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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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LETTERS.—The word γράμματα (John 7:15) may be intended to indicate literature in general, as it might do in Acts 26:24. But to the ordinary Jew γρ. were practically constituted exclusively by the Sacred Scriptures, certain esteemed Apocryphal books, and the Rabbinical commentaries upon them. The surprise of the question recorded in the reference suggests consideration of the amount of human learning Jesus possessed.

With the rudiments of the Law every Jew was made thoroughly and intimately conversant from his earliest intelligent years (see Education). The education of the Jewish child had the primary purpose of enabling him to read the passages which it was essential for him to know for the proper discharge of his religious duties. Beyond this elementary knowledge comparatively few carried their studies. It was, indeed, the ideal of Judaism that every Israelite should have a professional acquaintance with the Law in its details. But only a small fraction attended the schools of the scribes at which advanced instruction was given in its more recondite matters and the commentaries upon them contained in the Midrash and other Rabbinic books. It would seem from the surprise-expressed in this question that Jesus had not prosecuted such studies, at least in the recognized schools, whether from disinclination or from poverty which prevented Him from paying the fees exacted in spite of the understanding that such instruction should be gratuitous. There are convincing indications, however, that Jesus was to some extent familiar with the literature studied in the schools, both from His direct reference to passages contained in it, and from striking parallelisms in language and thought between various sayings of His and maxims of uncanonical books such as Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon.* [Note: With Matthew 6:7, cf. Sirach 7:14; Matthew 6:14 (Mark 11:26), cf. Sirach 28:2-4; Matthew 6:20, cf. Sirach 29:11; Matthew 7:1-2, cf. Sirach 31:15; Matthew 19:12, cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:14; Matthew 27:43; Matthew 27:55, cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2:16 to Wisdom of Solomon 18:20; Mark 9:44, cf. Sirach 7:17; Luke 11:41, cf. Sirach 3:30; Luke 12:16-20, cf. Sirach 5:1; Sirach 11:18-19; John 17:19, cf. Sirach 36:4.] He is also evidently acquainted with the kind of teaching supplied by the scribes. In the apocryphal Gospel of the Infancy, Jesus is credited with an intimate and astounding acquaintance with ‘learning,’ partly derived from the reading of books. The bestowal of the title ‘Rabbi’ upon Him implies that, though not having studied after the usual manner, He was recognized to possess learning. But He Himself in His reply accepts the implication of the question that His teaching was not derived from any human source, but was the immediate communication from His heavenly Father. See also Learning.

A. Mitchell Hunter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Letters'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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