He Must Be "Able to Teach": Evangelicalism's Failure in the Pulpit
One of the qualifications of an elder, perhaps the only distinguishing qualification from a deacon, is that the elder must be "able to teach." This is a translation of a single word διδακτικόν. The word is often translated in Lexicons as "able to teach," "skilled at teaching," "have the teaching ability of a schoolmaster," etc. EDNT translates it as "qualified to teach." These are all satisfactory English translations. The problem is that one needs to know what Paul is attempting to communicate or these English translations are distorted by modern conceptions of what constitutes "teaching." The bad news is that there is not much immediate context to the single word διδακτικόν, and so many English readers merely end up assuming their own ideas and eisegeting them into the text. The good news is that even though there is not much immediate context, there is plenty of context in the letter itself, in the Pastoral Epistles in general, and in a parallel list of qualifications in Titus 1.
First, in the letter itself, teaching has always to do with passing on the revelation of God either given in the Old Testament or by the apostles. One who is able to teach knows both the OT Scripture and the apostolic teaching. The elders are those who are worthy of double honor because they labor in word (i.e., knowing and understanding the OT and apostolic teaching) and teaching it (1 Tim 5:17). Paul exhorts Timothy to teach the very things he has communicated as an apostle in the letter (6:2).
Second, in the Pastorals in general, teaching has to do with knowing the Scriptures, studying them diligently, and again, passing on the apostolic teaching to the church. The elder, again, is presented in 2 Timothy 2:24 as one who needs to be διδακτικόν when referencing refuting those who contradict apostolic instruction. In contrast to these people, Timothy is told to hold to the teaching he has received from the apostles.
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths"(2 Timothy 3:14-4:4).
Sound teaching is a reference to apostolic teaching in the Pastorals, and here it seems to be mixed with the OT Scriptures in such a way so as to refer to the apostolic/orthodox interpretation of the Scripture. Paul is arguing that there will be people in the church in the future who will no longer endure the apostolic teaching/interpretation of the Scripture but rather have their own interpretations of Scripture that will be of their own imaginations and religious cultures.
Hence, διδακτικόν seems to refer to knowing the Scripture and the apostolic interpretation thereof really well. This is confirmed by the final context we have, which is the parallel in Titus 1:9.
"He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
Instead of using the word διδακτικόν, Paul just describes it. So Paul himself gives us the definition of διδακτικόν. There is no need to speculate or put our own spin on it. Paul means by the word to communicate the idea that in order to be qualified as an elder one must hold firm to the apostolic teaching and interpretation of Scripture, which assumes he must know it really well, and be able to teach the sound teaching of the apostles from it, i.e., his theology and ethics is derived from it, not from his own speculation and interpretations, and he must be able to refute those who contradict it with their own interpretations and theology/ethics.
In other words, the ability to teach has nothing to do with whether he is a good speaker or entertaining or dynamic or charismatic, etc. In fact, these are often the characteristics of false teachers. What one would have to say is that if the "ability to teach" referred to the nature of his oratory skills then in that regard the false teachers actually meet this aspect of the qualification. Instead, rather than disqualifying someone like Moses, who doesn't have good speaking skills (and perhaps Paul himself who doesn't seem to be a dynamic speaker--2 Cor 10:10 ), and qualifying the "smooth talkers" in the Prophets, one must come to grips with the fact that if he thinks part of the qualification is being a good communicator then he is adding to Scripture via eisegesis. Where in the context does this ever refer to one's oratory ability? One would be hard pressed to find such a justification. But those committed to the presuppositions supplied to them by their "soundslikegesis" will continue to interpret this qualification based on their own experience and familiarity with what they consider "teaching," and of course, in accordance with their own desires to be entertained and emotionally moved.
Such misinterpretations of the phrase have caused evangelicalism to be filled with unqualified men who are dynamic speakers, motivational life coaches, crowd-pleasers, ear-ticklers rather than Moseses and Pauls who are slow of speech but speak the apostolically-revealed Word of God nonetheless.
The devil entertains with emotional stirrings either because the teaching and preaching is void of much content and the amount of ignorance must be hidden by sound and fury, or because the content is deceptive. Either way, a deception is taking place, since the people are under the illusion that they have had an experience with God because they were emotionally moved. Yet, their lives are no closer to being conformed to the truth, and indeed, perhaps, even further away from it.
This is not just a problem for the megachurches who usually pick the most dynamic speaker they can find and believe that he is therefore "called" to ministry because of his great speaking gift even though he is no more knowledgeable of Scripture and proper exegesis as anyone else in his congregation; but it also plagues many of the smaller churches in evangelicalism who are just looking for someone to agree with them on a few doctrines they think are important and to not bore them on Sunday. It is no wonder that people sitting in these churches for thirty years are no more mature than when they first started to attend. They have been stimulated while being unchallenged for thirty years while their addictions grow worse, their marriages fall apart, their relationships become more superficial, etc. but they can't seem to pinpoint why.
This doesn't mean that everyone who is a good speaker is unqualified. It just means that each person and each teaching must be evaluated on the basis of the true qualification laid out by Paul above. Paul knew that what transforms is the truth of God's Word with or without the bells and whistles. He also knew the heretics' skill at blowing bells and whistles to distract their followers from the lack of content or misguided content they're often teaching. Hence, he concentrated on the content and not the means of communicating the content as the true qualification for anyone who should be a faithful pastor.
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who are worthy and will teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
This article was originally published at https://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/2022/06/he-must-be-able-to-teach-and.html on June 4, 2022.
Bryan Hodge (BA, Moody Bible Institute; MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas, NV. He is husband to Allison and father of nine.
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