In Luke 10:21, is Jesus saying you don’t have to be a doctor in Theology to understand the word of God as some religions would have us believe?
Luke 10:21 says, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” In Luke 10:17-20, Jesus had just received the seventy disciples back from the limited commission. In their work they had had a measure of success and they were making a report to Jesus concerning these things. Jesus was happy with their success and offered a prayer to God of thanksgiving in this regard. It is within this prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus speaks in which he utters the words of the verse under consideration. Jesus prayer of thanksgiving is twofold. First he gives thanks that God has hid these things from the “wise” and “understanding.” Second he gives thanks that these things have been revealed unto babes. Why does Jesus say such a thing? Is Jesus saying that “the wise” cannot understand God’s word?
During the limited commission, the disciples had gone out and preached the coming of the kingdom of God. The message that they had been instructed to preach was that men should repent (Mark 6:12) and “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). There were some who were obedient to that message and did repent. However, there were others who did not. The cities that did not repent are recorded in Luke 10:13-15 and Matthew 11:20-24. These cities were Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus pronounces a “woe” upon these cities and says it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the Day of Judgment than for them. These cities had rejected the message of the disciples, rejected Jesus, and rejected the one who sent Jesus, God the Father (Luke 10:16).
The towns of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida were all located in fairly close proximity to each other. History records that Capernaum was the local seat of Roman government and as such would attract commerce. The towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida were fishing villages and would have had a lot of commercial interests within them as well. The economic situation in these towns was probably good. This would mean that many of the citizens were middle to upper class, financially. Not only, however, were they blessed with prosperity of finances, but with prosperity of God’s word. They had ample opportunity to hear the word of God and accept it. Within the town of Capernaum Jesus performed mighty works (Luke 10:13). Jesus healed the centurion’s son here (Mt.8:5); here he healed the nobleman’s son (John 4:46); Peter’s mother-in-law was healed here (Mk.1:31); a paralytic man was healed here (Mt.9:1); here an unclean spirit was cast out (Mk.1:21). The evidence for Jesus being who he claimed to be was overwhelming in this particular area, yet many rejected him. Why was this? Evidently this was due to their own human “wisdom and understanding” which resulted from their self sufficiency in their economic situation. When we read Luke 10:21, we must conclude that the words “wise” and “understanding” are spoken rather sarcastically by Jesus. That is, in their own wisdom and understanding, they had no need for Jesus or the gospel because all of their needs were taken care of due to their economy. We see this today as well, particularly in wealthy areas of the country. The well-to-do are often the ones who simply, in their own minds, have no need for the gospel. Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 1:26 “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” The Bible warns us concerning following after our own wisdom. Proverbs 3:7 says, “Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.” Isaiah 5:21 says, “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”
So looking back at the original question, I do not believe that this passage is referring to a person’s understanding of the gospel as much as it is referring to one’s acceptance of the gospel. Those who are wise in their own eyes are not going to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ because they think that they have within themselves the capacity to solve all of their problems. Whereas those who are “babes,” as Jesus calls them, acknowledge their dependence upon God to provide for their salvation and are willing to humbly submit to God’s will. Here is the difference between these two categories of people. So, to answer the question, I do not believe that Jesus is speaking directly about what it takes to understand the message of the gospel, but rather, the attitude of those who do, verses the attitude of those who don’t. In order to accept the message of the gospel, one cannot filter it through one’s own earthly wisdom; one must humbly acknowledge his or her dependence upon God as would a babe his dependence upon his mother. I do not believe that one’s worldly education is what is under consideration in this particular passage except when that worldly education causes one to be lifted up with pride and reject God’s word. So, the “wise” and “understanding” of this passage is not referring to earthly education as much as it is earthly and personal self satisfaction.