A teacher is one who imparts information or skill to others by word or by example. An effective teacher usually provides explanation or supporting evidence or he employs some other method intended to help hearers to accept and remember what they hear.
Jehovah God, the Creator, is the Grand Instructor, or Teacher, of his servants. (1Ki 8:36; Ps 27:11; 86:11; 119:102; Isa 30:20; 54:13) The creative works themselves teach that an all-wise God exists, and they provide a field for investigation and observation that to the present day has only been partially tapped. (Job 12:7-9) Additionally, by means of special revelations, Jehovah God has taught humans his name, purposes, and laws. (Compare Ex 4:12, 15; 24:12; 34:5-7.) Such revelations are found in God’s Word, the Bible, and serve as a basis for correct teaching regarding his will. (Ro 15:4; 2Ti 3:14-17) God’s spirit also functions as a teacher.
Teaching Among the Israelites. In Israel, parents had the God-given responsibility of teaching their children. (De 4:9; 6:7, 20, 21; 11:19-21; Ps 78:1-4) For the nation as a whole, prophets, Levites, especially the priests, and other wise men served as teachers.
Prophets. The prophets taught the people about Jehovah’s attributes and purposes, exposed the wrongdoing of the Israelites, and outlined the right course for them to take. Often prophets imparted their teaching orally, later committing it to writing. (Compare 1Sa 12:23-25; Isa 7:3, 4; 22:15, 16; Jer 2:2.) Their teaching methods included the use of questions (Jer 18:13, 14; Am 3:3-8; Hag 2:11-14), illustrations (2Sa 12:1-7; Isa 10:15; Jer 18:3-10), riddles (Eze 17:2), and symbolic acts (1Ki 11:30-32; Jer 13:4-11; 19:1-12; 27:2; 28:10-14; Eze 4:1–5:4).
Priests and Levites. It was the responsibility of the priests and Levites to teach God’s law to the nation of Israel. (Le 10:11; 14:57; 2Ch 15:3; 35:3) This was accomplished in various ways. Every Sabbath year, during the Festival of Booths, the entire Law was read to all the people
Scribes. In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the scribes were prominent as teachers of the Law. But they did not come to grips with the real problems and needs of the people. Like the Pharisees, the scribes placed greater emphasis on technical regulations and traditions than on mercy, justice, and faithfulness. They made the Law burdensome to the people. (Mt 23:2-4, 23, 24; Lu 11:45, 46) Their teaching was not as effective as it could have been, for they assumed a superior attitude toward the common people and did not prove themselves to be examples worthy of imitation.
What made the teaching done by Jesus outstandingly effective?
Although the religious leaders of Judaism evidently were not sincere in addressing him as “Teacher [Gr., Di·daʹska·los],” Jesus Christ was recognized as such by both believers and unbelievers. (Mt 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; 19:16; 22:16, 24, 36; Joh 3:2) Officers sent to arrest him were so impressed with his teaching that they returned empty-handed, saying: “Never has another man spoken like this.” (Joh 7:46) Jesus taught “as a person having authority, and not as [the] scribes.” (Mt 7:29) The Source of his teaching was God (Joh 7:16; 8:28), and Jesus conveyed information with simplicity, irrefutable logic, thought-provoking questions, striking figures of speech, and meaningful illustrations drawn from things familiar to his listeners. (Mt 6:25-30; 7:3-5, 24-27; see ILLUSTRATIONS.) Jesus also used object lessons, on one occasion washing the feet of his disciples in order to teach them that they should serve one another.
Jesus’ knowledge was enhanced by his having had an intimate relationship with his Father and God before coming to the earth. Therefore he knew God as no other man did, and this enabled him to provide authoritative teaching concerning his Father. As Jesus himself said: “No one fully knows the Son but the Father, neither does anyone fully know the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.”
Jesus was also thoroughly acquainted with God’s written Word. When asked which commandment was the greatest in the Law, without hesitation he summed up the entire Law in two commandments, quoting from Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:18). (Mt 22:36-40) During the course of his ministry, he is known to have referred to or expressed thoughts that parallel passages from about half of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures
Additionally, Jesus’ perfect example lent real force to what he taught. (Joh 13:15) He was not like the scribes and Pharisees, concerning whom Jesus said: “All the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.”
