Rabboni (Teacher)

jesusdisipclesJESUS AND TEACHING

I am very grateful for every person who reads this blog, and especially for those who comment.  I always appreciate a gracious comment, even when I disagree with it.

That happened in yesterday’s blog, in a very well thought-out comment.  At the heart of his case was a statement about Jesus:  “We read the gospels and see that Christ delivered very few sermons and ate a lot of meals.”

I understand the point, that the relational ministry of Jesus took precedence of his teaching ministry, and that the “post-modern generation” is taking that cue and focusing their ministries accordingly.

I would like to humbly and lovingly disagree with the premise and the conclusion.  I am surprised that anybody would say anything to diminish the teaching ministry of Jesus.  Even a cursory look at the gospels present the teaching ministry of Jesus as second only to his saving work.  

  • Mt 4:17* From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
  • Mt 4:23* And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.
  • Mt 7:28* And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching,
  • Mt 9:35* Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.
  • Mt 11:1* Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
  • Mt 23:8* “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.
  • Mt 23:10* “And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.
  • Mt 26:55* In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.
  • Mr 1:14* Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
  • Mr 6:34* And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.
  • Mr 12:35* Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?
  • Lu 7:22* Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.
  • Lu 7:40* And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
  • Joh 1:38* Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”
  • Joh 3:2* This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
  • Joh 7:14* Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.
  • Joh 7:28* Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.
  • Joh 8:20* These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.
  • Joh 18:20* Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.
  • Joh 20:16* Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

From this evidence, let me point out the following:

  1. His nickname was Rabboni (teacher). 
  2. Jesus taught repeatedly in a formal, structured setting (the synagogue).  It was is habit and normal pattern to do so.  Notice, this is not a “walk and talk” lifestyle of a wandering disciple-maker, but a formal, instructional, inspirational setting.  The first churches modeled their worship after the synagogues:  worship & prayer plus Scripture reading AND EXPOSITION (preaching/teaching).  Jesus taught frequently in the synagogues, monologue, not dialog.  
  3. Not only in the synagogue, but also in the Temple, Jesus exercised his teaching ministry.  This would have been a very large audience.
  4. Even outside the temple, He taught very large groups, sitting down, as was the custom.
  5. He taught in informal settings too, the peripatetic preacher.
  6. Jesus viewed his act of teaching as an expression of compassion.
  7. The verb tenses indicate that Jesus repeatedly taught, or continually taught, and that it was his custom to teach.  That’s why they called him Teacher.   The gospels present Jesus as a Teacher whose hearers hung on every word.

Charles Haddon SpurgeonWe easily forget that the synagogue was the center of life for the Jewish community, especially during exile or foreign domination.  We also forget that early churches patterned their worship on the synagogue model:  music and teaching.  The Lord gave the church pastor-teachers as a gift, not to be diminished.  I believe that the teaching/preaching mininistry is the heartbeat of any church.  


As to Jesus eating meals, the gospels portray Jesus in teaching settings too many times to number.   But as to eating, supping, dining, or breaking bread, we have only a handful of examples.  

  • Mt 12:1* At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
  • Mt 14:16* But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
  • Mt 15:32* Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
  • Mt 26:17* Now on the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
  • Mt 26:26* And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
  • Mr 8:1* In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them,
  • Mr 8:17* But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened?
  • Mr 14:22* And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”
  • Luke 10:38* ¶ Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.
  • Luke 10:39* And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.
  • Joh 6:5* Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”
  • Joh 13:26* Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
  • Joh 21:12* Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”–knowing that it was the Lord.
  • Joh 21:13* Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.
  • Joh 21:15* So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

I love these examples of dining with Jesus.  I can’t wait for my turn.  I would say that there are undoubtedly more examples, but I just didn’t find them in by brief concordance search.  If you read the verses above, you’ll see that all of them pertain to maybe 5 different meals in total.  I know, I know, in addition to eating, Jesus did a lot of walking, talking, healing, touching, etc.  Obviously, Jesus ate daily.  But that’s NOT what the gospel writers emphasized. 

jonah-preaching-repentenaceThey emphasized him as a TEACHER above all else.  He preached a TON of sermons… and the gist of them is taught throughout Scripture.  The apostles gave their lives to transmit his teaching.  

