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    November 18, 1897

    “Unlettered Learning” The Signs of the Times, 23, 45.

    E. J. Waggoner

    “And the Jews marveled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” John 7:15.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.1

    The Greek word here rendered “letters” is the word meaning writings or Scriptures. A learned man, one well acquainted with books, is commonly called “a man of letters,” or a literary man. Now there are many books, but only one that is so prominent as to be sufficiently designated by the term “the Book,” and that is the Bible; for the word “Bible” means simply book. So “the writings,” when used in the Bible without qualification, mean the sacred writings, or the Scriptures. The text above quoted should therefore be rendered, as it is in some versions, “How does this man know the Scriptures, never having learned?”SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.2

    Like John the Baptist, Jesus never studied in the Jewish schools. John “was in the deserts till the day of is showing unto Israel.” Luke 1:80. So Jesus dwelt at Nazareth, subject to his parents, a humble carpenter, until he came prominently before the people at his baptism. Yet no two teachers ever aroused greater interest among the people, or attracted more attention. People flocked to hear them, and hung on their words. The officers of the law said of Jesus, “Never make spake like this man,” and the people were astonished at his teaching; “for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.3

    That Jesus had not studied in the schools of the doctors of the law,—the theological seminaries of that time,—is shown by the questions which the priests and elders put to him as he was teaching in the temple, “By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?” Matthew 21:23. Yet he had wisdom, both in asking and in answering questions, that put to silence all the learned doctors, while his teaching was so simple that “the common people heard him gladly,” because they could understand him; and the ability to put deep things into simple, easily understood language is the mark of the greatest wisdom.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.4

    How did Jesus get this wonderful knowledge?—From the Word of God. All Jewish children were taught the Book of the Law, according to the command of the Lord by Moses: “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Deuteronomy 6:6, 7. Many parents of course did this carelessly, and, especially in later times, mingled with their instruction many idle traditions learned from the doctors; but those children who had faithful parents knew the Holy Scriptures from childhood. With the child Jesus this was no routine task, for he says, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8. The Holy Scriptures, studied in the humble house in Nazareth, and opened to his understanding by the Spirit of God, were the beginning and the sum of all the wisdom that Jesus had.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.5

    As with Jesus himself, so with those whom he chose to accompany him, and to send forth to preach,—they were men in humble station, not having studied in the theological schools. Their learning was derived from the Scriptures.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.6

    The rulers were astonished at the power and knowledge of these humble fishermen preachers, as they had been with Jesus. We are told that when the rulers “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13. The word “ignorant” is unfortunate, as applied to the apostles. “Unlearned” they certainly were, according to the fine standards of the schools; but they were not ignorant. Why then do we have such a statement in the sacred record?—In reality we do not, and the occurrence of the word in our English version is an interesting illustration of the very point we are studying. Thus:—SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.7

    The two words “ignorant men,” in Acts 4:13, are from one Greek word, idiotai, the plural of idiots. The reader will at once recognize in this our common word “idiot,” and will at once conclude that the English rendering is much more mild than the Greek text. But wait a moment. The primary and ordinary meaning of this Greek word is, “a private person,” one of the common people. But as certain public teachers began to style themselves philosophers, and to claim for themselves a monopoly of wisdom, so that a man must have a recommendation from them-a certificate that he had “been through” the prescribed course-before he could have any standing as a scholar, it came about that all who had not such public recognition were considered ignorant. The fact that our translators adopted this secondary use of the Greek word instead of its real meaning, shows how much they were under the influence of the same spirit. The Danish and Norwegian versions have “laymen” in the place of “ignorant men,” and the German has “men of inferior condition.”SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.8

    Here is encouragement, and a lesson. The encouragement is that people in the most humble and despised walks of life may, by devoted study of the Word from a sincere desire that will astonish even the worldly-wise. Deuteronomy 4:5, 6. See also Proverbs 2:1-9.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.9

    The lesson is that in the church of Christ, there are no ranks and degrees-no class distinctions. The church, following in the steps of the schoolmen of heathen times, have made two classes,—clergy and laity,—that is the special, elect class, who have the keys of knowledge, and the people, who are to take what the clergy are pleased to dole out to them. But the Scriptures teach us that all in the primitive, true church were laymen, that is, they were simple, ordinary people, whose only distinction from others was that which the Holy Spirit gave them. Jesus, himself an ordinary laborer, chose fishermen and sent them forth to preach, and because they were thus sent forth they are called apostles. But they were laymen, and such they would be called to-day, if they were alive and in England or America. That those who teach the Word should form a special class, distinguished from other people by title, dress, etc., was not only not contemplated by the Lord, but was directly opposed.SITI November 18, 1897, page 2.10

    It is true that “there are diversities of gifts,” and all men have not the same work, yet all in the church are brethren, and the greatest among them is he who does the most service. Let, therefore, no one be puffed up in his own mind with the thought that as a preacher he is above others in the church, and let no one be discouraged because his state is lowly. It was Tyndale’s declaration that he would “make the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the pope does.” That possibility is now before every plowboy, and he who truly improves it, although his name be unknown outside of his neighborhood, has a place in the church infinitely higher than that of pope. E. J. W.SITI November 18, 1897, page 3.1

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