Jesus as a Teacher

 

Nicholas C. Burbules

University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

Nicholas C. Burbules, "Jesus as a teacher." Spirituality and Ethics in Education: Philosophical, Theological, and Cultural Perspectives, Hanan Alexander, ed. (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press): forthcoming.

 

 

I.

            In our time, the image of the teacher has become so thoroughly the product of a professionalized, institutionalized context that it is increasingly difficult to imagine radically different alternatives of what a teacher might be. A teacher has a classroom, has a certain number of students; has an advanced degree, has a supervisor: across nations and cultures we can envision this archetype in our mind's eye. If a young person says they want to become a teacher, everyone has a pretty similar idea of what that means. Of course the word "teacher" is used more broadly, and people are called teachers who do not fit all these characteristics. Nevertheless, in general, most people (including those who work in university departments or colleges of education) proceed from day to day on the assumption that preparing teachers means preparing students for this very particular role and context.

Recent changes, especially changes in technology, are beginning to shake up these assumptions about where, when, and how teaching takes place. Yet even here there is often a tendency to assimilate those new possibilities back into recalcitrant assumptions about the nature of teaching with which we are familiar and comfortable.

            Philosophers and theorists of education have a special duty, I believe, to resist such tendencies: to keep multiple and even radically unconventional models of teaching clearly in front of the educational audience - not necessarily to advocate for any one of them, but to keep our thinking about what constitutes good teaching fresh and dynamic. The search for one best way of teaching has preoccupied philosophers in the West since Socrates. Today this search is more typically couched in the language of scientific efficacy and efficiency. In the process, teaching in many schools is becoming less and less creative, personal, and rewarding. The scope of options for teachers is becoming more constrained; their subject matter and purposes more determined by the decisions of others; their outcomes measured more mechanically and impersonally.

            For this reason, I believe it is continually important to remember and recover images of teaching that do not fit into these conventional roles and contexts. Moreover, I believe it is important to resist demands to subject alternative models of teaching to common standardized procedures of comparison, not only because these procedures are suspect, but because doing so would simply reinforce the idea that our goal is to winnow many possibilities down until we find the "best" one.

            There are many such alternative models of teaching: Socrates in the agora; Rousseau's tutor in Emile; the mother teaching her child; the wise man or shaman; the Zen master. One of my students is completing a very interesting thesis on the character of the Fool in literature as a kind of teacher.[1] Generally these unconventional models are ignored in the development of teachers. If they are discussed, it is as testing grounds for the exploration of methods that might be reinterpreted or adapted for use in the classroom - and what cannot be adapted for classroom use is, ipso facto, taken as irrelevant. This misses the fundamental point of such examples, which is that being a teacher means something different in all of these cases. It is not simply a matter of different pedagogical methods, but different relations of teacher to student, different settings, different criteria of success. What these examples give us, more than anything else, is room to imagine a new scope of possibilities when the pressures of routine and conformity tend to draw us back into conventional business as usual.

These considerations are even more salient when we reflect on the intrinsically moral character of teaching - not simply as a matter of professional ethics, but as a deeper choice about a way of being in the world, a way of being with others. To be a teacher of one kind or another is also to inhabit a set of ethical relations to others.

            And so we come to the topic of this essay. Theological considerations aside, one of the foremost exemplars of teaching, particularly moral teaching, within the Western tradition is the figure of Jesus. I say "theological considerations aside" because I am not concerned here with the status of Jesus as the Christ, or Messiah, for certain religious traditions; nor will I be saying much about his specifically religious teachings, or his preaching.[2] Even those who do not believe in Christianity are familiar with, and frequently invoke, the proverbs and the parables of Jesus - certainly all the examples I use here will be familiar to you all. It is as a cultural icon, a moral exemplar, that Jesus will figure in this account, and so I will hew closely to a secularized interpretation of his status and influence.[3] Nor is the actual historical accuracy of these stories and statements necessarily relevant: the Gospel texts are part of our literary heritage, and whether one reads them literally, as historical records, or as a set of legends, based on oral traditions, committed to writing years after Jesus' death, their influence on our vocabulary of teaching, particularly moral teaching, remains unmatched.

 

II.

