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LITERACY IN THE TIME OF CHRIST AND
THE DISCIPLES

webassets/YoungJohnWIKI.jpg
The apostle John

Were Christ and the disciples literate or illiterate?  Much of the following about this question comes from and needs credited to “From Biblical Criticism To Biblical Faith” by Craig A. Evans as found on the internet by clicking on http://www.craigaevans.com/evans.pdf  By going to that source you can learn a lot more than what is presented here. 

To begin, Jesus' followers are called "disciples," the word from Greek mathetai deriving from the verb manthanein meaning to learn.  Jesus was called Rabbi or Greek equivalents such as for master or teacher.  Even opponents called him Rabbi, master or teacher; and it is simple fact that the rabbis were well educated, versed not only in reading but law, history etc.  The idea that he might somehow have been an “illiterate” rabbi who taught others in synagogues as he did is in no wise tenable. (Mt 3:23, Mk 1:21, 6:2, Lu 4:15, 6:6, 13:10, Jn 6:59)  Further, if he had been illiterate, you can be sure that the Scribes and Pharisees would have rejoiced and attacked him for it.

Christ and the disciples cared deeply for their religious upbringing, and we know that the Shema, recited daily by Torah observant Jews, ordered Jewish parents to teach their children the Torah.  Also see Deu 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Ec 12:9.  They were to adorn their very doorposts with Shema as seen where Deuteronomy 6:9 orders “you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Also see 11:20; and note also Mark 12:28-33 and James 2:19.  This encouraged literacy among the Jewish people.

In Paul's case there may have been a visual impediment or impairment necessitating a scribe though it is likely that he himself was quite well educated, having also studied under Gamaliel. Luke was an educated man, a physician. Matthew was likely very literate, a tax collector who had to keep alpha- and numerical records. The fishermen apostles were businessmen and, also being observant Jews, not unlikely to have been literate.

Being in a trade such as fishing or carpentry does not make one ignorant. As said Deuteronomy 6:9 ordered literacy be taught even in the villages. To be successful as a fisherman, carpenter etc, being able to keep records makes such success more likely, and nothing indicates the apostles were mental incompetents or unsuccessful.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote “Above all we pride ourselves on the education of our children, and regard as the most essential task in life the observance of our laws and of the pious practices, based thereupon, which we have inherited” (Ag. Ap. 1.12 §60). He says later: “(The Law) orders that (children) shall be taught to read, and shall learn both the laws and the deeds of their forefathers." (Ag. Ap. 2.25 §204).

The oft cited Greek words at Acts 4:13 have been mistranslated “unlearned and ignorant” in the King James Version and Authorized Standard Version, "unschooled and ordinary" etc; but the correct meaning is that of to lack scribal training, that is to be the opposite of a professional “scribe.” It does not mean and only mean to be unable to read.  

It is true that some other writers have estimated that literacy among people overall in Roman times was as low as a mere 1% though possibly approaching 100% for the very wealthy; but for Judeans the estimations by scholars have ranged between the two numerical values, that is anywhere between 1% to 100%, this being at least partly dependent on if what the Torah and Bible have to say are also examined or else totally ignored because assumed false to begin with. 

Before conclusing also notice that references to the literacy of Jesus Christ of Nazareth are also seen for example at Luke 4:16-30 and John 7:15, which please read.  Further, when the Romans slew Christ, Pilate had a "titulus" or board put on or nearby the cross with words on it saying he had claimed to be king of the Jews.  John 19:20 says "MANY" of the Jews who looked at it could read it; too, it was written in Hebrew, Latin and also Greek.

As shown here, then, the greater weight is that Christ and his disciples were indeed literate.  The statements in the Torah, Bible and other sources such as the historian Josephus stand for themselves even as they have for up to some two thousand years.

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