —Romans 10:17, our translation
God communicates to us especially through His word. The Bible provides us with four thousand years and two thousand pages of true revelation of God. Through hearing His word, we can hear God's call to do His will, including the call to teach His word.
- Mission Statement - A sentence in the Bible expresses as well as can be expressed in human language your calling, God's mission for you. Jesus' mission statement was Isaiah 61:1-2; John's was Isaiah 40:3-4. Where in the Bible is your mission statement?
- Confirmed Scriptures — How many times have you repeatedly heard the same Scripture passage from different sources? The priest reads it at Mass. Someone mentions it in a conversation. A minister on the radio refers to it. God is calling you.
- Scriptures from Important Events — Look at the Bible passages that were part of your marriage, your baptism, your child's baptism, a life-changing sermon, or a special day in your life; these Scriptures often shed light on your calling in life and are not only for that day.
- Daily Eucharistic Readings — The readings for each day's Eucharist are not just a matter of liturgical custom; they are the prophetic working of the Spirit in the Church. As the Lord brings to your attention the calling to teach the Bible, look at the Eucharistic readings for that day and expect the Spirit to speak to you.
B. Christian Community
"The sheep [plural] hear His [the Good Shepherd's] voice as He calls His own by name and leads them out." —John 10:3
God also speaks to His "sheep" in community. Together, we can hear God better. We help each other hear the Lord by:
- Communal Prayer — It is amazing how our hearing improves when we have someone praying for us.
- Healing — When we are hurt, we are so preoccupied with our pain that we have trouble hearing. But when we are healed, supported, and affirmed by God's people, our hearing improves dramatically.
- Confirmation — When we are on our own, we are often full of doubts and confusion, even when we are truly hearing God's voice. Christian brothers and sisters can confirm what we're hearing and give us confidence and clarity.
- Authority — God calls us many times to do things that we would never accept unless we received a direct command. God exercises His lordship through flesh-and-blood people (parents, husbands, pastors to open up to God's call, including the call to teach the Bible.
C. Listening Prayer
"Be still and know that I am God." —Psalm 46:10, KJV
Many of us do all the talking in prayer and rarely listen to God because we often don't even expect to hear His call in prayer. We should try daily to be quiet for five minutes. Within a week, we will probably hear the Lord calling.
D. Everyday Life
"No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." —Deuteronomy 30:14
Our God speaks both through word and works. However, God is not the only one acting. Human beings act apart from Him, and the devil is also acting. If we are under Jesus' lordship, we can discern which actions are from the Lord.
- Simple, everyday experiences are sometimes God talking to us. Ask the Spirit to help you notice these things (Jn 14:26).
- Focus on events that are not of your making. Although things that you plan may be God's doing, unexpected events can give a clearer message of God's will.
- When you can't tell which events are of God and which events are not, pray to stop events that are not of the Lord and ask for confirmation of events that are of the Lord (see Mt 16:19). The events following this prayer will more clearly indicate God's will.
2. "Who, Me? Teach the Bible?"
"I consider myself inferior to the 'super-apostles' in nothing." —2 Corinthians 11:5
For the American lay Catholic, the greatest obstacle to hearing God's call to teach the Bible is a bad self-image. Many families have suffered prejudice and rejection because of their immigrant backgrounds. Having had to leave their homelands in difficult situations, they have harbored for generations a conscious or subconscious sense of being inferior. This ingrained, generational, poor self-image often blocks us from hearing God's call.
"I will break away and return to my father." —Luke 15:18
We may have a bad self-image because of our sinfulness, and accordingly may find it difficult to love ourselves. Sin degrades us; the devil stands as our accuser and doesn't even have to lie about what we've done. He puts us down and tries to keep us down. He accused Job (Jb 1:9) and Joshua, the high priest (Zec 3:1), and we're no exception. Satan is "the accuser of our brothers...who night and day accused them before our God" (Rv 12:10). However, we can defeat the devil "by the blood of the Lamb" (Rv 12:11). The precious blood of Jesus was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. By repenting and confessing, we apply the blood of Jesus to our sins. We defeat the devil because he no longer has a basis for accusation. We're forgiven, and free to respect and love ourselves.
B. Freedom from False Guilt
"Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt." —Hosea 14:2
We also defeat Satan by the word of our testimony (see Rv 12:11). We proclaim the salvation the Lord has won, refusing to be talked out of the forgiveness we've received and into false guilt. How many times do we still feel guilty and unable to forgive ourselves even though we have confessed our sins and God has forgiven us? When we "testify" to that forgiveness, however, the devil's lies can't stand next to God's truth. The devil tells us we're "no good" and we wouldn't have a friend in the world if people knew what we've done. But, since the truth has set us free (Jn 8:32), we call the devil's bluff, proclaim from the rooftops that we're forgiven (Lk 12:3), confess our sins to one another, and find healing and freedom from guilt (Jas 5:16).
C. Focus on Jesus
"Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who inspires and perfects our faith." —Hebrews 12:2
If we focus on ourselves, our self-image may be badly warped. When we look into the Lord's eyes, we see ourselves rightly, we truly love ourselves, and we are open to His call. We should focus on:
- Jesus, rather than self,
- grace, rather than works,
- the Holy Spirit, rather than our fears, and
- God's call, rather than our weakness.
3. Call and Commands
Many of our calls from God never need to be discerned but become obvious in time. God's calls are recognized when His commandments are obeyed. For example, we don't have to discern if we are called to be witnesses for Jesus. The Lord has commanded us to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). As we obey this command, we will share God's word. As we share His word repeatedly, we may go beyond sharing to teaching, without even being conscious of it. When we find ourselves teaching, we must be called to teach. However, we won't find ourselves unconsciously teaching unless we consciously decide to obey God in witnessing for Him. Commands obeyed are catalysts which lead to calls revealed. Share God's word in witnessing for Jesus; then see what happens. You may find yourself teaching God's word.
Qualified or "Callified"?
Without spiritual hearing or obedience to the Lord, we will not hear God's call to be Bible teachers. Then others who are not called may try to fill the vacuum. Since they are not called, they will not be anointed in this ministry. Thus they will leave God's people empty or even damaged. This makes it even more important to hear our call and obey God's commands to be where we're supposed to be in His plan.
"Who are you?" —John 1:19
1. Identity: Our Call Confirmed
"How different the man who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High!" —Sirach 39:1
When we accept the call to teach the Bible, we need to know who we are and to develop our identity as Bible teachers. As lay people teaching the Bible, you will be asked by pastors for your credentials. People will question your competency and even your sanity. They will ask: "Who are you to teach the Bible?" To meet this challenge, you must be strongly confirmed in your identity. Otherwise, you will be pressured into calling yourselves "facilitators" or "discussion leaders" rather than Bible teachers.
Even Jesus' identity was questioned. Before His public ministry, the Father proclaimed: "You are My beloved Son. On You My favor rests" (Lk 3:22). But Jesus' identity was immediately questioned by Satan (Lk 4:3) and later by the religious leaders of His day.
It is the same for Jesus' followers. For example, Paul was not accepted by the Corinthians. They said: "When he is here in person he is unimpressive and his word makes no great impact" (2 Cor 10:10). Likewise, Timothy's identity was challenged because of his youth (l Tm 4:12).
To be confirmed in our identity is crucial because, if we think of ourselves as Bible teachers, we will be more strongly motivated to pray and study God's word daily (Acts 17:11). We will devour His word, make it our joy and happiness (Jer 15:16), and meditate on it day and night (Ps 1:2). By knowing who we are, we will be aware of opportunities to teach that we would have otherwise missed. Thus, we will be better able to overcome difficulties and persevere in teaching God's word.
The foundation stone of any true identity is acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Messiah. We must know Who He is before we can know who we are. For instance, when Peter said Who Jesus was, Jesus then said who Peter was (Mt 16:16-18).
After realizing our basic Christian identity as Jesus' disciples, we need to be confirmed in this identity by the Holy Spirit. We should renew our Baptisms and Confirmations. Then we will be confident about who we are.
2. Character: Our Identity Developed
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingly power, I charge you to preach the word, to stay with this task whether convenient or inconvenient — correcting, reproving, appealing — constantly teaching and never losing patience. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires, will surround themselves with teachers who tickle their ears. They will stop listening to the truth and will wander off to fables. As for you, be steady and self-possessed; put up with hardship, perform your work as an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." —2 Timothy 4:1-5 (emphasis added)
As we become more aware of our identity as Bible teachers, we begin to take seriously our need to grow. We must grow not only in Biblical understanding, but most importantly in Christian character. We begin seeking the qualities Bible teachers need.
