by Barry Newton
Wish to be perceived as credible? Advice readily arises from many quarters: Don’t overstate the evidence. Qualify your statements with a tentative aspect. Speak with a mid-western accent. Don’t speak too fast, or too slow. The list goes on and on.
According to most scholars, Jewish religious teachers were regarded as reliable during the first century of this era if they cited previous recognized authorities.
In fact, to depend upon what prior teachers had affirmed was required unless the teacher happened to be an ordained rabbi. Have a question? Expect the answer to be dug up from within a rich and deeply rooted wisdom tradition.
Enter Jesus. “You have heard it was said … but I say unto you ….” This unordained teacher broke their customary religious pedagogical conventions.
Jesus conveyed authority, not just by exercising power, but also through declaring his teaching to be the final word on a subject.
Upon concluding his Sermon on the Mount, “the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law” (Matthew 7:28,29).
Today, careful teachers couch their statements with a degree of tentativeness lest tomorrow’s discoveries invalidate today’s assertions thereby exposing their error. The language of “it seems,” “most likely” and so forth provides a safe retreat to “I spoke with the best information I had available to me at that moment.”
This is precisely how Jesus differs from teachers past and present. While some might pontificate but do so as limited and fallible humans, and while others might rely on either repeating accepted authoritative voices or preserving for themselves the escape hatch of being tentative, Jesus knew the truth.
He knew what was true and will always be true. And so, he spoke.
“I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak just what my Father has taught me” (John 8:28).
“The word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:24).
“My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me” (John 7:16).
Through the voice of Jesus we hear a teacher unlike others. Just how significant is this?
“The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge, the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day” (John 12:48).
While the post-modern chorus of conflicting, affirming and affronting messages continues unabated, there is a voice that stands apart. There is a teacher whose message is worthy of our closest attention.
Hear the word of the Lord.