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What could be the reason for Jesus not telling His disciples to write down whatever He was teaching them?

He knew His mission here was to bring the Kingdom of God and He knew that the teaching He was imparting to the masses was extraordinary and unparalleled in the history of the world. Recently one member of this site mentioned and it could be true, that in a day whatever He was teaching His followers, would fit into one whole New Testament. However, we find no record anywhere of Jesus telling His followers to record all that He was teaching them. He however said that when Holy Spirit comes He would teach them everything. Was His plan already in place?

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1) Don't assume that Jesus neglected to instruct his disciples on this matter. There are many things Jesus said and did that are not recorded in Scripture. (The vast majority in fact.)

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. -John 21:25

2) God's plan was for them to hear the words of Jesus, and then later be reminded of them by the Spirit, who would inspire them to write.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. -John 14:26

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  • Okay..if I don’t assume it then John 21.25 says it clearly. – JoaoRodrigues Sep 18 '12 at 8:11
  • @Jas3.1, Regarding point number 2, what's the reason for such an indirect way of doing things? – Pacerier Jun 11 '15 at 8:31
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    @Pacerier He wanted His disciples to do their ministry by the Spirit like He did. – Jas 3.1 Jun 28 '15 at 2:38
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I offer this answer to complement Jas3.1's excellent answer.

I think this is an interesting question because there is a precendent for Jesus telling one of His disciples to write things down; specifically John in the book of Revelation. He is told to the write words of Jesus to the seven churches, in Revelation 2 and 3. And this command to write is repeated in Revelation 21:5:

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

So why did Jesus not also say this for the message of the four Gospels? (I suspect that we know that He didn't because if He did the Gospels would have been completed soon after the Resurrection. However, we understand that it was decades before they were all written.) Here are some possible answers:

  1. Jews had a strong tradition of writing the words of God. Since they clearly believed Jesus was God, it would have been natural to write down His words, as natural as worshipping Him.
  2. The Spirit reminded them of Jesus' words and inspired God's followers throughout history to write the Bible. Perhaps Jesus simply knew this was The Holy Spirit's role, not His. And related to that, I think it was more humble of Him. To me it would seem out of character for Jesus to say, "You guys are taking this all down, aren't you?"
  3. Finally, if He had instructed them to write down the events of His earthly life, we would likely have had one book authored soon after the Resurrection by all the disciples. To me, having four separate but complamentary accounts makes their testimony far more believable.
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    Nice answer with extra reasoning. Jas3.1 was also precise and to quote @Wikis both these answers in a way makes a inclusive answer. – JoaoRodrigues Sep 18 '12 at 8:10
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    @JimG.: I don't think he did leave it to chance. Point 2 of my answer says that He left it to The Holy Spirit. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Sep 23 '12 at 14:07
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    +1: Upon further review, you're right. Your links in bullet point #2 quote Scripture. Thanks. – Jim G. Sep 23 '12 at 14:58
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Mark 1:44 (NAB)

Then he said to him, "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them."

Mark 7:36 (NAB)

He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.

Mark 8:29-30 (NAB)

And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Messiah." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Is it just me, or does Jesus not even want anyone to know who He is? Well, at least not until the "Son of Man is lifted up". So, how much worse would it be if His disciples not only disobeyed Jesus by telling everyone the things He said to keep quiet, but also were caught with the evidence of Jesus' acts?

In any event, I think we'd have a perfectly sane and undeniably Christian Church if the Gospels were never written and only handed down through word of mouth. Of course, then we'd be playing telephone for the last 1800 years and would wind up holding on to every shred that actually was written down. The epistles were certainly necessary for creating a cohesive and orthodox Church and one would have a hard time keeping Revelation straight if it weren't written down, but I think that most everything Jesus did or said could live through word of mouth alone, as it did for probably no more than 30 years after Christ's death and resurrection.