Other aspects that made Jesus’ teaching authoritative and effective were his understanding of man and his loving concern for others. His keen discernment was enhanced by miraculous knowledge of the background and reasoning of others. (Mt 12:25; Lu 6:8; Joh 1:48; 4:18; 6:61, 64; 13:11) “He himself knew what was in man.” (Joh 2:25) His heart went out to the people to such an extent that he sacrificed needed rest to teach them. On one occasion Jesus and his disciples took a boat and headed for an isolated spot to rest up a bit. “But people saw them going and many got to know it, and from all the cities they ran there together on foot and got ahead of them. Well, on getting out, he saw a great crowd, but he was moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. And he started to teach them many things.”
Jesus treated his listeners with understanding. When his disciples did not get the point of an illustration, he patiently explained it to them. (Mt 13:10-23) Aware of their limitations, he did not give them too much information. (Joh 16:4, 12) When needed, Jesus repeated practically identical information. (Mr 9:35; 10:43, 44) In answering questions, Jesus often fortified his reply by means of illustrations or object lessons, thereby leaving a deep impression on the minds of the listeners and stirring up their thinking faculties.
God’s Spirit Teaches. During the three and a half years of his earthly ministry, Jesus trained his apostles to continue the work he had started. As imperfect humans, they could not possibly remember every detail of his teaching. But Jesus promised them: “The helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (Joh 14:26) This meant that God’s spirit would teach them whatever they needed to know to accomplish their ministry. Particularly would it open up to their understanding what they had previously heard but not understood. As a remembrancer, the holy spirit would bring back to their minds things that Jesus had said while with them. And, as a teacher, it would show them the correct application of his words.
When brought before public assemblies, kings, and other men in high governmental station, Jesus’ disciples could confidently rely on God’s spirit as a remembrancer and teacher. Like a friend, it would bring back to their minds things to say and it would help them to make appropriate applications. This would result in giving a good witness and would also silence opposers. (Mt 10:18-20; Mr 13:11; Lu 12:11, 12; 21:13-15) That is why Peter and John were able to speak boldly when questioned by the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, about their having healed a man lame from birth. Their outspokenness was something completely unexpected from ‘unlettered and ordinary men.’ It caused the members of the Sanhedrin to wonder. And Peter’s words, coupled with the presence of the cured man, left these learned men with “nothing to say in rebuttal.”
Since all of God’s Word was written under inspiration (2Ti 3:16), it alone contains the spirit’s teaching. Therefore, teaching that conflicts with God’s Word is not to be given any attention by Christians. As the apostle John wrote: “You do not need anyone to be teaching you; but, as the anointing from him is teaching you about all things, and is true and is no lie, and just as it has taught you, remain in union with him.” (1Jo 2:27) Those to whom John directed these words were spirit-begotten Christians. They had come to know both Jehovah God and his Son, Christ Jesus. They were fully acquainted with God’s truth. So they did not need persons as teachers who denied the Father and the Son. Such teachers would only mislead them from what they knew to be the truth as taught by God’s spirit and plainly set forth in the Sacred Writings. (1Jo 2:18-26) For this reason Christians were not to receive apostate teachers into their homes or even to say a greeting to them.
Making and Teaching Disciples. After his resurrection Jesus Christ commissioned his followers to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all the things he had commanded. (Mt 28:19, 20) This extensive teaching work had its beginning on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., when about 3,000 Jews and proselytes accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and were baptized. The teaching of these new disciples did not end with the apostle Peter’s discourse that led to their becoming followers of Christ Jesus. There was much more for them to learn. For this reason those who had come to Jerusalem from distant places to be present for the Festival of Pentecost extended their stay in order to be able to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Day after day they would assemble in the temple area, evidently to listen to the apostles. Other Jews and proselytes also got to hear the good news there, and the number of believing men eventually increased to about 5,000. (Ac 2:14–4:4) Besides teaching publicly at the temple, the apostles also declared the good news about Jesus Christ from house to house.
