How did Jesus learn Scripture?


The Gospels present Jesus as one who is familiar with Scripture. Jesus quotes or alludes to references from the Torah, Prophets and the Writings. The content of the Jewish Old Testament in Jesus’ day was previously uncertain due to the acceptance of the “three-stage canonisation” theory.  However, the three-stage canonisation has been widely critiqued and effectively demolished (1). Now, it is widely believed that Jesus may have used the Jewish Old Testament Scriptures ( in fact, the same Christian Old Testament we read today). Moreover, the discovery of the OT books (except Esther) at Qumran gives further credence to the assumption.

Jesus, as we find him in the Gospels, had no formal scribal learning (John 7:15) and yet those who heard him were  ‘amazed at his understanding and answers ’(Luke 2:47), “amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29). “astonished (at) the wisdom given to him” (Mark 6:2)


How did he learn the Scriptures?  Luke also records for us Jesus’ love for engaging in conversations about Scriptures, his listening to teachers and his spiritual inquiry even as a boy ( Luke 2: 41 – 47). The fact that “ all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47) at the Jerusalem temple is a pointer to the extraordinary insights that the boy-Jesus brought with his questions and answers about Scripture. Jesus’ passage to adulthood is characterised by growth in wisdom, in stature and in favour of God and man” (Luke 2: 52).

Jesus’ familiarity with Scriptures was probably due to religious nurture at home, yearly pilgrimages to the Jerusalem temple (Luke 2:41), regular visits to the Synagogues (Luke 2:16) and conversations with religious teachers (Luke 2:46)

– Samuel Thambusamy

(1) For a detailed discussion on the Canon of the Old Testament cf E. E. Ellis, “The Old Testament Canon in the Early Church,” Compendia Rerum Judaicarum ad Novum Testamentum (edd. S. Safrai et al.; Assen and Phila- delphia 1974-, II i [1988]) 653-00. Cf. S. Z. Leiman, ed., The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible (New York 1974) 254-61 (J. P. Lewis); ibid., The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (Hamden, CT 1976); R. T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids 1985).

(2) The Old Testament during Jesus’ time  was the same with the possible exception of the Book of Esther.


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