“And they were astonished at His doctrine, for He taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” —Mark 1:22
At our Lord’s first ministry in Galilee, His teaching immediately drew attention because it was so different from that of the scribes. There were two reasons for this.
First, the scribes were the Bible teachers of the day. They expounded the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets—but like us, could expound only what was written.
It was not so with our Lord. Here was One greater, infinitely greater, than Moses or any of the Old Testament writers. Here was the long-promised Prophet of whom Moses was but a type (Deut. 18:15). Thus He could say: “It hath been said… But I say unto you…” and “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” His hearers were asked to believe because He had spoken, and somehow they felt His authority and were astonished.
But there is another reason why His teaching is said here to have been “with authority, and not as the scribes.”
The scribes, if true men of God, would have pointed to the Scriptures, saying confidently: “Thus saith the Lord.” But they were not free men. They belonged to a religious system which expected them to teach only “the traditions of the elders.” They did not dare to proclaim what to them appeared to be the correct interpretation of any passage of Scripture. They could only say: “The fathers, our rabbis,” etc., “say that this passage means so and so.” But this bondage was not forced upon them. It was born of pride of position and wealth, and an ambition to rise even higher in the graces of the Establishment. There was no good excuse why they should not have blessed the children of Israel with a ministry which rang with a clear, firm “Thus saith the Lord.”
Little wonder our Lord condemned them with His series of bitter “woes” and called them a “generation of vipers” (Matt. 23:13-33). Their “fear of man” and their love of “the praise of men” was an insult to God, whose ministers they were. As a result, these men who would “devour widows’ houses” would also “for a pretense make long prayers” (Ver. 14). Where morals were concerned, they would “strain at a gnat” but “swallow a camel” (Ver. 24). Like zealous ritualists, they would carefully “clean the outside of the cup and of the platter,” but within they themselves were “full of extortion and excess” (Ver. 25). Our Lord likened them to “whited sepulchres,” which within were “full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness” (Ver. 27).
Our Lord called these religious leaders, sincerely revered by so many, “fools and blind…blind guides” (Vers. 17,24). Yet in their blindness they were very zealous for the Establishment. In their opposition to the truth, they “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men,” not entering in themselves and hindering those who were interested from entering in (Ver. 13). And in their zeal for their own religious system they “compassed sea and land to make one proselyte” (Ver. 15).
Naturally, this robbed them of any spiritual power they might have possessed. Naturally, the people were “astonished” when, by contrast, they heard Christ teach “with authority.”
Surely all of us who teach the Word today should ask ourselves: “Do I teach with authority, the authority of the Word, rightly divided, or do I teach as the scribes? Do I teach in the liberty and power of the Holy Spirit or am I bound by the creed of my denomination?”
Men called of God to be teachers of the truth can, alas, become “blind guides,” involved in the gravest of sins because they exalt man above God. May we rather remain keenly aware of Satan’s devices to neutralize and destroy our ministry, and say with Paul:
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (I Thes. 2:4).
“…nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (II Cor. 4:2).
If we, like Paul, can say this sincerely we too will “speak with authority, and not as the scribes,” not, indeed, with inherent authority as did our Lord, but surely with delegated authority, as the representatives of God, the ambassadors of Christ.