Saturday Word Study: To Teach Systematically
Teaching in the Church: κατηχέω
It is never good to jump to conclusions, but after last weeks beginning word study on how the New Testament uses the idea of preaching, I think that it is fair to show my hand. In short, I think that the Scriptures tend to apply preaching more in the context of evangelizing the lost while teaching is reserved largely for the church. Don’t get too excited, we still have more words to explore in the Bible before any serious conclusions are drawn, but if my premise is correct, it shapes how the sermon ought to be structured depending on your context — for example, the difference between the street preaching I did at the homeless shelter in Jackson, MS and how I approach a congregation of confessing believers. It is something to think about at least.
Rather than start with διδάσκω (didasko), which is the ordinary Greek word for teaching, I thought it appropriate to begin with κατηχέω (catecheo), which is the word from which we get the modern word, “catechism.” Literally it means “to teach or instruct” but it also implies that instruction is given in a systematic manner. It is also found 7 times in the New Testament.
Luke 1:4 — Luke’s purpose in writing: “so that you may have certainty in the things you have systematically been taught.”
Acts 18:25 — Paul speaking about Apollos and how he had been “systematically instructed” in the way of the Lord.
Acts 21:21 — The accusation against Paul that he is “systematically instructing” the Jews to put aside their customs.
Romans 2:18 — Paul is focusing his accusation against the Jew who insists on teaching others but will not apply the Law of God to himself. Yet, here, an idea should be noted, as Paul connects the idea of systematically teaching the Law with knowing the will of God, an idea he will return to in Romans 12:2. It is just one more reminder that the Law should be systematically taught in the church, and as John writes, “lawlessness is sin” (1 John 3:4).
1 Corinthians 14:19 — Paul’s famous statement that in church he would rather speak five words with his mind than 10,000 in a tongue. Not only is this a devastating blow to pentecostalism, which glorifies what they call “tongues,” but it clearly teaches us that in the context of the church life, systematic teaching is essential.
Galatians 6:6 — Here is one of the spots in Scripture where we are reminded that those who are systematically taught the Word of God should bless those who teach then by sharing their resources (this verse uses κατηχέω twice). This is more clearly articulated in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14.
An Inference: To be able to “systematically instruct” means you need to have a body of information to teach — arguably, a body of information that is consistent with Scripture and approved by the church. We see this developing in Acts 15 and in 1 Timothy 3:16. Nevertheless, I would also hasten to add that it is upon this principle that Church Councils were formed and Canons were written to address issues in the church. It is also the principle from which Creeds and Confessions are drawn.