Does that negate the importance of the other stuff?  No.  It just puts it in perspective.  

God help the Church when she diminishes the office of Teacher.  


In the NKJV… in the Gospels Only, no matter who’s doing it or saying it:

  • Teach/preach (and cognates) occur 139 times
  • Eat/ate (and cognates) occur 101 times
  • Heal/healed (and cognates) occur 55 times

I’d say that teaching wins by a few lengths.


I think that the kind of statement that Jesus ate a lot of meals and healed a ton of people and didn’t preach many sermons, is what gets picked up and repeated in the giant internet echo-chamber, even though it’s contrary to biblical fact.  It creates a false dichotomy between teaching and doing in the life of Jesus… he did both, and the gospel writers emphasize his teaching.

Jesus passion for teaching was contagious; his disciples caught it.  Luke introduces Acts, saying: The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, (Acts 1:1, NKJV). His doing and teaching… both/and, not either/or.  

There are plenty of Marthas, eager to run around and “do” for Jesus, who have never been a Mary, first sitting at the Master’s feet and learning of him.  Jesus said that Mary made the better choice.  Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…”


20 thoughts on “Rabboni (Teacher)

  1. Bill,
    I might be able to translate the gist of your conclusion in a way that emergent folks can appreciate the intimacy of Jesus’ doing and teaching you’re arguing for. Let me rephrase “teaching” as “story-telling.” After all, a lot of Jesus’ teaching WAS story-telling.

    Actions always reside in stories, true or fictional. We find, remember and make sense of “doing” within a narration that gives it meaning. The problem with emphasizing Jesus’ doing over his teaching is that the TRUTH of his actions, their meaning, is given in the story he tells about his action. So he heals someone or feeds a ton of people or makes wine for a party that’s out of supplies, and then he teaches (or “professes”) about the Kingdom of God. So we go, “Oh, enacting the Kingdom of God means healing and feeding and being joyfully hospitable. GREAT!”

    The teaching sheds light on actions, because it, in a way, tells a story in which the actions take on their proper meaning.

    The actions are important though, but secondarily. Without the actions, the teachings are just ideas and stories, and ideas are cool and all, but without being incarnated or fleshed-out, its hard to figure out which ones have weight and which just sound nice. Or to figure out exactly how it is those ideas and stories matter here, right now.

    Furthermore, sometimes people tell stories about their actions that don’t fit or mesh w/ the substance of the action. Either the actions aren’t right or the story isn’t, but something is amiss and we can kind of sense when that is the case. Lots of 80’s (and 90’s and contemporary) tele-evangelism fits this mold, I think. This is also a pretty good criticism of Liberation Theology, in my opinion. They tell a story about it that invokes the Gospel, but the structure of the actions looks a lot like Marxist Materialism, but with church services.

    Hope that helps show how “doing” and teaching aren’t really in opposition, if only from another angle.


  2. P.S. and thus the reason we get together at least once a week and hear teaching is because its good for us to have our day-to-day action re-contextualized as often as possible. We need to reminded of the story we share frequently, cuz there are other stories vying for our allegiance everywhere; careers, politics, advertising, and so on.

    It’s only in the context of our shared story that our “doing” for the Kingdom finds its meaning. Other wise its just the scramblings of lost people.

  3. This is very “off the cuff”, but perhaps when we look at only one aspect of Jesus and His ministry while on earth, we miss the big picture of His mission. God came to earth (WOW). All that Jesus did….teach, heal, dine, die and rise again was to show the love and great lengths God would go to redeem lost sinners. God now tells us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19) TEACHING them….

