Mount Carmel

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

[...]

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

In Part 1 of this series, we explored the question “What is a Rabbi?”, along with some of this question’s implications. In this article, we will examine the question “Was Jesus a Rabbi?”, to which I believe the answer is “yes”, that he was a rabbi with s’mikah (authority) in the tradition of the hasidim – which, per Part 1, is not the same as a Jewish Orthodox Rabbi, in today’s world.

Who Called Jesus Rabbi?

From the Biblical record, we have note of 7 different groups/types of people who refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” or “Teacher” (the rough translation): His disciples (Mark 9:5, Mark 11:21 etc.); Pharisees (John 3:1-2); John the Baptist’s disciples (John 1:35-38); Common people (Mark 10:51, John 6:24-25); Torah teachers (Matthew 8:19); Herodians (Luke 3:12); and the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23-32). Additionally, he refers to himself by this title (John 13:12-14, Luke 22:10-11).

The title ‘Rabbi’, in first-century contemporary literature, could refer both to Torah teachers (”Teachers of the Law”) and sages/rabbis with s’mikah (authority). Jesus, who was clearly recognized by this title, would have fallen into one of these two categories, though clearly – from scripture – it was the latter.

Jesus’ Authority

In similar fashion, Jesus was recognized by many people in scripture as having authority (s’mikah). In Mark 1:22 we read:

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

According to Hebrew tradition, for a sage/rabbi to have s’mikah – authority to make new teachings to interpret scripture – he had to be recognized as a prophet from God, himself, or – as Aaron and Moses had traditionally given authority to 70 elders – they had to be recognized as having s’mikah by two other rabbis with s’mikah.

We know, from the scriptures, that John the Baptist was considered to be a similar sort of Rabbi (John 3:26) or a prophet (Matthew 11:7-9), with disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14), and followers in Asia Minor, who were later baptized into Jesus by Paul (Acts 19:1-7). And so it is we read in John 1:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

Additionally, when Jesus was questioned by the Sadducees as to where he got his s’mikah (authority), his answer (via the rabbinic technique of answering in questions) would indicate that John – a prophet – had heralded (not granted) his authority from God.

Additional Evidence

In Part 1, discussing rabbis in general, I noted that:

they lived a more itinerate lifestyle and took on followers – called talmidim (disciples) – who lived with them most of time, though they would be sent out on their own later in their learning. The rabbis had a yoke, their method of interpreting scripture, in which they would order the commandments of Torah from greatest to least. The talmidim of a rabbi would be expected to live by that yoke and to memorize the key teachings of that rabbi. Living with their rabbi, these talmidim would also learn to live in the same manner – with their greatest desire to be to learn to follow God just like their rabbi. In all of this, the talmidim were also in complete submission to the authority of their rabbi.

It is the presence of disciples, talmidim, which is one of the strongest bits of evidence of Jesus’ role as a rabbi in the tradition of the hasidim. In the Jewish culture, in order for one to be called a talmid, they had to have a rabbi to follow. To say that Jesus’ disciples were disciples, but he was not a rabbi is like saying “I’m married to Suzanne, and I am Suzanne’s husband, but she is not my wife”.

Additionally, Jesus had a yoke (Matthew 11:28-30; 22:36-40 ), he sent our his disciples on their own later in their learning (Matthew 10:5-25), they memorized his teaching and followed it (Matthew 7:24-29, Luke 6:46-49), they lived with him so that they could follow his example (Matthew 10:1, 16:24-28).

In Conclusion

It seems clear, from Biblical and cultural evidence from the first century that Jesus was a Rabbi, in the tradition of the hasidim and not the post-70 AD midrash Rabbis of today. It is also clear that Jesus was recognized by the people as having s’mikah, and that he had talmidim following him.

In the coming articles, we will examine some more aspects of Jesus as a Rabbi in addition to what it means for us to be a disciple in the true meaning of the word.




Comments

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2008 at 6:36 pm and is filed under Hebrew Context, Lessons, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Comments so far

  1. Dan Tompkins on April 3, 2009 5:25 pm

    I do believe Jesus went through all the Orthodox Jewish means to become a Rabbi. Is it stated anywhere in historical writings who the rabbi was that Jesus studied and followed. Many say that his Rabbi was God alone, but I don’t go along with that. In order for Him to be recognized by the authorities of the Jewish centers of the time, he had to have studied under another rabbi as was the law.

  2. Chris L. on April 3, 2009 5:30 pm

    Dan,

    Jesus seems to indicate that he learned from His Father, and nowhere (that I’m familiar with) is Jesus given an earthly rabbi (though some suspect that one or more of Hillel’s talmidim could have been an influence on him, since many of his teachings are similar to – or extend – those of Hillel).

    To have the authority of a rabbi, one need only give the names of those who ‘ordained’ him. In the case of Jesus, he makes it clear that John the Baptist was one of those witnesses, and the story of Jesus’ baptism (from the gospel accounts taught by his disciples) indicate that God, himself, was also a witness.

