All Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Ed., Published by The Lockman Foundation
Have you ever heard or read a Bible teacher who was both a captivating communicator and over-flowing with a knowledge of Scripture, and yet clearly misunderstanding what he was teaching? There are countless examples of Bible teachers that fit this description. Such popular teachers as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Chuck Swindoll, and almost every other big name you can think of are gifted communicators, and full of a deep understanding of much of Scripture. Yet on some of the most basic teachings of Scripture, most of these men are in error. And most believers have come to realize this in our personal experience with those who have taught us in person. So what is the best course of action to take with such men?
The account of a wise Christian couple, and of an excellent Bible teacher, in Luke’s Book of Acts, gives us an example of we ought to attempt to correct such ignorant Bible teachers. Read Luke’s description of this Bible teacher from Acts 18:24-26a:
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue.” (NASB95)
Just like the Bible teachers we’ve all heard, Apollos was first “eloquent” in his speech, and also “mighty” in his knowledge of Scripture (v. 24). Further, he had been “instructed in the way of the Lord”, or in the Lord’s commanded way of life in obedience to Him (v. 25). This is proven by the fact that he “was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (v. 25). So, he had an accurate understanding of who Jesus was, and what He had done. And yet he had a glaring ignorance of something fundamental. What was it? He was only familiar with “the baptism of John”, not Jesus’s and the apostles’ baptism. John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance” in preparation for Jesus’s coming, while the apostles’ baptism — or Christian baptism — is a baptism of repentance in response to Jesus’s coming, death, and resurrection. This was something that he lacked, and yet he still spoke “boldly” in the Ephesian synagogue, teaching the gospel of Jesus.
So, what did the Lord do for him? He provided a wise and zealous Christian couple, who had personally learned the truth from Paul, to pull him aside and correct him. After saying that Apollos was speaking boldly in the synagogue for the Lord, Luke then goes on to say,
“But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (v. 26b)
This act of the good couple shows us that there was something deficient in Apollos’s teaching and understanding of God’s Word. He was accurate in his teaching about Jesus, but not fully accurate. He didn’t have a full understanding of “God’s way”, although he had been instructed in “the way of the Lord”. Specifically, he didn’t have a full understanding of Jesus’s commanded baptism, and of all that it meant for believers.
So, when you hear a great Bible teacher who knows much of Scripture like the back of his hand, but is leaving out or misrepresenting fundamental truth, what do you do? Do you let him go on in his ignorance, as if it’s his bliss, or do you actually care enough about his knowledge of Christ, and the teaching of the Word, that you follow this couple’s example? Whenever we find ourselves in a situation such as Priscilla and Aquila did, we ought to make every effort to somehow take our brother aside and explain to him the way of God more accurately.
And I make a direct appeal to my New Covenant theologian brethren. How are you explaining God’s Word more accurately to those who don’t affirm the basic truths of New Covenant Theology? Do you care enough about the holiness of your brethren, and the teaching of the truth, to do everything you can to explain the Way of the new covenant to those who are ignorant, or in error? Please, if at all possible, don’t let people go on in their misunderstandings or ignorance!
Not only was Apollos corrected by the couple, but he responded with humility and thankfulness, rather than with pride and stubbornness. Because of fuller understanding of the gospel, his service was made fuller! The next verse says,
“And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace . . .” (v. 27)
Here, we see that the awkwardness it takes to correct a teacher’s misunderstanding will, by the Lord’s grace, pay off with great fruit. Not only that, but we also see another principle we can apply to our lives as Christians — whenever a gifted teacher wants to reach more people with the gospel, we should encourage him, and also work together as needed with other brethren in order to facilitate his desire. And what was the result with Apollos? He “greatly helped those who had believed through grace”.
How did he do this, partly by becoming more familiar with the gospel of Christ? Luke explains that he helped the believers because,
“. . . he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (v. 28)
May we all be willing to correct teachers who are in error, so that they can more greatly help believers, and make Jesus the Messiah more known in Scripture, in more of His glorious fullness.