    It’s cool, because as it’s written in 1 Cor. 1…. God chooses what is low and despised in the world….he uses us to tell others about our Saviour. I received Jesus because my friend had the guts to come over and share the gospel with me. Sure I could have resented her for it, but the cool thing is that I sensed she cared about me enough to tell me the truth (or what she believed was the truth). I just praise God for using a teenage girl who didn’t have the perfect life, wasn’t always the perfect friend, but who loved me enough to share what she did have…Jesus Christ.

    1 Cor. 1: 30-31….”He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

  4. Cheri… great post.

    Jonathan… another thinker. I love it. Question: how do we describe the didactic portions of Scripture. I fear that overusing the word “story” makes our listeners come to resent didactic material. I preached on telling the whole story this last weekend… check it out.

  5. I will check it out, thanks. My first impulse is to say that listeners of my generation (and those who share its..shall we say frustrations? maybe prejudices?) tend to show up already resenting didactic material.

    I guess what I’m hoping to do in the way I talk about scripture (which emphasizes narrative, but out of a particular and contingent cultural need. I wouldn’t at all suggest that emphasis is necessary or absolute) is to show how the didactic and the narrative are not in opposition, but are instead moments of the same …shall we say “conversation” that God is having with us in Scripture.
    The big tent is REVELATION. Under that, we can make distinctions because they are helpful, but we should be mindful that they overlap and overflow. Sometimes argument is a kind of story-telling. and sometimes story-telling is a kind of argument.

    Does that ease your worry?

  6. “I would like to humbly and lovingly disagree with the premise and the conclusion.”

    What a nice example of polite disagreement between brothers, it would be a better world if we would always treat each other with such kindness and compassion.

    As to stories being used as a teaching tool, I have always enjoyed the way a nicely crafted parable can teach many lessons at the same time. At one point in your life you may read a story and get exactly what you need from it, while during another phase you will see more lessons which can be applied to your walk.

    Many times our Lord was not answering the question posed to him, but instead was uncovering the truth which was needed at that time:

    Luke 10:29 – Wishing to justify himself he said to Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied and said. “A certain man was going to from Jerusalem….

    A story which has taught many lessons over time, I have read it to a class of 5 year olds and it has value. I have heard it taught to a church and it has a deeper and less obvious meaning. There may be no better teaching tool than a good story.

  7. Bill~
    Never in my time in the blogosphere have I been so soundly disagreed with in such a loving and humble manner. Thanks for that. I have some good food for thought now.

    As a point of clarification, I don’t intend to discount the teaching ministry of Jesus. Jesus was a rabbi, is our rabbi still. Help me with this, though, if you would. Many of the verses you quoted under “Teaching” were transition verses. Mt 11:1, for example, introduces a passage which tells the story of John the Baptizer’s followers coming to Jesus to ask if He was the messiah. The focus of what the gospel writers wrote was not the sermons. Most of the events that are related are about Jesus’ relational ministry. Not to take anything away from the amount of time He spent teaching. Traditionally Christ’s earthly ministry is taken as 3 years, give or take, and the total of the stories in the gospels can’t be more than a couple of months to a year tops. During the rest of that time, it is only right to assume he was preaching in the synagogues and on street corners. However, the gospel writers did not focus on the content of those “sermons”, but rather on the relational ministry. Thinking men and women of my generation do not want to do “social programs” to the detriment of a teaching ministry. However, we have seen too many churches with leaders who stand up on Sunday and preach and then give no thought to those in their community who have physical needs. We have seen the pendulum swing that way for so long, some of us are willing to let it swing the other way for a while. Never would I suggest we stop teaching. We need men and women of faith who have the courage to stand before groups of believers and tell the truth! To tell it with power and authority and in love and gentleness. But these same courageous men and women need to be leading these groups of believers into soup kitchens and homeless shelters and amongst the poor. We can’t have one without the other.

    Bill, thanks again for taking the time. I am grateful for your gentle spirit.

