To understand the luminosity of Jesus' teaching, we'll need a rock-like foundation:
The Milieu of Jesus' Teaching
Jesus was born as a man--most would agree. But to understand Jesus' teaching we need to root the context deep into the matrix of His day.
Jesus was born as a Jewish man, among Jewish people, deeply entrenched in Jewish culture. Of this, we have verifiable evidence within the Bible and without.
Only very infrequently do we ever make the logical conclusion: Jesus spoke and taught in a thoroughly Hebraic way.
What? You expected him to teach like Chuck Swindoll?
Yet to hear many capable, intelligent, and even scholarly pastors and teachers, you would think that Jesus came down, put on a three-piece suit and built First Baptist at the corner of Temple and Main, preached from the KJV, joined the Republican party, and had the Gaithers in for a concert.
As "Christians" we want to claim Jesus, and unfortunate bias often tempts us to tear Him from His context. But the undisputable fact remains that Jesus was first and foremost a Jew, and operated as an itinerant Jewish teacher.
In order to recapture and rediscover the essence of Jesus teaching, we must become familiar with the language and idioms with which He spoke, the distinctly Hebraic and ways he taught, and the Jewish culture in which He rooted his ministry.
Jesus' Teaching: In Hebrew
One of the most significant discoveries of this lifetime is the that of the dead sea scrolls, which shattered some preconceived notions. Namely, that Jews of Jesus day discoursed at least religious language, if not more, in the Hebrew rather than the formerly assumed Aramaic.
We promise to write more on this later, but suffice it to say for now that as it turns out, the gospels are full of Hebrew idioms (phrases that only make sense in a Hebrew way of speaking.)
Furthermore, the work of Professor David Flusser and Dr. Robert Lindsay on the language forms of the gospel revealed distinctly Jewish thought behind the Greek cover.
Many scriptures open up their meaning quite easily when we appreciate and understand the language and idioms Jesus used.
Jesus' Teaching Methods
Kal Ve'chomer Literally "light to heavy." By providing an example in a minor case, the major case is proven also. The use of this this "method" is often tipped off by the English translation "how much more..."
"Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!" (Luke 12.24)
Hyperbole A deliberate characterization or exaggeration in order to make a truth picturesque and memorable. Jesus' teaching contains bucketfuls of this method...
"You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23.24)
You can only imagine these as what they really are: zingers that pleased the crowd and drove the point home like a blind-side quarterback sack.
Kesher connections Probably the hardest ones to spot, because they are the opposite of hyperbole ...subtle words or actions alluding to other scriptures or truths. They are harder for us to spot in Jesus' teaching.
Because most Jews had a very high memorization rate of the Hebrew Scriptures, so a turn of phrase would ring a bell with them while leaving us (comparatively) scripture-illiterate folks feeling like Mike Tyson in a spelling bee...
“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” (John 8.6)
This seemingly out of place act by Jesus at the accusation of the adulterous woman could be an allusion to
- God writing the ten commandments with his "finger," a particularity that every Jew would've known.
- "Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water" - Jeremiah 17:13. (A clever offering by Rob Bell.)
How would you even know these? You would be a very, very clever man or you would be like the Jews who memorized tons of scripture. But the gospels are full of these clues, and some good men have been able to dust them off for us.
Kesher connections would often be used to unite the meaning of two verses that shared similar phrasing such as "You shall love the Lord...and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." In this case, to love your neighbor is to love God.
We're just scratching the surface here. There's a lot left to be said on Jesus' teaching, so check back often for new articles and updates.
To keep you satiated in the mean time, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus.
Take a look at the top ten Jesus quotes