Teaching Hard Texts
A friend and brother of mine messaged me this week to ask if I would cover for a small group Bible study he is teaching through the book of Genesis. I was happy to do it, even before he told me the text, but after he told me what the biblical passage was, I immediately sent him the hardest eye-roll emoji I could find. The text was Genesis 34, which contains a story of a girl getting raped, a bunch of grown men getting circumcised, and then vigilante justice leading to a city-wide massacre. When you’re teaching through hard passages as a Bible teacher, whether that’s in a Sunday School or small group setting, or in a sermon, it can be tempting to think that there’s nothing of note to talk about from the text. I would take the exact opposite view, and say that, in reality, difficult texts, especially narrative texts, give us MORE freedom to cover a wide range of topics and themes, because we aren’t as glued to the specific points that we would be if we were reading through a letter of the New Testament, for example. Below, I’m going to just highlight some things that I did this week when putting this lesson together. If you find the principles helpful, feel free to use them, if not…well.. you get what you pay for. If you scroll down below these 5 points, you'll see that I've posted my actual outline for you to use as an example if you want.
1.) As far as structure, when I’m going through a narrative text, I like to walk through the details of the actual story before taking any “lessons” from it. Sometimes I even do this with didactic texts, because it really helps people to pay attention to the details. It’s also the most FUN part of the lesson or sermon, because it’s the least “preachy” part– the part where you can really connect with the audience as a friend before connecting with them as a teacher.
2.) As an introduction, I didn’t spend a lot of time, but I just set the scene by saying, “this is a hard text; if some of the chapters in Genesis are like a drama, this one is like a thriller or a horror movie.” You could call it a “trigger warning” if you want, but I think it’s especially helpful when jumping into a text that will inevitably be met with confusion and/or other negative emotions.
3.) So, I split my lesson into 3 parts– “What happened,” “The consequences of sin,” and “The gospel’s answer to these problems.” The second part consisted of the “lessons” we can see in the text, which were simply the consequences of sin. I find it helpful to go big picture first and then to move down to specific examples. For example, in this case, I talked about how one of the effects of sin is broken relationships, and then gave examples of the types of relationships that can be broken because of sin (which can literally be any relationship).
4.) The big idea here is that when you’re working with narrative texts, you can use thematic elements which give a lot of room for different types of application.
5.) In the last section, “how the gospel answers these problems,” NONE of my points were from the actual text itself. This is where a lot of new Bible teachers get stuck, because they feel like they have to stick so closely to the passage that they end up making weird allegorical connections. “Just like Dinah was defiled, Satan wants to spiritually defile you.” Yeah, I would not try that one. The easier path is to zoom out and look at the context of the entire Bible, and realize that it’s not a “teaching sin” to do so. Even the New Testament writers constantly refer to parts of the Old Testament to make their points. It’s okay.
Just for reference, this is what the lesson outline looked like. I know everyone is different in this, but personally I like to have minimal notes– just an outline that helps me stay on the right track. If this is helpful to you, email me and let me know. Or if you’re new to Bible teaching, and you need some feedback on an outline, feel free to email me as well, and I would be happy to help.
Genesis 34 Outline
Dinah was raped
The brothers deceived Hamor
The brothers killed the men of the city
Jacob was not happy with them
Lessons we can learn (The Consequences of Sin):
Sin leads to defilement and dishonor
Sin leads to broken relationships
Sin leads to death
Corrupt health establishment (doctors who care more about money than people)
When the gospel comes:
God teaches us to honor one another because we are made in the image of God
The blood of Christ cleanses those of us who have been defiled
Relationships are healed
We can forgive
God changes hearts
God makes us into people who see the value IN and fight FOR life