Many churchgoers see teaching as a black and white issue. As in, only verse by verse (on one extreme) or topical (on the other as another of only two examples) are acceptable forms of teaching. You will hear many people criticize various approaches based on how they believe the Bible should be taught. But the truth and or content of the message is what counts, not the mode used to communicate it (the Bible itself never says how it has to be done).
There are many different types of teaching gifts/ministries that have produced teaching material that counts in the Lord’s eyes. There is no “one-size-fits-all,” as some within the church have posited (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). There are many different styles, approaches, and methods to teach. And no one way is better than the other, not in God’s eyes at least. All teachers of various gifts and backgrounds have their strengths and weaknesses. Where one is weak another is strong and so forth.
Lay Christians accessing Bible teaching
Having only one primary teacher makes sense
As for how non-teachers should relate to their pastors, everyone has the right to use other sources for casual study or occasional reference. But a believer’s primary teaching/learning should probably come from one teacher alone. For instance, (as one example) most commentaries (which still count as teaching) are inconsistent and confused in their content (no surprise since we live in lukewarm Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-22). There are some good ones, but not many that I could recommend. Very few believers without the gift of pastor teacher (both are the same gift) have the knowledge and discernment to pick out the good from the bad.
So I advise that lay Christians use them with care. The same applies to multiple websites, books, and other teaching sources. Jumping from source to source is a good way to fall into many a false teaching that can also cause instability in what one believes (like the double-minded man in James 1:5-8). Besides that, the believer’s primary teacher can recommend a good few tried and trusted sources for further biblical and academic study. In the day and age in which we live, just about anyone can write whatever they want on a website or in a book. And academic credentials and formal education by themselves, though helpful, don’t determine the quality of the “product”. Good sound teaching is hard to find because of the scarcity of quality Bible teachers (itself largely a result of the lukewarm attitude so prevalent within the Church).
But we are not exempt from checking things against the scriptures ourselves
However, no single teaching ministry, no matter how good, will teach everything in the Bible. One prefers a specific style and approach, while another may be different. Additionally, no one teacher will ever get everything right, meaning they will get some things wrong. Therefore, it is the job of the lay Christian not to abandon their tried and trusted pastor, but nonetheless to do some research of their own to figure out the truth of the matter if they truly feel he is in error on a particular point (Acts 17:11). No believer is exempt from studying and seeking the truth for themselves. That is why all believers should practice reading the Bible independently (doing their own homework) IN ADDITION to heeding good solid teaching.
If their teacher gets something wrong, then the listener has the right, duty, and ability to search for and come to the correct conclusion to the matter. That is, if a pastor jumps off the cliff of error (and that is a clear known fact not based on a misunderstanding on the part of the listener, as can be oftentimes the case), the listener would do well not to follow suit. No one should ever blindly believe anything they are told without examining it through the lens of Scripture.
This task lay Christians must accomplish in the power of the Holy Spirit, a process that all believers will naturally grow into through their commitment to spiritual growth.
Minor things do not give lay Christians permission to refuse to submit to their teachers in general
However, errors shouldn’t be a common occurrence if the main teaching ministry is consistent in its teachings. Nor does this give the lay believer any excuse to argue over everything their pastor teaches them. If their teacher is worth their salt, they should be correct in most areas of biblical interpretation. Those without the gift of teaching should never make it their business to look for things to disagree with their teachers on, purposefully. Additionally, they should discuss a possible area of disagreement with their pastor first before immediately jumping to conclusions (it is always best to ask for clarity in case there is a misunderstanding). We have these gifted men for a reason, not so that everyone can abuse their authority and teach themselves. No individual is going to get far if they try marching to the beat of their own drum (Ephesians 4:11-16).
What about having additional teaching sources? That is, more than just one?
One final point we need to make (so that no false and dangerous assumptions are made to the contrary) before moving on is that it is OK to utilize one or more additional teaching ministries (assuming they are also of good quality) once someone has familiarized themselves with their own. This is an area of application that many Christians will naturally grow into once they realize their ability to learn from someone else simultaneously. Of course, one could say it isn’t necessary to mention this. But we do so here to ease any distraught minds that there is legalism here. On the contrary, we are only pointing out the best and safest way for spiritual growth to occur. It is not that (by itself) jumping from source to source is a sin, but that it is a generally very bad idea fraught with great spiritual dangers (some of which we have mentioned above).
