Although several Hebrew words are translated "teach" in English translations of the Old Testament, two words predominate: yara [h'r"y], "to point out, " and lamad [d;m'l], "to goad." In the New Testament Greek words more frequently used are didasko [didavskw], "to teach, " katecheo [kathcevw], "to instruct systematically, " matheteuo [maqhteuvw], "to train disciples, " paideuo [paideuvw], "to train, instruct, " noutheteo [nouqetevw], "to correct, counsel, " parangello [paraggevllw], "to command, order, " and paradido [paradivdw], "to hand down tradition."
The variety and extent of this biblical vocabulary make it clear that teaching is at the heart of God's plan for redemptive history. God as the ultimate Teacher has mandated in Scripture that teaching occur in two primary contexts, both of which arise from his creative and redemptive Acts. God delegates teaching to the family and the redeemed community. Both institutions explain his gracious initiative in redemption and urge a loving, obedient response. God's gracious initiative places his people in covenant relationship with him in which parents teach their children and spiritually gifted leaders of the people of God teach its members. Thus, the following discussion will focus on teaching in the nuclear family and in the extended family, the people of God.
The creation of Adam and Eve signaled the institution of the family ( Gen 1:26-28 ; 2:18-25 ; 4:1 ; 5:1-2 ). God intended the promises of the Mosaic covenant for parents and their children ( Deut 6:1-2 ). The fifth commandment underlined the sacred character of the family by commanding children to honor their parents ( Exod 20:12 ; cf. Deut 5:16 ). Cursing one's parents was a capital offense ( Exodus 21:15 Exodus 21:17 ; Deut 21:18-21 ; 27:16 ). The New Testament confirms Old Testament teaching that heterosexual monogamy is the ideal family setting for the teaching of children ( Matthew 19:4-6 Matthew 19:19 ; 1 Cor 5:1 ; 6:16 ; Eph 5:31 ; 6:1-3 ; 1 Peter 3:7 ).
The Bible repeatedly calls on parents to educate their children concerning the mighty redemptive Acts of God and the appropriate response of loyal obedience. Such education should occur in the context of the Passover feast and the consecration of the firstborn ( Exod 13:1-16 ). In anticipation of entering the promised land, Israel is reminded of God's activity for them and their consequent obligation to obey him and to teach their children to do the same ( Deuteronomy 4:1-14 Deuteronomy 4:40 ; 5:29 ; Deuteronomy 6:1-7 Deuteronomy 6:20-25 ; 11:19-21 ). Even after the people were settled in the land, the importance of teaching children was not minimized ( Psalm 78:5-8 ). Proverbs repeatedly enjoins the education of children, with particular stress on sons obeying their fathers and mothers. The New Testament also stresses the teaching role of parents, especially the father ( Luke 2:39-52 ; Rom 1:30 ; Eph 6:1-4 ; Col 3:20-21 ; 1 Timothy 3:4-5 1 Timothy 3:12 ; 1 Timothy 5:4 1 Timothy 5:10 1 Timothy 5:14 ; 2 Tim 1:5 ; 2 Timothy 3:2 2 Timothy 3:15 ; Titus 1:6 ; 2:4 ). The repeated stress of both Old Testament and New Testament on care for widows and orphans indicates that the covenant community is to strengthen the family and, if necessary, serve as a sort of surrogate family setting.
