John 7:14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
When Jesus finally appears at the Festival of Tabernacles, he begins to teach in the temple courts. This provokes the Jews there to wonder. “How did this man get such learning without proper teaching– without having been formally trained?” They seem to be saying that Jesus’ teaching is unlike anything they hear from the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. It does not depend on the traditions and customs of the Elders– it seems unique, and yet authoritative (cf Mark 1:27).
The root word μανθάνω (manthanō) that the crowd uses is about the training process to become a religious teacher. The question reveals much about discipleship because the word has the same linguistic root as the word “disciple”. The term appears 25 times in the New Testament. Wider usage shows that it means; to learn, or be taught, (Mt. 9:13; 11:29; 24:32); to learn by practice or experience, acquire a custom or habit, (Phil. 4:11; 1 Tim. 5:4, 13); to ascertain, be informed, (Acts 23:27); or to understand, comprehend, (Rev. 14:3). Hence, it refers to the process of learning in a disciplined and structured way.
Many people had ‘disciples’ in Jesus’ day: the Pharisees, John the Baptist, itinerant Greek philosophers and so on. These disciples were all learners— but not learners of a curriculum (facts, figures, data, systems of thought). Instead, they were learners of a person. To become like the mentor/master was the goal of the disciple.
So the crowd is asking about the discipleship/training process that Jesus must have been through to teach as he does. This opens up the question of Jesus’ origins. Who trained him? How did that happen? Where is this all coming from? Origins.
As an aside we might ask, ‘Who is discipling us?’ Perhaps we have Pastors, Mentors, Teachers, Group Leaders or godly examples whom we follow as they seek to help us on our Christian journey. If we engage in some process of discipleship– whether formally or informally– we are blessed indeed. The thing to keep in mind is that the basic stance of a disciple is that of a learner and our ‘curriculum’ is Jesus. We are his disciples– not those of our Pastors, Mentors and Leaders. Like a traditional apprentice, we want to become like our Master in every way.
Lord, your apostle Paul called the Corinthians to ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1). Grant that I may so ‘learn Jesus’ that my example might be a true guide to other fellow travellers. Amen.