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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
The place and function of teaching in the establishment of Christianity are facts of great historical interest and practical importance. That its effectiveness, as an instrument for the diffusion of the Christian religion, was recognized by the Jewish rulers is apparent from the prohibitions and persecutions with which they sought to prevent the apostles teaching ‘in the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:18; Acts 5:28). As in the ministry of Jesus teaching occupied a prominent place (together with preaching and healing), so also with His followers it was one of the main features of their evangelical work. It was a chosen instrument for the spread of the new religion, and it gradually tended to reduce the truths which expressed the faith of the early Church to a recognized body of doctrine.
A distinction is to be drawn between the process of teaching and the subject-matter of teaching. To speak of the ‘teaching of St. Paul,’ for example, is ambiguous, since ‘teaching’ may mean either ‘instruction’ (the act of imparting truth) or ‘doctrine’ (the body of truth imparted). Sometimes, indeed, the biblical usage includes both meanings. The NT employs two terms for ‘teaching,’ viz. διδαχή and διδασκαλία. Generally speaking, the former signifies the act and the latter the substance of teaching. This distinction is not made so apparent in the Authorized Version , where both διδαχή and διδασκαλία are usually rendered ‘doctrine,’ whereas in the Revised Version διδαχή (which occurs 16 times) is always rendered ‘teaching’ (Romans 16:17 Revised Version margin), and διδασκαλία (occurring 17 times) is rendered ‘doctrine’ (11 times), ‘teaching’ (5 times), and ‘learning’ (once). To render διδαχή by the somewhat ambiguous word ‘teaching’ is convenient, as it always signifies the act and in many instances both the act and the content of Christian instruction, whereas διδασκαλία more frequently denotes the content alone, and is well expressed by ‘doctrine.’ Literally διδασκαλία means ‘that which belongs to a teacher’ (διδάσκαλος), and, in the judgment of H. Cremer (Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek3, Edinburgh, 1880, p. 182), is used ‘for the most part in the objective, and therefore passive sense, that which is taught, the doctrine.’ That the content of teaching is suggested by this term is apparent from such phrases as ‘precepts and doctrines’ (Colossians 2:22), ‘sound doctrine’ (1 Timothy 1:10, 2 Timothy 4:3, Titus 1:9), and absolutely ‘the doctrine’ (1 Timothy 6:1; 1 Timothy 6:3, Titus 2:10).
1. The work of teaching.-The ability to impart Christian truth was looked upon by the members of the early Church as a spiritual gift of Divine grace. Teaching was therefore numbered among the charismata (χαρίσματα) which resulted from the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, and which included such gifts as prophesying, healing, working of miracles, and ‘tongues’ (Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10 f.).
(1) Teaching and preaching.-While mentioned in close association with preaching, the gift of teaching was regarded as conferring on its recipient a distinct function in the ministry of the Word. As in the Gospels our Lord is described first as ‘preaching’ the glad tidings of the Kingdom (Mark 1:14) and then as ‘teaching’ His disciples the inner meaning and principles of the gospel (Mark 4:1), so, in the early Church, preaching was one thing and teaching another, although in both instances they were often combined (Matthew 4:23, Acts 5:42; Acts 28:31). Preaching was primarily the proclamation of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, whereas teaching was the calmer and more systematic instruction in the details of Christian truth and duty which followed the summons to repentance and saving faith. While preaching and teaching were distinct as functions, they might, in some cases at least, be united in the ministry of one person (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11), especially as the content both of the preaching and of the more elaborated instruction was necessarily often the same (Acts 5:42; Acts 15:35, Colossians 1:28).
