Jesus begins his Ministry 3

July 29, 2019

by Barry Fike

Matthew 7:28, 29; Mk. 1:21-28; Luke 4:21-27

              The story that happens next, in chronological sequence, is when Jesus appears at the synagogue in Capernaum.  I find it interesting that in Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that he taught the people as one who had authority and not as their scribes.  Exactly what does that mean?

              The word scribe signifies not the learned Rabbis, but, on the contrary, ordinary teachers without the right to proclaim decisions.  The term was current in this sense in the days of Jesus.  Jesus, the people note, taught as if he possessed Rabbinic authority and not like the ordinary teachers.  The text distinguishes not between “to teach with authority” and “to teach like the venerable Rabbis”, but between “to teach with Rabbinic authority” and “to teach like those not ordained”.  The added authoritative new teaching that showed his power over demons became more evidence of his authority.  (David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism.  Peabody, Mass: Henderickson Pub, 1956, p. 206.)

              The scribes are here manifestly opposed, and considered inferior, to those having “authority”.  The teaching with “authority” is something exceptional and exciting; it is, as the Galilean crowd remarks, quite unlike the everyday instruction of the “scribes”, the “elementary teachers” – of whom there were certainly more than enough in any Palestine village.  (Daube, p. 211)

              As regards a “new teaching with authority”, this may mean a new rule, halakhah hadhasha which only an ordained Rabbi was entitled to lay down (Daube, p. 212)  The word “halakhah” embraces personal, social, national, and international relationships, and all the other practices and observances of Judaism.  In the Bible, the good life is frequently spoken of as a way in which mean at “to go” and “shalt show them the way wherein they are to go and the work that they must do” (Ex. 18:20).  Originally the term halakhah had the meaning of a particular law or decision in a given instances, as in the frequent expression “this is a law given to Moses on Sinai.”  The study of the halakhah in the Rabbinic period and beyond it became the supreme religious duty  (Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 7. P. 1155).  Jesus did deliver decisions classifiable as “new rules”, “new halakhoth”, as when he defended his disciples who had plucked corn on the Sabbath.  Jesus “new teaching” dealt with the way that Jesus viewed faith, ethics, the right mode of living as well as legal or ritual questions.  Matthew places the reference to this teaching with authority after the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus’ audience may well have exclaimed that he was adding another Torah, propounding a new kind of understanding the law.  (Daube, pp. 212-215)

              Many of the other rabbis tended to focus on defining the minimum requirements of the law.  They tried to outline exactly what you should and should not do to stay within the law. This approach makes sense, since by nature, laws are limited to defining the least good thing you can do and still stay within the boundaries:  don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t work on the Sabbath.  The rabbis lacked the authority to say, “This is what God really meant when he told us to keep the Sabbath holy.”  Who could know that but God himself?  So their strategy was to keep tightening the minimums, hoping that doing so would bring people closer and closer to holiness. 

              While others worked on defining the boundaries, Jesus took the opposite approach.  Instead of focusing on minimums, he focused on the maximum, speaking about the ultimate aims of the law.  As the author of the Torah, Jesus’ goal was to teach his followers its true intention.  Like other rabbis, Jesus’ goal. Was to teach his followers how to do God’s will.  But he did it by bringing the Torah to its greatest expression.  (Ann Spangler, Lois Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus.  Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, 171)