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God desires that his people learn about him and his Word, and therefore he has given teachers to instruct them (Deuteronomy 33:10; Ephesians 4:11). They may be people of different kinds and have different ways of teaching, but their teaching must have its origin in God himself. God is the only true teacher (Psalms 25:4; Psalms 119:12; Matthew 23:8-10; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16).

A variety of teachers

Although God gives special teaching abilities to some, he does not expect these to be the only teachers. Parents are to teach their children the way of God (Deuteronomy 11:19; Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:14-15), and any godly person may teach others, though not necessarily in public meetings (2 Kings 12:2; Psalms 34:11-14; Proverbs 10:21; Acts 18:26; Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:24-25;).

In Old Testament times, Israel’s religious and civil leaders had a wide-ranging responsibility to teach the law of God to the people (Exodus 18:20; Deuteronomy 33:10; 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Malachi 2:7; see PRIEST). Prophets taught in the name of God, bringing his message to a people who were constantly turning from the path of devotion to him (Isaiah 30:20-21; Jeremiah 23:22; Jeremiah 32:33; see PROPHET). Wisdom teachers gave instruction of a different kind, but it all helped to guide God’s people in the way that was right (Proverbs 2:1-2; Proverbs 4:10-11; Proverbs 7:1-5; Ecclesiastes 12:9; Ecclesiastes 12:13; see WISDOM LITERATURE).

Another group to gain prominence were the scribes, or teachers of the law. The early scribes were godly men who explained and applied God’s law sensibly (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:10; Nehemiah 8:1-3; Nehemiah 8:8), but by the time of Jesus the scribes had developed into a class of traditionalists whose teachings prevented people from entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 15:9; Matthew 23:1-7; Matthew 23:13; Luke 11:52; see SCRIBES).

The title ‘teacher’ (or, in the Hebrew, ‘rabbi’) was in common use in the time of Jesus. People used it when addressing teachers of the law, both good and bad (Matthew 23:8; John 3:10), and likewise used it when addressing Jesus (Mark 9:5; John 1:38; John 3:2; John 6:25; John 9:2). The teaching of Jesus, however, was in marked contrast to that of the scribes (Matthew 7:28-29; Matthew 19:16-22).

Jesus the teacher

Jesus had not been trained in the schools of the rabbis, yet people were amazed at the authority of his teaching (Mark 11:18; Luke 4:22; John 7:15; cf. Acts 4:13). He taught in the synagogues, in the temple, in people’s homes and in the open air (Matthew 9:35; Mark 12:35; Luke 5:3; Luke 10:38-39). He taught the masses publicly and his disciples privately (Mark 6:34; Mark 13:3), delivering his messages through discussions, arguments, parables and direct teaching (Matthew 13:10; Matthew 22:41-46; John 3:1-14; John 8:12-20; John 16:29; see PARABLES).

A central theme of Jesus’ teaching was that he had come from God (John 7:28-29; John 8:28), that his teaching was from God (John 7:16) and that through him the kingdom of God had come into the world (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 5:1-3; Luke 17:21-22; see KINGDOM OF GOD). His teaching was so much a proclamation of the good news of the kingdom that any technical difference between teaching and preaching tended to disappear (Matthew 9:35; Mark 6:6; Mark 6:12). (Elsewhere in the New Testament likewise there seems to be little difference between teaching and preaching; see PREACHING.)

Although Jesus enlightened people concerning the truth of the gospel, he also challenged them to make a response. His teaching was a call to a life of discipleship (Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:57-62; Luke 14:25-33; see DISCIPLE).

In training his disciples, Jesus taught them the truth that his Father had given him (John 17:8), so that after his return to the Father, they might carry on the work of the kingdom. They were to proclaim the good news, make disciples of Jesus, and teach them the truth that Jesus himself had taught (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus promised that in this task they would have his help, through the unseen teacher whom he would send to dwell within them, the Spirit of truth (John 14:18; John 14:25-26; John 15:26; John 16:13; see HOLY SPIRIT).

The work of apostles

Jesus’ inner group of disciples, the apostles, were the teachers in the early church, and believers accepted their teaching as authoritative (Acts 2:42; Acts 5:42). Even the teaching of additional apostles such as Paul was recognized by the church as being an authoritative interpretation of the life, work and teaching of Jesus (Acts 15:35; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; see APOSTLE).

As the church grew, God provided for it further by giving to certain people the gift of teaching. These teachers did not have the unique position of apostles, but they had the God-given ability to understand and teach the Old Testament Scriptures and the apostolic doctrines (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 4:13-16). It seems that the office of apostle, having fulfilled the primary purpose for which Jesus appointed it, died out once the church was well established (Ephesians 2:20). The gift of teacher, however, has continued.

Teachers in the church

In the list of gifts that the risen Christ gave to the church (Ephesians 4:11), teachers are linked with pastors in a way that indicates that both words refer to the same people. Teachers must be pastors. Through their teaching they care for and feed the flock (Acts 20:28; see PASTOR). They aim to build up the church through producing greater ability among the church members to serve God and understand his Word (Ephesians 4:12).

The instruction that teachers give should cover the whole of God’s Word (Acts 20:27; cf. Matthew 28:20), so that Christians will increasingly develop the ability to discern between what is wholesome and what is not, and so grow towards spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13-14; Colossians 1:28; Hebrews 5:12-14). At the same time they will help bring healthy growth to the church as a whole (Ephesians 4:15-16). Teachers should not waste time arguing over senseless matters, but concentrate on the sort of teaching that produces the knowledge of God, a sincere faith and a pure life (Colossians 1:28; 1 Timothy 1:3-5; 1 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Timothy 2:23-25; 2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Those who are taught have a responsibility to support financially those who teach them (1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17). At the same time they must beware of false teachers. They must therefore test what they hear, to make sure it is consistent with the Christian faith (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Timothy 6:3; cf. Acts 15:1; 1 Timothy 1:7; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:7-11; see HERESY).

Teachers, for their part, must make sure not only that what they teach is true, but that their lives are consistent with their teaching (1 Timothy 4:15-16; James 3:1). They should also look for those who show signs of having the gift of teaching and help them develop it (2 Timothy 2:2; cf. 1 Timothy 4:13-14; Hebrews 5:12; see GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Teacher'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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