Pastor's Blog

Was Jesus Truly a Rabbi?

Early in the first century, a controversial rabbi polarized the Jewish world. Jesus of Nazareth astounded the masses with His wonders, infuriated the establishment with His wisdom, and castigated the hypocrites with His words. Centuries later, rabbinic Talmudists maligned Jesus as wicked and unworthy of the title Rabbi. More recently, some accuse the Gospel writers (especially John) of anachronistically conferring the title after the fact. Others gladly assert Rabbi to be honorific, albeit of little significance to the greater view of Jesus. Each of these claims deserves examination. In the biblical record, though, the Evangelists give evidence of Jesus’ own disciples, religious leaders, and others addressing Jesus as Rabbi—a term which speaks plainly (and is often used synonymously) of Jesus as Master, Teacher, and Lord.[1] But modern Christians eschew this Gospel name for the Messiah, as if clothing Jesus in the Jewish term rabbi somehow makes for a poor covering. Contrary to donning rags, however, Jesus wears the title Rabbi as a finely-tailored robe—its folds and flows accentuating His greatness. To demonstrate that rabbi is an appropriate designation, consider three marks of Jesus’ teaching ministry in the Gospel record:

1. Jesus received a rabbinical education.

2. Jesus instructed His disciples through means of rabbinical pedagogy.

3. Jesus assumed the rabbinical posture of sitting to teach.

Alone, each of these details easily goes unnoticed, lost in the panoramic backdrop of the Gospel scene. When considered together, the greater portrait of Rabbi Jesus comes into focus. By better understanding the biblical and cultural context of Jesus as Rabbi, Christians gain deeper insight into Jesus as Teacher and Master. In turn, this creates better students and disciples for Jesus as both Lord (Master) and Christ (Messiah).

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[1]. Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Jesus as Rabbi in the Fourth Gospel,” ed. Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research 8 (1998): 100, Logos Bible Software.