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12 August 2019

Pursuing God’s ideas. Not our own.

John 7.14-18.

After Jesus decided he was in fact going to Jerusalem for Shavuot, he went privately, (KJV “as it were in secret”) Jn 7.9 and at first people weren’t sure he was there. Till he started teaching in temple.

I need to remind you synagogues, at this point in history, weren’t Jewish churches: They were Pharisee schools. They were created and run by Pharisees, to ensure future generations knew the Law and followed it. Specifically, followed it the way Pharisees interpreted; Jesus has his own interpretations. Hence they butted heads.

There were also prejudices among Judean Pharisees about the quality of education you’d find among Galilean Pharisees. So when the Judeans listened to Jesus, they immediately realized here was a guy who knew as much as any of their scribes. (Knows way more, actually. But they wouldn’t always admit this.) Thing is, Jesus grew up in the Galilee. Went to Galilean synagogues, not Judean synagogues. Never attended their schools. Therefore he must surely be “uneducated”—a presumption they’d later make about Jesus’s students. Ac 4.13

John 7.14-15 KWL
14 During the middle the Shavuot festival, Jesus went up to temple and taught.
15 So the Judeans were in awe, saying, “How does this unstudied man know what scribes know?”

Unfortunately, various anti-intellectual Christians make the same presumption about Jesus and his students: “These were uneducated, illiterate men!” and use this to justify their lack of education. Illiterate men? These guys wrote the New Testament, and no they didn’t just hire secretaries to make up for their inability to read: Synagogue taught you to read. You had to read, if you were read the Law and follow it. Jesus can read; Lk 4.16 and what kind of sucky teacher would he be if his students couldn’t likewise read?

Rants about ignorance aside, Jesus was educated enough to engage Pharisees on their level. Even quote their own rabbis back at them. Mk 7.11 But the reason he teaches better stuff than they, more godly stuff than they, is because he knows his Father… and they didn’t. Claimed to, but didn’t.

John 7.16-18 KWL
16 So in reply Jesus said, “My teaching isn’t mine, but from God who sent me.
17 When anyone wants to do his will, they’ll know if the teaching’s from God, or from my own speaking.
18 Those who speak for themselves seek their own opinion.
Those who seek the opinion of God who sent them, are truthful. There’s no wrongness in them.”

See, Jesus teaches the scriptures and the Law correctly because he cares about what God thinks of it. (And yeah, since he’s God, it’s also what he thinks of it. But that wasn’t what the Judeans needed to hear at that time.) He seeks his Father’s opinion on the matter. The Pharisees only sought their own opinions.

Like many people, Christians included, they were self-promoting: They wanted to be recognized for their own wisdom and insight, and be lauded as great teachers. And if you wanna stand out, you gotta be different. Not necessarily in a good way. It’s always easier to be weird for weirdness’s sake, to pitch novel ideas for novelty’s sake, to claim “I’m just trying to be thought provoking” when really we’re just throwing intellectual grenades.

Many bibles translate δόξαν/dóxan, “opinion,” as “glory”—

John 7.18 ESV
“The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”

—and yeah, there’s some overlap in the ideas. When you’re promoting your own opinions, it’s usually to get a little glory for yourself as a wise person. Problem is, we’re wrong. And when we teach our own ideas instead of God’s, we’re gonna teach wrongness. Not necessarily lies. Some of us, like politicians, lie to promote political allies or selfish agendas; the rest are unwittingly wrong, and spreading falsehoods because we never bother to fact-check ourselves. But in general we just promote wrong ideas, which is why I don’t care for the ESV’s “falsehood” as an interpretation of ἀδικία/adikía, “not right” (KJV “unrighteousness”). It’s not mere falseness. We’re wrong.

So why’s Jesus the best teacher ever? Because he seeks his Father. And, he points out, everyone else who truly and selflessly seeks our Father who sent us, gets it right.

Teaching in temple.

Y’might notice this is the first time John shows Jesus teaching in temple. (Unless we count when he whipped the merchants out of there, and told ’em to knock the temple down.) From Luke, we know he taught there before, as a 12-year-old prodigy. Otherwise the other gospels don’t depict him there till Holy Week.

Ancient Jews taught very differently than we do now. The teacher stated something, then students were invited to challenge these statements; to question the teacher Socratically. (Yes, they knew who Socrates was. He predated Jesus by three centuries.) Teachers could respond with questions, but for the most part questions came from the students. Note when Nicodemus met with Jesus, Nicodemus was the one with all the questions. But questioning the teacher was how you found out if they were any good, or if their ideas had any substance to them. Teachers who couldn’t defend their ideas were quickly exposed, and driven away as heretics.

When Jesus taught in the Galilee, it was usually in synagogue. Sometimes on top of hills, to massive audiences who couldn’t possibly fit in a synagogue; sometimes in public places, though such talks were usually with the students who followed him everywhere. But in Jerusalem, he teaches in temple. Not in synagogue. Why’s this?