Our character development should be based on a realistic picture of a Bible teacher. Many people mistakenly think a Bible teacher needs to be dynamic and exceptional. Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham, and most TV preachers are confident, articulate, impressive television personalities. In reality, however, a Bible teacher is often afraid (1 Cor 2:3), unskilled (2 Cor 11:6), and unimpressive (2 Cor 10:10). Realistically, Bible teachers need to be:
- steady and self-possessed,
- courageous in the face of hardship, and
- able to perform their work diligently.
Paul charged Timothy and other Bible teachers to "stay with the task," knowing that there will be convenient and inconvenient times, openness to our teaching and opposition to it. But if we persevere, we will win the spiritual conflict. The devil has already been defeated. Therefore, he must stall and hope we'll forfeit. Bible teachers must expect to often be tempted to quit, and expect to overcome these temptations by the grace of God. When we put our hand to the plow, we don't look back (Lk 9:62).
B. Steady and Self-Possessed
Paul counseled us to be "steady and self-possessed" (2 Tm 4:5). Bible teachers should not be overly sensitive and subject to exaggerated highs or lows. Rather, they must be emotionally stable, calm, steady, and filled with confidence in the Holy Spirit.
C. Courageous in the Face of Hardship
We may think a good Scripture teacher has few problems, but the opposite is often true. Many times the spiritual battles surrounding the spread of the word of God are fierce. These sufferings are part of the hardship and discouragement Satan throws against us to shake our confidence in the Lord's call. We must be able to take high levels of discouragement and pain.
D. Able To Perform Their Work Diligently
Teachers should be hard workers. God wants strong, steady workhorses, not thoroughbreds. In Bible teaching, there is always a lot of work to be done because teaching the Bible is a lifetime call to teach in all situations — on the phone, at work, visiting a neighbor, shopping, riding a bus, witnessing everywhere and all the time. So Bible teachers must be able to work long and hard.
"Stricter Account" (Jas 3:1)
Developing our identity and character as Bible teachers makes a great difference in our commitment, motivation, maturity, confidence, and perseverance. The Lord holds us to a "stricter account," but also gives us His grace. Therefore, we can develop the identity and character of a Bible teacher, for God "Who calls us is trustworthy, therefore He will do it" (1 Thes 5:24).
"Inscribed on His Person was a name known to no one but Himself. He wore a cloak that had been dipped in blood, and His name was the Word of God." —Revelation 19:12-13
1. "Holy, Holy, Holy"
"This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at My word." —Isaiah 66:2
"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord" (Verbum Dei, Vatican II, 21; see also Catechism of the Catholic Church, 103).
Bible teachers must be awed by the "Holy Bible." We are in awe of God's written word because of the divine Word, Jesus, the Word of God, Who is God. "In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). We are also in awe of God's written word because of Jesus, the Word of God, Who is man. "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14).
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, including the wisdom of Bible teaching. As Bible teachers, we should desire to kiss the Scriptures, as is done following the reading of the gospel at Mass. We want to do this not because it is a custom, but out of reverence for the word. This reverence for the "Holy Bible" is the most basic experience that we, as Bible teachers, must communicate. If people reverence God's word after hearing our teaching, the Bible study is successful no matter what else has happened. But if those who hear us become less in awe of God's word, then the Bible study is a disaster.
2. God's Word and Man's Word
"That is why we thank God constantly that in receiving His message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God at work within you who believe." —1 Thessalonians 2:13
God's word is holy, set apart from merely human words, not only by nature but by use.
"The seed is the word of God." —Luke 8:11
God's word is seed. It creates and causes new life. Merely human words are not causes but effects. They are not creative of themselves.
"A lamp to my feet is Your word, a light to my path." —Psalm 119:105
God's word is light. Our words may be used by God to enlighten (like a light bulb), but there is a big difference between a light bulb and light itself.
"Indeed, God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword." —Hebrews 4:12
God's word is a sword, an offensive weapon against the evil one. Our words of themselves are powerless against the devil. Sometimes they are even used by the devil rather than against him.
"Anyone who hears My words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on rock." —Matthew 7:24
God's word is rock: enduring forever, unchanging, and indestructible. Though heaven and earth pass away, God's word will never pass away (Lk 21:33). Our words are often like sand: shifting, changing, and short-lived.
"You are clean already, thanks to the word I have spoken to you." —John 15:3
The Lord purifies the Church "in the bath of water by the power of the word" (Eph 5:26). Merely human words need to be purified.
"Not on bread alone is man to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God." —Matthew 4:4
God's word is food. It is nourishing and fulfilling. Our words are intangible, like air, often empty.
3. Deciding How to Use God's Word
Be "a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, following a straight course in preaching the truth." —2 Timothy 2:15
The holiness of God's word is a reality of life-changing, practical significance. For a deep experience of this holiness, Bible teachers must be able to choose the use of the word appropriate for our teaching situation. Although we can use the word more than one way at a time, we can't use it in all the ways just listed above at the same time. We should decide the uses of God's word appropriate to the needs of the people in a particular situation. Otherwise, we will proclaim the word "sabbath after sabbath" (Acts 13:27) with little benefit. Our teaching will be merely "wordy wisdom" (1 Cor 1:17).
Most Bible teachers teach the Bible as light and seed. As light, the Bible reveals things that are of help to a Christian. As seed, the Bible presents new ideas. But most Christians in our culture are in "intensive care," bound by chains, and spiritually starving to death. We must make a change from lighting to fighting, and from seeding to feeding. We should use the Bible as a weapon instead of just as light, and as food instead of just as seed.
Most people need to be set free, to have their chains broken. They have had much hurt and pain in family, marriage, sinful relationships, and work. Shining the light of God's word on chains of bondage is not good enough. These chains need to be broken by a sword.
Also, most Christians in our culture are starving spiritually. At best, they may receive ten minutes of Bible teaching per week at the Sunday homily — approximately ten hours per year. In this state of spiritual starvation, they do not need the seeding of new ideas as much as feeding so as to receive the spiritual strength to come alive. We should not tell starving and bound people about new things to do, but first feed and free them.
A. The Word as a Weapon
To use the Bible as a weapon against the evil one and for the freeing of God's people, we must use the text of God's word as Jesus used it when He was tempted in the desert (Mt 4:4, 7, 10). This approach stresses not so much our comprehension of the word but its objective power. For example,when Jesus was tempted in the desert, He did not teach the devil; He beat the devil. We use the Bible as a weapon by beginning the teaching with a substantial amount of Biblical text. At this point, the devil is attempting to rob us of the word (Mk 4:15), so we must be careful to focus on the text without getting too much into commentary or anecdotes. Then the Spirit will use the word as a prophetic two-edged sword (Heb 4:12) and penetrate the hearts of those listening.
B. The Word as Food
Because people are spiritually starving to death, we must be able to prepare quickly a bountiful spiritual table to provide for a variety of people, some needing meat and others milk (Heb 5:12). We need speed, quantity, and variety.
Also, teachers must help their students open up to receive the word. A little comment relating the Bible to the students' personal lives will open them to a Scripture passage that they would have missed otherwise. Furthermore, a clear interpretation of the text, "dividing the word rightly" (2 Tm 2:15, KJV), will cut the word into digestible pieces and further help students be nourished by God's word.
C. The Word as a Weapon Against Spiritual Anorexia
The "word is living and effective." —Hebrews 4:12
The reason we are starving spiritually is because we are enslaved. Our starvation is self-imposed. We are spiritually anorexic. We are so stuffed with the things of the flesh that we have lost our appetite for the nourishment of God's word (see Gal 5:17). "Lust indulged starves the soul" (Prv 13:19). God's word, not only in teaching but in prophecy, can set us free, crucify our "flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24), and restore our spiritual appetite.
When we know the holiness of God's word, we see the difference between God's word and man's word. When we know the different uses of God's word, we can touch the areas of life where people need help the most. When we change from seeding to feeding and from lighting to fighting, then students leave our Bible studies, conversations, and phone calls not merely enlightened with some helpful thoughts; they leave victorious and freed from spiritual anorexia, fed and fulfilled in the Spirit.
"In his teaching he must hold fast to the authentic message, so that he will be able both to encourage men to follow sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it." —Titus 1:9
1. Paralysis: The Atmosphere of Interpretation
"I feel obliged to write and encourage you to fight hard for the faith delivered once for all to the saints. Certain individuals have recently wormed their way into your midst, godless types, long ago destined for the condemnation I shall describe. They pervert the gracious gift of our God to sexual excess and deny Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord." —Jude 3-4
The atmosphere of secular humanism which pervades our society and church has paralyzed us and prevented us from seeing clearly the meaning of much of the Bible. However, we must know clearly the objective meaning of the Bible. Otherwise, for practical purposes, we cannot teach and live the Bible as the authoritative word of God.
