The Lord’s Principles

It is related in John 7. 46 that the officers sent to arrest the Lord returned to say, “Never man spake like this man” In company with the ordinary people who heard Him gladly and with surprise, they were amazed by the power of His teaching.

The reaction of such people in the first century has been repeated countless times by all honest and sincere listeners down the years, and educators would derive enormous profit from a study of the timeless principles of the Lord’s teaching.

His teaching presents many ever-new and shining facets. At times we marvel at His sparkling originality. This is seen, for instance, when they gather the fragments of the five barley loaves in John 6, and He speaks of Himself as the Bread of life. On another occasion, we note singularly appropriate aspects of truth when He says, “Show me a penny”, Luke 20. 24. Again, His supreme authority is evident when He says to His disciples concerning the colt at the crossroads, “loose him, and bring him”, Mark 11. 2. We are startled by His simplicity in the words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”, John 14. 6. Our sensitivity to beauty is quickened as He exhorts us to “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these”, Matt. 6. 28, 29. Our souls are charmed as we hear Him say to the dying thief, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise”, Luke 23. 43.

Here is no esoteric, cliche-laden, exclusive lecturing to a handful of religious devotees in the ivory towers of devotion. The Lord’s words have a timeless significance to men, women and little children at all stages of intellectual development, social stratification and emotional involvement. Truly as He Himself claimed, His words are spirit and they are life.

Blinded by the glory and brilliance of the Lord’s amazing teaching, we find it difficult to know exactly where to commence our identification of its many-sided aspects. However, at what is for many a basic level, we must initially say that, like all good teaching, it is eminently:

(i) Intelligible. It is possible that the Lord spoke with a Galilean accent. What is certain is that He used more than one dialect and language. Basically, His teaching and preaching were in Aramaic, the everyday language of the peasants and fishermen. This was perhaps His “first” language. The Lord says to the little maid “Talitha cumi”, Mark 5. 41, to the deaf man “Ephphatha”. 7. 34; He calls James and John “Boanerges”, 3. 17. Addressing His Father as “Abba”. 14. 36, He further exclaims, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, 15 34. The parables. His teaching to the disciples, the beatitudes, would all be couched in this everyday common tongue.

The Lord spoke at times in classical Hebrew. An amazed synagogue congregation heard Him read the ancient Scriptures in immaculately scholarly fashion, Luke 4. 16-19. It has been estimated that on eighty-seven occasions the Lord used the Hebrew Scriptures with complete freedom, whereas His “normal” hearers would probably be familiar only with such technical terms as “Corban” and “Raca”.

It is probable also that the Lord made use of koine or common conversational Greek, and examples of this would be seen in His talk with the Syrophenician woman and also with the Greeks who came to see Him through contact with the disciple with the Greek name of Andrew (Andreas).

In his discussion with Pontius Pilate a Roman official, the Saviour may have used Latin, a language with judicial nuances. Admittedly, this is not stated in the Gospel records, but Pilate, during the long and involved conversation, would have been more at ease in his own native tongue.

(ii) Then again, the Lord’s teaching was involving. The disciples were being trained and taught, and used at one and the same time. There was no monastic withdrawal. The disciples were not just “students”, but were rather “apprentices” on working courses interspersed with periods of study.

(iii) The Lord’s teaching was most impressive. The “common people” asked “what new doctrine (teaching) is this?”, Mark 1. 27. The Lord taught them as One that had authority and not as the scribes. It seems that entire areas were stirred by His words.

(iv) Interesting is a term that should surely be applied to all of the Lord’s teaching, and it must be borne in mind that it is given to comparatively few people to be able to make their teaching profundity attractive to the ordinary listener. The Gospel accounts tell of people who were intent on listening to the Saviour (John 6, for instance), so as to lose count of time or the ordinary affairs of life. His teaching was practical, allusive, related to everyday life and thought-provoking Some sayings were penetratingly humorous. (as in the case of a man seeking a splinter in another person’s eye while he had a large plank in his own, Matt. 7. 4). Housewives came home to repeat short pithy sayings sometimes in rhyme or poetical form. There were talks based on events of everyday life, on the weather, topical events in the social and business world. Boredom was abolished, and even if synagogue services were sometimes sleep-inducing, the Lord’s hearers were wide-awake and responsive on the hills and by the lakeside. Luke 5. 1.

(v) The Lord’s teaching was most inspiring. The One who was the Life and Light of the world illuminated the dark and dismal alleyways of life; He re-animated the seemingly exhausted and talked-out topics of the day.

It has been said that to the Lord the Bible was not a mere collection of precepts but a “living fount of inspiration”. Because of His deity, He was able to combine Scriptural comments, and if necessary make additions. An example of this process is seen in Mark 12. 29, 30, where we read, “Hear, 0 Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment”.

Examination of Deuteronomy 6. 4, 5 will show that the original message to Israel does not contain the word “mind”. It has been said that the saying in the original language would obviously imply the use of the intellect. However, it is perhaps helpful to see that the Lord requires us to work out all the implications of our love for God by the application of devotional thought and meditation.

In conclusion, it is profitable to compare the teaching of the Lord with that given by the scribes at that time. The threefold duty of the Jewish teachers as they saw it was to expound the law, to apply it in relation to the existing customs and problems, and to administer it in the sense that it was seen to be applied and upheld at all times.

It is true to say that in many ways the scribes tended to look backwards, and the everyday quotation was, “It hath been said “. The Lord also made use of these words, but concluded with, “But I say unto you”. He set His whole teaching in the context of the Old Testament, and stressed that heaven and earth would pass away before one jot or tittle of the law would perish, Matt. 5. 18. Nevertheless, His own comments carried equal force and vitality.

The scribes taught the Halachah, which were the binding enactments of the law. and included legal requirements such as those relating to the Sabbath and to cleanliness. For instance, no less than thirty-nine kinds of work were listed as prohibited on a Sabbath. It was a problem to see whether an egg laid on the Sabbath should be eaten. Numerical significances were sometimes important, and Peter’s question in Matthew 18. 21 relating to forgiveness might possibly be based on one of these enactments.

In addition, the scribes taught by Haggadah, a collection of sermons and comments, and, together with the Halachah, these constituted a fairly tight and comprehensive guide to all the problems and circumstances of everyday life.

The Lord’s basic principle of teaching was, on the other hand, to establish a truth of abiding validity rather than to give an answer to trivial or ephemeral questions. Thus, to the man who asked the Lord to adjudicate in a lawsuit or dispute against his brother, the reply was. “Who made me a judge (lawgiver) … over you?”, Luke 12. 12. 14.

In continuance of this refusal to be bogged-down in settlement of petty disputes and local arguments relating to property or possessions, the Lord enunciated the majestic realities of the kingdom of God as set out in the sermon on the mount.

The Lord’s principles of teaching are timeless and yet ever-relevant, and they bear the impress of divine authority and truth.