And the Jews marveled, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)How knoweth this man letters?—Their spirit is seen in that at which they marvel. It is not the substance of His teaching that excites their attention, but the fact that He who has never been technically trained as a Rabbi is acquainted with the literature of the schools. (See Acts 26:24, “much learning,” where “learning” represents the word here rendered “letters.”) He is to them as a layman and unlearned (comp. Note on Acts 4:13), not known in the circles of the professional expounders—a demagogue, who deceived the multitude; and they hear Him speaking with a learning and wisdom that excites their wonder, and unlocking mysteries of which they thought that they only possessed the key.
Having never learned - The Jews taught their law and tradition in celebrated schools. As Jesus had not been instructed in those schools, they were amazed at his learning. What early human teaching the Saviour had we have no means of ascertaining, further than that it was customary for the Jews to teach their children to read the Scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:15; "from a child thou (Timothy) hast known the holy scriptures."
having never learned—at any rabbinical school, as Paul under Gamaliel. These rulers knew well enough that He had not studied under any human teacher—an important admission against ancient and modern attempts to trace our Lord's wisdom to human sources [Meyer]. Probably His teaching on this occasion was expository, manifesting that unrivalled faculty and depth which in the Sermon on the Mount had excited the astonishment of all.
saying, how knoweth this man letters? or "the Scriptures", as the Arabic and Persic versions render it; which are called "holy letters", 2 Timothy 3:15; according to which, the sense is, that they were surprised at his knowledge of the Scriptures, that he should be conversant with them, and be able to interpret them, and give the sense and meaning of them, in so full and clear a manner, as he did: or else the sense is, how came this man to be such a learned man? whence has he this wisdom, and all this learning which he shows? as in Matthew 13:54. So a learned man is in Isaiah 29:11, said to be one that , , "knows letters", as the Septuagint there translate the Hebrew text; but how Christ should know them, or be a learned man,
having never learned, was surprising to them: that is, he had not had a liberal education, but was brought up to a trade; he was not trained up at the feet of any of their Rabbins, in any of their universities, or schools of learning; and in which they were certainly right. Modern Jews pretend to say he had a master, whom they sometimes call Elchanan (o), but most commonly they make him to be R. Joshua ben Perachiah (p): with whom they say, he fled into Alexandria in Egypt, for fear of Jannai the king: and one of their writers (q), on this account, charges the evangelist with a falsehood: but who are we to believe, the Jews who lived at the same time with Jesus, and knew his education and manner of life, or those that have lived ages since?And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)John 7:15. Οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι] as in John 7:11; John 7:18. The teaching of Jesus produces a feeling of astonishment even in the hierarchy; but how? Not through the power of His truth, but because He is learned without having studied. And with a question upon this point, they engage in conversation with Him, without touching upon what He had taught. The admission, indeed, which is contained in their question, and that, too, face to face with the people, is only to be explained from the real impression produced upon their learned conceit, so that they ask not in the spirit of shrewd calculation, but from actual amazement.
γράμματα] not the O. T. Scriptures (Luther, Grotius, and many), but literas, (theological) knowledge, which, however, consisted in scriptural erudition. Jesus had doubtless exhibited this knowledge in His discourse by His interpretations of Scripture. Comp. Acts 26:24; Plato, Apol. p. 26 D: οἴει αὐτοὺς ἀπείρους γραμμάτων εἶναι, and the citations in Wetstein. Upon διδάσκειν γράμματα, used of teachers, see Dissen, ad Dem. de cor. p. 299.
μὴ μεμαθ.] though he has not learned them (Buttmann, N. T. Gk. p. 301 [E. T. p. 350 f.]), perhaps in a Rabbinical school as Paul did from Gamaliel. The members of the Sanhedrim do not thus speak in conformity with the author’s representation of the Logos (Scholten); they know, doubtless, from information obtained concerning the course of His life, that Jesus had not studied; He was reckoned by them among the ἀγράμματοι and ἰδιῶται, Acts 4:13. This tells powerfully against all attempts, ancient and modern, to trace back the wisdom of Jesus to some school of human culture. Well says Bengel: “non usus erat schola; character Messiae.” This autodidactic character does not necessarily exclude the supposition that during His childhood and youth He made use of the ordinary popular, and in particular of the synagogal instruction (Luke 2:45). Comp. Schleiermacher, L. J. p. 120 f., and in particular Keim, Gesch. J. I. p. 427 ff.15. And the Jews marvelled] According to the best MSS., The Jews therefore marvelled. ‘Therefore’ should also be inserted in John 7:16; Jesus therefore answered them. S. John’s extreme fondness for this particle in narrative is worth keeping in view.
How knoweth this man letters] Or, this fellow, as in John 6:42. Their question is so eminently characteristic, that it is very unlikely that a Greek writer of the second century would have been able to invent it for them; he would probably have made them too cautious to commit themselves to any expression of astonishment about Him. The substance of His doctrine excites no emotion in them, but they are astounded that He should possess learning without having got it according to ordinary routine. He had never attended the schools of the Rabbis, and yet His interpretations of Scripture shewed a large amount of biblical and other knowledge. That does excite them. In Acts 26:24, ‘much learning doth make thee mad,’ the word there translated ‘learning’ is the same as the one here translated ‘letters.’John 7:15. Γράμματα, letters) i.e. [literary] studies. For He was teaching, John 7:14.—μὴ μεμαθηκώς, without having learned) He had had no occasion for a school. It was the very characteristic of the Messiah.
 To teach and preach, without human “learning,” as the anointed Prophet—E. and T.Verse 15. - The Jews therefore marvelled, saying, etc. "The Jews," as elsewhere, mean the ruling and learned class, the men of power and weight in the metropolis, who must have heard his teaching. The immediate effect of the appearance and words was great astonishment. In spite of themselves, they are moved by the command he manifested over all the springs of thought and feeling. The point of their astonishment is, not that he is wise and true, but that he could teach without having been taught in their schools. How doth this man know letters? (not the "Holy Scriptures," ἱερα γράμματα, nor πάσας γραφάς, but simply γράμματα, literature, such as we teach it; cf. Acts 26:24). He can interpret our oracles; he is acquainted with the methods of teaching, though he has not learned - has never sat in any of our schools. Saul of Tarsus was brought up at the feet of Gomaliel. And ordinarily a man was compelled to undergo a lengthened noviciate in the schools before he was allowed to assume the office of a teacher. The inherited wisdom of the past is in the great majority of cases the basis of the most conspicuous teaching of the most original and unique of the great sages. The "Jews" were sufficiently acquainted with the origin and training of Jesus to be astonished at his knowledge of the interpretations of Scripture and other wisdom. "This tells powerfully against all attempts, ancient and modern, to trace back the wisdom of Jesus to some school of human culture" (Meyer). The attempts to establish a connection between the teaching of Christ and the hidden wisdom of the Zendavesta, or esoteric utterances of Buddha, or even the traditionary teaching of the Essenes, or the Platonizing schools of Alexandria or Ephesus, have failed. The mystery of his training as a man in the village of Nazareth is one of the evidences given to the world that there was an unknown element in his consciousness. He had not even the advantage of the schools of Hillel or Gamaliel. His own wondrous soul, by much pondering on the genuine significance of the Scriptures, is the only explanation to which even his enemies can appeal. Jesus knew the meaning, heard the murmuring of their surprise on this head, and so we read -
See on John 5:47.
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