Vol.XVIII No.X Pg.2
December 1981

A Teaching Suggestion

Robert F. Turner

When asked to teach a class "Interpretation of Epistles," I decided to begin with something non-Biblical, so that preconceptions and commentaries could not destroy an objective study. This idea has had a three-year testing, and has worked well. Maybe some of our readers can use the plan.

I wrote four short letters, signed "Bob" "Bob Jones" "Robert L. Jones" and "Bob and Joyce Jones." One was to a church in Australia; one was advertising a FLOWER MART in Iowa, one to "Dear Jim" in Kansas, and one to the Principal of a Kansas school system. The letters were numbered, but NOT in chronological order; none were dated, but "clues" were worked into their message. (Example: "I suppose you have heard the latest threats from Hitler, and the possibility we may be drawn into this conflict." "Our 'little Robbie' is now sixteen and preaches here every other Sunday night.")

The class was told to study these letters, and (1) arrange them chronologically, giving approximate date of each; (2) analyze details (ten specific questions asked); (3) write brief biography of the writer (Bob Jones); and (4) give citations for Bob's attitude toward School, Church, etc. A Short quiz was then given on this material. This takes two class periods. THEN, the class is told to consider Philemon, and chapter four of the Colossian letter in the same objective manner (as two letters from the same writer) and answer some pointed questions about historic circumstances. Only when we have milked all information possible out of these sources do I give them a more complete rundown on the Life of Paul, other "prison" letters, dates taken from other sources, etc., and we begin to interpret the spiritual message in Philemon. For a quiz, students are asked to begin a short letter, "Dear Phil:" and in their own words ask him to receive Onesimus — using the arguments and tactics of the apostle Paul.

Our next study (Philippians) gets a bit deeper consideration, with detailed attention given its profound thoughts; and then we move into a full half-semester study of Galatians.

The idea is to establish an objective, logical approach to exegesis. We let Paul make his own points — no preaching or running all over the Bible to make them for him. It may come as a surprise to some, but the inspired Apostle does a wonderful job of explaining himself, if we will let him do it, unhampered by our sermon outlines. If we wish to hear what God says we must not do all the talking!