Whenever a visiting teacher went to synagogue, Pharisee custom was to make him the first lecturer. (Paul used this to his advantage when he traveled the Roman Empire.) But if the Jerusalem Pharisees didn’t recognize Jesus as a proper teacher—he never studied at any of their schools!—they’d never let him teach. So it’s possible he did visit a Judean synagogue, but they never gave him the chance to speak. Or he didn’t bother, knowing the environment was hostile.

So in John, which focuses the thrice-a-year trips Jesus made to Jerusalem which the other gospels skipped, Jesus doesn’t teach in synagogue. He teaches in homes, in marketplaces, in fields, and in temple. Not in school. ’Cause to the Judeans, he was μὴ μεμαθηκώς/mi memathikós, “not learned.”

That is, till they heard him. This story presents probably the first time they ever heard him teach. ’Cause their response was, πῶς οὗτος γράμματα οἶδεν;/pos útos grámmata oíden? “This [person] knows letters how?” Scribes “knew their letters”—they knew huge bible passages by memory, in the original Hebrew. Plus they’d have an education in rhetoric, logic, ancient literature, math, and so forth. They were the best-educated people of their day. And Jesus’s teaching revealed somehow or other, this man had an academy-level education. But he hadn’t gone to their academies, and they had no respect for any academies outside Judea. It’s like a Stanford grad dismissing someone who took University of Phoenix classes: “He’s unlearned.” As far as they knew, he wasn’t. Couldn’t have been.

But, as demonstrated by Jesus’s knowledge as a 12-year-old, he’d been studying under the Father ever since he was a child.

“My teaching isn’t mine.” Can we say likewise?

Throughout the gospels, Jesus teaches on his own authority. “You heard this said… and I tell you this.” Mt 5.27-28, etc. He didn’t quote Pharisee rabbis; he said so. It rubbed some Pharisees the wrong way, because they were trained to always refer to their tradition. Jesus leapfrogged them to get at the original purpose of the Law, not what 40-year-old customs claimed it meant. Which really bugged the defenders of those 40-year-old customs.

But Jesus’s authority always comes with the Father attached. He doesn’t “tell you this” just because he says so: It’s because the Father says so. He’s here because the Father sent him, and he’s authoritative because the Father taught him. He’s infallible because the Father’s infallible. Jesus only teaches what the Father gave him.

Now, how do we know the Father truly sent him? Many Christians claim, “We know it by faith!”—by which they mean we believe really hard Jesus is true, and that’s how we “know.” But that’s not how faith works. Faith isn’t just believing really hard, or agreeing vigorously. Faith is based on proof. You prove Jesus is valid by following him, noting the results, then trusting him further and following him further… and so on, as faith grows.

Jesus doesn’t say, “When anyone wants to do God’s will, they’ll just believe me really hard.” He says we’ll already know it’s legitimately from God. It won’t just be something we hope is true. It’ll be something we recognize, because we’ve already been pursing God all this time. The Holy Spirit confirms the truth for us. He’ll even teach it again. Jn 16.13-15 And again and again and again… till it sinks in.

Once we recognize what Jesus teaches, we gotta act upon it. Try it out. Do as he says. This takes faith. Problem is, we have too many Christians with no faith, or fake faith, who aren’t pursuing God, don’t know what Jesus teaches, and are too fascinated by feel-good ideas to know the difference. Or value their own favorite ideas more.

Those who pursue God know Jesus is legit. Those who invent their own ideas, occasionally aren’t so sure about Jesus. Or try to warp his teachings to match their own, and claim Jesus teaches what they do. Or project themselves upon him, and claim they know what he’d think, when really it’s what they’d think.

Jesus describes these folks as seeking their own opinion. Not God’s. They want the honor which people accord brilliant teachers. Or they’re in love with their own ideas—even if no one else agrees with them; they’re just as happy without honor, because they’re so sure they’re right. Sometimes because they believe “one day history will vindicate me!” Mostly they love their ideas because these ideas are their intellectual children: They’re theirs, no matter how premature, misshapen, or warped they may be.

I get a lot of bright ideas myself. But I try to point out the difference between my own theories and Jesus’s teachings, or stuff that’s in the bible. Jesus is reliable and infallible; me not so much. I try, but I’m not perfect; God is. And those times I defer to God—whenever I quote him, whenever I get myself out of his way and express what he expresses—at those times, I’m just as right as he is. Maybe I’m like the broken clock which is right twice a day, but when I choose to stick with God, I can certainly be right more often. And Jesus’s teachings are gonna resonate with us, because we’ve adjusted our notes to God’s tuning fork—and Jesus has perfect pitch.

So the goal is to do as Jesus did. Get ourselves out of God’s way as much as possible, and let his light shine clean through. Stick to his ideas. Speak his words. Be Jesus to our dark world. Like Jesus, pursue only the opinions of he who sent us. Those who seek God will know where Jesus’s teachings came from… ’cause we teach them too.

Christ Almighty!