The kind of teaching Jesus practiced poses a sharp contrast to the didactic styles of most instruction, including most moral instruction. His use of various rhetorical forms drew from the longstanding Jewish tradition of meshalim, including proverbs, riddles, aphorisms, and allegories. I start with the assumption that Jesus was a Jew who always regarded himself as part of the Jewish tradition, though certainly as a critic, even a revolutionary, from within.[4] However, Jesus' distinctive use of parables - short fictional narratives told in the third person - represented a type of mashal not evidenced in the Jewish Bible, although they were part of the wider Rabbinic tradition.[5] These figurative devices allowed Jesus to teach in a style that provided for both "popular intelligibility and impressive pregnancy," an unusual achievement that managed to draw from familiar, concrete, and accessible examples, while at the same time inviting rich, multiple interpretations that "avoided pedantic modes of teaching and the petty arts of the scholastic learning."[6] As I will argue later, this invitation to open-ended interpretation and avoidance of strict moral edicts reveals something basic about Jesus' conception of moral agency and motivation.

            It is not my purpose here to generate a strict typology of Jesus' teaching styles. The terms "proverb," "parable," "allegory," and so on, do not carve out distinct types; in the Gospels, for example, the term parabole is used to refer to both parables and proverbs.[7] Nevertheless, within this constellation of figurative forms there are some interesting differences in how they subject themselves to interpretation; and in these differences of interpretation we see important differences in moral teaching - sometimes tuned, for example, to different audiences.[8]

            Overall, though, two features of this teaching style stand out. The first, already mentioned, is that it is almost entirely devoid of explicit moral directives - in fact, Jesus had almost nothing to say about the varieties of conduct that constitute specific immoral acts (avoid stealing, do not lie, and so on). His heavy reliance on figurative utterances suggests that moral guidance requires more general guideposts, and that moral sensitivity is not gained primarily through exhortation, but through the thoughtful internalization of proverbs, examples, and cases, the analysis of which opens up a process of moral reflection that guides conduct in a less determined manner.

            The other feature, linked to the first, is that Jesus' teaching is entirely oral. Like Socrates, that other great exemplar of teaching in the Western tradition, Jesus did not produce any texts, and appears to us exclusively as a character in narratives written by others after his death. There is only one instance in the Gospels where we see Jesus writing anything (I will discuss that event later); otherwise, his teaching is often opportunistic in the sense that he drew from circumstances at hand to make his points, and his folksy, aphoristic style is undoubtedly part of what has made his influence so enduring. One might even go beyond this to suggest that his refusal to write anything was itself a pointed comment on the uselessness of formal moral doctrines or codes; for him, moral agency operates within broader standards of conduct and character.

Jesus' rhetoric of moral teaching comprises four broad types, though these frequently overlap with one another or co-exist within the same teaching gesture. The first is questioning or disputation, typically applied in cases where the interlocutor is either hostile, or simply slow to make a connection.[9] These dialogues are not generally Socratic or open-ended; the questions tend to be strongly leading, and so (ironically) it is often in these questioning moments that we actually see Jesus the moral teacher as the most directive. As with Socrates, too, these disputatious dialogues often seem to be directed very little toward changing the mind of the interlocutor (which may not be possible anyway), and more toward influencing the audience to the dispute - including, of course, the readers of the text. Jesus certainly believed that some hearers were not open to his moral instruction, and he did not waste much time with them.

            A second type of moral teaching is more discursive, straightforward - we see a prime example of it in the "Sermon on the Mount" (Matt 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:20-49).[10] Although these passages combine several forms of moral teaching, they begin with a kind of declaration, a summons, an invitation or calling-forth that asks for a response.[11] One commentator suggests that this indicates the initial phase of a teacher/disciple relation that Jesus seeks to establish with the learner (and again there are interesting parallels with Socrates here).[12] As elsewhere, Jesus seems to assume that a necessary precondition must exist in order for teaching to go forward: without an active, interested response and an openness to moral reflection, teaching - in one of his most-repeated parables - is like casting seed upon barren soil (Matt 13:4-9; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8).

            A third type of moral teaching is generally classified as proverbs: an aphoristic style that is strongly based in the Jewish wisdom tradition.[13] In the Gospels, such proverbs are far more numerous than parables.[14] They encapsulate in a memorable, pithy way some insight into human conduct or character, often framed provocatively or in a paradoxical manner: "Many who are first will be last and the last first" (Mark 10:31); "If salt loses its saltness, what will you season it with?" (Mark 9:50; Matt 5:13); "Physician, heal yourself!" (Luke 4:23).[15] Proverbs comprise the bulk of the moral teaching in the Gospels; while there are a few moral parables in the Gospels, most of the parables serve to represent the Kingdom of Heaven or other aspects of Jesus' religious doctrine.

