I Am Just a Scribe
Many consider Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" to be the hallmark of Christianity. As part of Christ's teaching on the kingdom (Matthew 4:17, 23, 25-5:2), He sets forth the unique characteristics of Christians, which set them apart from the world and other world religions. After concluding His great sermon, Matthew records:
"And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." (Matthew 7:28-29)
How did Jesus speak differently than the scribes? What made His speech so special (John 7:30-46)?
"One Having Authority"
One might quickly guess that Jesus had a special air of confidence, maybe an aura of charisma and leadership that drew people to Him. We might guess that He had the look and mannerisms of a leader and King, because after all, He was the King of kings (I Timothy 6:14-16; Revelation 17:14). Although the gospels never describe these characteristics, negatively or positively, Isaiah did foretell a little about His appearance:
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53:2)
"He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth." (Isaiah 42:2-3)
Although the modern man might imagine Jesus exuding power, if He did radiate observable power, it was not the kind seen by carnal men. Instead, He personified humility, meekness, and gentleness in all that He said and did. Although He spoke boldly when necessary, He was also gentle to the weak (Matthew 23:1-39; John 8:1-11; Luke 7:36-50). Consequently, we know it was not a commanding, charismatic presence that drew people to Him. It was something greater than that.
Incidentally, one of Jesus' disciples, Paul made special note to the Corinthians that he similarly spoke to them "not with persuasive words of human wisdom" (I Corinthians 2:1-6). The same principle is demonstrated in both cases, indicating that God and the natural man do not share a common appreciation of what a good speaker is.
If we look closely at our original text, we will find our answer. It says that the people were astonished, because He spoke to them as if He had authority, unlike the scribes.
How Would a Scribe Teach?
Scribes were men who had dedicated their lives to copying and recopying the sacred Jewish writings. In addition to making handwritten copies of the Old Testament, some of them also copied respected traditions and commentaries authored by uninspired men. Scribes were diligent in accurately performing this tedious and serious task. From history we know that they had determined many checkpoints to ensure their accuracy, such as verifying the number of words, middle letter, and middle word of each book. If a copy did pass all the checkpoints, then they would burn the copy and start again.
Because of their close study of the law, they naturally became experts, able to quote many passages. However, a scribe was still just a man. He was not inspired like the prophets. Nor was he a inspired lawgiver, like Moses. His authority resided in the text that he quoted. If he could not show his point from Scripture, then his words were empty. He was limited to answering questions by, "It is written ...", or "In the Scriptures we read ...". He had not been given authority to say otherwise.
So, How Did Jesus Teach?
Although Jesus frequently answered questions by quoting Old Testament Scripture (Matthew 4:4-10, 22:23-33), He also said words that a scribe would dare not say:
"You have heard that it was said ... But I say to you ..." (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 43-44)
"Because I said so" is frequently offered by parents as a sufficient answer to their children. Similarly, Jesus repeatedly offered answers and issued commands that were to be respected only because He said so. Such authority over the creation only resides in the Creator and ultimate Lawgiver, Himself. Even inspired prophets limited themselves to saying, "The Lord said to me ...", or "The Lord says ..." (Deuteronomy 1:42; Isaiah 18:4; Jeremiah 1:7, etc.). None would say, "But, I say unto you ...". Although Moses sat in the place of lawgiver, even He learned not to speak presumptuously, asserting authority that was not his (Numbers 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 32:48-52). Clearly, Jesus was the prophet Who spoke to the people about all things (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; John 1:19-21; 1:17). He spoke with such authority, because He had been given such authority (Hebrews 1:2; Matthew 17:1-5).
Who am I?
Although many practical lessons could be gained from this study, please consider the question, "Who am I?" Obviously, you and I do not enjoy the place and authority that Jesus was given. No, we are like the scribes. We do not have the authority of inspiration. Instead, we are restricted to quoting and pointing to Scripture. Within it lies God's power to reveal the gospel unto salvation (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 3:3-5; II Timothy 3:16-17 ). Consequently, you and I cannot answer peoples' questions with, "The answer is ...", "My church says ...", "My preacher says ...", "My conscience suggests ...", or "I think ...", because those things have no authority from God. Like the scribes, we can only say, " The Scriptures say ...", or "It is written ...". Other people may presume additional authority, and speak where God has not spoken (I Peter 4:11), but as for me, I'm just a scribe.
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