Real Credentials

– Henry Neufeld

When they heard these words, some from the crowd were saying, “This is truly the prophet!” Others said, “This is the Messiah!” But others said, “The Messiah can’t come from Galilee, can he?”          John 7:40-41 (HN)

I have a little bit of an edge in a fight over credentials. I have a master’s degree in Biblical languages, and I read and study the Bible from its original languages. You might be amazed at how many times that has helped when I wanted to get people to listen to an idea, even when that idea was largely unrelated to my area of study. Of course, I’d like the weight of credentials of someone with a doctoral degree, or with numerous scholarly publications, or with a position of importance at a major university. All of those things would increase my potential “weight” in an argument.

But should it be that way? It bothers me sometimes when people take my word for something that I think they should check for themselves. I know we can’t each check everything. There are times when we must rely on the expertise of others. When I need to get some brake work done on my car, I won’t do it myself, and I won’t rely on just anyone. I’ll find someone who knows something about fixing brakes.

But even so, it won’t merely be credentials that determine my choice. Part of it will be determined by experience. I’m going to one shop, and not to another (I won’t name either one) because I have had good experiences at the one, and some not-so-good experiences at the second. In other words, I’m going to use my best judgment.

I think we tend to rely on credentials because it’s easier. We don’t have to do as much research, or go to as much trouble if we can just look for the diploma on the wall. But in our spiritual life especially, we have our own responsibility to God. We can, each one of us, study, pray, and listen to God. We don’t have to go just by the credentials of the person speaking. I think we need to learn to “see” more deeply, to hear what a person is actually saying and to discern its value. Sometimes that will be more work. It will certainly put more responsibility on our own spiritual experience and discipline. But God has often chosen to speak through people who lacked credentials.

Jesus is facing this problem in our story. The crowd is looking for credentials. Can we call him “the prophet.” Can we call him the Messiah? Surely this tradesman from Nazareth can’t actually be the Messiah? Bad neighborhood! Tiny, unimportant town!

But they’ve heard him speak. We’re given the contrast of the folks who were sent to arrest Jesus. They listen, and then they forget (or perhaps simply can’t bring themselves) to arrest him. “No man has ever spoken like this!” they say (verse 46). Then they are challenged with the issue of credentials. Has anyone with a degree believed him? Have the university professors? The pastors? The bishops? How can he possibly be any good if none of the “serious” people have believed? But the guards had actually heard Jesus; without the need for credentials they knew that he was out of the ordinary.

Can you discern the speech of one who speaks as no man has spoken before?

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