I’ve done it a thousand times. You’re teaching a bible study lesson to a small group, you read a passage of scripture, and then turn to the class and ask, “What does this mean to you?” or, “So, what do you get out of this?”
For the vast majority of us, this question is harmless. What we intend to ask the class is how they understand the meaning of the text to apply to their lives. However, there is a subtle danger in evaluating scripture this way. Our goal is to be clear, not only about the meaning of scripture, but about how we can get to that meaning. We want to guard against the tendency to interpret scripture according to our own theories or ideas. It’s too easy to let our experiences, prejudices, even fears dictate our understanding of scripture.
The goal of the bible student is to understand what the original intent of the writer was, as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it. That is our goal because the original message of the Holy Spirit is truth that never changes, and it always speaks with life changing power to the heart of mankind. We believe that the Holy Spirit inspired individuals to write down words which have been passed on for us to read, and that the message those words convey is timeless. These words reach through the centuries to touch our hearts today, filled with the power of the one who inspired them: the Holy Spirit. They are the words of God.
As we evaluate the scripture, we consider the writer, the historical context of the writer, the original audience, the central theme of the passage, as well as how a specific passage fits into the overall context of the book of the Bible in which we find it. It’s also important to consider the overall sum of biblical instruction on an issue or topic when evaluating a passage. Scripture is often the best tool in interpreting scripture. There are a variety of tools through which we study these elements, and for any of you who are interested I am always happy to make study tool recommendations. In many cases, a good study bible includes a lot of this information.
Once we evaluate a text, the teacher’s goal is to help small group members understand appropriate methods of evaluation, and to arrive at a text’s central message. The Sunday School teacher then leads the class in agreeing on a central truth and applying it to our lives.
You may be thinking, “Wow, that sounds really involved. I’m going to have to re-read that.” One of the strengths of our Lifeway curriculum is that most of the necessary textual evaluation is built into the leader guide. That’s a reason to feel good about what we are already doing. This is another reason why appropriate Sunday School curriculum is important. It’s not enough for us to just read a bit together about a topic, share a scripture, and discuss our opinions. We Study God’s Word Together. It’s one of our shared values that makes Sunday School W.O.R.K.
This is another reason that I appreciate you all so much, and the sacrifice you make as teachers. It is a substantial commitment, and you are always in my prayers as you do the work. I am always here for you as well. My goal is to be a blessing to you as you do the work God has called you to.