An interesting passage from Gerhard's Method of Theological Study on the importance of live classroom instruction and the danger of being a self-taught theologian.
But we most especially commend to him [the future theologian] the frequent and diligent hearing of public lectures, and earnestly discourage despising them:
(1) God has promised a special grace, blessing, and the working of the Holy Spirit to godly assemblies instituted in the churches and schools (Ex. 20:24, Matt. 18:20, Heb. 10:25).
(2) The examples of the saints in the Old and New Testaments show that oral instruction has been especially recommended to future ministers of the church. The patriarchs handed down the main points of heavenly teaching to their successors orally, for they had not yet been put into writing. (Luther on Genesis: “The fathers’ sermons were not written in books but in heaven. Hence the time is called “Thohu,” because there was no Law nor books but sermons were delivered orally through the fathers to their posterity.”) After the Law was written, the prophets taught the same things to their students in schools orally, and thus they are called “sons of the prophets.” Elisha was a disciple of Elijah, whom he called into his school and chose him to be successor in the prophetic office (1 Kings 19:20). In the presence of Elisha “dwelt the sons of the prophets in Gilgal” (2 Kings 4:38)—that is, there was a theological school there where the students of the prophets spent their time, and Elisha directed and oversaw their studies. The college of the priests and Levites was nothing else but a theological school where junior Levites were instructed and prepped for the ecclesiastical ministry. In the Babylonian captivity Daniel set up a theological school, lest the knowledge of heavenly doctrine should perish. After the return from captivity in Babylon, Ezra and Nehemiah also raised up schools alongside the reconstruction of the temple. Paul sat at the feet Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). The apostles were taught in Christ’s school. Pantaenus taught in the school of Alexandria and was succeeded by Clement of Alexandria, whose student was Origen. Dionysius of Alexandria was a hearer of Origen, and after him Athenodorus (Eusebius, bk. 5, ch. 9 and bk. 6, ch. 2). Tertullian and Cyprian were in the school at Carthage; at Caesaria, Origen and Gregorius Neocaesariensis; at Antioch, Malchion the Rhetor, who refuted [Paul of] Samosata; in Nicomedia, Lactantius, etc. Therefore, in this way, by perpetual succession in the school of Christ, students who will one day be charged with the ministry of the church have been instructed by teachers orally.
(3) The living voice has greater force [ζώσης φωνῆς μείζων ἐνέργεια]. “Live speech has some kind of hidden force and makes a fuller impact,” says Jerome (Letter ad Paulin.). “The live speech of a teacher has marvelous power.” Scaliger (Exerc. 308): “The voice has greater effect, but reading is mute and when overly extended becomes tiresome. Things heard are more firmly impressed through a sense of discipline, the servants of which are the ears,” etc. For these reasons, things received by hearing stick to one’s memory better and more reliably than things gained from attention to reading.
(4) Autodidacts do not operate with as much dexterity in judgment and speak more irregularly than those instructed by others in schools. They are also more often the ones to cause disturbances in the church.
© Concordia Publishing House. From an upcoming publication of Johann Gerhard, On Interpreting Scripture and Method of Theological Study, Theological Commonplaces I–II.
Used by permission. No additional permission is granted to reprint or distribute this quote.