I didn’t attend a Christian university or a Bible college. I don’t have a Masters of Theology or any kind of seminary training. I don’t even have a Bachelor’s degree. I completed about sixty credit hours at the community college in my hometown, and those classes were nearly all music related.
After two years of the first five of a Bachelor’s of Music, Lindsay happened along, and I halted my studies to work full-time as a secretary, lead a worship ministry, and take gigs whenever I could. I haven’t regretted not completing my degree, because I’d been fairly prepared for what I wanted to do, with over a decade of musical training: piano lessons, leading bands, assisting with choir in high school and college, directing music for community shows, etc.
What’s more, I’ve always enjoyed reading and studying, so I’ve grown quite familiar with Scripture, the particular accounts of men and women of faith, the trees, and the whole of the story of God, the forest. But there are aspects of the Bible and church history that I don’t know as well as I’d like, so I’m considering returning to school for a seminary degree. A friend of mine observed that it would be a good fit for me because of my desire for knowledge. We’ll see if it works out.
As a worship pastor, I’ve been presented with few opportunities to preach. I’m not expected to teach a Sunday-school like class or even lead a small group. Despite not being expected to teach, I have loved studying Scripture. I’ve amassed a good collection of books and commentaries as downloads within my Bible software. Many Bible translations, Greek and Hebrew word studies, dictionaries, and all kinds of other helps are at my disposal with the click of a mouse.
Riddles and Ambiguities
Therefore, I have to remind myself that the people Jesus spoke to did not have the biblical education — if you can call it that — I’ve had. They didn’t have a chain of references to verify what Jesus said to them. And he didn’t exactly do them any favors by speaking in riddles and ambiguities.
In chapter 7 of John, many of the Jews gathered for a festival are talking about Jesus. He is a good man, some said, while others said Jesus was leading people astray.
In the middle of the feast, Jesus shows up, and the people are astonished at his teaching. Jesus hadn’t studied formally with any rabbi, yet his teaching is profound. The people were also wondering why Jesus was even at the feast:
Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” –John 7:25-27 ESV
It would seem Jerusalem contained some conspiracy theorists, those who thought the religious authorities were attempting to cover up that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. But surely he couldn’t be, because they knew he was from Galilee. The fact that they knew where he was from negated any idea that Jesus could be the Messiah.
But didn’t they know the prophets? Didn’t they have a commentary they could refer to? Didn’t they know the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David? Well, some did (see verse 42). But they’d assumed Jesus had been born in Galilee. They didn’t know that Bethlehem was merely a stop on Mary and Joseph’s journey.
The 4 Biographies
There was so much confusion concerning Jesus, which is why the four gospel writers, inspired by God’s Spirit, wrote about who he was. Matthew gave firsthand evidence with other collected facts, as did John. It’s believed that Mark received his information from Peter. Luke investigated Jesus journalistically and followed up his detailed gospel with an account of the early church (Acts).
We have Paul’s letters and Peter’s and John’s, as well as James’, all commentaries on the truth of Jesus. But the people Jesus spoke to didn’t have the New Testament, and most relied on the religious teachers for understanding the Law and the Prophets. They didn’t have a “shelf” full of books like I do on my computer. So I don’t deride them like I used to because they didn’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
But in our day there is so much we can learn about Jesus and the early church and the whole of Scripture. We have a wellspring of knowledge in our dual testaments. The people weren’t aware like we are that the hopes and fears of all the years were met in that town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born but not raised.