Jesus the Rabbi

August 20, 2018

by Barry Fike

     When you read the gospel record of Jesus you keep hearing a term that not many Christians know much about: Rabbi. It seems that Jesus has always been regarded as a great teacher but a Rabbi? How do we know that Jesus was a Rabbi? Go to the record and look at how many times this terminology is used.
1. Luke 7:40 – Jesus talking to Peter
2. Luke 10:25 – Jesus talking to a lawyer
3. Luke 12:13 – Jesus talking to one of the company
4. Luke 18:18 – Jesus talking to an unnamed man
5. Luke 19:39 – Jesus taking to Pharisees
6. Luke 20:21 – Jesus talking to people
7. Luke 20:27, 28 – Jesus talking to Sadducees
     Notice that in these scriptures it’s astounding who called Jesus a rabbi. It wasn’t just the poor and uneducated, it wasn’t the temple aristocracy, it wasn’t just his band of followers; it was a broad spectrum of the people of his day. We find private individuals, rich young rulers, lawyers, Pharisees, Sadducees, and many others recognizing Him as a Rabbi.
     What does this mean? 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” (as he claimed), the purpose of this blog is to see whether the promise 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. Scripture evidence to back up such claims are cited in John 1:46; Acts 2:7; 4:13. “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 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 were from Galilee. According to Prof. Shmuel 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.
To show you the truth of that statement let me ask you one question. How many of us have spent most of our study life 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. And because of this most of our theology is constructed on the epistles that Paul wrote to these primarily Gentile congregations.
     But when we read the gospels and come across statements like Luke 23:31; Matt. 11:12; Lk. 12:49 we get confused for we don’t really know what he is talking about or alluding back to. It really 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, 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 another is that his education and training allows him to think and deal with people or an eastern mindset.
     It may seem obvious, but we must realize that Jesus was a Jew. But he wasn’t just an ordinary Jew. He was a Rabbi, a teacher, one learned in the scripture and religious literature of his day which was considerable. We can know a lot about him once we know Jewish history, culture, and the literature of his day.