April 13, 2024

Teaching is sometimes seen as slowing down “movements.” Taking the time to teach is seen as unnecessary because the Holy Spirit teaches seekers and new converts. Yet, throughout the biblical record, and especially in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit works with and through human teachers. It is not an either/or situation. Teaching is a spiritual gift “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11). In the Pastoral Epistles, Timothy and Titus were sent to correct false teaching and to teach sound doctrine. Human teaching is fruitless apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has chosen to teach with and through human teachers.

Acts 8:26-40 provide an example of how the Holy Spirit works with and through the human teacher. An angel of the Lord (v.26) directs Philip to go down to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. There he finds an Ethiopian official reading the prophet Isaiah. Luke records what happens:

And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture told him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:29-35, ESV

The official indicates that he needs someone to guide him in understanding the Scripture. This official was highly educated. After all, he was in charge of the Ethiopian Queen’s treasury. He understood the words and phrases but wondered to whom the prophet was referring. Philip begins with this text (probably noting other texts as well), and tells the official the good news about Jesus.

It is clear that Philip is being directed by the Holy Spirit (v. 29). He is the human guide, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to help the official understand the Scripture. Luke does not give us the details of the discussion, but just enough to see that Philip is linking the good news about Jesus to the Old Testament as Jesus did on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:25-27). Eckhard Schnabel makes the following application of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official:

The mission of the church is focused on the study of Scripture and on the proclamation of Jesus. … Instruction from Scripture is an important element in the proclamation of the good news of Jesus, whose life and mission fulfill Scripture. The question, “do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30) is the most fundamental question of biblical hermeneutics. A true understanding of Scripture that comprehends not only the meaning of words and phrases but the significance of its connection with God’s plan of salvation requires somebody who can explain.

Schnabel, Acts: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p.431-2.

This focus on understanding the Scripture and proclaiming Jesus makes the teaching ministry of the church so important. An individual or a small group, alone with the Bible, isolated from the teaching ministry of the church, can easily become a cult factory. Paul warns Timothy that, “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1). He follows this warning with exhortations to teach (v. 11); to not neglect his gift (v. 14); and to keep watch over himself and his teaching (v. 16).

The human teacher helps the seeker to see the significance of a passage in connection with the Bible storyline and to see the good news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see the glory of Christ and put their trust in him. We must not drive a wedge between the Holy Spirit and the human teacher. Human teachers are among the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church which will be the focus of the next post in this series on teaching.

2 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit and the Human Teacher

  1. Does this emphasis on the importance of the human teacher not need to be balanced with the doctrine of the perspecuity of Scripture? Too much of an emphasis on the need for a human teacher can give the impression that it is impossible for the ordinary person to understand the Scriptures for themselves.

    1. I am trying to counter the thought that the human teacher is not necessary. Ordinary people can surely understand the Scriptures for themselves, but a teacher can help in the process. Again, it is not either/or. God uses human teachers, both contemporary and those from the past, to help the individual understand and apply Scripture. A teacher is part of the body of Christ exercising his/her gift to build up the body. An essential part of teaching the Scriptures is helping to develop Bible study skills so that the individual’s ability to understand is strengthened. Teachers do not stand in the way of an individual understanding Scripture but help open the door.

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