January 30, 2007

Jesus the Rabbi

By Donna Dawson
copywrite 2007

Sometimes the simplest teachings pass us by simply because we can't see the forest for the trees. Day after day as I study the New Testament, I never cease to be amazed by the things I discover. A case in point: recently our Bible study group stumbled onto a discovery through a DVD series we were using. In one particular episode, the DVD begins by talking about the Jewish religion in Jesus' time and how boys studied the Torah until they were twelve. At age twelve, they would either go on to study the rest of the Old Testament or they would take on a trade. Those who continued their studies, did so with the intent of becoming a Rabbi. In the New Testament, we are shown a brief scene where Jesus at age twelve comes before the teachers of the law at the temple and astounds them with his knowledge. What we aren't told is that those teachers would have immediately encouraged Joseph to continue Jesus' studies. Rabbis chose deciples based on their abilities in the scriptures--the more adept the student was--the more likely he would be chosen by a Rabbi.

At age sixteen, those who had memorized the rest of the Old Testament would then approach a Rabbi they wished to become a disciple to and ask if he would consider them. Rabbis only considered the best of the best since their disciples were a reflection of themselves. Once accepted, the young disciple would then take the Rabbi's yoke upon himself. A Rabbi's yoke was actually his teachings. When we think of a yoke, we think of the cumbersome piece of wood that lies over the necks of a team of oxen. While the term may have found its origins there, in religious terms it was the Rabbi's interpretation of scripture and their disciples would take that interpretation upon themselves. For the next ten or so years, the disciple would follow the Rabbi and learn everything possible. He would then move on to becoming a Rabbi himself at the approximate age of thirty.

Jesus began his ministry at age thirty. Instead of choosing the best of the best to be his disciples, he chose those that society despised--fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot--and called them to follow him. In doing so, he showed those around him that his interpretation of scripture was one based in humility. He wasn't a carpenter--merely the son of one. His Rabbi status is firmly established in John 8:3 when even the Pharisees refer to him as 'Teacher'--a name they would not have given him unless he was one.

Jesus used many terms associated with a Rabbi's position. He told his disciples to 'take my yoke upon you'. He was asked to read the scriptures in the synogogue--not something offered to anyone but a Rabbi. By being a Rabbi, he was in the perfect position to refute the abuses that had been incorporated into the Jewish faith in that time--he could call the Pharisees a brood of vipers because he had the authority to do so as a spiritual leader.

My daughter finished off this profound study with a revelation of her own. After having discussed it amidst our group, she piped up, "So that's what it means when the Bible says we're not to be unequally yoked. We're not to marry someone who has a different interpretation of faith." I was proud of her insight and wisdom and amazed by the many ways we can see scripture--it is an exciting yoke to bear.


  1. How cool! And for any young woman, a very important insight!!

    The history and customs of Bible times enriches our understanding so much. We learned that while attending Grace Community church for a little while and hearing the results of John MacArthur's seven hours a day preparation for his messages, including so much background. I always hated history -- until then!

    Thanks for posting your wonderful learning experience.


  2. Is this ever an eye-opener, Donna! Thanks for sharing it. It gives new meaning to Jesus' yoke, which he said was 'light'. He must have been comparing it to the other Rabbi's yokes which were weighed down with hundreds of Pharisaical laws. Jesus' only law was to love Him and each other, so maybe that's what he meant when he said "My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Cool.

  3. Another neat thing about those verses in Matthew 11 is that they use two words for burden. One means a heavy load of freight, and the other means the invoice! I'm sure you know which is which.

    Oh I just thought, that gives my paper-work a whole new meaning!


  4. I love hearing the deep history and culture behind the Bible stories we know so well. The NT was written for an audience who would have known all this stuff. Two thousand years later, these words still ring true for us, but a little bit of study helps us understand them so much more. Thanks for sharing this, Donna. What neat insight into Jesus' position as a rabbi.

  5. Anonymous5:44 am GMT-7

    Too bad the writer didn't give credit to Rob Bell. His short videos include the one quoted from extensively in the comments posted here. It is cool information but it would have been nice to identify the source.


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