    Tozer Seminary

  8. I’m so pleased with both these responses! Congratulations, fellow brethern, in that you can discuss without name calling or being a jerk! Of course, I’m more familiar with Dr. G’s responses, but Matty, I have to tell you how impressed I am with yours!! All I can say is “Praise God” for the spirit of humility and love I read in both of you!! Yeah!

  9. Team…

    Great discussions…

    I am afraid to suggest that all parties to this blog appear to be in “violent agreement.”

    The Kingdom of God on earth is seen through the Church. We are the emissaries [or priests] of this kingdom.

    Whatever that kingdom entails, is what others see in our testimony in words and deeds.

    While Paul emphasizes faith, James draws on works as a result of that faith. They are two sides of the same coin, i.e., the reign and presence of Christ in our lives on earth. James says, “I will show you my faith by works.”

    Bottom Line: Grace is the principal way of God relating to men (and women) today in this kingdom on earth. Our works/actions should be graceful toward others, especially toward those within the church. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is seen as an outworking of grace in the lives of believers. Thus the eponymous title of this Bill’s webpage/blog “MaxGrace.”

    I don’t care how much you know, until I know how much you care. And give the Lord Jesus the glory (that he most rightly deserves) in the meantime.


  10. I agree that many people today are already “resentful of didactic material.” It’s not limited to one generation, though. And it’s not a good thing. As a teacher, even of elementary students, I find that I always have to put my lessons in some kind of context that the kids can relate to, or that they can visualize. Yep, you can guess what i blame for that. So, while I agree that teaching from the Word should be real, some of it just has to be learned for what it is–knowledge that has to be learned and applied.
    I also don’t understand why we separate the Gospels from the rest of the New Testament. If both are inspired, then the epistles, et al, are just as important as the first four books. So, what Paul taught about Jesus is just as important as the relationships He had and the stories He told.

  11. Joe…

    OOOOOOPPPSSS… you wrote “violent agreement” and I read “violent disagreement” and my friend, Jim, just pointed that out to me. Sorry for misreading you.

    As always, I love your comments, spirit, and wisdom.


  12. mattA,

    you wrote: I also don’t understand why we separate the Gospels from the rest of the New Testament. If both are inspired, then the epistles, et al, are just as important as the first four books.

    I totally agree with you. However, as a young evangelical (22) raised in the church, I feel like, once I got out of little-kids sunday school, I heard WAY more out of the epistle’s than the gospels. I’m not invalidating your point about the value of the epistles at all (I hope!) but rather just offering that, while your frustration regarding an over-emphasis one direction is valid given one set of experiences, some of us encountered the alternative over-emphasis, and are trying to balance it in our own communities.

    I am having trouble, however, empathizing that you’re so bothered by the fact that information needs to be contextualized in order to be retained. If it doesn’t matter in some context that we can narrate, then we have no reason to remember the stuff. Compression ratios for MP3 files don’t matter unless you’re trying to download a song that reminds you of your first date and can’t get it to sound just right. Narrative context gives “facts” meaning and value. I don’t think that’s TV’s fault.

    Though, the capacity to only engage with infantile narratives may be TV’s fault. But that’s a different dissertation all together.

  13. Hey Dr. G: Who IS that guy whose picture you have above? (Not Jesus, of course,) I’ve been wondering ever since I saw it. Pretty scary looking, I think….

    Is it snowing……???? My tired eyeballs are having trouble….

  14. Jean,
    Yes, it’s snowing on my website.
    That picture is the best teacher/preacher ever to grace a pulpit, the incomparable Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of my heroes.

  15. Thanks, Dr. G. I’ve heard of your hero, but it’s still a pretty scary picture….

    So glad I won’t have to visit my opthamologist now…..yeah….

  16. Bill,
    Without getting into the debate with the others, I tend to agree with your post and I also enjoy the sermons and lessons of C H Spurgeon.
    Thanks for your insight and lesson on the teaching of Jesus.

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