Blog Archives

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.

Reciting the Catechism

“Yet, to the wicked, God says, ‘What is it to you to recite my statutes or to take up my covenant on your lips? For you hate training and you throw away my words after you.”

(Psalm 50:16-17)

When you remember that God is speaking to his covenant people, these words ought to make you shiver. Indeed, is it not true that unbelieving people sometimes recite the laws of God? Is it not true that many in the church can quote chapter and verse from the Bible or a Confessional statement but never put it to practice in life? Indeed, there are many who actively participate in the churches of God’s people who are reprobate and destined to the fires of hell for they take up the covenant without the slightest intent to fulfill the vows they are taking.

The second verse in this couplet drives the point even closer to home for Christians in traditions like my own, which actively catechize our children in the things of the faith. Some of our English translations will read “you hate discipline,” but in this context, “training” seems to be the better translation of מוּסָר (musar). It’s the idea of which Paul speaks when he instructs Christians to raise their children up in the “fear and admonition” of the Lord. This does not mean that God is chastising the youth for not liking their parent’s instruction or catechizing — all discipline seems harsh when you are undergoing it (though it is appreciated later — Hebrews 12:7-11). No, this word of rebuke is for those parents who themselves hate the discipline of their own children both in the home and in the church — who will not instruct their children in the ways of God because they themselves do not love the ways of God nor do they see a value of maintaining their own understanding of the catechism.

Indeed, how much of the confessing church this does describe even today. How sad it is that we again and again fall into the trap of living for ourselves rather than living for God and for His glory. Woe to those of whom these words describe.