Objectivity in Bible interpretation requires not only textual analysis but, most importantly, the right atmosphere. How many times have we argued about what seemed to be obvious, but we were hitting a brick wall? The problem was not analysis but paralysis due to the wrong atmosphere.
A. Christian Community
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you.' " —1 Corinthians 12:21
Pope John Paul II has taught: "Docility to the Holy Spirit produces and reinforces another attitude needed for the correct orientation of exegesis: fidelity to the Church. The Catholic exegete does not entertain the individualist illusion leading to the belief that one can better understand the biblical texts outside the community of believers. The contrary is true" (Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 10, April 23, 1993, Rome).
To have the right atmosphere, we must be living in the body of Christ, presently involved in a Christian community, and not in the independence and isolation of our secular culture. Referring to Paul's letters, the Bible warns us against being untaught ("undiscipled" in the Greek) and unstable. Some things "are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pt 3:16, NAS translation). To interpret Scripture according to objective standards; we must be more than affiliated with a community; we must be discipled by it.
For example, the Catholic appreciation of Mary exemplifies how the community's experience can open us to God's word. If we as the Catholic community have experienced God's power working through Mary's intercession, we will see a deeper meaning in a Marian passage (e.g. Is 7:14) and recognize more passages as having Marian connotations (e.g. Gn 3:15; Rv 12:1). Without the experience of the Spirit in community, these insights from the Spirit would not be as easily recognized.
B. Respect for Personal Spiritual Experience
"If God was giving them the same gift He gave us when we first believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to interfere with Him?" —Acts 11:17
Understanding God's word is a gift from God. No matter how intelligent, skilled, or well-educated we are, we need God's grace to understand God's word. This grace often comes in a personal experience. Therefore, for an atmosphere conducive to the objective interpretation of Scripture, we should respect the work of the Holy Spirit in the personal experiences of others.
If we have not had certain experiences, we probably will not properly interpret some Bible passages. For example, some Christians have had a personal spiritual experience similar to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost. Those having this experience will tend to interpret many passages about the Holy Spirit differently than those who have not. They will interpret these passages to mean that the spiritual gifts — tongues, prophecy, healing, and others — are an essential part of Christian life today. Those without this experience may interpret these passages to mean the gifts were temporary — only meant for the early Church, not for the present. Personal spiritual experiences open us to meanings of Scripture that others don't see.
As long as we are in submission to the leaders of our Christian community, personal spiritual experience will open our eyes to the meaning of God's word rather than be used to deceive and confuse us.
C. The Need for Repentance
"You must no longer live as the pagans do — their minds empty, their understanding darkened. They are estranged from a life in God because of their ignorance and their resistance." —Ephesians 4:17-18
Finally, to have a good atmosphere for objectively understanding the Bible, we must repent from sin. For example, the Corinthians, because of their refusal to repent, denied that we will rise from the dead. Paul commanded: "Do not be led astray any longer. 'Bad company corrupts good morals.' Return to reason, as you ought, and stop sinning. Some of you are quite ignorant of God" (1 Cor 15:33-34). Sin blinds us to the truth. For example, many nineteenth century Christians in the American South wrongly used the Bible to justify slavery. Also, many Christians in the Western world today, blinded by the sins of selfishness and materialism (2 Cor 4:4), cannot see the Bible's call to a simple, sacrificial life-style. Repentance on the part of Bible teachers is absolutely necessary for an objective understanding of the Scriptures instead of the warped, compromised gospel of a secularized church.
2. Analysis and the Primary Principle of Biblical Interpretation
"Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events which have been fulfilled in our midst, precisely as those events were transmitted to us by the original eyewitnesses and ministers of the word." —Luke 1:1-2
When we have the proper atmosphere, we are not spiritually paralyzed and are in a position to interpret objectively a Bible passage. The most basic principle of interpretation is: the primary meaning of a passage is what the original author intended it to mean. This is the same common sense principle we use to interpret all communication.
Both fundamentalism and secularism deny this basic principle. The fundamentalist maintains every passage in the Bible is to be taken literally, no matter what the Biblical author intended. The secularist says all the Bible is subject to critique or correction by our culture, no matter what the original Biblical author's intent.
To know the author's intent, we must understand the literary form and the cultural setting in which the passage was written, collected, and edited. It is also necessary to recognize the order and the immediate context of a passage. Moreover, we must see the passage in the context of the whole Bible. The literal meaning is assumed to be the intent of the author unless otherwise indicated by the textual evidence. "The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: 'All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal' " (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 116).
The Catholic Church interprets passages of the Bible in this way. Pope Pius XII wrote that the basic meaning of a Scripture passage is the intent of the human author:
"There is no one indeed but knows that the supreme rule of interpretation is to discover and define what the writer intended to express, as St. Athanasius excellently observes: 'Here, as indeed is expedient in all other passages of Sacred Scripture, it should be noted, on what occasion the apostle spoke; we should carefully and faithfully observe to whom and why he wrote, lest, being ignorant of these points, or confounding one with another, we miss the real meaning of the author.' " —Promotion of Biblical Studies, 34 [emphasis added]
Vatican II also emphasizes the need to understand clearly the Biblical author's intent:
"However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words." —On Revelation, Vatican II, 12
There are other meanings of the Scriptures in addition to the author's intent. Both the rabbis of Jesus' time and the early church fathers interpreted some Bible passages prophetically and typologically. Nonetheless, the basis for all interpretations is the original intent of the author.
"The Truth Will Set You Free" —John 8:32
When people make the Bible say anything they want, we especially thank God for a common-sense, Biblical, ecclesial principle of interpretation whereby the objective meaning of the Scriptures can be known. With the proper atmosphere, we can overcome the paralyzing doubt and confusion of secular humanism, clearly know what the Bible says, and therefore be in a position to obey it. Pope John Paul II has taught regarding priests something that may apply to all of us: "Only if he 'abides' in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then will he know the truth and be set truly free, overcoming every conditioning which is contrary or foreign to the Gospel (cf Jn 8:31-32)" (I Will Give You Shepherds, 26).
"...the Church, which is His body: the fullness of Him Who fills the universe in all its parts." —Ephesians 1:22-23
The word "catholic" in Greek means "for the whole" or "universal." As the name suggests, the Catholic Church includes more in its understanding of the Bible: (1) more books in the canon of the Bible, (2) more authority in Biblical interpretation (the Magisterium), (3) more time (including the Spirit's work through the ages), and (4) more emphasis on the Old Testament. In Biblical interpretation, the Catholic Church lives up to its name. It offers a universality and richness to Bible teachers who are willing to receive her treasures.
It's a privilege to teach the Bible as a Catholic. The Catholic Church has been outstanding in teaching and applying the Bible concerning the Eucharist, divorce, abortion, gospel poverty, celibacy, and artificial birth control. We have our weaknesses and have much to learn from Protestants and other Christians. But they also need to learn from us. We can be thankful for the practicality and depth of Bible teaching of the Catholic Church.
1. The Canon — More Biblical Revelation
"We beg you, brothers, not to be so easily agitated or terrified, whether by an oracular utterance, or rumor, or a letter alleged to be ours." —2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
In the days of the early Church, there was confusion about which books were in the Bible. This confusion persists even now in the differences between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. All Christians accept the same twenty-seven books in the New Testament; therefore, the Catholic and Protestant New Testaments contain the same books. Furthermore, all Christians and Jews accept the same basic thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, but Catholic Christians accept seven more books and additional parts of two others. This is largely based on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by Jesus and the early Church. In general, the Catholic and Protestant Bibles differ little. However, these differences are significant, for every part of a letter of God's law and word (Mt 5:18) is very precious (Ps 119:72).
2. The Magisterium — More Authoritative Teaching and Therefore More Application of the Scriptures to Our Lives.
He must "hold fast to the authentic message, so that he will be able both to encourage men to follow sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it...Admonish them sharply, in an attempt to keep them close to sound faith, and unaffected by Jewish myths or rules invented by men who have swerved from the truth." —Titus 1:9, 13-14
We must obey God's word. Therefore, we must know what it means. However, interpreting some parts of the Bible is complex and therefore susceptible to error. To correctly interpret much of the Bible, we must understand the Biblical language and Eastern culture, history, and literature. Many Biblical revelations can be rightly understood only in the light of the entire Bible. Because of these difficulties, the Catholic Church has the Magisterium, an official body of authoritative teaching. The Magisterium exists to help us take the Scriptures authoritatively. "The maintenance in the strongest possible way of [Scripture's] full authority...cannot be done completely or satisfactorily, except by means of the living and proper Magisterium of the Church..." (On the Study of Sacred Scripture, Pope Leo XIII, p. 21, St. Paul Edition). "This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit" (On Revelation, Vatican II, 10).