Later, the scattering of the believers through persecution and the beginning of the preaching among the non-Jews extended the disciple-making work to distant places. (Ac 8:4-12; 11:1-26) As in Jerusalem, however, often public preaching and teaching was employed to locate interested ones, after which those who became disciples continued to be taught. In Ephesus, for example, the apostle Paul taught publicly in the synagogue. After opposition arose, he separated the disciples from the unbelieving Jews, delivering discourses to them in the school auditorium of Tyrannus. (Ac 19:8-10) Paul also taught disciples in their homes and he searched out other interested persons by teaching from house to house. As he reminded the older men of the Ephesus congregation: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.”
Teachers in the Christian Congregation. Through the activity of the apostle Paul and others, Christian congregations were established in many places, and these continued to enjoy increases. Qualified teachers were needed to assist all associated with these congregations to “attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13) This placed a weighty responsibility on those serving as teachers, one that had a direct bearing upon the lives of fellow Christians. The position of teachers was of such importance that it is listed third, right after apostles and prophets, in the placement of members in the congregation. (1Co 12:28) It was not a position filled by Christians generally (1Co 12:29), and it was never filled by women. Wrote the apostle Paul: “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man.” (1Ti 2:12) Overseers, or older men, appointed to their positions by holy spirit served in this capacity.
These older men had to be examples worthy of imitation and accurate in their teaching, always adhering to the inspired Word of God. As qualified teachers, they served as a bulwark against the falling away from true belief, being ever alert to correct those who had fallen victim to wrong teaching and taking action against those promoting sects.
The older men (Gr., pre·sbyʹte·roi) who worked hard in teaching fellow Christians were deserving of respect, consideration (compare Heb 13:17), and even voluntary material assistance. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote: “Moreover, let anyone who is being orally taught [literally, being sounded down to] the word share in all good things with the one who gives such oral teaching.” (Ga 6:6, ftn) “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says: ‘You must not muzzle a bull when it threshes out the grain’; also: ‘The workman is worthy of his wages.’”
Men who unselfishly sought to be overseers, qualified to teach others in the congregation, were “desirous of a fine work.” (1Ti 3:1) Obviously, therefore, it was not to discourage such men from becoming qualified to teach that the disciple James wrote: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.” (Jas 3:1) Rather, these words emphasized the heavy responsibility that as a result comes upon teachers in the congregation. Evidently some had set themselves up as teachers, although not being appointed or qualifying as such. The persons whom James had in mind were probably much like those of whom Paul wrote to Timothy: “Certain ones have been turned aside into idle talk, wanting to be teachers of law, but not perceiving either the things they are saying or the things about which they are making strong assertions.” (1Ti 1:6, 7) Evidently such men desired the prominence that came with being a teacher of fellow believers. But James placed matters in the right perspective by showing that more would be required of teachers in the congregation. They would have to render a more serious account than Christians generally. (Compare Ro 14:12.) Yet like others, they too would stumble in word.
How all Christians should be teachers. While relatively few served as teachers in the congregation itself, the desirable goal for all Christians was to have the ability to teach their beliefs to others, at least privately. This point was made clear to Hebrew Christians: “Although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God.” As the Jews had been the first to receive the good news about the Christ, they really should have been, not spiritual babes, but examples in Christian maturity and ability to teach others. (Heb 5:12–6:2) Thus the inspired writer is here evidently speaking of teaching in a general sense, rather than in an appointed capacity. Somewhat similar, therefore, is his reference to the Jew who, on the basis of his knowledge, becomes “a corrector of the unreasonable ones, a teacher of babes.” (Ro 2:17-20) Paul shows, however, that in such teaching also one’s life course must harmonize with what is taught if the teaching is to bring honor to God.
Christians could also learn from one another. Younger women, for instance, could be taught by aged women about such matters as ‘loving their husbands, loving their children, being sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.’ Such teaching in private was effective when backed up by a good example.