Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach my first lecture from the Bible (also an assignment for a class). I had 30 minutes to teach on any epistolary passage using the big idea and the hook, book, look, took method. I chose to teach from Ephesians 5:21-33 about husband and wives because I had done some exegetical work on this passage in college and felt confident in what it was saying and my ability to communicate it.
About a week before the lecture I began gathering my thoughts, some resources, and developing a lesson plan. I had been made aware of a possible alternative interpretation of this passage than what I thought in college, and so I started doing a little leg-work to look into it. Surprisingly, what I found convinced me and I changed my mind. However, what ensued was about a 4 day struggle where I went back and forth between the two interpretive options depending upon what resources I was reading and how convincing their arguments were. One day I thought Paul was saying one thing; the next, something different. All along I tried to mitigate the distanciation that occurs when people in the 21st century try to understand life and culture from two millenniums ago. I also tried not to let my own preferences and biases creep in and determine what I thought the passage was saying.
Well, eventually time was up and I had to make a decision so I could teach. So I reached an interpretation that I felt comfortable with, created a powerpoint, and taught. The teaching went well and I think people were able to understand what I was telling them. For this, at least, I am thankful. In my lesson I told the class that some of my conclusions were tentative and that this was a controversial passage with some difficult issues; I encouraged them not to just take my word for it, but be open to other interpretations and look into it themselves if they desired.
In the succeeding two weeks since I taught, I have been reflecting on the experience of teaching from the Bible. I take Bible teaching seriously; the teacher (or preaching) is handling the eternal, infallible, inspired thoughts of God himself that have been revealed to us. It is a scared and serious task, not to be taken lightly. I have been on the receiving end of a pastor who (I think) meant well but was careless and foolish in his handling of Scripture, and he ended up teaching many falsehoods, distortions, and even evil things. This destroyed many lives, including much of my own. For this and other reasons I never aspired to be a Bible teacher in high school and college, and I feel like it’s due to a fluke that I’m here at seminary at all.
After my experience teaching from this passage and my own indecision after doing an incredible about of exegetical work, my desire and confidence in teaching from the Bible has been shaken. Looking back I wonder if I got it right. Did I lead my classmates astray? Did I misunderstand Paul? Was he turning in his grave, yelling at my from heaven that I was wrong? Had my own presuppositions and interpretive biases clouded my seeing the truth? Is it even possible to arrive at the truth of Scripture when every commentary seems to take the same passage as meaning a different thing? What hope do I have of ever becoming as educated, mature, and experienced in teaching as these scholars?
These kind of questions haunt me – and scare me. When I read verses like James 3:1 (above), I can’t help but gulp. Why am I doing this? Who am I trying to kid? I shouldn’t be teaching the Bible, what a joke. I am not trustworthy enough to be trusted with the Scriptures to teach their truth and instruct others. I am far more likely to twist and distort their message much in the same way as my pastor did, and become myself be a source of pain and harm to others. These fears and this reflection leads me to conclude that teaching the Bible is simply too risky. Not only because James warns against it and for my own safety, but mostly because of how I might negatively impact and hurt others. My guess is that after I graduate from seminary I will pursue a Ph.D. in U.S. history or philosophy or economics in order to avoid teaching the Bible. I want a good theological foundation for my vocation (whatever it ends up being), but I do not think I am cut out or designed to teach the Bible directly to others.
Am I sad about this? Yes and No. Many other disciplines and topics of study interest me, and so I have no qualms about becoming a professor of history or economics. That would be very satisfying to me. However, I am disappointed that I don’t seem capable of teaching the Bible with any confidence. But beyond this, I am almost more disappointed that understanding Scripture is more difficult and convoluted than I ever thought. Let alone when you only have 30-45 minutes to teach complex and debated issues. No wonder many churches have become diluted with simplistic ideas of God and misunderstandings of Scripture, which leads to distortions, false teachings, and ultimately broken and shattered lives (of course this isn’t every church). You would think that if God wanted to communicate himself and truth to us he would have done so more clearly. How is it that intelligent, learned, and well-intentioned scholars come to such radically different conclusions on just a few verses of Scripture? Issues such as these perplex me and make me resistant to pursuing Bible teaching and instruction in the future as a professor. Such is life.