Some of the assumptions behind the existence of the Magisterium are:
- The Bible is authoritative and meant to be obeyed.
- The Bible communicates clear and objective truth.
- The Bible is constantly being attacked and needs to be protected from false interpretations.
Other Christian groups also have authoritative bodies to safeguard the true interpretation of the Bible. But in the Catholic Church, this is more formal and more authoritative.
3. Divine Tradition — More Revelation
"Therefore, brothers, stand firm. Hold fast to the traditions you received from us, either by our word or by letter." —2 Thessalonians 2:15
The Catholic Church appreciates divine tradition, that is, the work of the Spirit in Christian communities over the centuries. Some misunderstand tradition and think it stifles the Spirit and opposes the Bible. However, divine tradition is the work of the Spirit, and the Bible is composed of divine traditions. We must recognize that the Holy Spirit didn't start with us. If we don't believe in divine tradition, we don't believe in the Bible. For example, we would not know what books make up the Bible without tradition and the Church's authoritative discernment of this tradition as being divine. The Catholic Church "has always regarded the Scriptures together with sacred tradition as the supreme rule of faith" (On Revelation, Vatican II, 21).
Note: Earlier in the twentieth century, a false impression was given that Catholic tradition did not emphasize the Bible. Some pastors had discouraged lay people from Bible reading. Although this pastoral practice was based on a respect for Scripture and a concern about misinterpretation, it did not reflect the Church's traditional teaching. The popes have emphasized the need to read the Bible. For example, in 1907 Pope Pius X commended the Society of St. Jerome for promoting the reading of the gospels. In 1920 in his encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus, Pope Benedict XV exhorted "all the children of the Church, especially clerics, to reverence the Holy Scripture, to read it piously and meditate on it constantly." The Church encourages "easy access to Sacred Scripture...for all the Christian faithful," for reading and careful study "so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe"..."and let the treasure of revelation entrusted to the Church increasingly fill the hearts of men" (On Revelation, Vatican II, 22, 1, 26).
4. Old Testament and New Testament
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them." —Matthew 5:17
In Biblical interpretation, the Catholic Church includes more time, always keeping in mind the perspective of the Old Testament. Catholics and Protestants differ in their understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The Catholic Church in general interprets the Old Testament based on Matthew 5:17. Therefore, Catholics take Old Testament passages not only as prefigurements of Christ, but as the unabolished word, though changed and fulfilled in Jesus. In contrast, many Protestants do not consider the Old Testament as formative for the Christian era. This accounts for differences between Catholic and Protestant Biblical interpretations on liturgy, the priesthood, sacrifice, the Church, penance, and holiness. Also, Catholic Biblical interpretation of many Marian passages is partly based on the Old Testament concept of holiness. Therefore, the Catholic and Protestant difference of emphasis on the Old Testament is a source of our differences in interpreting Marian passages.
Thankful to be Catholic
The teachings of the Catholic Church are based on an in-depth understanding of the Bible. The average Catholic is Biblically illiterate. This gap between what we believe from the Bible and what we know of the Bible was formerly bridged by priests faithfully teaching the truths believed by the Catholic Church and by parishioners obediently submitting themselves to the Church's authority. This is no longer the case and now in this anti-Christian society, we must take up the slack and learn the Bible ourselves and teach it to others. We must know not only what the Church believes, but why we believe it. We must be rooted in knowledge of the Bible and in submission to the authority of the Church. We are privileged to be Catholics, but do we know why?
"Each day they studied the Scriptures to see whether these things were so." —Acts 17:11
The typical way to prepare to teach the Bible in our culture is to say a prayer, read the Biblical texts, and then do a lot of research. The prayer and reading of the Biblical texts may take a few minutes, and the research may take hours. This way of preparing to teach the Bible relies too much on our abilities. The prayer and the reading of the Biblical texts should take much more time. Then the Holy Spirit will be leading the Bible teaching with ourselves as His helpers.
1. Three Natures
"Keep careful watch over your conduct...Do not continue in ignorance, but try to discern the will of the Lord." —Ephesians 5:15, 17
Our simple method for preparing to teach the Bible is based on a realistic look at ourselves: the teachers: our material the Bible: and our work: the teaching.
A. The Teacher's Human Nature
"I cannot even understand my own actions. I do not do what I want to do but what I hate." —Romans 7:15
Because we give in to our human nature, we often don't do what we want to do. Although buried in the waters of baptism, our human nature still lusts against the Spirit (Gal 5:17). We tend to be lazy and rebellious. When the Lord calls us to listen as did Mary of Bethany, we choose to be the anxious Martha and vice versa (Lk 10:39-41). However, by following the lead and discipline of the Spirit, we will not be manipulated by our carnal desires (Gal 5:16).
B. The Nature of the Bible
"There are still many other things that Jesus did, yet if they were written about in detail, I doubt there would be room enough in the entire world to hold the books to record them." —John 21:25
Although consisting of thousands of pages, the Bible can be viewed as a micro-dot of divine revelation for all peoples of all time in one volume of many books. Just as a scientist views a micro-dot under high magnification to reveal its message, so a Christian can pray, read, and study the Bible intensively day after day, and through the "high magnification" of the Holy Spirit continually receive new insights into its objective meaning. Every day, even after thousands of years of study and tradition in many different cultures and peoples, the Holy Spirit reveals new insights into the Scripture.
The Bible is like a rich gold mine. When "mining" the Scriptures, teachers must dig deeply into the text and avoid the temptation to dig a long, shallow trench which only superficially touches on a number of points. Prayer and discipline cause us to go deeper and restrain us from collecting Bible trivia instead of preparing a Bible teaching in the Spirit.
C. The Nature of a Bible Teaching
"Indeed, God's word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart." —Hebrews 4:12
1) To change hearts for Jesus
The primary purpose of a Bible teaching is to "put believers into a personal relationship with God" (Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 11 Pope John Paul II, April 23, 1993, Rome). Bible teachings should change our hearts, fulfilling our greatest needs — salvation, repentance, life in the Spirit, discipleship, healing, growth, power, love, peace, forgiveness, etc. The word of God, the two-edged sword, is sharp and pointed to prune and penetrate our hearts. But only the Spirit can provide the power and wisdom to rightly use the sword of God's word. Our preparation must leave the Spirit maximum opportunity to work on us and then through us.
2) To help the teacher's growth
A second purpose of a Bible teaching is to foster the teacher's growth in holiness and ministry. We teachers need to see ourselves as craftsmen and women, who pride ourselves on doing a skilled job for the glory of God. We should also see ourselves as apprentices, who need to grow in our spiritual gifts.
We should not disdain the discipline of the Lord (Heb 12:5) in our life in the Spirit and especially in our Bible teaching. In preparing a teaching, we should discipline ourselves by over-preparing. Even if we are teaching a passage we have previously taught, we should prepare from "scratch," not relying on past notes. This will help us grow and develop as skilled workmen who have "no cause to be ashamed, following a straight course in preaching the truth" (2 Tm 2:15).
2. Praying and Reading in the Spirit
"The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech." —Romans 8:26
We rely on the Holy Spirit to overcome the tendencies of our human nature, "mine" the Bible, and teach so as to penetrate and nourish hearts, including our own. We are opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit by a process of repeated prayer, reading the Biblical texts, and disciplined study.
Pope John Paul II has taught: "Indeed, to arrive at a completely valid interpretation of words inspired by the Holy Spirit, one must first be guided by the Holy Spirit and it is necessary to pray for that, to pray much, to ask in prayer for the interior light of the Spirit and docilely accept that light, to ask for the love that alone enables one to understand the language of God, Who 'is Love' (1 Jn 4:8, 16). While engaged in the very work of interpretation, one must remain in the presence of God as much as possible" (Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 9, April 23, 1993, Rome). Prayer and reading the Biblical texts are the first and most important steps in preparing a Bible study. For a few minutes each day for several days (for example, five) before the Bible study we should pray and read, pray and re-read the Scriptures to be taught. It's better to pray and read, pray and re-read for ten minutes a day for five days then to prepare for two hours the night before. The re-reading should include different translations, including one more exact translation (e.g., Revised Standard Version, American Standard). This "pray and read" process should consume most of the preparation process but may be supplemented with research into commentaries. This emphasis on prayer and reading will let the Spirit lead the teaching.
3. The Discipline of the Lord
"Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord." —Hebrews 12:5
In addition to repeated praying and reading of the Biblical texts for several days, the Holy Spirit works through disciplines. We are naturally lazy so we want to cut corners and not have to think or work. The following four disciplines force us to think in preparing a Bible teaching. We should ask the Spirit to tell us which of these disciplines to use.