The role of teaching in Israel's family life must be seen in the context of teaching in the Old Testament community. Moses commands parents to teach their children ( Exod 13:9 ), teaches Israel's elders how to adjudicate civic matters ( Exod 18:20 ), and assigns responsibility for teaching the law to Aaron and his descendants, the priests and Levites ( Lev 10:11 ; Deut 33:10 ; cf. 2 Chron 15:3 ). Upon entering the land, Israel was not to intermarry with its inhabitants because this would result in apostasy ( Deut 7:3-6 ). Instead, the land's inhabitants were to be eliminated in order to do away with false teaching ( Deut 20:18 ). David longs for forgiveness and cleansing so that he may teach God's ways to sinners ( Psalm 51:6-13 ). God's covenant with David involved David's sons obeying the laws they were taught ( Psalm 132:11 ). The psalms frequently express longing for a deeper understanding of God's law. Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple that God in the future would forgive repentant Israel and teach them obedience ( 1 Kings 8:35-36 ). Jehoshaphat and Josiah oversaw the teaching of true religion and the overthrow of false religious structures ( 2 Chron 17:5-9 ; 34:33-35:4 ). After the deportation to Babylon and the return to the land, Ezra and Nehemiah led Israel in studying, obeying, and teaching the law of Moses.
Israel's prophets also have much to say about education. As the archetypical prophet, Moses taught Israel and spoke of a future prophet like himself to whose teaching Israel must give heed ( Deut 18:15-19 ). The prophets foresee days when all nations will be taught God's ways ( Isa 2:3 ; 54:13 ; Micah 4:2 ). While Israel has rebelled against God and given their allegiance to false gods, nevertheless, God's power will yet "teach" Israel through judgment and restoration ( Jer 16:14-21 ). God's chosen Servant will reestablish the law ( Isa 42:1-4 ) and inaugurate a new covenant that will implant his law in Israel's hearts and supersede the former manner of teaching ( Jer 31:31-34 ; Ezek 36:24-27 ).
In the New Testament Jesus is the Servant of God who inaugurates the new covenant ( Matt 12:17-21 ; 26:28 ). His ministry of word and deed and his redemptive sacrifice fulfill the Old Testament prototypes: kings, priests, and prophets. Jesus teaches with divine authority ( Matt 4:23 ; 5:2 ; 7:29 ). His approach to the Old Testament differs from that of Israel's leaders in that his teaching stresses love, justice, and mercy over external matters. After his resurrection and exaltation Jesus sends his apostles forth with the mandate to perpetuate his teachings ( Matt 28:19 ; John 21:15-17 ) in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As the Book of Acts makes clear, the earliest Christians took Jesus' mandate seriously as apostolic teaching was featured in their communities. The Spirit sent by Jesus equipped some with the gift of teaching ( Rom 12:7 ; 1 Cor 12:28 ; 1 Corinthians 14:6 1 Corinthians 14:12 1 Corinthians 14:19 1 Corinthians 14:26 ; Eph 4:11 ; 1 Peter 4:10-11 ).
The New Testament teaches that those who aspire to leadership in the community have to be competent teachers ( 1 Tim 3:2 ; 2 Tim 1:13 ; 2 Timothy 2:1 2 Timothy 2:15 ; Titus 1:9 ). God's people are expected to eagerly receive and obey apostolic teaching ( Rom 15:15-16 ; 1 Cor 11:2 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:6 2 Thessalonians 3:14 ; Hebrews 13:7 Hebrews 13:17 Hebrews 13:22 ; 2 Peter 3:2 ).
In the Bible, then, God as Creator and Redeemer teaches his creatures through the agency of two institutions, the family and the covenant community in which families worship God and grow in his grace. This teaching was carried out through the kings, priests, and prophets of the Old Testament theocratic community. These three Old Testament motifs coalesce in Jesus the Messiah, who enables the new covenant community to be taught by spiritually gifted teachers who lead the church.
David L. Turner
Bibliography. W. Barclay, Train Up a Child: Educational Ideals in the Ancient World; M. Civil, et al., ABD, 2:301-17; J. P. Gammie and L. G. Perdue, eds., The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East; K. Giles, Patterns of Ministry among the First Christians; J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, J. I. H. McDonald, Kergyma and Didache; S. Sifrai, The Jewish People in the First Century, 2:945-70; K. Wegenast and D. Frst, NIDNTT, 3:759-81; R. C. Worley, Preaching and Teaching in the Earliest Church; R. B. Zuck, BSac121 (1964):228-35.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Teach, Teacher'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".