Scripture: Teachers, Bereans and the Holy Spirit.

For some time now I’ve regularly written and spoken about the need to trust the Holy Spirit to give us understanding of scripture instead of turning to commentaries, study bibles and similar sources to find out what scripture “really means”.

My suggestion hasn’t often been received willingly, and some people have seen me as being opposed to the idea of teachers within the church – and since scripture clearly legitimizes the ministry of teachers, I’m obviously in the wrong.

But I am not opposed to the role of teachers when they are given their rightful place. There is an important need for genuine teachers of the word, especially to help new believers to mature in their faith, but also to inspire the mature believer to seek more understanding

So what is the problem? How SHOULD we respond to teachers, and how does this compare to the way that we DO respond to teachers?

The Bereans are often held up as the example we should follow, but how close do we follow what they did? And why were they so “noble” or “fair-minded”?

Firstly they listened to what was said, not rejecting it out of hand
Secondly they searched the scriptures daily to test the teaching.
How does this compare to today’s common practice?
What is the usual place currently given to teaching?

I’d suggest there has been a kind of reversal of authority. Where the Bereans heard the teaching and then turned to scripture for clarification and legitimisation of a teaching, it is more common today to turn to teachers to tell us what scripture (really) means – even to the extent of searching the teachers until we find one that gives an answer we want to hear.

1That can take the following forms:
1) People never address scripture themselves, their main contact with scripture is via the teaching. In the past I fit this category. I was quite proficient at quoting texts to “prove” my doctrinal point, however, I later came to realise that I’d learned the texts from sermons from my favoured teachers and not from personal study of scripture. At “best” a hearer will use a bible to read the proof texts a preacher quotes , but will rarely look deeply enough into those texts to consider their biblical context. In my case, my knowledge of scripture came with the context given by the teaching and NOT its legitimate biblical context.

2) People DO address scripture, but have a bible in one hand and a commentary in the other. Or even worse, they read from a “study bible”, paying more attention to the “explanatory” notes than to the actual biblical text. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to give understanding, He is ignored and replaced by man’s writings.

Brief summary:
1) The Bereans turned to scripture to test the teaching.

2) Today many turn to teachers to “interpret” scripture.


9 thoughts on “Scripture: Teachers, Bereans and the Holy Spirit.

  1. In my view, Origen began the legacy of imposing meaning that has to be interpreted into scripture; the legacy Eusebius found ways to make “stick” for his own generation and times and the centuries to come.

  2. Clearly there are many who have contributed to the chain of false doctrine and tradition throughout history, even from the very early days of the church. But how many are willing to break from that chain instead of perpetuating it?

  3. Hi, all:

    Talk about your “coincidences” ! I’ve been reading a study of Origen over the last month (I read slow.) Kinda coming to the same view as yours, Marleen. Although he’s considered a “Father of the Church,” there are aspects of Origen’s writings I’d definitely look at askance: as indeed some church-leaders of his time did.

    And those teachings seem to grow from the interpretive protocol he championed: which seems, as you say, “imposing meaning…interpreted INTO scripture.”

    The author opines that system of interpretation was largely shaped by Origen’s insistence on church-leadership by those who were “gifted” (charismatic) for it: which came into conflict with the institutional/hierarchical view of church-leadership…which many church-leaders of the time (not surprisingly) favored.

    But I find Origen’s interpretive framework smacks of a certain intellectual arrogance (and he was known as, and prided himself as an intellectual…in that time, an honored station). He basically considers scripture has three levels: the superficial subject to misinterpretation by teachers of heresy, another the shallow orthodoxy accepted by ordinary believers “on authority;” and the deep counsels of God, revealed only to the intellectually-gifted…like himself. My take is that his attitude may have been the problem in his interpretive protocol.

    But Tim cuts to the operative point. The Spirit is the only Interpreter of scripture God has provided: but scripture is inevitably mediated to every one of us by fallible humans…even should we insist on reading and pondering scripture only by OUR-fallible-SELVES. We can’t avoid human interpretations of scriptures.

    The Bereans were commended for their “eager”-ness to hear teaching, and their testing those interpretations against scripture…which test required, in their own experience, the interpreting Spirit again. A “closed system,” beginning and ending in the Spirit. Amen !

    This utter NEED for the Spirit, which Tim mentioned previously, is no doubt why the work of the Spirit is currently under such heavy attack.

    In Jesus, Steve

  4. Origen was beyond a little arrogant. And I would consider it a benefit that he was an intellectual except that he went “forward” in contradiction of what he knew to be true (was intellectually disingenuous). It could also be taken as a positive that he indicated gifting by the Spirit. But what he meant was an “ability” to agree with him and have the gall to spread what he taught. This is likely an entirely different spirit. Forget his “deep counsels of God” when he can’t be counted on for honesty at the “superficial” level.

    I agree that (many) humans do their best to understand what they read and are sometimes (to degrees of often) wrong. I certainly agree with your value for interpreting scripture via scripture and the Holy Spirit. And, of course, the Bereans were checking with the scripture writings originally in Hebrew (probably the translated and linguistically innovative Greek version) when they considered what Paul had to say. I agree with Ruth (different recent thread at this site) that English translations can be misleading.

    I agree with Tim that it will help anyone a lot to get the overall teaching of the entire Bible and the general point of each book (while, even there, people can surmise mistaken or assert preferred messages).

    Incidentally, I read slowly too. I think there’s at least one redeeming reason for that, as annoying as dealing with it can sometimes be. I like to pay attention and learn. I guess a few insightfuls do that more quickly.

  5. We have so professionalized the faith that the average layman in the pew can’t or won’t interpret the scriptures for himself and becomes dependent on the Sunday sermon delivered by a trained professional. That professional probably got his training from Bible college or seminary and he teaches in church what he learned from his professors. Big problem is what he learned is theological but it might not be biblical – big difference. Now the people in the congregation believe what he teaches because after all, he is their pastor and he has the degree to show that he knows what he’s talking about. As you’ve pointed out, people believe what they have been taught rather than search the scriptures for themselves. To further compound the problem most are resistant to change even when confronted with scriptural evidence because it is harder to unlearn something and easier to cling to one’s beliefs than to unlearn it and accept the truth of a matter. It’s no wonder that we’re called sheep and we’ve gotten into a heap of trouble listening to the voices of men instead of hearing and following the Shepherd’s voice for ourselves.

    Imagine if we could just somehow teach people to understand and OBEY the scriptures for themselves, then we would likely be doing a good job of making disciples. Unfortunately, the church seems to be better at making converts instead of disciples. Part of this problem again goes back to incorrect doctrinal teaching where OSAS teachers need not be so concerned about making obedient disciples since a convert is already eternally secure.

  6. Hi Stuart, I couldn’t agree more.

    I find churches are more interested in increasing (or maintaining) membership than in making disciples.

  7. Pingback: Spirit, Word and Brain Usage. | Onesimus Files

Comments are closed.