A. Ask Questions
We should develop a question-asking orientation to Bible study by asking many questions pointing to the basic question: What is the intent of the Biblical author? Examples of questions are:
- What is the main theme of the passage?
- Who is speaking?
- About whom is he speaking?
- Which is the key verse?
- What are the key words?
- What word is most often used?
- What does the passage teach about Jesus Christ?
- What precedes and follows this passage?
- Is this Scripture calling me to repent of any sin?
- Is there a command to obey?
- A promise to claim?
- A prayer called for?
B. Prepare a Structural Outline
We can prepare an outline or diagram of the passage according to structural elements, such as introduction, transition, main points, punch line, addition, repetition, contrast, etc.
We can paraphrase the passage — expressing it in our own words, being careful not to subtract or add anything. This discipline forces us to think about the meaning of the passage.
D. Practice Teaching for Different Lengths of Time
Mentally, we may give the teaching in different time frames, such as thirty, fifteen, ten, five minutes, or even one minute. This forces us to think more clearly and decide what is most important.
The Spirit Over the Flesh
The repetition of the "pray, read, pray, and re-read" process and these disciplines listed above, allow the Holy Spirit to magnify and mine the text, pierce the heart, and equip the teacher for better ministry (Eph 4:11-12). This method can get our carnal desires out of the way and let the Spirit lead.
"Thus says the Lord God to these bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life. I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the Lord." —Ezekiel 37:5-6
Through the proclamation of His word, the Lord is rattling the dry bones and raising His people from the dead. Ezekiel mentioned four parts of a body — bones, sinews, flesh, and skin. We use these to describe the parts of a Bible study. (No interpretation of Ezekiel is intended.)
1. The Bones — The Text
"Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." —Luke 4:21
We use the "bones" to represent the Biblical text. God promises that His word will always be living and effective (Heb 4:12), achieving the end for which it was sent (Is 55:11). This promise is for the word, not for our commentary or analysis of the word. A good Bible teaching should begin, remain, and end with the text. The basis of the Bible teaching must be to give the objective meaning of the text, not expounding on something else with the text only used as a springboard.
2. The Sinews — The Order
"I too have carefully traced the whole sequence of events from the beginning." —Luke 1:3
The "sinews" join together the "bones," giving them order. Oral and written traditions collected and put into the Bible when they were arranged in a divinely inspired order. Therefore, we teach primarily order. Therefore, we must recognize the sinews, the connectors which give order to the text. For example, sinews may be repeated phrases, words, or themes; geographical patterns, parallelism, inclusion, introductory and closing statements, transitional sentences, etc. To recognize these connectors is a most important insight in Bible teaching.
In searching for the order in a given passage, the teacher can ask:
- How does this book relate to the order of the whole Bible?
- How does this book relate to the order of the New Testament or Old Testament?
- How does this chapter relate to the preceding and following chapters?
- Does the chapter start, develop, or end a theme?
- Why is this verse placed in this book?
- Why is this verse placed in this chapter?
- Why is this verse placed here in this particular passage?
- Which is the key verse and why?
We should recognize the order of a passage, not only in the immediate context, but also in the context of the whole Bible. We do this by working from the big to the small — from the whole Bible to the whole book, the particular chapter, and finally the verse.
3. The Flesh — The Explanation
"You therefore are now invited to read it...with indulgence for any apparent failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages. For words spoken originally in Hebrew are not as effective when they are translated into another language." —Sirach's preface
When we are staying with the text and recognize its order, we can then "enflesh" this skeleton. The "flesh," the third element of a Bible teaching, consists primarily of (1) cross-references and research into (2) the cultural and (3) historical background of a Scripture passage and (4) the nuances of the original language.
This enfleshing must build upon the "bones" (text), connected by the "sinews." The teacher must carefully add "flesh" in proportion to the skeletal structure so the teaching will have a proper shape rather than become a misformed mass of superfluous and unrelated trivia. By knowing the order of a passage, the teacher can recognize what is most important. Only these points should be explained and developed in the commentary. Less important points should be passed over or referred to briefly.
Some questions to consider in enfleshing a teaching are the following:
- Do I have a clear understanding of the "sinews," the order of this passage, as a basis for my research?
- Am I looking for specific details or merely reading and collecting material?
- Are the enfleshing details (cross references, cultural and historical background, linguistic points) taking up no more space than their importance warrants?
4. The Skin — The Presentation
"A skillfully composed story delights the ears of those who read the work" —2 Maccabees 15:39
After the "bones" (text), "sinews" (order), and the "flesh" (proportional development), teachers must consider the "skin," that is, how to present the teaching. They must take account of (1) the students' needs. The methods and depth of the teaching should be appropriate to the age level as well as the cultural backgrounds of the students. Teachers should also consider (2) their own gifts. We must be ourselves and go with our strengths. Also, the "skin" should suit the (3) theme and purpose of the particular text studied. For example, a practical teaching on how to grow in Christian character might well include some discussion. But it is better to spend more time in prayer rather in discussion when teaching the Passion and Death of Jesus.
Most of the teachers reading this book are probably "living room teachers." They should teach sitting down in the informal atmosphere of a home. Personal witnesses, some group discussion, and specific intercessory prayer are their ways of presenting the Bible teaching. The Spirit will give us the wisdom to present our teachings in the most appropriate way.
"Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord." —Ezekiel 37:4
Four parts — bones, sinews, flesh, and skin — make up a Scripture teaching. Teachers should clearly understand how "bones" are fitted together by "sinews," carefully "enflesh" the word in proper proportion, and then present it with the appropriate "skin." Then the Holy Spirit will rattle those dry bones and bring them to life.
"Our preaching of the gospel proved not a mere matter or words for you but one of power; it was carried on in the Holy Spirit and out of complete conviction." —1 Thessalonians 1:5
Before reading the gospel at Mass, the Catholic community makes three crosses — on the forehead, lips, and heart. It may be a better idea to reverse the order of these crosses; the first cross on the heart, then on the lips and forehead.
How often have we heard talk about the Bible that it was only a "head trip," just "lip service" and not from the heart? However, the Lord has a plan for getting His word to our hearts and circulating it through our bodies. We receive it through the ear, take it to heart, and the heart pumps it through the body so we may "act on" it (Jas 1:22). Finally, the cycle is completed by speaking the word and understanding it in a deeper way. Then the word goes to another's ears, and another cycle begins.
1. Ear to Heart
"Faith, then, comes through hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." —Romans 10:17, our translation
"Faith, then, comes through hearing." But the word can go "in one ear and out the other." When this happens, the word has fallen on the footpath where Satan comes to steal what was sown (Mk 4:15). Sometimes the word goes from ear to mind but does not go to the heart. This is a "head trip." Finally, God's word can go in one ear and out the mouth. This is called "lip service" (Mt 15:8). The word must go down the crucial distance from head to heart. When the word reaches a good heart, it takes root, is humbly welcomed, and then acted on (see Jas 1:21-22).
2. Heart to Hands and Feet
"Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves." —James 1:22
As a physical heart pumps blood throughout the body, so the spiritual heart circulates the living word to every part of the body. The spiritual heart pumps first to the hands and feet. Paul taught that the disciples' feet are used to carry the good news (Rm 10:15) with "zeal to propagate the gospel of peace" as our footgear (Eph 6:15). The prophet Isaiah proclaimed: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings" (Is 52:7). God's word also moves our hands to serve one another (see Jn 13:14), pray (1 Tm 2:8), and anoint the sick (Jas 5:14). God commands us in His word: "Work with your hands as we directed you to do, so that you will give good example to outsiders and want for nothing" (1 Thes 4:11-12). Christians who act on the word with feet and hands truly are doers of the word (Jas 1:22).
3. To Mouth
"A good man produces goodness from the good in his heart...each man speaks from his heart's abundance." —Luke 6:45
When our hearts well up in receiving the word and our bodies act on it, we can speak the word to others out of the abundance of our hearts. Then we're not hypocrites giving lip service. We're not just practicing what we preach; we are preaching what we've already practiced.
4. To Mind
"And now, brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice...Be transformed by the renewal of your mind." —Romans 12:1, 2
When we have taken the word to heart, expressed it through our feet and hands by going and doing, and have spoken it in truth, it is only then that we properly understand the word with our minds. Our minds are active throughout the whole process of circulating the word, but our initial mental comprehension of the word is inadequate. When the word is processed through the whole body, only then do we have the renewal of our mind, "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16), and a "fresh, spiritual way of thinking" (Eph 4:23).
The Heart of the Matter
To do a Bible teaching effectively and get the word to the heart and then through the heart to the hands, feet, mouth, and mind in right order may seem to be a monumental task. Remember, however, the Spirit is the Head Teacher. All we need do is pray and obey.
