Jesus Education: Part 2
September 7, 2018
by Barry Fike
When we go back to the first-century and look at the educational system of the Jewish young men from age 13 on we understand why the Bible is silent about his life from that age until the age of 30. What was he doing? The answer is study. How do we know that? In the first century, when a young boy was 13, if he was exceptionally gifted intellectually, he was chosen to be given more education in the word of God by intense study for the next 17 years in the fields of Talmud, Mishnah, and other written works explaining the Biblical text and how to practically implement it in the lives of the people. It's probably for this reason that the last glimpse we have of him as a child is in the Temple talking to the teachers both hearing them and asking them questions at the age of twelve (Luke 2:42, 47).
When he met John the Baptist at the River Jordan, and was proclaimed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was baptized, God acknowledge him as his Son. (this happened as he was about 30 years of age, Luke 3:23) The temptation in the wilderness ensued and his ministry began among the people. Why did the people listen to him? He was a Rabbi, a Sage, and a Pharisee. All of these titles were highly revered by the common man and gave him statues that allowed his miracles and words to not only be heard but revered by the common man.
Sage is a term designating those men who molded every sphere of the life of the Jewish people and influenced their comprehension of tier past, their hopes, and their future aims. (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, p. 635). These were the teachers, interpreters and commentators of the Bible. They began the midrashic (Biblical exegesis) method of interpretation. They gave their minds to the law of the Most High. (Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 637). Among the people they had great status for they lived among the masses teaching instructing and acting in charity and benevolence. Thus, his authority came more from his actions and qualities. (Ibid, p. 645)
Josephus says, in Antiquities 20:26f, “Our people do not favor those persons who have mastered the speech of many nations, or who adore their style with smoothness of diction…But they give credit for wisdom those alone who are capable of interpreting the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.”
These people sought to persuade the Jewish people to accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and also the yoke of the Torah and the mitzvoth. (Ibid. 654) Interestingly enough, the word sage alluded to two other titles that we are vaguely familiar with in the N.T. One is Rabbi, which literally means “master”, but became the title of a sage. (J.E., Vol. 13, p. 1443)
Interestingly enough, many Christians believe that Jesus was the first Christian minister and not part and parcel of his Jewish surroundings. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to get familiar with the many scriptures cited in the Gospels where Jesus is called ‘Rabbi’ by his peers. (Lk. 7:40; 10:25; 12:13; 18:18; 19:39; 20:21, 28, etc.) In these scriptures notice the diversity of those that recognized Jesus as Rabbi: Individuals, Lawyers, Rich young ruler, Pharisees, Sadducees. This indicates taht a broad spectrum, or cross-section, of the people of his day recognized this individual as a Sage, a Rabbinic scholar whose teachings would mirror that of other sages in the realm of charity and benevolence, and, yet, elevate those teachings to the point that many marveled as his teaching on a constant basis (Luke 4:32; Matt. 7:28, 29; 13:54; 22:33; Mark 1:22; 6:2; 11:18; John 7:46).
Why did they call Jesus , Rabbi and what give him the right to accept such praise from a Jewish world in which only the scholar was attached, and revered, with such a title if he wasn’t such? The answer is that he not only was a Rabbinic Sage but one that spoke and worked miracles to the point that the multitudes marveled as both his works and his words.
The second title that we can attach to Jesus is an often misunderstood title: Pharisee! When the Sadducees were in power, they sought to present their opponents as a dissenting sect and therefore called them perushim (Pharisees), that is, those who dissociate themselves from the community in its time of trouble. (J.E., Vol. 14, p. 639) The term Pharisee is a term used in Rabbinic literature to designate those who maintained a higher standard in observing the religious and moral commandments. They were referred to as the “Hasidim (pietists) and men of action”. They were so called on account of the special good deeds which they performed and the miracles vouchsafed them by virtue of these good deeds. (J.E., vol. 7, p. 1383)
Though both Sage and Pharisee could mean the same thing, there could also be a difference between the “men of action” and the sages. Hanina B. Dosa, in Abot 3:10 said, “…he whose actions exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure, but he whose wisdom exceeds his actions, his wisdom will not endure.” As the scriptures point out, Jesus’ actions far excelled his wisdom as witnessed by those that saw him in the Jewish community. They would say time and time again, “…Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?” Matt. 13:54b Jesus was a Sage and Rabbi far beyond the expected norm. When the people of his own home town asked, “Where did this man get all of these things?” we know that he went far beyond what was expected to get to the heart of the matter: the kingdom of God. God wanted to rule and reign in the hearts of all of those lost sheep in the first century of Jewish lineage. They were his people, the ones who he led out of Egypt, sustained in the wilderness, fought their battles, gave them promised land, brought them back from captivity and sustained them when all seemed lost. But when they shifted into obeying law, when the Temple became more important than the presence of God, when the daily observations of prayer didn’t point toward God the very thing that we intended to lead them to God led them away from his presence. This Sage, this Rabbi, this Messiah, came for the “…lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matt. 15:24 How else will you reach them unless you become part and parcel of the very fabric of the society that Gods people are contained in?
Let’s continue to go back and look at the day and time of Jesus of Nazareth and allow the facts to help illuminate this individual and the words that he spoke. The next blog will deal with the Pharisees and how they are to understood in light of the knowledge of who they were, the divisions that they found themselves in, and how Jesus could both castigate them and praise them.