Teaching is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift . . . is teaching, then teach” (Romans 12:6–7). In this context, teaching refers to the God-given ability to explain God’s Word; the teacher has the supernatural ability to clearly instruct and communicate knowledge, specifically the doctrines of the faith and truths of the Bible (1 Corinthians 12:27–29).
Teaching is a requirement for pastors: “Now the overseer is to be . . . able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2; cf. 2 Timothy 2:24). The Bible instructs the pastor to teach sound doctrine based on the written Word of God: “Command and teach these things” (1 Timothy 4:11). Those who are taught by the pastor are then to continue the process of disseminating information: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Note here that the gospel is “entrusted” to us, and that teachers of the gospel must be “qualified”—part of the qualification is that we be “reliable.”
Teaching, like preaching, was an integral part of the work of an apostle (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:1). Paul knew that he was a teacher of the gospel according to God’s will: “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11).
Jesus, of course, was the greatest teacher, and He is often referred to as “Rabbi” or “Teacher” (e.g., Luke 13:10; John 1:38; 3:2). In His teaching, our Lord used illustrations (Luke 7:31–32), object lessons (Matthew 6:28), current events (Luke 13:4–5), and many stories (Matthew 13; Mark 4:2). He utilized lecture (Matthew 24), dialogue (John 3), rhetorical questions (Luke 18:8), and proverbs (Luke 7:45). He gave “homework” and followed up on it (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). He used hyperbole (Matthew 5:29), metaphor (John 9:5), and provocative language (Luke 13:32). Always, Jesus the teacher had the best interests of His students at heart; always, the subject of His teaching was the absolute and unchanging truth of God.
Other people whom Scripture identifies as teachers include the Levitical priests (Leviticus 10:11), Moses (Deuteronomy 4:14; 6:1), the apostles (Mark 6:30), fathers of children (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7; Proverbs 1:8; 4:4; Ephesians 6:4), fellow believers (Romans 15:14), Nicodemus (John 3:10), Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and God Himself (Nehemiah 9:20; Psalm 25:12; 32:8; 71:17).
Jesus said that the logical end of effective teaching is that the pupil becomes like his teacher: “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40). He said this in the context of a warning to be careful whom you choose as your teacher, because if “the blind lead the blind . . . they [will] both fall into a pit” (verse 39). So, if you want to be godly, find teachers who are themselves godly.
The Bible also has warnings about hypocritical teaching (Matthew 23:3; Romans 2:21) and false teaching (Acts 20:28–31; 1 Timothy 6:3–4). In fact, whole books of the Bible are devoted to countering false teaching in the early church (2 Peter and Jude). “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The test for any teaching is whether or not it aligns with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.
The day is coming when teaching will be unnecessary: “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11; cf. Jeremiah 31:34). In the day when we see Jesus face to face, we will know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12).
A scholar is someone who has done advanced study in a special field. Therefore, a Bible scholar would be a person who has done advanced studies in Bible, perhaps by going to seminary or graduate school. Perhaps a “Bible scholar” would be differentiated from a pastor, as the pastor’s primary job is to shepherd the church whereas a “scholar” may work in isolation, writing and doing research. A “Bible scholar” may also be differentiated from a theologian in that a theologian is working to put together a comprehensive system of doctrine whereas a Bible scholar may be content to simply clarify what the Bible says without trying to systematize it. Seminaries today often have separate departments corresponding to the distinctions above. A seminary may have a “Pastoral Studies” department, a “Theological Studies” department, and a “Biblical Studies” department, among others.
Having said that, there is no authoritative, technical standard for what it takes to be a Bible scholar. Some who have never been to seminary but have studied the Bible extensively and availed themselves of good resources may indeed be genuine Bible scholars—they are students of the Bible. Likewise, there need not be a sharp distinction between the various seminary departments mentioned above. We would hope that every pastor and theologian would also be a Bible scholar. One would also hope that every Bible scholar would be able to use the knowledge acquired to minister to people.
Because of the wide variety of approaches to the Bible and the many attacks on the reliability of God’s Word today, it is often necessary to add an extra modifier to Bible scholar. Today, the church is served by many fine evangelical Bible scholars who believe that the Bible is God’s Word and seek to clarify the meaning of the Bible for the good of the church and to the glory of God. Unfortunately, there are many liberal Bible scholars, critical Bible scholars, and even skeptical Bible scholars who believe that the Bible holds no authority, being merely a book of literature or a historical record of the religious experiences of people in the past. These scholars often put themselves in the position of judging the Bible rather than the other way around.
It is interesting that the word scholar can also mean “student”—anyone who is studying at any level. Today, some schools in the United States refer to their students as “scholars”—even Kindergarteners. Using this definition, every Christian could and should be a “Bible scholar.” It is sad that much of the church today is biblically illiterate.
Scripture teaches us the importance of studying what it has to say. This study is not limited to taking a class at a Bible college or seminary or even Sunday School. Christians are supposed to feed on God’s Word in whatever ways are available to them—reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the Word; reading good books that help explain the Bible; attending church services where they can hear Bible preaching and teaching; listening to Christian radio; and, of course, utilizing good online tools like Got Questions.
Below are just a few of the verses that speak of the importance of studying God’s Word and being a “Bible scholar”:
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:15–16).
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8).
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).
“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
“But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:4).
“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4).
There were a number of Bible scholars who interacted with Jesus on a regular basis. These scholars were called the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes were professionals whose job it was to know the law of God and copy and interpret it for others. The Pharisees were a very strict sect of Judaism who made it their business to know and fastidiously keep all of the laws of God. However, simply knowing the facts of Scripture is not enough.
Jesus warned, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). The scribes and the Pharisees studied the Scriptures, and that was a good thing. However, their focus became the book, the words, the body of literature. They thought that by knowing the Word of God they would gain eternal life. In their zeal for the Word of God, they missed God Himself. If they had really understood what they were studying, they would have come to Christ, because all Scripture points to Him and is fulfilled in Him. The scholars’ intellectual and legalistic pursuit of God’s Word had blinded them to the very subject that God’s Word attempted to illuminate.
In the final analysis, there is no benefit to being a Bible scholar if the scholar does not submit to the authority of the Bible. There is no benefit to knowing God’s Word if one does not get to know God in the process. The Bible does not give us eternal life, but it points us to Jesus who does. It is difficult to understand who God is and the life that is available in Christ without making it a priority to study the Bible.