When I Teach Heresy

I co-teach an adult class on Sunday mornings that is presently dealing with the Synoptic Gospels from an exegetical perspective.  I'd like to think it's a good class, and both myself and the other teacher work hard to challenge the students while also rightly teaching the Word of God.  But I would be grossly fooling myself if I believed that I always get it right.

On this particular Sunday, I was given Matthew 10:17-42 and the subsequent parallel passages found in the Synoptics.  This text is larger than the selections we typically teach in the 30 to 40 minutes we have for class, depending on how fast the students trickle in.   Throughout the week, I had been reading and re-reading the passage, as well as looking at it in the Greek.  My Greek skills are certainly not fantastic, so this large text was a lot of work.  And I had prayed for illumination and understanding. 

On Saturday morning, sitting before my computer, books and Bibles open on the desk, I started feeling the magnitude of teaching God's Word.  Visions of standing before God to give an account of my teaching often weigh heavily upon me as I prepare to teach.  I think about verses like Hebrews 13:17 and James 3:1.  It was even worse on this day because there was just so much material; therefore, I opted to deal with the passage in themes.  

Approaching the text thematically, rather than working through it line by line would help me with the limited time but it would also mean that some of the verses that did not greatly impact the themes would get far less attention.  Even still, I carefully read through each verse and paragraph seeking to understand. Again, I prayed for guidance and understanding.  Occasionally I would deal with a word study as specific questions came up.  And then I examined some commentaries to see if I was on track or if maybe I had missed the mark.  (I go here last, but this often means I return to my study for more and then another return to the commentaries.)  I tried to prepare for potential questions that might be asked, especially considering there are a variety of study Bibles used by the students ranging from the NIV Study Bible to the ESV Study Bible to the Ryrie Study Bible, and these always seem to bring up a wide range of questions and comments.  But as it turns out, I did not prepare well for the questions that came at me about Matthew 10:28.

When I looked at verse 28 during my preparation, I noticed that Jesus was saying to fear 'him' (or 'the one'; ton, transliterated from the Greek) who is able to destroy the body and soul in gehenna.  I made a note that in this specific passage the ton does not seem to be clearly identified.  There seems to be some ambiguity.  I questioned if this was God who the Twelve (Jesus' specific audience at the time) should fear because he has the ability to kill and then destroy the soul, or if it was the devil.  Then I wondered how either of these ideas worked in light of the next few sentences about God placing such a high value on his children, even knowing the number of hairs on their head (Matthew 10:29-31).  I was thinking about 1 Peter 5:8 which reads, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (ESV).  Looking at just verse 28, it seemed that the ambiguity might be pointing to the adversary.

But having already spent a few hours on this lesson and still having much to do, I decided to move on.  I wish I hadn't because a systematic study as well as additional work with the specific passage may have yielded different ideas.  Then, to make matters more complicated, I misread the commentary I was looking at when taking my ideas to the scholars.  Yes, Carson's discussion has something about Satan, but in rereading it, I now see that while Satan is powerful, only God can ultimately destroy souls (understood from a systematic approach and clearly outlined by Carson).  It is clear now that I was skimming through the commentary on the passages that were not the primary focus of the class. For the texts I wanted to deal with in class, I was consulting multiple commentaries.  And I was using four different translations.  For those verses, I was putting in the work; for the others, it is apparent I didn't give them proper attention.

One of the students using the NIV quickly pointed out that this translation reads, "the One," with the One (ton) being capitalized.  The NIV--notorious for removing any ambiguity and filling in the gaps--might have actually better prepared me had I noticed the capitalized One as I was looking at the passage in a parallel format with other translations.  But I missed it, likely pressing on toward other verses.  And during class, I couldn't remember the extent of the ambiguity.  Then I heard, "My study Bible says. . . ."  Sadly, I grew defensive.  Over eight hours of study and work for the 30-minute lesson suddenly went down the drain as the class shutdown. 

The lesson I take away from this experience (and hope others may learn from my mistake) is this:  All teachers are heretics on some level.  We are never going to get it right every time.  I once had a professor that would end most of his classes by saying, "Well, that's probably enough heresy for today."  But this is not an excuse to try less.  We should not hide behind the reality that we will fumble the ball.  If anything, it should push us teachers of God's Word to work even harder and pray all the more.  We are obligated to teach God's word well.  It is my prayer that God will fill me even more so my teaching will actually not be from me, but instead from his outpouring to his class.

And that's probably enough heresy for one blog post.

*Painting, "Jun Hus at the Stake" is in the public domain.