Book Plunge: Jesus Against The Scribal Elite

What do I think of Chris Keith’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A friend of mine gifted this book to me and it was a wonderful addition to my library. We often hear about how Jesus was a teacher and we all agree that yes, Jesus was a rabbi as even his opponents would often say, but is it really that simple? Is there something amazing about Jesus being a teacher? Is there something startling that he should be seen in that way?

Imagine being in high school and being in a class on say, chemistry, and the teacher speaks and a student will regularly raise their hand and challenge them and not just by asking questions, but by making pronouncements on chemistry. This is a high school student. Why do they think they know chemistry better than the teacher? Yet still they go on and on and even outside of class seek to tell the students in the class what they should really learn about chemistry.

Now go back to Jesus. Jesus is known as the son of the carpenter. He is not known as a scholar, and yet here he is speaking like he is one. Matthew 23 is at the start of Keith’s book and he rightly points out that this is not your sunday school Jesus. This is Jesus and He’s not going to take it any more. Jesus is directly challenging the ones who are supposed to be the authorities.

These groups were known as the scribal-elite. You could of course know about the law without being a scribal-elite, but you did not have the authority to publicly teach on it and be taken seriously. If you were a manual laborer, you certainly did not have the time to devote to that kind of study. Despite that, Jesus who is not seen as someone who studied formally, still speaks regularly and he challenges the scribal-elite on their own ground.

In other words, before we just agree that Jesus was a teacher, we need to see how astounding that the fact He was a teacher was. We often think that it was a society like ours where people studied their Bibles and everyone got to voice their opinion. Not so. Even if they did get to, some opinions are worth taking seriously and some are not. By all standards, Jesus’s wasn’t.

And yet He seemed to regularly get the attention of the people and He bested HIs opponents in debate.

The question of authority was regularly asked of Jesus because of this kind of issue. Who is this man that He thinks He can actually speak on the Torah of God without the proper study that the scribal-elite have? There is no doubt that Jesus was seen as a teacher of the Scriptures. The astounding thing is we know of no formal education He had that gave Him this authority.

I do wish more had been said about the honor-shame context however. It isn’t until we get to the end of the book that this starts to come up. It would have been more helpful I think to say it at the beginning so people could start to see how it fit in to the life of Jesus.

It’s also important to note that Keith doesn’t follow through to the conclusion. it is of course referred to as origins of the conflict. There is of course a huge step from “This man does not have the authority to teach” to “This man must be crucified on a cross” yet no doubt the conflict Jesus had with the teachers that got Him crucified started there. This is of course an invitation to other scholars in the field to take up the argument. I hope they indeed do so.

Naturally, I really enjoyed a book like this due to the look at the honor-shame culture which features prominently in my apologetic. It is another example of how Christianity was not the kind of worldview someone would just make up. I am pleased to have it in my library and encourage you to get this book and read it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters