Today I want to conclude our discussion on the scriptural basis for Christian catechesis. Last time we reviewed what the Old Testament scriptures had to say about catechesis. In this post we’ll survey what the New Testament has to say to us about Christian instruction.
When we turn to the New Testament we find the Greek verb katēcheō, from which our term catechesis is derived, occurs eight times, half of which are found in Luke’s writings. The first occurs in Luke 1:4 and refers to what Theophilus has “been taught” concerning the life and death of Jesus Christ. Luke desires for him to have “certainty” with regards to the gospel story. The rest of Luke’s Gospel records for Theophilus (and us) what is necessary for coming to “certainty” regarding the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In Acts 18:25 the participial form of the verb is used with regards to what Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord.” Once again, what is taught concerns the gospel of Jesus Christ. It would also seem that these two occurrences of the term refer to some sort of formal training and instruction in the faith. The next two occurrences (Acts 21:21, 24) both refer to what Paul has taught in a general sense. In this instance, it refers to false rumors that have been spread concerning Paul’s teaching about how Jewish Christians are to regard the Mosaic Law. The term is also used in this general sense in Romans 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 14:19. The katēcheō word group appears two more times, both in Galatians 6:6. In this passage we once again come to a more technical or formal use of the word. The passage reads, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” Here, Paul specifically refers to instructors in God’s Word being compensated for their efforts. But what we also have here is an expression of the catechetical relationship between teacher and student. The teacher is to instruct the learner in Scripture. While parents are primarily responsible for teaching the faith to their own children, others, pastors especially (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2), are given the charge to teach God’s Word to others so that they might be instructed in the faith.
Apart from the use of the katēcheō word group, there are several other instances in which someone is encouraged to teach or pass on to others sound doctrine or apostolic tradition. It was customary for the early church to gather together to “[devote] themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). The “apostles’ teaching” was none other than what they had received from Christ himself. This then was passed on to others, like the apostle Paul, who in turn delivered this teaching to still other Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23; 15:3–5). Not only are Christians to give themselves to the study of God’s Word, but they are also to obey it (Acts 6:7) and live in accordance with it (2 John 9). Those who fail to continue in the faith, acknowledging it with right doctrine (orthodoxy) and right living (orthopraxy), show themselves to be outside of the new covenant community (2 John 9).
Finally, there are the words of the Lord Jesus himself who charges his church to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20, emphasis mine). While parents are charged in particular to instruct their children in the faith and pastors (elders) are commanded to teach sound doctrine to God’s people, Jesus’ words at the close of Matthew’s Gospel make it crystal clear that all Christians are called to make more disciples of Jesus and this they are to do in part by teaching them to obey everything Jesus commands.