When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
(Matthew 7:28-29 NASB)
In the last post I focused primarily on ‘the crowds’ and attempting to understand whether or not the crowds were there for the entire Sermon on the Mount, as trivial as that may seem it does carry some importance. For instance, are the beatitudes intended for the disciple only or for the crowd? Read the previous post for more on that.
For this post let’s see what this text is actually saying. Realize that the crowds who heard the teachings of Christ were amazed... why were they amazed? The amazement came from the fact that He was teaching with authority, and not as their scribes. The conjunction ‘and’ is important here to understand the text. We must realize that the Hebrews of the time recognized the scribes and Pharisees as the ones carrying the upmost authority, and to hear ‘religious’ authority come from any other source, well would be amazing. However that is exactly what Christ does here, He teaches amazing teachings authoritatively, AND He was not teaching as their scribes taught. This text is not so much saying that the scribes did not teach with authority, in fact the opposite is true, the Scribes and Pharisees taught authoritatively. The issue in this text is that a new person, Christ, is on the scene teaching with authority and not teaching the same things that the existing authority taught.
What is the application? First of all, because someone teaches authoritatively, with fervor and eloquence does not mean that they teach truth. This is important, Jesus comes along and teaches something entirely different, but also authoritative than the scribes taught... so who is right? Of course Christ was right being the Son of God... but how in our time when we have different people, even within professing Christianity, teaching contradictory things authoritatively do we discern what is true? The answer is from the word of God, the scriptures which are our authority. Still if we are honest we will recognize that among professing Christians with contradictory theology both sides of every issue use scripture to support their stance. Again, how do you discern between authorities? You absolutely must be continually in the scriptures reading them entirely, Genesis to Revelation, and more than just one time in your life. Recall that Jesus is the word made flesh, therefore He speaks from the perspective of the entire Holy writ, when we write and speak we must do the same... but the only way we can is if we familiarize ourselves with the whole book. You can proof text to support any heresy, and you can speak with authority and still be wrong, just like the scribes, and those stuck in religious institutions which suppress the truth, will be amazed at your teaching as well, and that you teach with authority but not like their institution.
The other thing not to miss in this passage is that the crowds were indeed amazed... but they were not necessarily converted. Why were they amazed? Again because Jesus taught something other than the existing authority and He did it authoritatively. People are always amazed when someone stands up and speaks against the system, it does not mean that they accept what is being said. This passage shows the mounting tension between the scribes and Jesus and the crowds thrive on tension just like we do today.
Of course, I do recognize that this text could simply be comparing the authority of Christ to that of the Scribes, but given the teachings like “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” or all of the “You have heard it said of old... but I tell you” moments in Matthew 5, I tend to believe this text is emphasizing the fact that the scribes and Jesus both spoke with authority, but spoke entirely different things.
As an aside, the demands of life are significant and free time seems to be at a premium some people find it asinine that anyone would suggest that Christians should take in the entire scripture once a year or more. I get that, I really do. One suggestion I would make that has been incredibly helpful to me is to find a good clear reading of the scriptures in a version (not paraphrase) of the bible which you like and download it in mp3 format. Most mp3 players today are large enough to hold the entire bible, or at least a few books at a time, and you can hear the scriptures read while you work out, cut grass, meditate, work, drive, etc... You will find it easy to take in the entire cannon once or more a year. Moreover you can just listen not studiously, but in order to take in the whole flow of scripture and the nature and character of God. This does not replace hard study of various texts, but it certainly supplements that. You cannot just be a student of part of the book, you need to be immersed in the whole thing.