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  • Verses quoted by Turner, points to the concern of Jesus of not becoming known to the masses before Son of Man is lifted up. If they had written all His teaching portraying who He was during the currency of their happening, then that would have made Him known much faster than the word of mouth. The first reason that comes to mind is, if people and especially the powers at the helm of affairs, were to get convinced as to who He was then it would have been difficult to fulfil God’s plan of sacrificing His life for the sinners. Jesus was killed because they were not knowing what they were doing. – JoaoRodrigues Sep 22 '12 at 9:24
  • On the contrary, we find Him on record saying not to make the things public when He is with them, for His plan is obvious in verse of John 14.26 quoted by Jas3.1, making it pointless in writing of His teaching when He was in this world. – JoaoRodrigues Sep 22 '12 at 9:24
  • Of course, then we'd be playing telephone for the last 1800 years and would wind up holding on to every shred that actually was written down. - In my opinion, we're doing exactly this. – Jim G. Sep 23 '12 at 13:44
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A substantial body of Christianity holds that Jesus did not intend Christianity to be a book-based religion.

For example

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "the Christian faith is not a 'religion of the book.' Christianity is the religion of the 'Word of God', a word which is 'not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living". (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., para. 108)

and

Yesterday saw ... a forceful plea from a key papal advisor to reject the idea of Christianity as a “Religion of the Book.” National Catholic Reporter.

and

Though often perceived as the "religion of the Book," Christianity is only rightly understood as an ontological relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ who is the Word of God. James Fowler

As well as Catholic and Orthodox, a number of Protestant denominations also hold such a view, principally Anabaptist (Mennonite and others). For those Christians the belief is that Jesus intended the community of Christians, guided by the Holy Spirit, to be the repository of faith, not a set of books. That doesn't invalidate the belief that the Bible is inspired and infallible. However it does poitn out that the "Word of God" is used to describe Jesus and not the scriptures.

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  • I love this answer, and I wonder if whether or not Peter was literate (and other of the Apostles) or not would fit this answer or be a separate reply. – KorvinStarmast Nov 19 '19 at 1:15
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The writing of Scripture requires divine authorization.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. (2 Peter 1:20)

From the answer given by Jas3.1, it is clear that Jesus said many things that were not written down, so commissioning the writing of the Gospels could be among the things not written down. Let us assume that is NOT the case, since the Bible has had a huge impact on the world and such an important detail is one worthy of note.

Scripture says much about the ways of God, and much about how His Word enters into human history and is authorized and recorded. Perhaps the Old Testament can clarify this question?

First, when and how did the Bible start to be written down? We can't know for certain, but tradition holds that Job is the oldest book, and was likely committed to written form by Moses. Well, how is it that Job's words were recorded?

  1. Prayer
  2. The Holy Spirit

This was Job's prayer:

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever! 25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:23-27)

It says in the James 5:16 that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and prior to Jesus, Job was the world's most righteous man. Job prayed the Bible into existence!

Of course another speaker in Job, Elihu, had this to say:

For I am full of words,
    and the spirit within me compels me;
19 inside I am like bottled-up wine,
    like new wineskins ready to burst.
20 I must speak and find relief;
    I must open my lips and reply. (Job 32:32)

Jesus later compared the Holy Spirit to new wine that needed a new wineskin. So prayer and the Holy Spirit are essential.

So we have a "pens up" moment, when the Bible started to be written. Of course in Revelation, there is a "pens down" moment, when John prays this, also by the Spirit:

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:18-19)

(John may have applied this only to his prophecy, but God has a habit of granting us more than we ask or imagine.)

So in between Job and Revelation, how did God operate? And why do we have four gospels, not fewer or more? There are other questions on SO about that, but the early church fathers had the idea (with details they disagreed about) that the four living creatures in Ezekiel match the four in Revelation match the four gospels. The disagreement is over which animal goes with which gospel. Other writers further connect the four animals to the banners flown by the four principle tribes in Numbers 2.