(2) The position of teaching.-In the two more formal lists of the spiritually endowed, given by St. Paul, ‘teachers’ are mentioned after apostles and prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28 f., Ephesians 4:11), and in a less formal list of spiritual functions ‘teaching’ is mentioned after ‘prophecy’ (Romans 12:6 f.), whereas in 1 Cor. the ‘word of wisdom’ and the ‘word of knowledge,’ which together constituted charismatic teaching, are placed before prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:8;1 Corinthians 12:10), and ‘a teaching’ comes before ‘a revelation’ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Prophecy was a specialized form of teaching. ‘The difference between the two,’ says A. C. McGiffert, ‘lay in the fact that while prophecy was the utterance of a revelation received directly from God, teaching, specifically so called, was the utterance of that which one had gained by thought and reflection. The teacher might be led and guided by the Spirit,-indeed, he must be, if he were to be a true teacher and his teaching truly spiritual,-but what he said was in a real sense his own’ (History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 529). Some prophets were able also to teach, but not all teachers were able to prophesy. The apostles might also teach. St. Paul speaks of himself as appointed to be both an apostle and a teacher (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11). Teachers, like apostles and prophets, travelled about from place to place, being greatly honoured (Did. iv. 1) and having the right to expect support (ib. xiii. 1-3). They were not officials appointed by any ecclesiastical body. Teaching was not a clerical office, for even as late as the 5th cent. laymen are mentioned as teachers (Apostolic Constitutions, VIII. xxxii.). But local congregations tested both the message and the moral character of these visiting instructors. Teachers were more likely than apostles and prophets to settle down in one place, and the reference to ‘pastors and teachers’ (Ephesians 4:11) shows this tendency at work. At a later stage it was one of the qualifications of a bishop that he should be ‘apt to teach’ (1 Timothy 3:2).
(3) Limitations and dangers.-Women were not permitted to teach (1 Timothy 2:12)-at least in public-although, apparently in harmony with St. Paul’s ‘healthful teaching’ (Titus 2:1), it was allowable for aged women to impart moral instruction (privately, it would seem) as part of the Christian training of young women in such duties as love of husband and children, sobriety, chastity, and kindness (Titus 2:4 f.). Warnings against ‘false teachers’ occur frequently in apostolic and sub-apostolic times. From the first, Judaizers dogged the footsteps of the apostles (Acts 15:1; Acts 21:27 f., Galatians 1:7) to pervert the teaching of the gospel. Next, the existence of ‘many teachers’ within the Church (James 3:1) promoted an unhealthy spirit of rivalry and faction which could be eliminated only by a demand for a ‘good life’ in one who professed, as a teacher, to be ‘wise and understanding’ (James 3:13). Then ‘strange teachings’ began to multiply (Hebrews 13:9). False teachers arose, encouraging ‘lusts of the flesh’ (2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:18), ‘fornication’ (Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20), ‘false doctrine’ (1 John 2:28 f., 1 John 4:1 f., 1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:3 f.), being prompted, too often, by a covetous love of gain (2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 2:14, Titus 1:11).
(4) Methods of teaching.-Instruction was often given collectively, in public or in private, ‘in the temple and at home’ (Acts 5:42), in the Christian congregation (Acts 11:26), and more generally in the meeting for edification such as St. Paul describes in detail (1 Corinthians 14). In the latter the teaching came between the ‘psalm’ (or hymn of praise) and the prophetic ‘revelation’ (1 Corinthians 14:26). Supplementary teaching was given privately ‘from house to house’ (Acts 20:20) or to individuals (Acts 18:26). The imparting of Christian truth to catechumens, who were to contribute towards the support of their teacher (Galatians 6:6), developed in the more settled churches of cities and even villages (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.) VII. xxiv. 6). Many churches came to have regular schools for the teaching of catechumens, that of Alexandria being especially famous in later times.
