Jesus' Jewish Teachings
by Lois Tverberg

"Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." 1 Thess. 5:21-22

This month we are beginning a new series on Jesus' teachings in light of Jewish thought. Initially, one might think that this wouldn't be a very good approach to understanding him. He was rejected by his people, and they strayed off on their own paths because they didn't agree with him, didn't they? When we start studying, however, we find that there is much to be gained. Jesus was an Eastern-thinking Jew, and his words and teaching style fit much better into Judaism than into Greek philosophy, which is the framework of most modern thought. Simply because we are raised in modern Greek context, we often miss nuances of Jesus' words if we aren't aware of the way things were said in his Jewish context.
Another reason for looking more into Jewish thinking is because Jesus lived at a foundational time in Judaism, when other great rabbis lived who are still a central part of Jewish scholarship today. Because of this, there is much in Jewish teaching that is on similar themes and has similar approach as Jesus used. Like his words, it seeks to apply the words of Scripture to our lives. Like Jesus, they based their teaching and study on the Torah and other Old Testament writings, and used rules for interpretation that sometimes can be very different than our own. Even if we don't believe their conclusions are authoritative, they allow us to explore the cultural conversation going on around Jesus.

It is important to note that we really can't know for certain if there is a direct connection between Jesus and other Jewish thinking on any particular subject. Jesus certainly would have known the teachings of Hillel and Shammai, very influencial rabbis who lived right before his time and still are foundational in Judaism today. And Rabbi Gamliel, a famous rabbi in Jewish tradition, defended the apostles at their trial before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:32, and was Paul's teacher too (Acts 22:3). So there had to have been quite a bit of interaction between Jesus and the rabbis, but we usually can't know if Jesus' teaching influenced later rabbis or if some other cultural thinking was common to both.

What we can do is listen to Jesus' words along side other rabbinic ideas, just as we study the teachings of later Christian theologians, to see if their words expand our understanding of Jesus. In every case we should carefully consider everything as the Bereans did, searching the Scriptures to see if is true. (Acts 17:11)

6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., All rights
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