Learning and education were highly valued in first-century Jewish society. Every village and community had a synagogue, which served as the place both of learning and prayer. The learning of the synagogue was considered to be an important part of its worship, as its schools functioned every day.
At the time, only boys received formal education. A synagogue usually had its own schools, where boys studied the Hebrew Torah until the age of 12 or 13. Studying meant committing to memory large amounts of material – Scripture passages and commentaries on Scripture written by leading scholars. After that age most boys left school and went to work but a few of the more promising students would stay at the school. The most able eventually left home altogether, in order to study with a famous teacher. A talented boy would seek out a Rabbi (meaning ‘master’) as his personal teacher and mentor.
The Rabbis had become those who explained God to the Jews. God was a mystery, but he could be observed and followed through the laws he had given in the Torah. These laws could be obscure, and it was and remains the job of the Rabbis to try to interpret them and decide what they mean for the community. Having such a role gave the Rabbis a very high status in Jewish social and political life.
We see from the Gospels how Jesus learnt, and how he taught. In many ways, Jesus taught like other Rabbis of his day. The Rabbi would gather around him a group of students or disciples, asking questions of them, and getting them to wrestle with the scriptural texts. When Jesus was a child, his anxious parents discovered him in the temple ‘sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions’ (Luke 2:41-51). This sounds remarkable, but in fact Jesus was simply doing what the Rabbi’s students would do, discussing the scriptures to explore every possible understanding of the text.
The people were familiar with teachers: but Jesus was different. It was evident to everyone that he had something that the others did not.
Read Matthew 7:28-29 and John 3:1-2
- What made Jesus’ approach different?
- From your knowledge of Jesus’ ministry as a whole, what methods of teaching did Jesus use to share his message?
- What can we learn from Jesus’ approaches to improve our own teaching, modelling and discipling?
There is much that we can learn from the way that Jesus taught. Jesus’ life modelled his words; he lived what he preached. This contrasts with the scribes and Pharisees who were full of fine words but whose actions did not live up to them (see Matthew 23:1-4). Because he spoke the words the Father gave him to speak, he spoke with absolute authority, conveying the truth of God to all who heard him. The words of Jesus were life, and gave life to those around him. And they still give life to those of us who hear him speaking to our hearts. Often those who heard him were surprised by his teaching and it made them ask questions. Jesus also varied his style of teaching to suit the context. He had a gift for communicating with the ordinary person through stories.
Read Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:4
- What do these passages say about teaching and learning?
- What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today and to make disciples as Jesus did?
Being a disciple is about learning from Jesus, learning to depend on him and to obey him. It is like being an apprentice who spends time with his master, observing him and learning to do what he is doing. As disciples of Jesus we are also called to disciple one another. Walking with Jesus, we become more like him and are more able to show one another what it means to have a ‘life with Jesus’.
Roland Lubett is Lecturer in Development Studies at All Nations Christian College, Ware, UK. Website:www.allnations.ac.uk