            The use of parables, then, constitutes a fourth, and very important, aspect of Jesus' teaching: "In all this teaching to the crowds Jesus spoke in parables; in fact, he never spoke to them without a parable" (Matt 13:34). In some respects, parables act as allegories, as objects of interpretation, in which circumstances of the world are taken as symbols for spiritual truths.[16] However, this strictly allegorical interpretation of parables, in which each element is presumed to stand exactly for some other thing, vastly underestimates the richness and complexity of the parable form.[17] Parables are not simply illustrative, and taking them as purely representative betrays an overly literalistic reading of their figurative form. On one account, allegories are more like similes, parables like metaphors.[18] The meaning of parables (like metaphors) cannot be exhausted in a simple summation.

Nor are parables like fables, which tend to serve as object lessons in "prudential morality."[19] For Manson,

The object of the parable is to work through the imagination and understanding of the hearers in order to arouse the conscience, and the real goal of parabolic teaching is not attained unless the conscience is aroused.[20]

Jesus' parables generally draw either from common, natural events and human conduct or from a singular event or circumstance.[21] Either way, they rely in large measure for their effectiveness on their modest and highly familiar subject matter: mustard seeds, fig trees, vineyards, wedding feasts. Yet at the same time, "It is as plain that Jesus used the parable to obscure truth, as that He used it to illuminate truth."[22] This seems a strange kind of teaching, indeed!

 

III.

In order to understand why Jesus adopted the styles of moral teaching that he did, I think we need to speculate a bit about what his underlying moral psychology seemed to be: in short, why people act, or fail to act, morally.[23] I think it is clear that Jesus believed that moral conduct depended on an internal commitment and interest in being good. This is not as tautological as it sounds. Many moral theories begin with the assumption that people would be good if they knew what the right thing was to do; moral theory is meant to help them by identifying what those right acts are. Other moral theories seem to assume that their role is to convince people why they should act morally; if their arguments are convincing, people (at least, rational people) will be persuaded by those arguments and act accordingly. Jesus seemed to begin from a different assumption, namely, that there are actual barriers to being good, and without addressing those barriers, the effect of moral exhortation, didactic instruction, or arguments will be nil.

            One of the most difficult of these barriers, and a particular concern for Jesus, was the attitude of moralism and self-righteousness itself. Notice Luke 18:9: "Here is another parable that he told. It was aimed at those who were sure of their own goodness and looked down on everyone else." The story of the Samaritan woman accused of adultery, and Jesus' famous challenge "That one of you who is without sin shall cast the first stone" (John 7:53-8:11) clearly speaks to the same problem. Smugness and moral superiority are moral barriers because they foster a sense of complacency, and because they inhibit the ability to empathize with or forgive others - two crucial dimensions of morality, for Jesus. Similarly, arrogance and egoism tend to encourage selfishness, or cruelty. Resentment and bitterness tend to justify blaming others for one's failings, or making excuses for one's misconduct. Misery and hopelessness tend to produce moral passivity and fatalism.

            In all of these ways, unless one speaks to the underlying traits and attitudes that lead to immorality, trying to change people's actions will be futile. Hence, for Jesus, moral teaching requires a transformation in these underlying traits and attitudes: self-righteousness, complacency, arrogance, egoism, resentment, hopelessness, must be unlearned before morality can take root. As Manson summarizes, "The moral demands of Jesus presuppose a changed nature and disposition."[24] This transformative model is utterly different from, for example, Kohlbergian or other developmental models, because Jesus believed that there were actual impediments to being good. (Here, I acknowledge, I am treading close to theological notions like original sin and spiritual conversion; but I will try to persist in a secular reading of these matters.)

            The process of trying to transform moral character, in the way I have been describing it, has several elements. First, it involves identifying and confronting barriers like those above; while there is certainly no one-to-one correspondence of social groups and these personal traits and attitudes, it is not hard to see that people in certain situations, like poverty, tend to be more susceptible to hopelessness and resentment; those who are more privileged and affluent tend to be more susceptible to complacency and self-righteousness; those in positions of unquestioned power tend to be more susceptible to arrogance and egoism. We see Jesus interacting with people in these sorts of groups in very different ways.

            The types of traits and attitudes described here are also distinctive in that people have to give them up in order to change. While this is not simply a matter of choice, there is a willing component to that process, especially in view of the fact that these traits and attitudes can have a strong, if perverse, appeal for people - they can be pleasurable or gratifying in various ways, and so it is difficult to want to give them up. Jesus clearly believes that failing to do so (for example, failing to give up a grievance and forgive others) is a fundamental moral shortcoming, and makes one incapable of moral recovery.

