Don’t just think you are quoting the Bible, know you are. These six guidelines will help you teach with accuracy—and fill in the gaps with contextual understanding.
Don’t assume that you know what a passage means based on how others use it. Former televangelist and PTL host Jim Bakker testifies that he often circulated on the air teachings he heard from some of his Bible-teacher friends until, in prison, he had more time to read the Bible for himself.
To his horror, he discovered that much of what he had taught contradicted the Bible read in context.
Read the verses surrounding your passage. Some people quote 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 to argue that tongues and prophecy have ceased. If they read a few verses further, however, they would discover that these gifts are scheduled to cease only when we see Jesus face to face, at His return (v. 12).
Read your passage as part of the larger argument of the book in which it occurs. God did not simply inspire random verses separated by blank space, but the entire flow of thought in each book of the Bible.
To return to the example of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul explains love in the context of spiritual gifts (chapters 12-14). Love guides us in using the gifts and even in which gifts to seek (12:31, 14:1).
Read the whole book. Even though any context helps, you will profit most when you can read through an entire book of the Bible.
Don’t let the translators’ cross-references distract you from following the context. Cross-references will show you how words in that book of the Bible are used elsewhere, but reading the book itself is what will help you see how it develops a theme.
Let the Bible do much of your lesson preparation for you. A passage of scripture can provide your themes. Often, those who teach on topics backed up with verses use verses out of context.
Even when they do not, they often run out of topics and verses. Usually teaching from passages offers us many more topics and verses to work with in the long run.
If you let the rest of that book of the Bible inform your understanding of the passage, you will have plenty to say. Of course, you still need to know your audience and the Spirit well enough to know how to apply the text’s message for your people.
Explore wider circles of context if you wish to press deeper. God inspired different writers with different styles. Different books belong to different literary genres (types of writing), which must be interpreted somewhat differently.
For example, whereas we should take most biblical history literally, biblical poetry (such as the psalms) is full of symbol-ism. Knowing ancient cultural background is also important.
CRAIG S. KEENER, a New Testament scholar, is a professor at Palmer Theological Seminary and author of 12 books. He is also an associate minister at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in