To put all this a bit differently, it would be a mistake to think one can’t learn anything from others who also have a great zeal for the truth. But in no way does that contradict the idea that having one primary source is probably the safest path to take. That is the safest path in general, but that itself in no way suggests that other paths can’t be right and should be ignored at all times no matter what. Being cautious before “drinking the Kool Aid” is a godly approach, but should not keep anyone from hearing and heeding the truth (regardless of who it comes from).
On Bible teachers themselves
In light of everything above, the question is, “how do teachers go about this?” On average, teachers must have a deeper knowledge of the Scriptures than those without the gift. Pastors have more insight, discernment, and tools to make the right calls and interpret most biblical matters. This fact means that they will probably work their way through multiple sources to refine their knowledge of Scripture further. These men called to instruct others will naturally have to check and compare sources far more often than others in the body of Christ because that is part of their job. Exegetical and more technical commentaries (as just one example) serve this purpose well.
However, if a believer is new to the faith but believes they have the gift of teaching, caution is advised before they decide to start checking and comparing other sources. These individuals would do well to grow and mature under a primary teaching ministry (or ministries plural) before striking out independently. By doing things this way, they will have the tools, knowledge, and discernment to safely negotiate further academic study without falling for all the false teaching and lies rampant in the church today.
Preparations for pastor teachers: not all teachers are necessarily called to learn Greek and Hebrew, and they are not lesser for it
Not all teachers should learn the languages (though I believe most will likely be led to do so) or attend Bible college or seminary. However, this does not make those without language knowledge less effective as specific kinds of tools in the hands of the Lord, nor does it disqualify them outright. Realistically, there will be limits to what said prospective individual can find out absenting the languages. But each person has their own strengths and weaknesses. The word “effective” does not belong in this discussion since only the Lord can determine and knows the impact another can make. To go down that path is impossible and would only open up a can of worms. One may ask, “define effective?”
Possessing or not possessing knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew (assuming the Lord did not lead someone down that path) will not affect the believer’s/teacher’s eternal reward in any way. Suppose the Lord does not call a teacher to learn the languages. In that case, that individual will actually increase their productivity for Christ by not pursuing them because whatever God has for us to do is what is best. Our Lord sets us up for maximum success because He would never limit us and He always has reasons for everything He does.
The Bible is silent on this issue because believers must make individual applications themselves based on what they are being led to do. With that said, we will support these truths with the following:
There is no “one size fits all” when teaching God’s Word
Every believer has a different spiritual gift and ministry the Lord calls them to carry out. There is no “one size fits all” when teaching God’s Word, as many teachers will have different styles, approaches, topics, and audiences. Some will teach verse by verse and systematic theology while others won’t. No two believers are the same, and we all have separate callings. There are many parts to the body of Christ which means that some teachers will specialize in teachings that require little to no language knowledge at all. Yet, we still need these individuals. They are just as necessary as any other teachers (1 Corinthians 12:15-26). Where one person is weak, another is strong. Wherever there is a gap, another fills it in. That is how the “body” of Christ should work, with each member playing their part.
Additionally, teachers who have no language knowledge but want to teach areas that require Hebrew and Greek may rely on other teachers for help (assuming these other pastors are well-grounded in the languages). There is nothing wrong with this approach, for some pastors have done this over the years. And if a teacher has erred in their interpretation of the original text, then there is nothing to suggest that the lay Christian who lacks knowledge of the original languages won’t be led elsewhere to someone who has understood the correct words in the original language(s). If we continue to pursue the truth, God will grant it eventually.
And so naturally, different fundamental callings require different sorts of preparation
Since all believers are different, not every teaching ministry will require the same type or amount of preparation (seminary/the languages). There will be other areas of study for many different teachers because, as already stated, many will teach different things in different ways. God chooses our spiritual gifts, which means they perfectly fit us (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our Lord had already planned out the lives of every individual long before He laid the foundations of the earth. He knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and expects His disciples to follow that those plans by heeding the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the answer to give people who inquire about whether they should pursue the languages is not, “you should or shouldn’t do this,” but “you should do what the Lord wants you to do.” Only the individual can determine the correct course for them to take. This doesn’t mean they will get it right instantly, but it is something they can and are meant to know if they approach the issue correctly (that is, they truly do heed the Spirit’s still small voice, and submit to His leading).
