Jesus was not a Bible teacher

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“In many religions, authority is based in a sacred book or Scripture, and often, by extension, to those who are deemed most knowledgeable or equipped to interpret and understand them. Jesus’s religious tradition, Judaism, was very much a religion anchored in a sacred text, the Torah and the rabbinic commentaries.

But Jesus was a sage and story-teller, and typically did not take his point of departure from texts of Scripture. In his core sayings and parables, the Scriptures are conspicuously missing.

The province where Jesus spent most of his public life and drew most of his support was in Galilee. This was a region noted for its more cavalier or indifferent attitude toward the religious traditions of Judaism. The crowd who followed Jesus, for instance, was declared to be under a curse because they were ignorant of the Torah or Holy Scripture. Yet there is no evidence that Jesus took on the role of a Bible teacher to remedy their Scriptural deficiency. In fact, the only people he chided for their ignorance and misuse of Scripture were the orthodox elite.

Neither did Jesus write anything, or instruct his apostles to record what he said or did. It was not Jesus who commissioned the writing of the New Testament. Instead, Jesus confronted the religious elite, finding them guilty of what amounted to Bibliolatry – the glorification of a scared writing. Jesus said to these religious leaders, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus was continually challenged, “By what authority do you say this or do that.” He never answered by appealing to the authority of the Bible. He laid no claim to a vision from any kind of special revelation. In fact, what makes Jesus immeasurably greater than any religious guru is precisely the fact that he spoke and acted without authority and that he regarded “the exercise of authority” as a pagan characteristic.

Jesus’s perception and teaching of the truth was direct and unmediated. He did not even lay claim to the authority of a prophet. Unlike the prophets he did not appeal to a special prophetic calling or to a vision in order to legitimize his words. Jesus never used the classical prophetic introduction, ‘God says…’ What gave weight to the words of Jesus were the words themselves. Jesus was unique among the men of his time in his ability to overcome all forms of authority-thinking. The only authority which Jesus might be said to have appealed to was the authority of the Truth itself.”

– Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the Edge

Latest Comments

  1. Tim King says:

    Some extremely challenging and thought-provoking ideas here.

    I’m not sure the first-century religious culture was really as simple as this. But I’ll have to think about it some more.

    -TimK

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