"Every scribe who is learned in the reign of God is like the head of a household who can bring from his storeroom both the new and the old." —Matthew 13:52
Good Bible teachers know the spiritual condition of their students. They know if the students are under the lordship of Jesus and baptized, if they are fallen away from their baptismal commitment, if they are living in Christian community, if the Spirit is working freely or stifled in their lives, if they are in a state of spiritual starvation, or if they have come to an awareness of their vocation and work in God's kingdom. We must know these things about our students if we are to serve them in the best way possible. We must be able to teach the Bible both to evangelize and to make disciples.
Bible teachers need to have had life-changing experiences of God and to have developed a treasury of teachings descriptive of these experiences. The Spirit can draw on this resource at any time to meet people where they're at and transform their lives. These teachings can be presented in their entirety, but it is usually better to give them in part, as a module or section of a teaching, to be used flexibly according to the Spirit's lead.
Before much of the Bible was ever written, it was preached and taught in combinations of small sections. These sections were selected, ordered, expanded, and contracted differently as the Spirit led. For example, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke drew from much of the same material but, in some cases, selected different material and ordered it differently. Luke may expand on something noted only briefly in Mark, or vice versa.
Our treasury of Bible teaching may include something like the following:
- We begin with the crucified Jesus. At the foot of the cross, we open up to His love that breaks through selfishness and sin.
- When Christ has been displayed to view upon the cross (Gal 3:1), we are faced with the decision to give our lives to Him Who gave His life for us, to accept Him as Lord Jesus.
- When our knees bend and our tongues proclaim "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil 2:10-11), we accept salvation.
- Then Jesus baptizes us in the Spirit (Mk 1:8), and the Holy Spirit will lead us to holiness (see Jn 14:26).
- Jesus leads us to the Father (Jn 14:6), the Spirit cries out "Abba" (Rm 8:15), and we experience the Father's personal love.
- We, beloved of the Father, disciples of the Lord Jesus, and temples of the Holy Spirit, seek first God's kingdom (Mt 6:33).
- We are now a threat to the devil. We enter into spiritual warfare between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.
1. The Crucified Jesus
"I determined that while I was with you I would speak of nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." —1 Corinthians 2:2
Paul determined to speak of nothing but Christ crucified because the Corinthians were hardened against God. Many people need a breakthrough to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, and the Lord often does this by our teaching on the cross. So we should always be ready to teach the cross — no matter what the subject. We don't have to worry about changing the subject because the cross is the subject. All the Bible is either leading to or coming from the cross. Therefore, we should know in detail the Old Testament prophecies of the cross, especially the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah; Psalms 22, 31, and 69; the Passion narratives; and other New Testament references to the crucified Jesus. We ought to know these better than any other parts of the Bible — so well that we can connect any passage to the cross.
We must take people to the foot of the cross (Jn 19:35) and not let the cross be rendered void of its meaning (1 Cor 1:17). The cross is not a theory; it is the perfect expression of God's love for us and an opportunity to accept His radical love and deny one's self. The cross is the place of decision for a new way of life. We should come away from the teaching on the cross totally committed to the Lord. At the cross is the ultimate breakthrough.
2. The Lord Jesus
"Because of this, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name above every other name, so that at Jesus' name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!" —Philippians 2:9-11
Accepting Jesus as Lord is a necessary implication of accepting His crucified love and is the essence of salvation (Rm 10:9). However, modern American culture preaches independence as a virtue and encourages us to be lords of our own lives. Most people do not understand that Jesus as Lord must reign over the totality of our lives. Consequently, the Bible teacher is faced with a confrontation between Biblical salvation and American culture.
Another problem in teaching the lordship of Jesus is that sometimes our teaching is too abstract and spiritualized, and not incarnate and practical. The Lord Jesus exercises His authority through people. Professing Jesus as Lord of our lives requires flesh-and-blood relationships of authority and obedience in everyday life. Therefore, a wife not under the authority of her husband, Christians not under their pastor's authority, or Catholic Christians not under the authority of their Pope and bishops have not accepted Jesus as Lord. Teaching on Jesus as Lord will have a great effect on people's marriages and family relationships. It will also bring us into a loving submission to Church authority and under the Scripture's authority. These lessons may be difficult and involve many difficult situations needing repentance, but once again the Spirit will lead us. "No one can say: 'Jesus is Lord,' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).
"What must I do to be saved?" —Acts 16:30
The main purpose of a Bible teaching is that all who participate be baptized into the new life and saved. We should invite those to whom we teach God's word to be born again of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5) or to renew their baptismal promises to the Lord. Not only are many people unbaptized, but many of those baptized have never made a commitment to Jesus or have fallen away from their original commitment. As Pope John Paul II has repeatedly emphasized, we need "a new evangelization."
We can present four truths in leading others to salvation:
- Our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally and even sent His Son Jesus to die for us.
- In our human condition, we are fallen from man's original state and hopelessly alienated from God. Paul said: "What a wretched man I am!" (Rm 7:24)
- "Who can free me from this body under the power of death?" (Rm 7:24) "All praise to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rm 7:25) Jesus is the only name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12).
- We must repent and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus proclaimed: "Reform your lives and believe in the gospel!" (Mk 1:15) At Pentecost, the people "asked Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, brothers?' Peter answered: 'You must reform and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven' " (Acts 2: 37-38).
As Bible teachers, we must be able to lead others to salvation by inviting them to face the realities of God's love and our sinful human condition. Then they can accept the grace to repent, and by faith accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
4. The Holy Spirit
"He saved us through the baptism of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit He lavished on us through Jesus Christ our Savior." —Titus 3:5-6
When we have accepted salvation in Jesus the Lord, we begin to be sanctified through the power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, we don't have the power to live the Christian life. We can't even understand the Bible. "The natural man does not accept what is taught by the Spirit of God. For him, that is absurdity. He cannot come to know such teaching because it must be appraised in a spiritual way" (1 Cor 2:14). Thus it is necessary that anyone trying to learn the Bible receive the Holy Spirit. Also, we must not stifle (1 Thes 5:19), sadden (Eph 4:30), or lose the Spirit (Gal 3:3). Otherwise, although we have the capability of living the Christian life and of understanding the Bible, we will still not understand it.
We should feel free to pray with those in our Bible study to receive the Holy Spirit for the first time or be renewed in the Spirit (2 Tm 1:6). We should remember:
- Repentance and making Jesus Lord of our lives are prerequisites for receiving the Spirit.
- Our flesh lusts against the Spirit (Gal 5:17), so we don't strongly desire the Spirit. This is the major difficulty in renewing our Confirmations.
- We need to talk with people personally and use terminology familiar to them.
- We open people to the Spirit by sharing from the Bible and from our personal experience of the Holy Spirit.
- We should let the Spirit tell us the time to pray for the Spirit.
- We should gather others who have the Spirit very active in their lives and simply lay hands on the people and pray.
Jesus promises: "If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him" (Lk 11:13).
5. The Father's Personal Love
"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is Love, and he who abides in Love abides in God, and God in him." —1 John 4:16
The Spirit cries out from within us, "Abba" (Gal 4:6; Rm 8:15). The Father constantly expresses His love. He embraces and kisses us with affection (Lk 15:20). He sings joyfully because of us (Zep 3:17). He gave us Jesus, although our Father knew we would kill His Son. How much our Father loves us, but how little we trust that love!
The following questions can serve as a self-test, helping us to discover how aware we are of God's unconditional love for us:
- Do you believe the Father loves you as much as He loves Mary, the virgin mother of His Son, Jesus?
- Do you believe the Father loves you as much when you sin as when you obey Him?
- Do you believe the Father loves those in hell as much as those in heaven?
If these questions are answered negatively or hesitantly, this may indicate the need for a deeper personal experience of the Father's love. Jesus died that we may believe in our Father's love for us. We as Bible teachers must spread the word that we can be free from fear and worry and be secure in His love. The Father loves us totally, unconditionally, and eternally.
6. God's Kingdom
"Seek first His kingship over you, His way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides." —Matthew 6:33
The term "kingdom" is a difficult one for people of our modern Western culture. We isolate our faith and don't apply it to our life-style. We falsely think Christianity is something private and individual rather than public and communal. In this individualism and self-centeredness, we, in effect, abandon the earth to Satan. However, our call is to build God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:10).
Jesus proclaimed His message primarily in terms of the kingdom. He "began to proclaim this theme: 'Reform your lives! The kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Mt 4:17). He empowered Peter as head of His Church: "I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 16:19). Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a precious pearl or buried treasure, costing all we have (Mt 13:44-46). He wants us to be totally immersed in the kingdom — to see all things in light of the kingdom — to live, breathe, love, obey, serve, and spread the kingdom internationally. Therefore, Bible teachers should lead others to kingdom awareness and commitment.
