Teaching of Jesus
TEACHING OF JESUS. No other aspect of the ministry of Jesus is so frequently observed in the gospels as His teaching. Even redemption, preaching, and healing had to be made relevant to the observers, which inevitably involved teaching. In a sense, it can be said that all Jesus said, did, and was comes to a focus in His teaching. Though He was certainly more than a teacher, He was still a “teacher come from God” (
Jesus’ hearers were astonished at His teaching because He taught them as one who had authority (
Jesus’ role as proclaimer and interpreter of divine revelation is indicated in the term προφήτης, G4737, “prophet.” Moses foretold that a unique prophet was to come (
It is impossible to measure the effectiveness of Jesus’ teaching by a single standard. His human methodology was hopelessly intertwined with His divine revelation. All that He said and did was a part of His mission. Even so, His techniques as the Master Teacher still are the best model for those who would learn to teach.
The lasting effect of Jesus’ teaching was temporarily obscured by the events of His passion and redemptive work. Had it not been for the later ministry of the disciples, much of the results would have been lost. On the other hand, had it not been for the effectiveness of His impact upon the people and His success in training the disciples, the tremendous success of the Apostolic Church would have been impossible. Certainly thousands had been permanently impressed and significantly changed by the teaching of Jesus. At any rate, the results of what Jesus did and taught (
Ultimately, the power of Jesus was more than skill. It was His deity and redemptive grace. Even these must be so presented as to win the attention of the hearers and to motivate them to the proper participation in the benefits offered. The skill of Jesus in communication was matched only by the perfection of the grace that He offered.
Horne lists five qualifications for a world-teacher (op. cit., pp. 184, 185). They read as if they had been abstracted from the life of Jesus. They are:
a. A vision that encompasses the world
b. Knowledge of the heart of men
c. Mastery of the subject taught
d. Aptness in teaching
e. A life that embodies the teaching
As Jesus told Nicodemus, He alone could speak as one who came down from heaven (
Good teaching is not accidental. It springs from aims. The words and acts of Jesus constantly reflect a master strategy designed to accomplish a purpose for which He came into the world. This master purpose found expression in a multitude of lesser, immediate aims. He has been called a “strategist with objectives.”
Though Jesus never traveled far from Pal., He always had the world in view. He must bring the “other sheep” into the fold (
Jesus gained the attention of men until they sometimes trod upon each other to see and hear Him (
Jesus understood the deep motivations of the human heart. His appeal was wholesome and worthy of His mission. Nonetheless, it was powerful and compelling. Jesus appealed to both self-interest and altruism, to natural or intrinsic motives and to extrinsic motives such as rewards and punishments. He saw life as it ought to be now and in the world to come. He appealed to man to seek the best. He also warned against the tragedy of evil and its consequences. Being fully aware of the grades of motives, He was, nevertheless, frankly practical. He geared His appeal to the individual’s needs and capacity. Yet, for Him, the ultimate of all moral and spiritual values was perfect love to God and man (
Jesus understood well that more than a lecture is necessary if people are to be changed. Their own interests must be aroused to the point of participation. They must ask, seek, and knock (
Jesus avoided abstract forms of expression when possible. He spoke to the minds and hearts of those who lived by seeing, hearing, and doing. He spoke of logs and sawdust to warn against unfair criticism (
The charm of Jesus’ skill and methodology is in the thorough mastery with which He worked. The pedagogical principles were not disconnected tricks but parts of the artistry of the perfect craftsman who does all things well (
Whereas there is a unique content of Jesus’ teaching and mission and a unique perfection of communication, neither of which can be duplicated, there are also discernible methods that can be studied and used.
One of the most striking methods of Jesus was the parable. It may be an extended story or a pithy statement, but it always conveys spiritual truth by a comparison with familiar facts. Horne says there are about twenty-eight short comparisons and perhaps twenty-five different stories in the recorded words of Jesus (op. cit., p. 76). About one-fourth of the spoken words of Jesus recorded by Mark fall in this category. Thus Jesus caught the attention and held the interest of His hearers. He spoke to the heart in words that would repeat themselves in ever enlarging meaning as the hearer would meditate on the catchy anecdote or comparison. It was possible to say things by implication under the cover of a figure that would not be permitted in open discourse (
Epigrams, proverbs, aphorisms, maxims, and paradoxes compress into the briefest possible compass a germ of truth that is intelligible to the popular mind, easily remembered, and capable of springing up later as the beginning of a chain of thought. Jesus’ teaching, fortunately, abounded in these. Dependent as the earliest believers were on oral tradition, they had little difficulty preserving and using these sayings.