What about seminary and Bible college?
Regarding seminary and Bible college, some individuals are gifted enough to learn many things taught in seminary (the languages, various histories, textual criticism, etc.) on their own at home without having to step foot in an institution. However, very few people can do this, as most pursue a teaching ministry requiring language study by attending seminary. Most believers, in general, will need formal education for challenging academic studies such as these because most do not have the time, ability, or discipline to study on their own and be self-taught. Just because some do not have the time, means, or resources to pursue formal education does not mean God doesn’t want them to teach in any capacity. They still can, to some extent. Even though a pastor may not be a “prototypical” teacher, they are no less a teacher.
Learning the languages ought to be viewed in terms of opportunity cost
Learning the languages takes time and commitment. Not all teachers are equally academically gifted. The issue is not whether any believer can learn Greek or Hebrew because all can. The point is whether the time and sacrifice it takes for specific individuals is worth the commitment. What may take one man four years to learn may take another ten years. Some learn faster than others, but mastering the languages is more daunting for some. The time some may spend laboring themselves to learn the biblical languages could have been spent focusing on other studies pertaining to their particular calling, or even making real headway on that calling at a sooner date. The time/cost to production ratio will not be worth it for individuals not called to it because God has other things for them to learn.
Trying to force oneself to learn the languages when one is not called to it has real, serious consequences
A believer (assuming God doesn’t want them to) will only hinder their spiritual growth, progress, and production by undertaking something of such strenuous nature as language learning by focusing on the wrong things that divert their attention from more important matters, such as spiritual growth.
To reiterate again, God makes the decisions here. We just need to be humble and identify the correct application for us specifically
Whatever spiritual gift and ministry God gives us are the best we could have, allowing us the highest production. For a believer not called to learn the languages, studying them would reduce their spiritual production. Therefore, the wrong things would become the wrong priorities. Everyone should consider their circumstances, as not every believer has the time, energy, commitment, and intellect for practical language study. A slow rate of progress may cause the believer to stumble if they expend all their time on something that may or may not benefit their growth, progress, and production.
The time is short, it is true, but the reasons for not learning the languages are not solely time-dependent
Time is short, but even if we had hundreds of years left before the tribulation, that would not eliminate all the points above. The tribulation and Christ’s return are fast approaching, and the believer should do whatever is in their gifting to do with the time and circumstances they have.
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
Teachers should not teach beyond their level of knowledge, including in the area of languages
Teachers should not teach beyond their level of knowledge. There is nothing wrong with asking other teachers for help. The point is that we should never “wing it” by just answering for the sake of answering. There will be things people will ask that a particular teacher may not know, so praying about it, studying the matter, or asking another is not only wise and prudent; it is the best and safest option to pursue. But just answering without proper knowledge or preparation is a disastrous mistake that can cause the teacher and those he leads to stumble. Whatever someone teaches, they need to make sure it is correct. This will require those without language knowledge to occasionally consult those who know Greek and Hebrew.
The division of labor among teachers
There is a division of labor among teachers so that it doesn’t make sense for all of them to learn the languages when some individuals won’t require it due to the nature of what they teach or the accessibility to other teachers who can already help in that area.
To reiterate in closing, because of all the various ways in which Gods gifts and calls people, it is important to not box people improperly
Some believers have multiple gifts. For example, you have a teacher who may teach, evangelize, and contribute in other ways to the church. So this person has different ways to glorify God other than through teaching alone. But all believers are called to do a little bit of everything! We must all be ready to give an answer for the hope in which we have (1 Peter 3:15) which will involve defending the truth (apologetics). All believers should share the gospel whenever they get the chance (evangelization). And Christians can only encourage and sharpen each other through God’s Word so that all will have to engage in a little bit of teaching, exhortation, and instruction to some extent. Plus, other aspects of one’s spiritual gift(s) and ministries will always exist.