            Another part of this process is the recognition of one's self in a parable or example: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, with never a thought for the great plank in your own?" (Matt. 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-42). Part of Jesus' talent for teaching was reaching people where they were, using teaching methods and examples that were intended to speak to that audience, in that place and time. But none of this can be more than an invitation to moral interpretation and reflection. The ambiguity and indirectness of figurative language is perfectly suited to Jesus' purpose: it attracts interest, it sparks an attitude of curiosity; but it also requires an effort for completion. Different hearers will take different messages away from common proverbs and parables, and this is what Jesus seems to have intended - while others will derive no meaning or benefit from them at all, which also seems to be part of his purpose.

            Without this type of transformation, moral teaching is pointless. Here Jesus reserves some of his most vivid images: "No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth to an old coat; for then the patch tears away from the coat, and leaves a bigger hole. Neither do you put new wine into old wine-skins; if you do, the skins burst, and then the wine runs out and the skins are spoilt" (Matt 9:16-17; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-38). Here Jesus seems to be saying that moral instruction without underlying moral transformation can actually make the character of people worse (for example, exaggerating their sense of self-righteousness, which impinges upon their actual moral conduct).

 

IV.

            In discussing Jesus' teaching episodes, we start almost at the beginning of the first Gospel, the so-called Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-7:29; though Luke's more abbreviated version has Jesus coming down the hill first: 6:20-49). It begins with what I called above a declaration or summons, what are traditionally called the Beatitudes ("How blest are those..."), a discourse intended to attract, to reassure, and to invest his hearers with a sense of their importance ("You are light for all the world" Matt 6:14). This is followed by a series of proverbs contrasting a morality of rules and a morality of compassion ("You have learned...eye for eye, tooth for tooth. But what I tell you is this....If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left" Matt 5: 38; Luke 6:28-29). Jesus speaks repeatedly against self-righteousness ("When you do some act of charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" Matt 6:3 - "Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged" Matt 7:1; Luke 6:37).

The epitome of this sermon is the so-called Golden Rule: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you" (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). This proverb, perhaps the most famous of all of Jesus' moral teachings, exemplifies the special quality of a morality of spirit and attitude. This principle, if followed literally and with calculation (treating others well in order to be treated well), would be seen as the opposite of morality. Yet even the most simple, plain person can recognize in it a moral value - the value of empathy, of trying to imagine from one's own perspective the needs and interests of others. Certainly, taken as a rule, this proverb would have countless exceptions (what I want for myself others may not want for themselves, etc.). While seemingly simple, even childlike, this proverb had sufficient depth and complexity in it to help inspire very sophisticated and profound moral theories later, including Kant's Categorical Imperative and John Rawls's "veil of ignorance" argument in A Theory of Justice.

            Proverbs can be found on nearly every page of the Gospels. Crossan identifies 133 distinct proverbs, not counting repetition.[25] Many of them have the same character as the Golden Rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) or "It is better to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35, reported by Paul as a quote from Jesus). Other proverbs contain paradoxical assertions ("Many who are first will be last and the last first" Mark 10:31) which belie clear, literal analysis: Does this mean that one should not try for moral improvement?[26] Many of Jesus' proverbs and parables seem to be saying that consistently virtuous people will not be treated any better than those who arrive at goodness only at the last moment (as in the parable of the Prodigal Son). Again, taken literally this is a very strange message for moral teaching.

Moreover, the moral map of all of Jesus' proverbs and parables does not form a consistent whole: contrast the famous proverb about turning the other cheek with the injunction to his disciples: "Whoever has a purse should take it with him...and if he has no sword, let him sell his cloak and buy one" (Luke 22:36). How are we to view these apparent paradoxes within, and contradictions between, proverbs and other moral teachings? One explanation, of course, is that the Gospels were written by different people in different situations at different times, and should not be expected to present an entirely consistent doctrine. Another explanation is that Jesus was strongly situationist in his morality, and did not value moral consistency for its own sake. I prefer a different explanation, which is that the representation of paradox and inconsistency itself teaches something important about moral thought and action: that it is not perfectionist, but inevitably incomplete; that it is not a search for a system of rules but a cultivation of moral sensitivity and conscience. Proverbs can be counterproductive to moral teaching when they are taken as directives, rather than as broadly directional guideposts. Jesus' best moral proverbs make clear the inevitability of interpretation, misinterpretation, and different interpretations in guiding conduct.

