Examining The Historical Significance Of Why Was Jesus A Rabbi

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Published by Shannon Jacobs



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Given that we are separated from the Lord Jesus’ time by more than 2,000 years, it is challenging to mentally transport ourselves to a society with a different linguistic context, as it would seem strange to our modern-day sensibilities. However, this is something we have to do to fully grasp Jesus’ profound messages and teachings.

Is referring to Jesus as a “rabbi[1]” acceptable? According to others, the phrase could date from a time following Jesus’ lifetime. Thus, it wouldn’t be suitable to use it these days in reference to Him. Others have also asserted that Jesus refused the title for the reason that He disapproved of the Jewish religious authorities of His time.

What Is A Rabbi?

In the wording of the Bible, the Hebrew term “rabbi” is written in Greek letters ραββι in 15 places rather than being translated into its Greek counterpart (John 1:38, 49; Mark 9:5; Matt. 23:7-8).

One instance is John 1:37, where “rabbi” is tantamount to the Greek term didaskalos, a word that means “teacher.” So, it is rational to believe that when we find Jesus referred to as “teacher” in English interpretations, the authors of the Gospels are using it in place of the term “rabbi.”

Since today’s scholars refer to the period following 70 AD as “the rabbinic period” and talk of those who taught in that time frame as “the rabbis,” religious lecturers who gained followers before 70 AD were referred to as “sages.”

Therefore, by up-to-date definition, Jesus was considered a “sage” instead of a “rabbi.” In the eyes of scholars, speaking of Christ as a “rabbi” makes Him appear to have lived several years later than He really did.

Was Jesus A Rabbi?

There are several instances in the Scriptures where Jesus is referred to as “rabbi” (Mark 9:5, 14:45; Matthew 26:25, 49; John 1:38, 2:2, 4:31, 9:2, 11:8), so was Jesus indeed a rabbi? We can see in the Bible that the word “teacher” is more commonly used in place of the word “rabbi.” Nonetheless, both John the Baptist and Jesus were called “rabbi.”

Rabbis have followers, much like John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus had, which is the second commonality. Typically, disciples chose the rabbi they wanted to learn from. To an outsider, Jesus’ disciples and Himself resembled the disciple-rabbi relationship that was prevalent at the time.

How Jesus taught shares another commonality with rabbis. Rabbis didn’t merely lecture their students; they also offered moral questions for the students to think about, and the students would follow up with questions. The Word of God is packed with instances of Jesus applying this strategy.

Through a series of pieces of evidence, the majority of the Christian community believes that Jesus, the Son of God, is a Jewish Rabbi. One of the proofs is that Jesus’ disciples gave Him this title; He is their religious teacher—their rabbi. Jesus answered, taught, and asked many questions recorded throughout the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

old books on bookshelves and leaning against each other

Study That Shows Jesus Was A Rabbi

Ancient Learning Method

Even though the writing was well-developed and scrolls were utilized as books for learning and reading, writing supplies were expensive and hard to come by. This means that every written work had to be handwritten by scribes who had received special training. As a result, learning typically involves memorizing through continual repetition.

In The Jewish People of the First Century (Volume Two), Section 945–970, “Education and the Study of the Torah,” Professor Shmuel Safrai writes that chanting scripture passages aloud was a common method of Bible study for both private and communal purposes, as was repeating of the readings, etc. There was the common phrase “the chirping of children” at that time, which was picked up by people walking close by when young people were saying a verse.

Adults also typically read loudly during individual and group study since it is usually advised against learning in a whisper. The threat of forgetting could only be avoided in this way. Furthermore, “In the eyes of the rabbis, repetition was the key to learning. One who repeats his lesson a hundred times is not like him who repeats it a hundred and one times” (Chaggigah 9b).

Numerous strategies were developed to help the student memorize information. Even babies were instructed to remember the Hebrew alphabet, or Shabbath 104x, according to a Talmud text. The Law of Moses was taught to young learners throughout primary schools in Torah and in the language of Hebrew.

