I’m currently reading the introduction to David A. deSilva’s volume on Galatians in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Eerdmans, 2018). In an excursus on rhetoric and letter-writing in antiquity, he writes, “Speakers must have our trust and confidence if they are to persuade us to do anything; conversely, doubts about credibility prove the quickest and most effective means to undermining a particular speaker’s message” (p. 68).
I have often noted in the past that if a teacher or preacher can’t get the raw facts (characters, locations, basic order of events) of a biblical story correct, then it becomes much more difficult for those hearing the message to accept the speaker’s interpretation and application of that text.
For example, I recently heard a podcast where a preacher summarized a biblical story, but got some significant factual points wrong. He then went on to make a case for a certain doctrine, based on the way he had just (inaccurately) summarized the narrative. It was almost as if he was counting on his listeners not actually knowing the biblical text, and just taking his paraphrase as a true representation of Scripture.
On another podcast, the host was reading a segment from a book that mentioned “Baxter’s Interlinear,” at which point the host commented, “Must be some sort of fancy commentary.” Honestly, if you’re going to be podcasting on theological matters, you should research the meanings of terms you don’t know (or that your audience may not know) during your show preparation, so you can properly explain them, rather than making an off-hand comment that will keep anyone who does know the terms from taking you seriously.
This is the age of smart phones, where people in the congregation can check your facts with a quick search while you’re still speaking. More and more lay people are starting to do deeper study of the Bible and theology, thanks to all the resources now available that allow one to get a decent theological education without investing tens of thousands of dollars and several years of their lives in a seminary degree.
As a pastor, preacher, or teacher: Research well. Know your material. Speak carefully and with precision. Your credibility and influence depend on it.