In Acts 17, Paul and Silas preach in the synagogue of Berea, and it says of the Jews in Berea: "they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (17:11).  Not all of the Bereans believed, but many of them did, based on the Scriptures, "with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men" (17:12).  The Bereans set an example for all who hear people teaching the Scriptures: that we should examine the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so.  This is true both of pastors in local congregations, as well as of those who write books and produce videos, acting as authorities and teachers of the Word of God.

For myself as your pastor, I want nothing more than that you examine the Scriptures daily to see if what I am preaching and teaching is what is what the Scriptures actually say.  But I also want it for you whenever you hear teachers of the Bible, whether on TV, the radio, or in books and the devotional material you use.  The following are some Scriptures and guidelines on how we can discern the truth of Bible teachers.

Why should we evaluate those who teach the Scriptures?

Because the Scriptures instruct us to do it.

  • Jesus says to His disciples: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits [here the fruit is anything against “the rock,” which is Jesus' words]. … Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:15-16a, 21-25).

  • Acts 20:28-30: Paul instructs the pastors in Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

  • Romans 16:17: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.”

  • 2 Corinthians 11:2-4: Paul's concern for the Corinthians is that they remain in the true Faith, which proclaims Christ purely: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you receive a different gospel from the one you received, you put up with it readily enough.”

  • Ephesians 4:14: one of the purposes of being equipped with the Scriptures is that “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine (teaching)...”

  • To one of the pastors in Ephesus, Timothy, Paul gives numerous words of instruction on how to serve the Christians in his care. “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed” (1 Timothy 4:6). “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching... Keep a close watch on yourself and on the Teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (4:11-13, 16). “Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (6:2b-4a). “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge,' for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (6:20-21). “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). “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” (4:1-4).

  • The author of Hebrews says that “solid food,” the depths of the Christian faith, “is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (5:14).

  • John warns his congregations: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And in his second letter: “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 8-11).

 

How to evaluate Bible studies and Bible teachers

  1. Who is the subject of the verbs of salvation and the Christian life? Is it primarily us (unscriptural), or is it primarily God (Scriptural)?
  2. If the subject is God, is it primarily God's action in Christ (New Testament) or God's action in light of the promise of Christ (Old Testament)?

  3. When the teacher speaks of God, does he or she speak of Him primarily according to His characteristics (powerful, loving, all-knowing, etc.) or according to His action (what God has done in Christ for us)? The Scriptures do not start with who God is and move to what He does.  Instead, the praise of God in the Scriptures is almost always in terms of His action on behalf of His people—from which we understand who God is.  

  4. How is the Gospel defined? Is it purely God's action in Christ on our behalf (Scriptural)? Or are we somehow active participants (“accepting,” “utilizing,” “deciding”) (unscriptural)?

  5. How is conversion described? Primarily as our action of accepting Jesus, deciding for Him, or surrendering to Him (unscriptural)? Or as God's action in Christ by the Holy Spirit for dead, blind sinners (Scriptural)?

  6. Are the Sacraments mentioned? How are they described?  Because the Sacraments are the very means by which God delivers to us what Jesus has done, they are absolutely and essentially central to everything we do. Does the teacher speak of Baptism as Jesus' commanded beginning of our life in Christ? Does the teacher speak of the Sacrament of the Altar as an essential means (along with the preached Word) of forgiveness, and of strengthening and sustaining the faith we have been given?

These are some of the considerations for us as we hear and evaluate teachers of the Scriptures.  Because the Scriptures cannot be taught or explained without interpretation, we understand that just because a person uses the Scriptures, it does not mean that they are using them correctly.  May God in Christ grant all of us the discernment of the Spirit when it comes to hearing and understanding His Word.