A Biblical Philosophy of Theological Education (3 of 7)

by | Jun 14, 2018 | Theology Matters

In the last post we were considering the fact that the church has been given the general authority for the theological education of its ministers, now in this post we proceed to …

III.     The Specific Responsibility for Theological Education

The work of theological education is assigned throughout the Bible as the specific responsibility of a specified class of men or office in the church.  More than one reason for this arrangement may be mentioned.  It would certainly be true to say that the supreme importance of Christian truth might warrant that its study and teaching should be made the solemn responsibility of certain men.  It is also true that the vast extent of Christian Theology seems to require such an arrangement.  Whatever the reason may be for this arrangement, it is the fact of this assignment of the task to a specific class of men which will be particularly emphasized here.

A. The Arrangements in the Old Testament Church

Even in the Old Testament times and within the Old Covenant the extent of this truth was such (and the complications of its application to the corporate life of the people of God were so extensive) that a special class of men or office was appointed which had for a major aspect of its responsibility the study, preservation, and application of this truth.  The Levitical priesthood was charged with this responsibility.  One of the clearest emphases of the Old Testament Scriptures is that the priest in Israel was to be the reservoir and dispenser of instruction with reference to the holy law of God.  Cf. 1 Sam. 2:12, 13; 2 Kings 12:2; 17:27; 2 Chr. 15:3; Ezra 7:6, 10, 11; Neh. 8:1-9; Jer. 2:8; 18:18; Ezek. 7:26; 22:26; Micah 3:11; Mal. 2:1-9.  These passages make plain that it was one of the great duties of the priests in Israel to instruct men in the precepts of the law.

B. The Arrangements in the New Testament Church

1. The Necessity of These Arrangements

One might argue that it was the complications introduced by the detailed, ceremonial laws into the life of the people of God which made such a class of teaching priests necessary.  Thus, it might be concluded that such a class of men is no longer necessary in regard to the less ceremonial and complicated revelation of the New Covenant.  This argument, however, forgets a number of factors unique to the New Covenant.

  • First, in the Old Testament period there was a relatively primitive and limited revelation of truth. This is the necessary implication of the doctrine of progressive revelation.  Now in the New Covenant we have the final and more extensive revelation of God’s truth (a revelation made “in (His) Son”) in which the radiance of the Word shines more clearly and extensively (Heb. 1:3).  While, certainly, some of the difficulties and complications of the ceremonial law have passed away, this greater revelation creates its own more extensive field of study.
  • Second, this revelation of truth took place within the relatively insulated and limited context of the Jewish theocracy in the promised land. The application of this primitive revelation in this insulated and limited context was, therefore, much simpler than in the universal context of the New Covenant revelation.  The revelation in the New Covenant is not meant to function in the confined context of one nation in a small part of the earth.  It is rather meant to function among all nations and to the ends of the earth.  This vast field in which the truth is to be applied creates its own complications, especially when we take into account the twisted and depraved character of so many fallen cultures.
  • Third, this Old Testament revelation was given to a people of God who spoke the language (Hebrew) in which God had revealed His truth. In the New Covenant the added difficulty of translating the divine revelation originally made in Hebrew and Greek into the multiplied languages of the world must be considered.  This complication may be reflected even in the Old Testament period.  We are told in Ezra 7:6 and 10 that Ezra was a skilled scribe in the law who had set his heart to study, practice, and teach the law of God. Later we are told that in teaching the people of Israel this law it was necessary for Ezra after the Exile to translate the law (originally given in Hebrew) into the (Aramaic) dialect now spoken by God’s people.  Nehemiah 8:8 says: “They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”  Now if such translation (or explanation) was necessary because of a slight change of dialect, it is certainly so now when God’s people speak many very different languages.  A truly adequate theological education will require, then, a careful study of the original languages in which God gave divine revelation and the proper way of bringing that revelation into the languages of the many peoples to which it was intended to be taken.
  • Fourth, and finally, adding to the comparative extensiveness of theological education in the New Covenant age is the way in which the implications of divine revelation have been displayed over the almost 2000 years of church history. Theological education which did not acquaint the student with these controversies and the way in which they have served to bring out more explicitly the meaning of Scripture would certainly have to be judged defective.  On the other hand, acquainting the theological student with those controversies clearly and necessarily adds the department of historical theology to the study of the science of theology.

Part 4

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