For example see this website: http://www.biblefragrances.com/studies/fourbanners.html

An excerpt:

Jerome Prado, in his commentary upon Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1 p. 44), gives the following minute description according to rabbinical tradition: “The different leaders of the tribes had their own standards, with the crests of their ancestors depicted upon them. On the east, above the tent of Naasson the first-born of Judah, there shone a standard of a green colour, this colour having been adopted by him because it was in a green stone, viz., an emerald, that the name of his forefather Judah was engraved on the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 25:15ff.), and on this standard there was depicted a lion, the crest and hieroglyphic of his ancestor Judah, whom Jacob had compared to a lion, saying, ‘Judah is a lion’s whelp.’ Towards the south, above the tent of Elisur the son of Reuben, there floated a red standard, having the colour of the sardus, on which the name of his father, viz., Reuben, was engraved upon the breastplate of the high priest. The symbol depicted upon this standard was a human head, because Reuben was the first-born, and head of the family. On the west, above the tent of Elishamah the son of Ephraim, there was a golden flag, on which the head of a calf was depicted, because it was through the vision of the calves or oxen that his ancestor Joseph had predicted and provided for the famine in Egypt (Gen. 41); and hence Moses, when blessing the tribe of Joseph, i.e., Ephraim (Deu. 33:17), said, ‘his glory is that of the first-born of a bull.’ The golden splendour of the standard of Ephraim resembled that of the chrysolite, in which the name of Ephraim was engraved upon the breastplate. Towards the north, above the tent of Ahiezer the son of Dan, there floated a motley standard of white and red, like the jaspis (or, as some say, a carbuncle), in which the name of Dan was engraved upon the breastplate. The crest upon this was an eagle, the great doe to serpents, which had been chosen by the leader in the place of a serpent, because his forefather Jacob had compared Dan to a serpent, saying, ‘Dan is a serpent in the way, an adder (cerastes, a horned snake) in the path;’ but Ahiezer substituted the eagle, the destroyer of serpents as he shrank from carrying an adder upon his flag.”15

One article about the association of animals with gospels is here:

https://aleteia.org/2016/12/27/do-you-know-the-meanings-of-the-creatures-in-the-tetramorph/

It takes the position of St. Jerome, and here is a quote:

Matthew is associated with the winged man — or the angel — because his Gospel focuses on the humanity of Christ, Saint Jerome affirms. In fact, it is Matthew who includes the narrative about the genealogy of Jesus.

The lion is related to St. Mark because his Gospel emphasizes the majesty of Christ and his royal dignity, just as the lion has traditionally been regarded as the king of beasts. Mark’s Gospel begins with the prophetic voice of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness like a lion’s roar.

Luke gets the ox, because his gospel focuses on the sacrificial character of Christ’s death, and the ox has always been a sacrificial animal par excellence, both for Judaism and Roman paganism. In Luke’s depiction of the Nativity, the ox, with the donkey, bears witness to the birth of the Messiah.

John, finally, is associated with the eagle for two reasons: first, because his Gospel describes the Incarnation of the divine Logos, and the eagle is a symbol of that which comes from above. The second, because like the eagle, John — in his Revelation — was able to see beyond what is immediately present. They don’t call St. John the Evangelist “the Eagle of Patmos” for nothing!

Another writer (I lost the link) said that the four major tribes marched in a certain order in Numbers, and that order of animals corresponds to the order that the Gospels appear in our Bibles.

Okay, so there is scriptural support (disputed by some, I agree) that God planned for there to be four gospels. But which ones?

Let's start with Paul. As Saul, he obtained letters to take to Damascus to arrest and confiscate the belongings of followers of Jesus. Then he saw Jesus on the Road to Damascus and was told what he would do to suffer for that name. And what did Paul do? He wrote lots of letters to teach and support churches - not destroy them, and they constitute a huge chunk of the New Testament.