The Oral Law

It is true that the Law was the main topic of all the rabbis’ teachings. The Ancient Law contained both the Written Law and the Oral Law from the viewpoint of the rabbis.

The Torah, frequently known as the Five Holy Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), was the aforementioned Written Law that God presented to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

Based on the rabbis, Moses apparently received other spoken commands or directives alongside this written revelation. The rabbis referred to these further commandments as “the Oral Law”.

Halachah and Haggadah are the two divisions into which the Oral Law is separated. Halachah, or the “way or path on which a person is to walk,” originates from the Hebrew word halach, which also means “to go” or “to walk.”

In the days of Jesus, the emphasis was on haggadah instead of halachah. Rather than engaging in theoretical debates about the legal significance of the Law, rabbis tended to concentrate their sermons and lessons on current issues and the practical application of biblical teachings.

Modern Breakthrough

Dr. Robert Lindsey made fascinating synoptic discoveries while researching in Jerusalem alongside Professor David Flusser. With their findings, it is now feasible to recreate many of Jesus’ teachings and reclaim their original settings.

This revelation has allowed us to better grasp not just Jesus’ teaching techniques and fashion but also His instructional format, or the manner in which He directs His lectures. These findings have broad ramifications for our understanding of the approach and presentation of the haggadic teacher of the first century.

Scriptural Verses

As we’ve already mentioned, Jesus was called a rabbi in addition to being a Jewish Messiah. He had extensive wisdom, and when He arrived in a particular place, He was acknowledged as a rabbi by those around Him. Several sections in the New Testament serve as instances that demonstrate that comprehension.

  • In the passage of Luke, Jesus responds, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He then answers, “Rabbi, speak.”
  • A lawyer got up and asked, as if to provoke Jesus, “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 23:36; Luke 10:25). Similarly, another man asked Jesus in Luke 18:18 and Matthew 19:16 the very same thing.
  • A number of Sadducees walked to Jesus and addressed Him as “Rabbi…” (Matthew 22:23–24; Luke 20:27).
  • In Luke 12:13, a person addressed Him, saying, “Rabbi, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.”
  • According to Luke 20:27 and Matthew 22:23–24, they questioned Jesus, uttering, “Rabbi, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but teach the way of God truly.”
  • In the presence of the mass of people, some Pharisees commanded Him, “Rabbi, rebuke your disciples” (Luke 19:39).

Note how many different types of people, including lawyers, wealthy young rulers, Pharisees, and Sadducees, in the aforementioned passages refer to Jesus as Rabbi. This represents a diverse representation of the population during Jesus’ day.

Can We Call Jesus “Rabbi?”

Even before Jesus’ birth, it was common for followers to call their instructor rav, which means “master” or “great one,” as evidenced by statements from the early sages in the Mishnah, which discussed the connection between a talmid or disciple and his rav or master (see, for example, Pirke Avot 1:6, from the second century BC). The term for “teacher,” moreh, alluded to a teacher who taught kids.

Since the time of Christ has been described as predating the rabbinic time (post-70 AD), some modern scholars do not associate Him as a “rabbi,” yet the word “rabbi” appears in the Word of God to address Him in some verses. God Himself also says that He desires us to speak of His name as our “master,” so it seems only natural that since we are His followers, we should refer to Jesus as our “rabbi.”

torn page with ancient text against silver menorah


Not only did Christ’s teachings reach every race and culture, but there have also always been a small number of Jews who have adhered to His teachings. Jewish people nowadays are becoming more receptive to the idea of seeing Jesus as a notable rabbi as well as a historical figure.

Where could Jesus be found now if He came to Earth? Probably engaging in discussion with the Secular, the Orthodox, the Conservative, and the younger generations on sidewalks, on the internet, and in churches. He would lecture, pay attention, and ask, “Who do you say that I am?” just as He had done with His disciples.

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