The teaching was oral, as a rule, but it might be conveyed by means of didactic epistles, such as those contained in the NT or those of Clement of Rome and Ignatius, or works like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas. In addition to a recital of the facts concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:3 f., 1 Corinthians 15:1 ff., Galatians 4:4 f.), there would be doctrinal explanations of these facts, such as those contained in Acts and the Epistles. Then there were authoritative accounts of such institutions as the Christian sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:23 f.). Instruction was also conveyed in ‘hymns and spiritual songs’ (Colossians 3:16) and would include ‘admonition’ (Colossians 1:28), exhortation (1 Timothy 4:13; 1 Timothy 6:2), and even reproof and rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2), the administration of which called for patience and longsuffering on the part of the teacher.
(5) Historical development.-The place of teaching in the early Church underwent modification in process of time. In the earliest stage it was somewhat overshadowed by the supernatural gifts of prophecy and tongues. To the ordinary listener, the presence and influence of the Spirit were more evident in the revelations of prophecy or the ecstatic utterances of tongues than in the calmer discourse of teaching. Against the tendency to ascribe undue, importance to glossolalia St. Paul had early to make protest in the interest of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14). A second stage was reached when the early enthusiasm roused by prophetic and ecstatic speech cooled down and greater attention was given to the more systematic utterance of the teacher. The prophetic gift was sporadic, that of teaching was continuous; the former came by momentary inspiration, the latter was the outcome of long experience; and in the long run teaching won the day. The effect of stricter oversight and completer organization tended (up to a certain point) to encourage it. The very directions given by St. Paul to the Corinthians for the orderly conduct of their edification meetings gave to teaching a growing importance in the process of spiritual upbuilding. In the third stage (noticeable in the 2nd cent.) the function of teaching became absorbed in the office of administration and leadership. The teacher outlasted both the apostle and the prophet, but was eventually subordinated to the bishop, who combined in his office the functions of ruling and teaching. In earlier times the apostles, prophets, and teachers had authority because they possessed gifts of insight and knowledge qualifying them to give directions in belief and practice. But, as the need for organization and discipline increased pari passu with the decline of inspired utterance, teaching, at first overshadowed by prophecy, now became absorbed by leadership, although it remained a permanent function in the Church.
2. The content of Christian teaching.-The NT Epistles and the specimens of instruction preserved in Acts embody the content of Christian teaching during the 1st century. The amplification and modification of this primitive norm of belief and practice can be traced in the Didache, the Epistles of Clement and Ignatius, and the Shepherd of Hermas in the immediately succeeding years.
The detailed exposition and co-ordination of the contents of Christian teaching will be found in the various articles dealing with the subjects concerned. All that can be attempted here is to characterize broadly the early Christian teaching as a body of truth. Compared with the varied literature of the ancient world it was exclusively religious in character, and in contrast with the philosophic speculations of the Greek and Hellenistic schools it claimed to be a body of revealed truth. The Christian teacher did not so much unfold a philosophy of religion as expound and apply the truths embodied and revealed in Christ. He taught ‘in the name of Jesus’ (Acts 4:18; Acts 5:28), he used the doctrines of the OT inasmuch as they bore witness of Christ, he repeated the teaching given by Christ with the formula ‘Remember the words of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:35), he continued ‘in the apostles’ doctrine’ (Acts 2:42), and as occasion arose he applied the principles underlying the teaching of Jesus to the doctrinal and ethical problems that arose within the Church. In the later Epistles a conservative tendency is noticeable. The content of Christian teaching came to be fixed and authoritative. It was called ‘the teaching’ (1 Timothy 6:1, 2 John 1:9; cf. Revelation 22:18 f.) or the ‘sound doctrine’ (2 Timothy 4:3). St. Paul early utters a warning to the Romans against departing from ‘the doctrine which ye learned’ (Romans 16:17), and later Timothy is called a good minister because he had been ‘nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine’ (1 Timothy 4:6), and in which he had continued.
