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John 7:15 (ESV):

The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning,1 when he has never studied?”

The footnote is:

7:15 Or this man knows his letters

So there are two questions:

  1. Which translation gets the original meaning across better in English?

  2. Does this mean Jesus was never formally trained?

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The question sprung from a chat session. – Jon Ericson Oct 25 '11 at 16:46
I would translate this verse: The Jews were shocked. They said, "How does he know the Scriptures? He never studied ⸤to be a rabbi⸥. (If the there is a character which is not rendering correctly before to and after rabbi, those are lower square brackets, which I use to denote an inserted phrase. If you are running Windows your font may not show them.) – Kazark Dec 24 '11 at 22:51
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Jesus lacked the formal education that the religious authorities had.

He was, you'll remember, a carpenter. It was unusual for someone with Jesus's background to be as learned as the religious authorities.

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It was actually quite usual for rabbis belonging to the Pharisee sect to be well-learned. This answer is factually incorrect and offers no sources for its assertions. – Dan Jun 10 '14 at 18:52

Nowhere in scripture does it say that Jesus took up the trade of his father. In fact, the absence of of any writing about his life from 13-30 would lead an Israelite reader to assume that he DID have formal rabbinic training, and rather, the verse here is a blatant statement from John that Jesus did not, however, state his first teaching on any other rabbi's teaching to validate his statement.

When a rabbi would begin his teaching years, he would never teach on his own merit. He would constantly quote his authorities. Jesus doesn't do this and it it was shocking. He stands on his own authority from his very first words, which in tradition was, again, unheard of. You had to earn that stature from years of proving yourself first in Rabbinical learning structure, then in teaching from the masters who'd gone before you. THEN if you gained reputation through the years, you could add your own commentary that diverged from the past and/or added to it.

When we look at the culture and tradition in which the gospels were written, it seems that the most logical assumption (for that is all we can make, is educated guesses on what happened in those 15-20 years) is that Jesus was in fact a trained Rabbi. This is beautiful. From age 12 he was so in tuned with the Father that he was asking rabbis intelligent questions in the temple and then told his mom that that's where he was supposed to be. Asking questions was not the same format as question asking we think of today. Question asking was not what people who didn't understand did, its what the TEACHER did to stimulate pensive thought, discussion and debate. His questions were stumping the Rabbis in the temple at age 12. THAT was immediate reason to be recruited by them for education. His parents would have been rebuked if they denied a child of this intellect this path.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. The only editing I did was a spelling error or two and spacing. Keep it up. – Frank Luke Aug 28 '13 at 13:26

Yes, you are correct. Jesus never had formal training as a rabbi. He was never anyone's disciple.

Regarding question 1, both translations are valid. Another possible interpretation is "this man knows his writings". As for which communicates more clearly? That's a bit of a judgment call. What they were asking is "How does he know so much?" Either interpretation can indicate this (providing you understand "letters" or "writings" as the holy texts).

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While I agree that Jesus never had any formal training as a rabbi, there are scholars who would disagree with the idea that "he was never anyone's disciple". There are those who suggest that Jesus was a disciple of John's, who began his own ministry after John's arrest. Gerd Theissen is the scholar who immediately springs to mind; there are others. – lonesomeday Oct 26 '11 at 20:45
@lonesomeday John's attitude towards Jesus (for example, at his baptism) makes that seem extremely unlikely. – Kazark Dec 24 '11 at 22:48

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