Tuesday, October 27, 2009


When Jesus’ teachings or actions were questioned by the religious leaders of His day, He always had an answer that they couldn’t refute. Often His answer made reference to their ignorance of Scripture even though they were supposed to be experts in Old Testament Law: High Priests, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. Jesus seemed to delight in pointing out their ignorance of the subject of their studies. We can almost see the smile on His face as He asks His favorite question: “Haven’t you read …?” Six times we read this question or something similar in the gospels, along with other retorts. The following quotes are mostly from Matthew’s gospel. Mark and Luke give some of the same, with variations. The quote from John’s gospel is unique.
  • “Haven’t you read what David did …?” (Matthew 12:3; also Mark 2:25; Luke 6:3).
  • “… or haven’t you read in the Law that …?” (Matthew 12:5).
  • “Haven’t you read that …?” (Matthew 19:4).
  • “Haven’t you ever read that …?” (Matthew 21:16).
  • “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures …?” (Matthew 21:42; also Mark 12:10).
  • “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God!” (Matthew 22:29).
  • “… haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God that …?” (Matthew 22:31; also Mark 12:26).
  • “And you don’t have His word abiding in you …! You search the Scriptures because you suppose that you have eternal life in them …” (John 5:38, 39).

But these guys were theological/biblical experts! Many of them had committed great portions of their Bible (the Old Testament) to memory. They were the PhDs of their day. They had answers for questions that others weren’t even knowledgeable enough to ask. And they looked down on Jesus’ followers as ignorant riff-raff:

“No one of the rulers or of the Pharisees (i.e. us) has believed on Him has he? But this crowd that doesn’t know the law is cursed!” (John 7:48, 49).

The people that Jesus hung around with – fishermen, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes – probably really were ignorant of the Scriptures, but I can’t find one place where we read of Jesus calling them down for their ignorance. What gives?

The question is not about the words of the Bible. I’m sure the Pharisees and Scribes had often read the words Jesus quoted in the questions. (I have too.) But apparently they hadn’t understood them. And they had obviously not seen their relevance to the situations they were in.

When we hear the bizarre statements of TV preachers; when we hear the Bible twisting of religio-political spokesmen, we sometimes have to wonder, “Haven’t they read the Scriptures they quote or the Bible they thump?”

We hear many religious opinions dogmatically pronounced on theological and moral issues, but we hear very little examination of these issues from a biblical viewpoint. It seems almost as if those who speak out on abortion, homosexuality, poverty, war and government have decided that the truth of their position is settled and there is no need to inquire of the Scriptures.

And the question that keeps popping up in my mind is, “Would Jesus hit me with the same rebukes? After all, I have a Master’s Degree in Theology. I’ve read through my Bible many times in the original languages. I’ve taught Bible and Theology in college. I’ve often been the “expert” that others have come to with their questions. Would Jesus say to me, “Haven’t you read …?” Well, I suppose He might. What would I say?

Bill Ball


XLT said...


I'm glad you mentioned these passages... I am in Mark 12:1-12... a parallel to Matt. 21 this week.

I have a hard time asserting that they had "read" the words but not understood them... particularly in vv.10-11.

As with many things in the Gospels, it seems that the key to understanding was recognition of Christ. I read Ps 118 and I can understand how it applies to David... but until Jesus spoke and drew the connection I really can't fault understanding the fulfillment in their own day.

Do you think he was he holding them accountable for bad/incomplete exegesis? Or was his statement meant as a means of transference? Taking something they did know and did understand to illustrate something more that they didn't? In other words, enlightening and humbling them at the same time?

I do agree with your primary point, that people (me??? surely not! :) ) fail to inquire of scripture to further their understanding...and then ferment their error with pride...

Anyway, hope some of that made sense, if not... you know where the delete button is :)

Anyway, clear as mud I'm sure... :)

Bill Ball said...

See my next post!