Recently I’ve been asking myself a question: Who has the right to teach from the Bible? James tells us that it’s not a responsibility to take lightly:
“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Jas. 3:1)
If you’re not interested in teaching, it’s easy to leave the spiritual instruction to the pastors and priests. But this can be taken to extremes – for hundreds of years in Europe, only priests were allowed to study the Bible. Leaders in the Church were the final authority on doctrinal matters, and their congregations had no way to evaluate whether the leaders were teaching truth or not. People were burned at the stake for distributing the Bible in languages that the common people could read, because the Church was afraid that if many people began to interpret the Bible for themselves, Church unity would be lost. This was part of the culture that Martin Luther fought against as part of the Reformation. Luther believed that Scripture, not Church leaders, is the final authority on doctrinal matters. One implication of this is that no one person’s interpretation of the Scripture can be supreme – the Scripture itself is supreme, not any particular interpretation of it.
Luther called this principle Sola Scriptura in Latin, meaning, “Scripture alone.” This seems to be what Paul commended the Bereans for practicing:
“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character…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)
So we should all study the Bible and carefully form beliefs about it. But there are different levels of teaching. When I share my opinion with a friend in a conversation, I am teaching in a small way. When I read the Bible to my family, I am teaching in a larger way. Leading a Bible study, teaching a class, preaching at a church…all are different levels of teaching, and have different requirements. Before leading a Bible study, I should demonstrate a certain level of responsibility in such matters. Teaching in a classroom setting may require specific training and skills. Teaching or preaching in a church has prerequisites that are detailed in the Bible, that Christians in general are responsible for holding leaders to.
“Teaching” is a word that implies the teacher occupies a certain position. Depending on what that position is specifically, there may be different requirements before I have the right to teach in that way. But if you’re not a teacher, you haven’t escaped the responsibility to know the Bible and let it shape your heart and mind. Scripture itself is the ultimate teaching authority, and we all are supposed to remind each other of that every day in little ways.