7. Spiritual Warfare
"Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above." —Ephesians 6:11-12
Jesus spoke of the reality of spiritual warfare surrounding the word when He told the disciples: "What the sower is sowing is the word. Those on the path are the ones to whom, as soon as they hear the word, Satan comes to carry off what was sown in them" (Mk 4:14-15). Anyone preaching, teaching, or spreading God's word will be in spiritual warfare against Satan.
Because "our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers" (Eph 6:12), it is naive to see all obstacles as merely human difficulties. Freed from the confusion of secular society, Bible teachers need to admit clearly and practically the existence of the devil and militantly oppose his interference. We can even turn the devil's works against him by using them as illustrations for Bible teachings on spiritual warfare. We can "prevent Satan — whose guile we know too well — from outwitting us" (2 Cor 2:11).
These seven teachings can be used at a moment's notice as we flow with the Spirit to meet the deepest needs of those in our Bible studies. The word will go right to the heart where it will change lives.
"Test everything; retain what is good." —1 Thessalonians 5:21
When we have prepared and presented a Bible teaching, we need to evaluate whether the seed bore fruit "thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold" (Mk 4:20) and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the teaching. In this way, we grow in the ministry of Bible teaching and become more fruitful in the Lord's service. This evaluation can be very difficult, even deceptive, if it's merely based on personal impressions or feedback. For example, sometimes we become discouraged and feel we didn't teach well. Later, we discover this teaching changed someone's life. At other times, we feel exultant about how well our teaching proceeded, but later see that it bore little fruit. Sometimes when people compliment us on our teaching, it simply means it agrees with their ideas. At other times, people respond negatively to our teaching, even with hostility, but this may indicate a good teaching that convicted them of sin (see Lk 4:28-30). Because of their subjective nature, personal impressions and feedback are often unreliable tools for evaluating a Scripture teaching. The following seven criteria can help us objectively evaluate a Bible teaching. These criteria are gleaned from some of the previous teachings of this book.
1. The Atmosphere of the Teaching
"That is why we thank God constantly that in receiving His message from us you took it, not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God at work within you who believe." —1 Thessalonians 2:13
A. The Opening Prayer
The opening prayer should significantly affect the atmosphere. Was the prayer effective or hardly noticed? The prayer should have specific content which includes asking for the Holy Spirit, stopping Satan in his attempt to rob us of the word (Mk 4:15), and praying for the specific intentions of those present. If we're teaching in a Catholic context, we can ask for Mary's intercession. The following is a sample prayer:
Father, thank You for letting us hear Your word. Send Your Spirit to teach us. Lord, give us the heart of our mother Mary. We pray specifically that we might grow in (state theme of the Bible study) as we study Your word. We pray especially for (state specific intentions, i.e. peace in John's family, healing for Mary, etc.). We stop you, Satan, in your attempt to rob us of the word and we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
B. The Attitude
Is there an attitude of submission and obedience to God's word, or is His eternal word compromised and made subordinate to our changing human culture? The attitude of the teacher greatly influences the attitude of the students. Is our respect for the word visible? The way we hold the Bible will communicate something. The way we read the word will create an atmosphere; even our tone of voice can express our respect for the word.
C. Christian Love
The atmosphere should be that of a loving family rather than of a formal classroom. This means there should be an observable respect for and appreciation of the people present. This can be encouraged and developed by praying together, witnessing to God's love, or sharing refreshments. However, fellowship should be available after the Bible teaching, not before or during it.
2. The Beginning
"...as soon as they hear the word, Satan comes to carry off what was sown in them." —Mark 4:15
How did the teaching begin? The first two or three minutes of a Bible teaching are for practical purposes the most important of the whole teaching. A good first two minutes will make the best of a weak teaching. A bad first two minutes will almost bury a teaching, however good it might be, because the people will have tuned out or never tuned in. We should take the most time in preparing the first two minutes.
"I too have carefully traced the whole sequence of events from the beginning." —Luke 1:3
Did the teaching clearly demonstrate the order of the text? Without understanding the order, we will make the passage appear to be an accumulation of miscellaneous trivia rather than the sharp, two-edged sword of the Spirit.
"Each day they studied the Scriptures to see whether these things were so." —Acts 17:11
Did we give an objective basis for what we said? Were facts presented to show the intent of the author and the context of the passage? Our teaching should not be based on subjective opinions but on objective facts.
"How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!" —Romans 11:33
Are we skimming the surface of a Bible passage or teaching the depth of God's revelation? The Bible is like a gold mine, rich in layers of meaning. Good Bible teachers often can reveal more than one layer of objective meaning for a passage.
Teachers should guard against two deficiencies in this area. One deficiency is dealing only with the basic meaning, teaching accurately but incompletely. The second problem is giving additional meanings of a passage, but failing to show how they relate to the basic meaning.
"Beginning, then, with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted for them every passage of Scripture which referred to Him." —Luke 24:27
Were key-verses cross-referenced from the immediate context and from the whole Bible? Cross-references should be taken primarily from the immediate context; however, we should also include references from the specific section of the book, other books of the same type, and the other Testament. For example, in cross-referencing Matthew 5:3, we should take most of the cross-references from other verses in chapter 5. We may include some references to chapter 4, 6, or 7 of Matthew; a reference to the parallel passage in Luke; and one Old Testament reference. Cross-referencing helps us see the Bible as a whole and teach the full gospel.
7. The Ending
"Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves." —James 1:22
Did the teaching motivate the listeners to life-changing action? In the last sixty seconds, we can save a floundering teaching or ruin a good one. Even a weak teaching which motivates the listeners to act on the word can have life-changing power, but poor application can turn a good (even great) teaching into a mediocre one. Consequently, we should conclude by motivating our listeners to live out the word in their daily lives. Instead of assuming our students know how to apply a particular Scripture passage, we should present practical ways of applying that Scripture in their lives.
Finally, we should end our Bible teaching by focusing on Jesus in prayer and praise. We can apply the Scriptures only because of His power. "Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who inspires and perfects our faith" (Heb 12:2). This makes the difference whether we feel burdened or empowered by God's word.
"Come, Holy Spirit!"
In evaluating a Bible study, we see that the teaching of God's word blends various precious, subtle, and practical aspects. Although we may feel inadequate to do justice to the word in our teaching, the Holy Spirit will anoint our efforts and prayers in a miraculous way. We need only trust Him.
"Make every effort to preserve the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force." —Ephesians 4:3
Imagine someone accusing you of misinterpreting the Bible. Your first impulse is to defend yourself and prove the other person wrong. But if you do, you may cause the collapse of your Bible study. Even the greatest Bible teachers will see group after group fall apart unless they can handle controversy.
Jesus prays that we might be one (Jn 17:21), not won. Even though "one" and "won" sound the same, they are very different. We should not be trying to win by proving our point and the other person wrong. We should not be in opposition or competition (see Phil 2:3). We are one family, brothers and sisters in Christ, on the same side.
Often, in controversy, our first impulse is to "stand up for the truth," but we must be quick to hear and slow to speak (Jas 1:19). Possibly, we should respond at a later date. We must remain calm, not rely on ourselves, but put the Spirit between us and the situation (see 1 Pt 4:7). The appropriate response can come only through the Holy Spirit Who will guide us to all truth (Jn 16:13) and "prove the world wrong about sin, about justice, about condemnation" (Jn 16:8).
1. One in Love
"Without love it profits us nothing." —1 Corinthians 13:3, our translation
We must teach in love and avoid using Scripture texts as ammunition in a "Bible shoot-out." We should love one another and not feel threatened or defensive. If we feel compelled to stand up for the truth but don't have love, we should just be quiet. If it takes time for us to receive this love, then we must take time. "Let us profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the Head" (Eph 4:15). The sooner we accept God's love for those criticizing us, the sooner we can speak in truth, and the better the truth will be received. Quarrelsome people often need inner healing from bad experiences with the Church. If we do not respond in love, we compound rather than correct the problem. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4:8)
2. One in Prayer
"If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father Which is in heaven." —Matthew 18:19, KJV
We should pray before, during, and after our conversation with those in controversy. Without mentioning names, we may gather others to pray for the situation and take authority over the devil (Eph 6:18-20; 2 Thes 3:2). Instead of disagreeing with each other, we agree in prayer (Mt 18:19) that the Lord will lead us to further agreement.
When we are one in love and in prayer, we are not taking a passive approach but acting in non-violent militancy. Here we do not do violence to people; rather, we militantly oppose the devil by speaking the truth in love and praying in faith. This is how Jesus was victorious on the cross. We too will be victorious if we have the faith to choose the way of the cross.
