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As Jesus was taught by his Father, we are taught by Jesus. 
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An autodidact is someone who is self-taught, rather than being taught by a teacher.  To some extent, any household cook or handyman is self-taught, and we recognize the existence of the “school of hard knocks,” people learning by experience.

But generally none of these are entirely self-taught.  They watch others (sometimes starting in childhood), they get tips and advice along the way.  There are autodidacts in many fields, some of them quite complex and difficult—but even these usually rely on books and other resources.  They don’t have a teacher per se, but indirectly they are still learning from others.

Do we find autodidacts in the Bible?  I think Ezra might fit the common definition.  “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)  As far as we can tell, he had no teacher.  He delved in on his own, with the intention of learning in depth so he could teach others.  But as is true for most autodidacts, he had resource material: he had the Law, he learned from Moses.

What about the Lord Jesus?  By the age of 12 he was knowledgeable enough to ask probing questions of experts, and also supply answers to their questions.  “After three days they [Joseph and Mary] found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47)  Where did he get this?  There would have been a local rabbi in his hometown.  However if he was amazing the experts in Jerusalem, he had probably surpassed the local rabbi. 

He was conversing with the experts about the Law and the Prophets.  He had clearly studied them, teaching himself from them, using his own intelligence and insight.  However, he was also asking questions of the experts and learning from them.  But his personal studies and consulting experts weren’t his only sources of learning.

For one thing, there were his parents.  The conclusion of the incident in Jerusalem at age 12 is:  “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them… And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52)  He was learning, guided by his mom and stepdad, growing up physically, mentally, spiritually, socially.

And we also need to account for Jesus’s own statements, that he learned from his Father—for example repeatedly in John 8:26, 38, 40.  We’re not told how this happened.  Is he just referring to what he learned from the scriptures?  But what he says sounds more personal.  Was it all through his life, God talking directly to him?  But he was not anointed with the Spirit until his baptism.  Was it during the 40-day wilderness experience after he was baptized?  But that seems too short a time.  We’re not likely to find a definitive answer.  I don’t think the precise manner is as important as the clear declarations that he did learn from his Father.

Was Jesus an autodidact?  Because of his own personal investigation into the Law and the Prophets, he was self-taught in part, not too different from the way many autodidacts are.  Yet he was also taught by his parents, the scripture experts, and most importantly by his Father.

What then of ourselves?  Digging into the scriptures ourselves is something we’re encouraged to do, and I strongly encourage it myself.  Still, very few of us would claim to be autodidact, certainly not more so than Jesus.  His command of scripture shows that he did a lot of self-study.  So should we.  He consulted others, asked questions of people who had more experience.  So should we—always realizing (as he did) that what we hear from others needs to be measured against the scriptures.  Later on those same experts would be rebuked by Jesus for mishandling scripture, and we might come to a similar conclusion about people we talk to.

As Jesus was taught by his Father, we are taught by Jesus.  He is, all over the gospels, referred to as Rabbi, that is, Teacher.  Are we, or should we be, autodidacts?  Only to some extent, I would say.  Yes, we need to go to the true source, the Bible, ourselves.  But we have a lot to gain by listening to each other, too.  And above all, we sit at the feet of our Teacher, absorbing what he passes on to us, that he learned from his Father.

Love, Paul

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