How to Teach the Bible

Dr. Lucien Coleman, Jr. has a book by this same title (How to Teach the Bible, 1979) and this page contains my personal notes and observations on Bible teaching.

Bible Basics for Teachers:

  1. Christian teaching is a divine calling. It is ministry and a practice that has been passed down for centuries. Teachers of the Bible are a part of a noble crowd. It is for everyday church members, not just for the well-trained professionals.
  2. God-called teachers need training. There is no substitute for competence (2 Timothy 2:15). The Bible teacher needs an arsenal of resources that will help one dig into the text, draw out the meaning, and relate it to life.
  3. Teaching skills are improved with practice. We learn by doing. We learn best by teaching. The teacher always gets more out of the lesson that the students can absorb.
  4. There is no substitute for basic training in the craft of teaching. We must walk before we can run. We must take piano lessons and practice before we can perform a recital. We cannot go to war without basic training, which is the key to competence, confidence, and effectiveness.
  5. The Bible is central to Christian teaching. Bible teaching is more than Christian ethics, morality, doctrine, theology, church history, missions, and holy living. All of these are rooted in the Bible itself. We will not understand these topics without understanding the Bible.
  6. Teaching is a combination of knowing, being, and doing. Bible teaching is more than just knowing your textbook or the subject matter. The teacher enthusiasm for the task, warmth in relationships, and sesitivity to personal needs are as important as the lesson itself.

What is Bible Teaching?

  1. Teaching is guiding. The teacher is not the one who has all the answers and knowledge of the subject, but more of a guide along the journey.
  2. Teaching is gardening. Rather than growing plants, the Bible teacher is growing people. The teacher will create an environment to stimulate growth. The teacher will till the soil and make it ready to receive the seed. God is the one who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), so, 1) God has created human being with a remarkable capacity for learning; the gardener must understand basic laws of nature. 2) God provides a rich resource for Christian learning in this biblical revelation, the Bible; it is our only source for faith and practice. 3) God functions as our guide, in the Holy Spirit, to motivate, illuminate, and provide insight.
  3. Teaching as biblical interpretation. If we continue in his Word, we will be his disciples, and we will know the truth, and the truth will make us free (John 8:31-32). Biblical knowledge is mandatory for the Christian. When did we make spiritual growth optional? So, interpretation is essential; understanding what the text says, what did it mean to the first readers, and what does it mean for us today?
  4. What Bible teaching is NOT. 1) Presenting lessons. 2) Imparting information. 3) Telling students what the teacher knows. 4) The performance of a teacher.
  5. Teaching and learning are inseparably related (like a carpenter’s work results in a structure of some kind, a chef work results in food on the table). No teacher can transmit learning (the teacher does all he can to encourage learning – the learner learns on his own). Teachers are co-laborers with God (We partner with God to enhance learning of our students).

What Do Teachers Do?

  1. Building a learning climate.Learning can be influenced by our surroundings and our mood.
  2. Planning and preparing learning activities. Just like we prepare a grocery list for our meals, the Bible teacher prepares ahead of time for anticipated learning. 1) Decide what is to be taught (the lesson may emphasize one thing but you know your students better than the curriculum’s author). Look for the take-away or main point you want your students to get. 2) Plan the learning activities (like starting on a journey, your first decide on the destination, and then everything is done to get you there).
  3. Leading class sessions. How? 1) Motivating learners (build interest by making the information relevant). 2) Guiding learning activities (carefully drafting questions, using visual aids, exploring hands-on activities, maximizing case-studies, finding newspaper articles, telling stories and modern parables). 3) Evaluating learning (always check the target to see if you hit it. What changes can be made? How can we make this better?).

The Teacher’s Knowledge of the Bible

  1. Rightly handling the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Be a student of the Bible. Read it. Know it. Get into it and let it get into you.
  2. The historical approach to biblical interpretation. Anchor the text in the context of the original writer and reader.
  3. Look at the forest, then the trees. We must understand the context of the book (written by whom, for whom, when, cultural context, historical context, main doctrinal themes).
  4. Use the Bible to interpret the Bible. We are not dependent on outside source, the Bible has great commentary on itself, and we have other tools to help us dig out relevant truth with cross-references and study Bible notes.
  5. Developing a reservoir of Bible knowledge. Don’t just study up on the latest lesson, but build your repertoire of knowledge.

The Teacher’s Knowledge of the Learners

  1. The teacher-learner transaction. I’ve heard it said that we don’t teach the Bible, we teach persons. The author says this is a half-truth; we teach Bible truths to persons.
  2. Meeting learners where they are. Remember your classroom participants (educated or not, young or old, long-time believers or not, Christian background or not, know their needs, hopes, desires, dreams, values).
  3. Where the Bible touches life. What is the take-away? Where does the lesson connect to life? What is the objective of the lesson? Ask at the end of each lesson, “So what?”

The Teacher’s Knowledge of Teaching – Principles

  1. People will try harder to learn when the learning gives them pleasure, satisfied needs, or promises to be useful.
  2. In learning groups, the level of participation is higher when teaching activities are directed to the whole person. People are more than just ears and mind and heart. Learning does not happen apart from the total person and their experiences.
  3. Goal-centered teaching is more efficient than teaching that has no particular purpose. A study on the Ten Commandments is not as effective as application of the principles presented.
  4. Learners are more likely to participate in learning activities when the teacher establishes an appropriate, “ready, set…” to get them ready for the lesson. Ask questions designed to grip the imagination. Pose a hypothetical situation. Introduce conflicting ideas. Tell a dramatic story. Play
  5. When a teacher uses questions, they should vary in form, scope, and level of difficulty. I like the opening, dig, and apply sections the “devil’s advocate.” I like using the method of open, dig, explore, and apply.