The general character of the content of the teaching may be inferred from the fact that it is described (1 Corinthians 12:8) as the ‘word of wisdom’ (λόγος σοφίας) and as the ‘word of knowledge’ (λόγος γνώσεως). The message of the teacher consisted of a discourse in which either ‘wisdom’ or ‘knowledge’ (γνῶσις) would predominate according to the special nature of the gift of teaching bestowed. A difference is to be noted between wisdom and gnosis. The former consisted in an acquaintance with ‘God’s wisdom’ (1 Corinthians 1:21), or the Divine plan of redemption, which St. Paul calls elsewhere ‘the mystery of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:1). O. Pfleiderer describes it as ‘the knowledge of elementary Christian truths in the simplest and most direct form of actual fact’ (Paulinism, Eng. translation , 2 vols., London, 1877, i. 235). On the other hand, knowledge (gnosis) came by intuition and consisted of insight into truth through spiritual illumination. In Christian wisdom the truth was arrived at by the teacher’s powers of observation and reasoning; in the Christian gnosis the truth was bestowed as an immediate gift of the Spirit. The first enabled the teacher to explain the truth, the latter qualified him to interpret it. The knowledge of the teacher was largely an experimental acquaintance with the process of human redemption through Christ (Philippians 3:10).
The continuity of NT with OT teaching must not be overlooked. The teacher began with such truths as were common to Judaism and Christianity. The fundamental doctrine of the existence, unity, and holiness of God he would learn from the OT. He appropriated the Jewish beliefs as to the creation of the world and the nature and sinfulness of man. He insisted on the primary demands of the Moral Law.
After allowing for what was taken over from the OT and embodied in the NT, the remaining subject-matter of specifically Christian teaching consists of two elements-doctrinal and ethical.
(1) Doctrinal content.-The outstanding and ever-recurring subject in Christian instruction was the Person and Work of Christ. St. Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians that he determined not to know anything among them ‘save Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Corinthians 2:2) was true of himself not only as a preacher, but also as a teacher. The teaching of apostolic times, whether soteriological, eschatological, or practical, was essentially Christocentric. While the preacher, as a herald (κῆρυξ), made his proclamation that Jesus was the Christ of God, and the Saviour of mankind, the teacher, in the meeting for edification or to individual listeners, had to unfold and explain the deep truths involved in this momentous fact.
The story of the events of the earthly life of Jesus, together with an account of His sinless character and His death and resurrection, had to be told (1 Corinthians 15:1 ff., 2 Corinthians 8:9, Galatians 4:4 f.) much in the same way as it has been preserved for us in the Four Gospels. But the doctrinal and theological implications of these historical facts had to be made explicit by appeal both to Scripture and to spiritual experience. The gospel concerning Jesus Christ needed much exposition. In order that men should intelligently believe that Jesus was the promised Christ, as proved by His resurrection ‘according to the scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:4), that He was the Saviour of sinful men through His expiatory death upon the Cross (Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21), that He was the redeeming head of the human race (Romans 5:15, 1 Corinthians 15:22), that, moreover, He was the eternal Son of God and the creative ideal of the whole universe (Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:16 f., Colossians 2:9), time was needed, and methods of explanation which were not at the disposal of the preacher. To the teacher was allotted the important task of expounding and co-ordinating the truths proclaimed in the preaching of the gospel.
The experiences of salvation, which came to believers through their faith in Christ, required reflective consideration; hence the prominence given in Christian teaching to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The historic gift of the Day of Pentecost proved to be also the indwelling principle of the new Divine life in redeemed men (Romans 5:5; Romans 8:14, 1 Corinthians 2:12, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 3:16). Although the dogma of the Divine Trinity was the outcome of much later reflexion, the elements of a doctrine of the three-fold nature of the Divine existence emerged in the teaching of the 1st century.