However, in our "culture of death," we tend to approach our problems passively or violently, and we can't suddenly switch gears and take a different approach in a Bible study. We need to apply God's way of dealing with controversy to our whole life so that we can apply it to Bible teaching.
"...make the most of every opportunity." —Colossians 4:5
Although much of this book applies to teaching formal Bible studies, over 95% of our teaching will be done informally and be mixed in with witnessing and sharing our faith. Therefore, we must not have a mindset which limits our teaching to formal situations but rather spread the word wherever and whenever God provides the opportunity. The Acts of the Apostles illustrates this.
In Acts, the apostles witnessed to Jesus and proclaimed His word in the streets, the temple, homes, in front of the temple, in court, in a chariot, and in jail. They went out into Jerusalem's streets and made bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them (Acts 2:4). They proclaimed Jesus both in the temple area and in their homes (Acts 2:42-46; 5:42). Peter and John taught about Jesus in front of the temple (Acts 3:1) and proclaimed Jesus in court while on trial (Acts 4:7). Philip the deacon taught God's word to the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot (Acts 8:31), and Paul witnessed while under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). If we follow these examples, we will take opportunities to proclaim God's word everywhere — beginning where we are and then even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Not only were the apostles open to teach anywhere but also anytime. They taught at all hours of the day or night, at nine in the morning (Acts 2:15), at three in the afternoon (Acts 3:1), in the evening (Acts 4:3), at midnight (Acts 16:25), and all night (Acts 20:11). We are called to share the word whether scheduled or unscheduled, "convenient or inconvenient" (2 Tm 4:2).
3. To Whom?
Jesus' disciples preached to everyone — fellow Jews (Acts 2:5), a crippled man (Acts 3:2), the elders, scribes, a high priest (Acts 4:5-6), the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:21), Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:5, 27), a persecutor like Saul (Acts 9:17), the Gentiles (Acts 10:34), the jailer (Acts 16:32), Felix the judge (Acts 24:10), the Romans (Acts 28:16ff). Likewise, Bible teachers teach anyone — adults, children, friends, relatives, and strangers. Although the Lord may give us a target group to reach, we must be ready to teach anybody.
Paul was so eager for the spread of God's word throughout the world that he wrote: "All that matters is that in any and every way, whether from specious motives or genuine ones, Christ is being proclaimed!" (Phil 1:18) The apostles proclaimed the word in formal speeches (Acts 2:14ff; 3:12ff), through Scriptural quotations (Acts 4:25), in debate (Acts 6:9), in Bible studies (Acts 8:31ff), through apologetics (Acts 9:22), and through prophecy (Acts 11:27ff). To take full advantage of every opportunity, the Bible teacher should share the word in various ways: memory verses, questions and answers, Scripture meditations, dramatic skits, Christian songs, scholarly studies, written articles, and Bible prayer services. The Father Who sent you will command you "what to say and how to speak" (Jn 12:49). Pope John Paul II has taught: "In our day, a great effort is necessary, not only on the part of scholars and preachers, but also those who popularize biblical thought: they should use every means possible — and there are many today — so that the universal significance of the biblical message may be widely acknowledged and its saving efficacy may be seen everywhere" (Address on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, 15, April 23, 1993, Rome).
Bible teachers are called to proclaim the word not only in any way but also for any reason. Love for God and His people is the main reason for teaching God's word (Jn 21:15-17). But the Acts of the Apostles lists further motives for teaching:
- To help others yield to the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17)
- To give glory to God for a healing (Acts 3:12ff)
- To increase the number of disciples (Acts 6:7)
- To defend the gospel (Acts 6:9ff)
- To obey the vision (Acts 10:17ff)
- To help make a decision (Acts 15:15ff)
- To answer a question (Acts 16:30)
- To give follow-up instruction for those who had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:8)
Paul put it bluntly: "I am under compulsion and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it!" ( 1 Cor 9:16)
The apostles taught from the Bible by using many subjects as their starting points: replacing Judas (Acts 1:16ff), alleged drunkenness (Acts 2:13ff), healing (Acts 3:12ff), power (Acts 4:8ff), persecution (Acts 4:23), dissension (Acts 15:2ff), shrines (Acts 17:22ff), etc. The Bible has something to say relevant to any subject. We should ask for the gift to teach the Bible from any starting point and to talk the Bible naturally in our conversation.
Beyond Tunnel Vision
The vision for spreading the word throughout the world will begin to be realized when lay Bible teachers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, teach anywhere, anytime, to anyone, in any way, for any reason, and on any subject.
"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope." —Jeremiah 29:11
1. Getting Started
"Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you." —Matthew 7:7
We will find it surprisingly easy to start a Bible study because, after calling us, the Lord will not fail to give us the necessary students, wisdom, place, and time. We must simply obey Jesus' command to ask and receive (Mt 7:7). We should pray for the Holy Spirit's gifts, practical wisdom, Biblical insight, the time to prepare and teach, the right meeting place, the full number of students, and an opportunity to begin. We must be open to the Spirit directing us in every detail and expect an answer to our prayer. After inviting people to the Bible study, we should begin even if the group is very small or not even recognizable as a formal Bible study.
2. The Death-Wish
"I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit." —John 12:24
We will not find it so difficult to start a Bible study, but it may be difficult not to quit. It's a matter of the heart. It's hard to persevere when we see more clearly the sufferings involved. Most Bible studies fall apart because of a death-wish of the teacher. Deep down, teachers may not be willing to endure the pain and persecution that goes with teaching the word. If Bible teachers refuse to die, the Bible study dies. If Bible teachers die to themselves, the Bible study won't die, although it may go through hard times and change.
"Stand beside the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old which is the way to good, and walk it; thus you will find rest for your souls." —Jeremiah 6:16
If we don't give in to the death-wish, our Bible study will not fall apart but may flounder. Then we are tempted to try novelties and gimmicks to sustain participation. The Spirit, however, is calling us back to the basics. The following examination of conscience is for a floundering Bible teacher.
A. Lift Up Jesus
Are Christ and His cross being proclaimed in the Bible study? Are the people growing deeper in their relationship with Christ? Do the students know personally the Jesus of the gospels?
B. Feed the Sheep
Are the people being fed? Am I teaching a substantial amount of text, especially early in the teaching? Are cross-references usually being quoted rather than paraphrased? Am I staying with the text and avoiding Bible trivia?
C. Teach for Practical Life
Is the word of God being applied practically? In the last minute of the teaching, do I apply the Scriptures to our everyday lives? Am I giving practical Biblical insights to those who are experiencing doubt, fear, failure, frustration, depression, and guilt? Are the teachings directed toward growth in interpersonal relationships, marriage and family life, and holiness, especially in human sexuality?
How was the opening prayer? What about the final prayer? Was the devil renounced in prayer? Is there anyone interceding at the class? Are there intercessors outside the class praying? Am I praying for the Holy Spirit? Are my prayers specific? Am I praying daily for every person in the class? Have I been to Confession recently? Poor Bible teachers can sustain groups and teach effectively, while good teachers flounder. The difference is prayer.
The Spirit Will Provide
The Holy Spirit will provide the power, grace, time and opportunities for us to begin Bible teaching. He will also provide the love to die to self, the grace to persevere in teaching and the wisdom to stick to the basics. We may feel inadequate; however, God's work does not depend on our adequacy but on our obedience to the Spirit. We teach "not by an army, nor by might," but by the Spirit (Zec 4:6).
We thank God for you, Bible teachers, called by God and empowered by the Spirit to teach God's word. You know enough to get started. The rest is "on the job" training. If possible, for a year or two limit your teaching to Mark's gospel and then go on to Matthew, Luke, and Acts. Know what you can and cannot do. Don't be afraid to say: "I don't know."
Bible teachers, "follow the Spirit's lead" (Gal 5:25). By the power of God's word, make disciples of all nations and teach them to do all Jesus has commanded us (Mt 28:19-20). Ask the Lord to multiply your efforts to feed the masses. Ask others to pray over you to send you forth in your ministry of Bible teaching. "Do not be afraid of anything" (Mt 10:31). Rejoice in your call and take to heart these words:
"Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophecy, the presbyters laid their hands on you. Attend to your duties; let them absorb you, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch yourself and watch your teaching. Persevere at both tasks. By doing so you will bring to salvation yourself and all who hear you." —1 Timothy 4:14-16
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert L. Hagedorn, May 31, 1997
Imprimatur: †Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, June 9, 1997.
Scripture references are taken from The New American Bible, copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., and are used by permission of the copyright holder. All rights reserved.