It’s a wonderful aspiration to desire to teach. God’s calls the older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5), and there is always someone younger than you to pass your wisdom along to. But it’s an aspiration that’s linked to responsibility. There is more to teaching the Bible than picking a random passage or book, reading it, and asking, “What does this mean to you?” For each believer, God has a careful call for how we must hand his Word:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:19-21
God commands us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger—we are to study God’s Word with eagerness, patience, and diligence before teaching it to others, and accept what it teaches us rather than rebel in anger. We are to seek to live righteously and humbly obey what we learn.
This is not to frighten you away from teaching the Word, but to encourage you to spend more time understanding it. Unsure how to do that? Here are a few steps you can take each time you prepare to teach on a passage of Scripture.
Step 1: Consider Historical Context
When reading the Bible, we need to consider the original, historical context. People didn’t act like we do, think like we do, understand like we do, write like we do, and so on. If we try pinning our ways and thoughts onto the Bible, we will have misinterpretations.
An easy example of this is slavery. Today, we see slavery as a horrible act of abuse and breaking of the law. In the Bible, however, slavery was common and a part of the law and culture. Without a proper understanding of all that entails, we may say Paul did not value human life for his statements about slaves obeying their masters. But Paul saw this as an opportunity for the gospel—rather than calling Christians to upheave society, Paul explained how to obey these laws and still be an example of Christ (see Colossians 3:22 and Ephesians 6:5-9).
Some questions to ask to determine the historical context are:
When was it written? (date, current events)
Where was it written? (place, culture, setting, geography)
Who was the original, intended audience? (their character, circumstances, current life)
Who was the human writer? (their character, circumstances, current life)
Step 2: Consider Literary Context
You can twist any text to mean something absurd when it is taken out of context. You could take a single sentence from this article and claim I am teaching heresy. For that reason, the literary context in which a passage was written is essential to its interpretation.
When considering the literary context, here are a few points to note:
Surrounding Texts: Beginning with the surrounding sentences, to paragraphs, to chapters, to the entire book, and eventually to the whole biblical narrative, you need to look at how your focus passage fits in with what is surrounding it.
Word Meanings: The English language on its own has changed a lot within only a few years, and so much more changes between different languages in different time periods. Therefore, it is helpful to study key words (words that are repeated, difficult, crucial, figures of speech, etc) used in the Bible and see what they meant in their original language within the context of the text.
Purpose: Why the text was written and its intended message.
Genre: The books of the Bible can be divided into genres, and knowing which one your text fits into will change its interpretation; the types of genres within the Bible are:
Narrative (Ruth, Esther, Daniel, and Jonah)
Law (Leviticus and Deuteronomy)
Poetry (Song of Solomon, Lamentations, and Psalms)
Wisdom (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes)
Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
History (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Acts)
Letter/epistle (all books from Romans to Jude)
Within literary context, we must remember that the entire Bible is one continual story of redemption with Christ at the center. The entire works of Scripture are meant to point back to Christ—both the Old and New Testament. It is a story of an unchanging God’s covenant with man and promise of a Saviour, and the outworking of that covenant. Every text we read should be read within this lens.
Step 3: Apply
Finally, application. Scripture is meant to change us and conform us to the image of Christ. Although the Bible was written hundreds of years ago, it still applies to us. How? Because the Word of God—unlike any other text—is alive and active.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrew 4:12
Application must be timeless, in line with the rest of Scripture, and relevant to both you and the original audience. When searching for application, consider what you have already learned in the previous steps and ask:
What commands are present to obey?
What sins should be put off?
What promises are made for us to cling to?
What hope is established?
What has this taught us about ourselves?
What has this taught us about God?
Where is the grace of the gospel proclaimed?
Remember our passage from James—as teachers of the Word we are also students; we, too, should be changed by the text we are teaching. Application as teachers begins in our own hearts before we speak it to others.
I commend you, friend, for desiring to teach good doctrine to those God has place in your life and to use the gifts he has given you. But don’t let this spark in your heart to teach become an untamed wildfire—seek the Holy Spirit and use the mind God has given you to rightly divide the Word, all to the glory of God.