In our first two lessons we learned about the home life and educational system of the Jewish people who lived in the Galilee during the time of Jesus. We looked at what training was required to become and be called a Rabbi by the people in your community. Now we will look at what happened to a man after he had completed his apprenticeship and became eligible to receive the title of Rabbi.
First of all, a Rabbi during Jesus day was just a teacher; he did not have any official credentials or titles from the government or church. The official title of Rabbi as a trained minister came quite a bit after Jesus’ time. During Jesus’ day, a Rabbi was only recognized for his wisdom or his training, it had nothing to do with book learning or degrees. They were called Torah teachers or teachers of the law. The people who tried to follow and live by their teachings to the utmost were called Pharisees, or the pious ones. The Bible also calls them experts in the law, scribes and sometimes lawyers. They knew and tried to follow the fine points of the law to make sure that they were obedient to God’s commands.
In Jesus day, there were two different kinds of Rabbis:
- Common – not to mean just average, but that there were quite a few of these. They were called Torah teachers because they knew the Torah forwards and backwards and were very good at teaching it. But, they didn’t leave home and take a group and they were limited to teaching students in local situations and could only teach accepted doctrine and couldn’t come up with their own interpretations or new doctrine.
- Rabbis with s’mekah – There were a very few of these. They were given an unusual stamp of approval as someone so gifted at what they did that they had God’s stamp of approval. Two other rabbis who had s’mekah had to confer this title on you and say that you too, had God’s stamp of approval and that your authority came from God himself. If you had s’mekah you could travel and take a group of talmidim with you (e.g John the Baptizer had s’mekah). You also had the right and authority to make new interpretations of the law because of s’mekah. For example, a Torah teacher would say, “It is written”, or, “Rabbi so and so says”, but the Rabbi with s’mekah would say, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you” and then give a new and different interpretation of a Law of Moses.
Now, what kind of rabbi was Jesus? One with s’mekah! Look at Matthew 7:28-29. Jesus had just finished giving the Sermon on the Mount and the Bible says they were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority (s’mekah) and not as their regular Torah teachers. They weren’t amazed because they had never seen this before or that he was so different, but they were amazed that He taught with s’mekah! They were asking, “Where did Jesus get His authority? Where did He get the knowledge to do that kind of teaching? He never studied under anyone around here!”. Jesus was a typical Jewish Rabbi with s’mekah. Where did he get His s’mekah from? Although we can’t know for sure, Scripture seems to indicate that Jesus received his s’mekah from John the Baptist and God (read Matthew 21:23-27)!
In our next session we will look at some of Jesus’ actions and some of the stories that show how he acted as a Rabbi with s’mekah.