What Should a Teacher Do About Biblical Ignorance or Apathy? (Part 3 in a Series)

In the previous two posts in the series, we’ve seen that it’s very possible that significant percentages of people in our congregations, classes or groups fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • They don’t read the Bible very much
  • They don’t believe what they read in the Bible
  • They aren’t interested in the Bible influencing their lives

If you’re just catching up on the series, links to the first two posts follow.

When Your People Don’t Believe or Read the Bible

Does What People Believe About the Bible Matter?

My thesis presupposes that the center and anchor of all meaningful spiritual teaching is the Bible – specifically the canonized text made up of 66 books from Genesis to Revelation.

Of course pages and pages and pages of text has been written over the years proposing and defending key terms such as “infallible” or “inerrant,” as they apply to the Biblical text. I’m completely comfortable with such words, while acknowledging that many theologians have spent years asserting their distinctions and the importance of those distinctions.

Words and terms such as “true,” “trustworthy,” and “God-breathed” are all also AOK with me.

My own denomination’s view on the Bible works well, I think: We believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. We hold that the Word of God is the primary source of revelation for knowing God.  Dr. H. Orton Wiley, who helped shape our theology in our formative years, wrote:  “We conclude that the Scriptures were given by plenary inspiration . . . in the manner that and to the degree that the Bible becomes the infallible word of God, the authoritative Rule of Faith and Practice in the Church” (Christian Theology, Vol. 1, p. 170).

I’m fascinated by research into the veracity and reliability of the Biblical manuscripts but those are posts for another time.

No, my interest here is simple and three-fold: 1. The Bible should be central to our teaching as pastors, lay leaders, ministers and small group leaders. 2. Many in our congregations don’t read or regard the Bible as much as we would like or expect, creating a potentially significant gap in understanding. 3. As leaders and teachers we should do something about it.

And the rest of the posts address point #3.

new-dead-sea-scrolls-theory_24016_600x450

Dead Sea Scrolls
www.nationalgeographic.org

I believe there are three specific steps a preacher could take to acknowledge and address the issue.

Step #1: In your preaching and teaching, incorporate specific references that support the Bible as a reliable reference to history.

This does not mean that the Bible is only a history book. But when it references history, it is reliable. If the Bible mentions that there is a city called Jericho, there should be historical and archaeological corroboration of such a claim. If it references a King David, there should be support that such a man lived and reigned. If it claims a historic flood of – literally – Biblical proportions, there should be evidence that such an event is not merely fictional mythology held by many traditions, Judeo-Christian or otherwise.

What I’m suggesting is that, when you teach about a Bible account that has historical context, provide some of that context. That doesn’t mean each sermon becomes a history lesson. What I’m suggesting is that when you teach about Biblical men and women, provide historical places and dates for context. This helps take your reader beyond the idea of a Biblical “character” and makes them people. Some examples include:

  • It was about 1540 BC when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers at Dothan. He was a real person at a real time in a real place. Not just the subject of a Broadway play.
  • Noah wasn’t just an ark builder. As the grandson of Methusalah and a contemporary of Adam (yes, that Adam) he is seen as a critical link between the old and new Biblical worlds. He was a real person recorded reliably by Scripture.
  • The Eastern Gate at Jerusalem, which many believe will usher the return of the Messiah (Revelation 19:14) is currently closed, having been walled shut in 1517 when the Turks conquered Jerusalem and their leader Suleiman ordered the gate shut to dash the hopes of the Jews. He even put a Muslim cemetery in front of the Gate, thinking that the Messiah would never walk through.

You get the idea.  Real people, real places.

Of course this implies that you’ll need to get hold of some solid research material for your message prep. I find a go-to timeline, Bible Dictionary, Bible Encyclopedia and historical references to be crucial. I’ve included some below for your consideration.

I try to always provide dates, geographical notes and historical context so that there is a consistent message that the Bible is real and trustworthy – not some fictional or mythological fantasy.

Again, it doesn’t take much time – just a sentence or two will do in each case.

Done consistently, it communicates that the Bible is worth exploring, believing and using for life. And, as my pastor often says – “Longevity is the greatest convincer.”

In the next post, Exercises in Exposition.

Suggested Research Materials

http://www.biblestudytools.com

http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/eastons-bible-dictionary/

http://biblehub.com/timeline/#complete

http://www.biblemap.org

http://www.blueletterbible.org/index.cfm

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible

Knowing Scripture

Discovering the Bible