The preacher having summoned men to repentance and saving faith in Christ, the teacher exhibited the resultant state of salvation in many aspects. The legal aspect required the teacher to present the truth as evangelical justification; its regenerative results enabled him to speak of it as a ‘new creation.’ The family life illustrated the blessing as adoption and the possession of filial consciousness. The Jewish Dispensation supplied such ideas as the ‘New Covenant’ and ‘royal priesthood,’ by which the Christian’s new relationship to God could be understood. Religious and ceremonial observances in the ancient world afforded the basis for a fresh and more ethical conception of salvation as mystical union with a dying and risen Saviour or as sanctification through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Moreover, ‘things to come’ occupied a large place, not only in the teaching of Jesus, but in the more developed doctrine of the apostles. The preacher heralded an impending Parousia; he exhorted his hearers to repentance in view of the certain approach of Christ as Judge; he proclaimed the sure and certain hope of resurrection. The teacher, on the other hand, while including these great truths in his doctrinal instruction, had many questions to face in view of the apocalyptic fancies and hopes so rife in contemporary Judaism and the Greek speculations concerning immortality so widely propagated through the Hellenistic schools of religious philosophy. The very lapse of time brought its problems. The hope and belief of the primitive Church that Christ was immediately to appear called for explanation in view of what would appear to some a disappointing postponement. This drew from the teacher a deeper and more spiritual interpretation of eschatological truth. 2 Thessalonians shows St. Paul, as teacher, correcting the hopes roused in his hearers by the eschatological message of St. Paul, as preacher (Acts 17:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 f.). In Corinthians the Apostle deals with problems of individual immortality raised through the grim fact of death among believers. In his later Epistles the cosmical aspect of ‘things to come’ emerges as implicated in his maturer and final teaching concerning Christ as the eternal Son of God, who existed before the visible universe and in whom all created things are recapitulated (Ephesians 1:10 f.) and will find their final consummation in glory (Philippians 3:20 f., Colossians 1:13 ff.).
(2) Ethical content.-In speaking of the ‘teaching of Jesus’ or the ‘apostles’ teaching,’ it is usually the doctrinal or theological content that is primarily thought of, to the exclusion of the practical and moral. But a careful study of the records and specimens of our Lord’s instruction and that of His followers shows that the proportion of ethical teaching is very great. The historic interest in apostolic doctrine aroused through centuries of controversy has overshadowed the moral teaching. While it may be straining the niceties of philosophical terminology to speak of the ‘ethics of the NT’ as though it constituted a system of moral principles and precepts based on human reason, yet no one can be blind to the substantial body of ethical teaching contained in the NT. In the apostolic and sub-apostolic literature this teaching receives full and explicit exposition. Nor again can any one overlook the influence of such moral teaching upon the subsequent developments of human civilization.
The teacher in apostolic times based his moral commands as to conduct upon the requirements of the Moral Law. But there was a distinctively Christian ‘way’ (Acts 9:2) or mode of life, which was taught and applied by the Christian teacher much in the same manner as the Jewish Rabbis dealt with their Halakha. The authoritative norm of such teaching was the moral teaching of Jesus as Lord. Hence St. Paul speaks of ‘my ways which be in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church’ (1 Corinthians 4:17). In warning the Ephesians against their former Gentile vices, the Apostle says, ‘Ye did not so learn Christ; if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him’ (Ephesians 4:20). The various precepts, however, were all applications of the central principle of love, thus ‘fulfilling the law of Christ’ (Galatians 5:14; Galatians 6:2). Negatively, the Christian ethic prohibited open vice, such as fornication and drunkenness; it exposed the sinfulness of spiritual errors, such as pride and covetousness; positively, it enjoined purity, self-control, humility, and above all Christian love (ἀγάπη). The supreme end of moral perfection, of holiness, was set before believers by the apostles and teachers, whom we see not only instructing converts in doctrine, but also ‘admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ’ (Colossians 1:28).
Literature.-In addition to the works quoted above, see W. F. Adeney, article ‘Teacher, Teaching,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries2, London, 1903; E. von Dobschütz, Christian Life in the Primitive Church, Eng. translation , do., 1904; C. von Weizsacker, The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church2, do., 1897-99.
M. Scott Fletcher.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Teaching'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/t/teaching.html. 1906-1918.