John 7:14-16 “Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, ‘How did this man get such learning without having studied?’ Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.’”
The question of the Jewish leaders does not mean that Jesus was illiterate. Like most Jewish boys of his time, he had likely attended the synagogue school and learned how to read.
But Jesus never studied in one of the rabbinical schools of his time. These were something like our seminaries. You may remember that the Apostle Paul had studied in the school of the well-known rabbi Gamaliel. But Jesus had no college level degree in theology. He was a tradesman, a carpenter by training, who had a brilliant grasp of the Scriptures. His teaching did not come from what he had learned in some theological school.
Likewise, the test of true teachers of God’s word is not about the school they attended or the number of degrees they have earned. These may not be bad things. We don’t want ignorant or lazy preachers and teachers, men who have not worked at learning Scripture and prepared themselves for serving God’s people. Continuing study is a healthy thing for one’s ministry. But theology degrees from prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and others do not necessarily make a better teacher of God’s word. Many things that could be learned from these schools would be serious problems today. In spiritual things, academia often produces a skepticism that gets in the way of knowing God’s word.
Jesus himself once prayed, “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Paul made this observation to the Corinthians, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21). In testing a teacher’s teachings, the right answer to the question, “Where does it come from?” is not, “From some respected school.”
Where, then? “Jesus answered, ‘My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.’” With these words Jesus does not deny that he agreed with his own teaching, believed it, and claimed it for himself. He is talking about the source. His teachings were not new teachings. He did not make them up independently during his earthly ministry. Truth is never something new, though it may be forgotten and rediscovered. Truth has a long history behind it. In fact, truth is eternal.
We live in an age that idolizes the new and the trendy. Christians also suffer from this disease. When people make some preacher or teacher popular, because, “Here’s something we haven’t heard before,” we can be too quick to jump on the bandwagon. Has he dusted off some Biblical teaching that has been neglected for too long? Then feel free to follow. But is his teaching some creative new idea spun out of his own imagination? What did God say to Jeremiah about the prophets who “dream their own dreams”? “The product of his own creative genius” is the wrong answer to “Where does his teaching come from?”
Instead, it needs to come “from him who sent me.” Jesus was a true teacher because his teachings agreed with those of his heavenly Father, the one who created the world, the God of the Patriarchs, and Moses, and the Prophets. Jesus’ claim that his teachings come from the one who sent him was not a claim that defied contradiction because there was no way to investigate it. Everyone present knew the way to check it out: compare Jesus’ teaching with the Scriptures. When testing to see if someone is a true teacher, “From God through his Holy Scriptures” is the best answer to the question, “Where does his teaching come from?”