But, you say, those are not Gospels! However, it shows how one New Testament writer received his commission. There is also this curious statement from Romans:

16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:16)

Most take this to mean that Paul is referring to the good news he is preaching about Jesus, not a full biographical gospel. However, one commentator says that in fact, Paul DID write a Gospel: the Gospel of Luke! Luke was not a Jew and not a disciple prior to the resurrection nor a witness of the resurrection. He was not qualified to write Holy Scripture - unless he were the scribe for one who WAS a witness of the risen Christ. Luke was Paul's disciple, traveling companion, biographer and friend.

Therefore, we have Paul under Jesus' orders to change his life and send letters of grace and not destruction to churches, mentoring Luke as he wrote the Gospel bearing his name.

In like fashion, John Mark was a disciple of Peter and wrote his gospel.

As another answerer also said, St. John DID get a command from Jesus to write down Revelation, so we can assume that he had similar communications concerning his other writings.

One last comment: preparation. The discples needed further preparation before they could write the Gospels.

  1. Wisdom to interpret Scripture.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

The two who were walking on the road to Emmaus required for Jesus to open their minds to understand Scripture. I am sure that Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, had to repeat that for the other disciples.

  1. Power.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Until they received the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the disciples were not prepared to spread the good news.

To wrap up, God planned it all out - when to start the Bible, when to finish it, how many Gospels, and how to prepare their writers.

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What could be the reason for Jesus not telling His disciples to write down whatever He was teaching them?

The answer is biblically simple. The Apostles have not yet received the "anointing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit" to understand the Truth about Jesus teachings.

The gospel is the inspired word of Jesus Christ and whoever writes the gospel must be guided by the Holy Spirit, and in order for the Apostles to be docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit they must experienced conversion first. Like what happened in the Upper Room.

Jesus having no explicit instructions to the Apostles to write down whatever He teaches can be seen sending the Apostles to preach His teachings orally, saying;

“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke10:16)

If the Apostles and Disciples continue to preach orally, then I don't think "bible believing Christians" will come into existence.

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Any assumption of apostolic literacy is an anachronism

In other words, your question is evidence of 20th/21st century cultural bias and cultural assumptions.

The level of literacy in Jesus' time is unknown and unclear.

the literacy rate among the Jews may have been slightly higher than the 1.5% estimate by the author above. For well-to-do Jewish males, it may have been quite high, but certainly the overall rate was very low by modern standards.

Which apostle was literate? Two for sure, likely three

Matthew was a tax collector, so he was likely literate, and John the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of John seems to have been literate. (or did he dictate it to a disciple?)
Luke wasn't one of the twelve, neither was Paul.
Peter? Most likely an illiterate fisherman, as was Andrew ... most likely. The other poor laborers and fisherman - more likely to be illiterate than not.
Mark seems to have been a literate follower/associate of Peter, and whomever "Q" is/was seems to have been literate but may or may not have been one of the 12.

As to the rest, I'll guess that Judas Iscariot was literate, but can't prove it from Scripture.

If the majority of Jesus' closest followers were illiterate, why would He ask them to write it down?

He wouldn't. The Holy Spirit was to take over from Him to guide them in any case

  • John 14:23-26

    23 Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. 25 "I have told you this while I am with you. 26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.

  • John 15:26-27

    26 "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. 27 And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

  • John 16:7-13

    7 But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: 9 sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; 11 condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. 12 "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. 13 But when he comes, the Spirit of truth{Holy Spirit}, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.

I thus challenge the frame of the question. While some of Jesus' followers were likely literate, most of them (not the rich, not the privileged, and not the educated like the Scribes) were most likely not literate. As it worked out, they got The Word to those who were able to write it down.

FWIW 1: as recently as the 1980's, I volunteered in a 20th century nation (the United States of America, in Virginia) teaching adults how to read. Illiteracy remains a thing, even in advanced countries, after a few centuries of rising literacy rates all over the world.

FWIW 2: Plenty of the illegal aliens who cross Americas borders from the south can't even read in Spanish, no less in English. (Most can, but plenty cannot). Illiteracy among "the least of these"(Matthew 25;45) is alive and well.

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