Some of Jesus’ teaching has a rhythmic quality, evident even in Eng. translations (e.g.,
Another favorite technique of Jesus was the question method. This was a call for direct and active participation in the issue at hand. It could awaken the conscience, turn aside an attack, arouse emotion, captivate interest, or probe the depths of any issue. At times it could even silence those who sought to bring an end to Jesus’ ministry (
There were times, however, when truth could be communicated more rapidly and more effectively by orderly discourse or sermon. The supreme example is the
The use of OT quotations has a central place in the teaching of Jesus. He had utmost confidence in the documents (
The sequence of impression - expression, often in a project context, helped to effect a permanent change in Jesus’ hearers. Jesus not only told His disciples how to minister and what they would encounter; He sent them out, gave them experience, and brought them back into a reporting session. They learned by doing, by instruction, and by discussion (
A concrete symbol becomes an emblem to typify the abstract. The firmness of the symbol tends to prevent the abstract idea from deviating and disintegrating. Jesus emphasized baptism and the
Jesus was the supreme example of His own teaching. He lived what He taught. He sanctified Himself that His followers might be sanctified (
The teaching of Jesus would fall flat, whatever His skill, were it not for the content of His teaching. He revealed God (
Jesus nowhere argued the existence of God. He always assumed it. Indeed, He reveals Him. Jesus seemed hurt that Philip could associate with Him for so long a time and yet not be satisfied with the revelation of God in Him. In concrete human terms, Jesus made God known as the nourisher—the Father who cares for mankind. Jesus always called Him Father or God except in OT quotations that refer to Him as Lord.
His own Person.
Though Jesus never gave any systematic teaching concerning Himself, His own self-consciousness was revealed both incidentally and in formal declaration. Among His most specific indications of deity are: “I proceeded and came forth from God” (
The burden of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit was the Spirit’s work in relation to the believer. He emphasized that man enters the kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit (
Though Jesus never made a systematic presentation of the Scriptures, He made some of the strongest statements confirming their reliability. Arguing in defense of His life, Jesus said “and the scripture cannot be broken” (
Jesus did not present the Christian life in legalistic terms. It was to be a spiritual vitality produced in a relationship with Him by faith (
One of the most constantly recurring themes in Jesus’ teaching is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. It is the rule of God, whether simply in the hearts of men or in some kind of establishment. It has its beginning in the lives of believers (
The kingdom takes shape as the Church for the present order—the assembly of those who have joyfully submitted to the rule of God through the redemption that is in Christ. Jesus was aware of this emerging body of believers, called it His Church, and claimed to be the builder of it (
To Jesus, eschatology was simply the extension of the moral and spiritual principles to their logical outcome under the rule of God. Taken for granted were moral responsibility, future life, heaven, hell, judgment, rewards, punishments, the ultimate triumph of God and His people, and the everlasting suffering of those who are lost. Those who reject Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have no hope (
R. Montague, “The Dialectic Method of Jesus,” BS, 41 (1884), 549-572; G. Stevens, “The Teaching of Jesus,” II, “The Method of His Teaching,” BW, 5 (1895), 106-113; D. Smith, “Our Lord’s Use of Common Proverbs” Exp., 6th series, 6 (1902), 441-454; D. Burrell, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Scriptures (1904); L. Crane, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Holy Spirit (1905); A. Zenos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning Christian Conduct (1905); G. Hallock, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Christian Life (1906); W. Beecher, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the(1906); W. Hoyt, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning His Own Person (1907); G. Morgan, The Teaching of Christ (1913); A. Robertson, “The Teaching of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel,” BW, 52 (1918), 83-91; H. Horne, Jesus—The Master Teacher (1920); W. Squires, The Pedagogy of Jesus in the Twilight of Today (1927); C. Montefiore, “The Originality of Jesus,” HJ, 28 (1929-1930), 98-111; C. McKoy, The Art of Jesus As a Teacher (1930); H. Branscomb, The Teaching of Jesus (1931); J. Crum, “Jesus As a Poet Teacher,” ET, 46 (1934-1935), 197-200; H. Guy, “The Elements of Abruptness in the Teaching of Jesus,” ET, 52 (1940-1941), 238, 239; R. Carter, The Eternal Teacher (1960); B. Metzger, “The Form and Content of the Teaching of Jesus Christ” (1962), mimeographed by Bethel College and Seminary.