010: Able to Teach
When Paul writes that “an overseer, therefore, must be… able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), what does he mean?
There are lots of different answers out there, but the most convincing one I’ve found is from Jonathan Leeman in a 9Marks Mailbag. His answer is that able to teach means that an elder is someone who rightly teaches the Bible. “An able teacher is someone who holds fast to sound doctrine and can faithfully communicate that doctrine to others.”
Able to teach doesn’t necessary mean preaching from the pulpit or teaching from the front. It does however mean being “able to open the Bible and reliably explain what it says so that people rightly understand” when being asked a question or caring for members of the church.
To prove his point, Leeman surveys the Pastoral Epistle, where we see that:
An elder must not teach different doctrines, especially those that promote empty speculation. “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3-4)
An elder must have as the goal of their teaching love, a good conscience, and sincere faith. “Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
An elder’s teaching must match his life. “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
An elder must teach doctrines that agree with the sound teaching of Christ. “If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words.” (1 Timothy 6:3-4)
An elder must hold onto the pattern of sound teaching that is found in the Scriptures. “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13)
An elder must correctly handle the word of truth. “Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
An elder will avoid empty speech which departs from the truth. “Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness… They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some.” (2 Timothy 2:16, 18)
An elder will patiently and gentle instruct the truth to those who disagree. “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
An elder’s teaching should lead to repentance and a knowledge of the truth. “Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:25)
An elder will teach God’s Word not their wisdom. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
An elder will hold firmly to the word of God and instruct with sound doctrine those who contradict it. “…holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
An elder will not teach what is empty or deceptive in order to make a profit. “For there are many rebellious people, full of empty talk and deception, especially those from the circumcision party. It is necessary to silence them; they are ruining entire households by teaching what they shouldn’t in order to get money dishonestly.” (Titus 1:10-11)
An elder will be sound in the faith and doesn’t get involved in myths and false teaching. “This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth.” (Titus 1:13-14)
An elder’s teaching will be sound and recognised by others as being so. “But you are to proclaim things consistent with sound teaching… Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching… Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us.” Titus 2:1, 7, 8)
Leeman is not denying the need for a man to be competent in his communication, but his first concern, as the survey of the Pastorals show, is that the content they teach needs to be faithful and consistent with what Scripture teaches.
Able to teach = Being able to faithfully communicate sound doctrine.
Or as Sam Emadi puts it, “Able to teach” is mainly about doctrinal integrity, not rhetorical ability—but it is a little bit about rhetorical ability. After all, you have to communicate sound doctrine to teach it.”
(Photo: Julia Joppien)