  3. cecilia on August 21, 2009 9:47 am

    You said: “In the coming articles, we will examine some more aspects of Jesus as a Rabbi” – I am interested in “the coming articles”, are they posted yet? I’m doing a study about this and find your articles well worded. cecilia

  4. Chris L. on August 21, 2009 10:55 am

    Cecilia,

    Here is the last one in the series, which has links to all 8 articles: http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/?p=219

  5. Robert on November 25, 2009 12:33 pm

    “Jesus” was Orthodox through and through !

    If you would want to test if someone can speak German , how would you test that person?

    Now “see” the test “Jesus” was given :-

    (cjb)Mar 14:55 The head cohanim and the whole Sanhedrin tried to find evidence against Yeshua, so that they might have him put to death, but they couldn’t find any.

    Orthodox enough ?

    Shalom

  6. Carol S. on February 26, 2010 3:56 pm

    I don’t think Jesus was orthodox, because when I take a look at Matthew 21:23 (in that passage) it hints at the truth. He was sent by God, and this Jesus constantly refers to over and over concerning himself throughout his ministry, that they might “believe on the one whom God sent”. Even with regard to John the baptist we can discern that he had the same ‘witness’ from God and was sent by Him. I would say it was a calling rather than an vocation.

    Let’s not forget that Jesus at twelve years of age was already astonishing these elders in the temple with his amazing teaching and understanding of the scriptures. It began quite early on, and he backs it by saying, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Who’s house was it? God’s. So there’s the Witness of his authority.

    Now I realize the Council would have kept check on their own rabbis, but they even tried to pit John against Jesus by saying he was stealing his disciples. They seem somewhat disconnected to me. So Jesus may not have been ‘under’ them, but I believe he was a hasidim as John was. But that’s just my thought.
    Peace to you.

  7. Chris L. on February 26, 2010 10:07 pm

    Carol,

    I would note the the historical use of the word “orthodox” in referring the the Jewish religion is not analogous to its modern usage. He would not have been accepted in any of the communities or allowed to teach in the synagogues of the Galilee region if he were not a practicing, “orthodox” (in the first-century sense) Jew. This does not preclude him being sent by God, and in fact, God is used by Jesus as his second “witness” (see this article) – I think you’re setting up an “either/or” where the case is actually “both/and”.

    I would say the same concerning a “calling” vs. a “vocation” – Jesus’ pattern of teaching, taking on disciples, etc. is an exact match to other contemporary rabbis of his time (see all eight parts of this series for more details).

    Let’s not forget that Jesus at twelve years of age was already astonishing these elders in the temple

    Actually, I discuss this in some other articles (like this one, in this series). The fact that he is twelve at the time is also support for him being within the Hebrew educational system, rather than miraculously set apart from it.

    Now I realize the Council would have kept check on their own rabbis, but they even tried to pit John against Jesus by saying he was stealing his disciples.

    There was not a council that governed who was and was not a rabbi – rather different communities would recognize them based upon who they received their s’mikah from. I’m not suggesting that Jesus’ “reported” to anyone, but rather that – when questioned about where he received recognition of his authority, he pointed to God and to his cousin, John.

  8. Ian Williams on June 13, 2010 3:41 am

    To me the real question is, was He the LAST RABBI? You need not that any man should teach you, but the Spirit within you will teach you and lead you into ALL TRUTH.

    No man will need to tell another to know God, for all shall know Me, from the greatest to the least, and I will write my (Royal) Law (of Love) on their hearts.

    If He was the last Adam, then surely he was also the last Rabbi, and the only authority God will recognise and that we ought to function in, is His.

    0(:->)

  9. Dennis Wall on October 4, 2010 3:09 pm

    I would like Ian Williams to please give the scriptures referred to in order to reach this conclusion of Jesus being the Last Rabbi! Fascinating! Thanks!

  10. peter zmigrod on November 3, 2011 3:13 pm

    can any assist me – re john 7:15 questioning jesus extent, or lack, of education (rabbi???)

  11. Gideon Keke on December 16, 2011 4:51 am

    Was Jesus religious or just Rabbi(Teacher)?

  12. Chris L. on December 27, 2011 11:55 pm

    Religious in what way? Yes, he was an observant Jew (there are lots of references to this in Scripture), and yes he was a respected Rabbi. I’m not sure I understand your question.

  13. samuel on May 3, 2012 7:27 am

    New news to me about Yeshua being a Rabbi! thx for the info I always love learning something new. Shalom

  14. Michele on August 12, 2012 11:51 am

    While I agree with all that you said, I have a question. If he was known as a rabbi, why does John 7:15 say what it does?

    Just trying to make sense of it all! Thanks!

  15. Chris L. on September 5, 2012 10:04 am

    John 7:15 is about how Jesus was trained (he didn’t study under a formal Rabbi), not about how he was recognized.

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