How to Study for a Lesson

  1. Blessed is the early starter. Why wait? Read the passage early in the week and let God work on you all week. Don’t just study the lesson, get into the Word and connect with it and with God. 1) Few of us can do our best work under pressure or at the last minute. 2) We can never estimate how long it will take to prepare a lesson and gather supplies for the experience. 3) Starting early lets you search for examples and resources that are unavailable to the tardy. 4) When we don’t have time to prepare, we tend to fall back to our familiar teaching patterns and methods. 5) Creative teaching requires time.
  2. Tools of the trade. 1) The Bible of course, since it is our only source for faith and practice. Utilize the chain-references and study notes. 2) Bible study helps. Bible dictionaries and commentaries and great tools. Online reference like Blue Letter Bible and Got Questions are wonderful. 3) Church supplied curriculum. Much of this is good and doctrinally sound, but it takes work to make the lesson prepared months ago by someone who does not know our people and our situation, to make it relevant to the events of today.
  3. Studying the lesson. 1) Read the passage devotionally. what does it say to you? How is God speaking to you? 2) Read the passage analytically. Go through the passage with a keen eye, looking for things that jump off the page. Mark up the text, underline words, put notes, cross-references, and observations in the margin, look up parallel passages, be familiar with the context information. 3) Use study tools. Concordance, commentaries, dictionaries, reputable websites, word studies, names and meanings, Bible atlas. Don’t rely totally on the curriculum materials. 4) Then pull it all together.

Teaching With Purpose

  1. Acquiring simple factual Bible knowledge. Beatitudes. Ten Commandments. Who was the father of King Solomon? Name a synoptic gospel.
  2. Acquiring systematic factual Bible knowledge. Know Bible history. Knowing Elijah was a prophet is one thing, but knowing where he fit into Israel’s history of the divided kingdom is quite another. We should understand the genre of literature found in the Bible.
  3. Understanding doctrinal themes. The Bible has a remarkable unity, even though written over 1500 years, by 40 writers from kings to tax-collectors, in three languages. Doctrine includes theology about God, mankind, salvation, the Spirit, the church, spiritual beings, even revelation itself.
  4. Mastering techniques of the Bible. The teacher will train students in Bible knowledge so they become competent in biblical understanding. Help your students to use the available tools.
  5. Learning principles of interpretation. We will interpret prophecy, parables, history, and poetry differently.
  6. Drawing rules of conduct from the Bible. We must understand cultural ways of biblical times. The danger is that we can embrace faulty behavior by looking at negative examples in the Bible as normative. Since Paul does not condemn slavery, are we to assume that slavery is then biblical? In Christ we know that owning another person is not right although it is biblical. Polygamy is not right even though it is biblical. Sacrificing your children to Molech is not right even though it is biblical.
  7. Developing biblical attitudes. I call this developing a biblical worldview. It is primarily recognizing there is a creator God, who is one God in three persons, the Bible is our only source for faith and practice, there are only two genders, marriage from the start was one man and one woman for a lifetime, Jesus paid the penalty for the debt we could not pay. We take seriously the sermon on the mount, the great commandment, and the great commission. We take seriously Romans 12. We take seriously Philippians 2.

Essential Ingredients

  1. Stimulating interest in the lesson.
  2. Leading the Bible study.
  3. Highlighting eternal truths.
  4. Applying the lesson to life.
  5. Previewing the next lesson.

Teaching Methods

  1. Expository and inquiry. Expository seeks to pull out the meaning from the text, putting out information and setting forth ideas. Inquiry is different since learners will conduct and inquiry of the text, to seek into the passage to see what they might discover. The first method is where the teachers has the information to be shared and the latter has the seekers discovering the information together.
  2. Cognitive and affective learning. Cognitive learning takes place through teaching methods which stimulate thinking, remembering, evaluating, and reasoning. Affective learning has to do with attitudes we learn from other people. We catch attitudes from other people.

Generating Enthusiasm for Bible Study

  1. Build a spirit of fellowship. Christian fellowship and Bible study go hand in hand (Acts 2:42, 2 Corinthians 8:4, Philippians 1:5, 3:10, 1 John 1:3). So, class size will either help or hinder this dimension.
  2. Personify enthusiasm. A group tends to take on the characteristics of the leader. There is something contagious about someone who is excited about the study and the topic!
  3. Get class members involved. 1) Can we involve member in class administration, like create ministry assignments, for outreach, refreshments, phone list, fellowship, service projects? 2) Can we involve members in the learning activities, like divide into micro-groups to discuss a topic? 3) Can we involve members in class projects? This is certainly outside of the Bible study hour, and promotes fellowship, outreach, and service. 4) Magnify persons. Recognize accomplishments and events in the lives of members.
  4. Old fashioned public relations. Communicate by every means (telephone, text, posters, e-mail, cards, social media, announcements, newsletter).
  5. Let’s not grow weary (Galatians 6:9). We all get tied but press on toward the goal, the prize of the upward call of God (Philippians 3:13-15).


  1. It is a sin to bore your class. Be enthusiastic about what this study means to you and to them.
  2. The spread of Christianity and the teaching of Scripture have been connected to the outward expansion of the gospel and the inner vitality of the church.
  3. As teachers, you have been called to an extremely important mission. It’s more than teaching a class; you are fulfilling the great commandment and the great commission, helping people to love God, love his Word, and love others.
  4. This calling requires a high degree of commitment, which is the price tag on Bible teaching.
  5. This calling is significant, since it transforms lives.
  6. This calling requires us to be faith, not necessarily successful.

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