Jesus' Education:  Divine or Taught? (Pt. 1)

September 1, 2018

by Barry Fike

     When was the last time that you discussed the education of Jesus? Probably never! We all know that this knowledge was given to him by God as Jesus represented his heavenly Father. Or, so it is assumed. This is an area in which most of us are unacquainted with. Because of our misinformation concerning education for the Jewish children, and other information that is pertinent to this discussion, there has been a fundamentally gross misunderstanding in this area. Have you heard of a recent theory, that has been floating around lately, as to how Jesus, when he was just a young boy, went off into India and there he studied eastern mysticism. When he came back he taught some heretical doctrines and teachings of his day. “There is a tall story to the effect that he visited Britain and studied the Druids, who had a sophisticated religion. Another legend sends him to Tiber…” (Who was Jesus? Colin Cross. Murray Printing, Co., Forge Village, Mass. 1970).
     Such teaching has happened because of the difficulty of projecting ourselves 2000 years back into history to the time of Jesus to a culture and a language so totally foreign to the western mind of today. For example, what do the words mezuzah, tzitzit or phylacteries mean to us today? Can anyone reading this explain the meaning behind these words and the passages in the O.T. that are given to show the significance of these practices? On the doorpost of Jesus’ house there was a mezuzah, a roll of parchment inside a metal tube, and on it the fundamental Jewish prayer, the Shema: “Shema, Israel, Admonai Elohenu, Adomi ehad.” (Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God the Lord is one). This meant that the house was consecrated in obedience to the injunction found in Deut. 6:4-6. Phylacteries, or Tefillin, were worn on the forehead and the back of the left hand in the morning services on all days of the year, except Sabbath and Holy Days, to literally put the words of the Law for a sign upon their hand and a frontlet between their eyes. The Tzitzit was the fringe ordained in Deut. 22:12, “Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture.” Jesus would have known about these practices and, as a devout, orthodox Jewish Rabbi, followed them as well.
There seems to be a general consensus among many today that Jesus’ knowledge was divinely given by the Holy Spirit and that he was unschooled and unlearned. While there is no question that he was the “Son of God”, the purpose of this blog is to see whether the premise that he didn’t have to study or go to school is true. It is said that because of his lack of formal training in the theology of his day people were amazed at his knowledge. Scriptural evidence to back up such claims are cited in John 1:46 : “can anything good come from Nazareth”; Acts 2:7: “are not all these Galileans?”; Acts 4:13: “Uneducated and untrained men…” “These statements may reflect a Judean bias against Galileans. Some Judeans may have seen themselves as cultured and cosmopolitan. To them, the Galileans were provincials whose accent seemed coarse and unrefined.” (Jerusalem Perspective, Nov. ’88) “No doubt this disdain toward Galileans prompted that assumption, in John 7:15, that Jesus had no education.” (Jerusalem Perspective, Nov. ’88) The idea is thus given that Galilee was the “boondocks” and that the people who lived there were basically backwoods, ignorant people that didn’t have a formal education.
     Because of recent research being done in Jerusalem, we know today that this premise is not true. The level of learning and education in Galilee exceeded that of Judea in Jesus’ day. Galilee surpassed Judea in its schools of learning, and most of the famous rabbis of Jesus’ day came from Galilee. According to Prof. Schmuel Safrai, Heb. University Professor of Jewish History of the period of the Mishnah and Talmud, says, “not only did the number of first century Galilean Rabbis known from Rabbinic literature exceed the number of Judean Rabbis, but even the moral and ethical quality of their teaching excelled that of their Judean counterparts.” (Article in Yavo Digest, Sept. 1986, p. 4).
     This philosophy, of the backwoods Galilean, is also pointed out when Paul is heralded as one of the great minds in theological circles of his day, Christian-wise, because of being, at one time, a Pharisee of the Pharisees and having studied at the feet of the great Jewish Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. While there is no doubt that he was a great teacher of the Gentiles, if he and Jesus are put side by side you’ll find Paul at Jesus’ feet (the position of a disciple) and not the other way around.
     To show you the truth of that statement, let me ask you one question. How many of us have spent most of our study lives in the epistles as opposed to the Gospels? Do you know why? Most of it is unconscious! We do it because when we read the epistles, written to poor, dumb Gentiles that didn’t know anything about spiritual matters, we think that we understand. Because of this most of our theology is constructed on the epistles that Paul wrote to these primarily Gentile congregations and not on the words of Jesus.
     But when we read the gospels, and come across statements like Luke 23:31: “If you do these things in the green Tree, what will happen in the dry?” (Matthew 11:12; Luke 12:49) we get confused because we don’t really know what he is talking about or alluding back to. It gets dangerous with these and many other passages when we think that we understand them and we don’t. But there are so many different words and phrases that we don’t understand. They were originally stated to Jews that had 3000 years of Oral and written tradition behind them, and we’ve never stopped and asked, “Why don’t we understand this?” One reason is that they were not originally written down in English, and we don’t have a good background in Jewish theology of the first century. Another is that his education and training allows him to think and deal with people of an eastern mindset. All of this is imperative since we have a Jewish Rabbi speaking to a Jewish audience in the first century in Galilee and Judea.
In the N.T. a great deal of space is given to the birth of Jesus. But from the time of the Magi visiting him until his appearance in the Temple at age 12 nothing is said about him! And from that appearance until the beginning of his public ministry at the age of 30 again nothing is said! What was he doing? Where was he? With just a little research and some background into the world of the first century Jewish teacher we can find the answer to these and many more questions.
     “One should view Jesus against his Jewish background, the world of the Sages, to recognize and appreciate his great influence on those around him. Only thus shall we be able to understand how Christianity was formed. Jesus was part and parcel of the world of the Jewish Sages. He was no ignorant peasant, and his acquaintance with the Written and the Oral Law as considerable.” (Flusser, David, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity. New York: Adama Books, 1987) 18, 19.
     In my next blog I’ll look at the importance of education to a boy in Jesus world, the word Sage and Pharisee, and the material that Jesus was acquainted with as a scholar of the Jewish world.