            This acknowledgement of moral difficulty and perplexity makes one commentator compare Jesus' method of teaching with John Dewey's "problem method."[27] The shortcoming of this comparison, however, is apparent when we review Jesus' own account of why he teaches through parables and other figurative forms: it is, he says, precisely in order that he not be understood. The famous parable of the seeds thrown by the sower, some on the footpath, some on the rocky ground, some among the thistles, concerns a planting that does not take root (Matt 13:4-9; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 8:4-8). It is a parable about the inaccessibility of parables. When his disciples then ask him why he teaches in parables, Jesus must explain to them in other words what the parable is about: parables are not meant to be understood by everyone; for those not prepared to receive them, "they look without seeing, and listen without hearing or understanding" (Matt 13:10-15; Mark 4:10-12; Luke 8:9-10). He then goes on, just in case they have missed it, to give an exegesis of the parable he has just given them: "This is what the parable means..." (Luke 8:11-15; Matt 13: 16-23; Mark 4:13-20;). In short, they are not allowed not to understand. What manner of moral teaching is this?

            A parable about why he teaches in parables: parables are meant to be misunderstood, "revealing truth to friends and concealing truth from enemies," says Horne.[28] But why should moral (or spiritual) truth be concealed from anyone? Earlier, I suggested that Jesus seems to believe that without the precondition of an appropriate moral commitment or receptivity, moral teaching of the sort he offers can be ineffective, and even counterproductive. Hence the point is not (in my view) a matter of purposive concealment; it is adopting a figurative method knowing that those who are impatient, incurious, or of an insufficiently motivated spirit will derive little from it - wanting something literal and unambiguous, they will lose interest or reinterpret the message to suit their preconceptions. The disciples, here and elsewhere in the Gospels, are given an explicit explanation of the parables because it is too important that they, if anyone, must understand - particularly this one, root parable. Moreover, with texts like the Gospels, there is always the second perspective of the observers of the interchanges (including the reader of the text): they see the meaning of the parable, and they see who understands it and who fails to understand it. This communicates an important message to them not only about the meaning of the parable, but of the characteristics and attitudes of those who understand it and those who do not - and this conveys to the observers a crucial moral message as well.

            As I have said, the Gospels contain a few primarily moral parables (and at least one narrative about Jesus that reads like a parable). The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) is an elaboration of the proverb "Love your neighbor as yourself." The story is familiar: a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is waylaid by robbers, who leave him for dead. The victim is presumably a Jew, and he is passed by a priest and a Levite who travel on the opposite side to avoid dealing with him. A third man, a Samaritan, stops and comes to his aid. In the context of Luke's Gospel, this is certainly meant as a snipe at the Jewish religious men, who would not care for their own. And the irony intended by the story is that there was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans at that time - but this Samaritan proved to be a good neighbor. So there are many levels of moral meaning here: the virtue of compassion for strangers, or of caring for those in need generally; avoiding stereotypes about which nations or cultures are morally superior; marking the difference between official piety and personal decency; and so on. My point here is that this is not simply a moral fable with a pat conclusion; it can be read differently, and in these different readings reveal something about the moral sensibilities of the reader.

            The parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35) deals with another recurring theme in Jesus' moral sphere, forgiveness. Here a servant owes his master a large sum of money; the man throws himself on the mercy of his master and pleads, "Be patient with me...and I will pay in full." The master, moved to pity by these entreaties, releases the man and even agrees to cancel his debt. Yet the man no sooner leaves than he encounters a fellow-servant who owes him money. Grabbing him by the throat he orders, "Pay me what you owe." When the master learns of this, he summons the man he had forgiven, punishes him severely, and reinstitutes his debt.

Forgiveness is an unusual sort of moral response; like some of the others I have explored here, it involves giving up something - a sense of entitlement to be angry or resentful, or a desire for revenge or restitution. You cannot compel forgiveness. This parable explores one of Jesus' primary themes: that in order to be forgiven we need to be prepared to forgive others.[29] In Jesus' moral universe, how we treat others is intimately tied up with how others treat us, and vice versa: "Pass no judgment, and you will not be judged"; "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you"; and so on. Forgiveness plays a central part in this moral universe because others sometimes treat us badly, but this does not entitle us to treat them, or others, badly as a consequence. Yet the parable does not say, "You must always forgive others." There is clearly a limit to the master's ability or willingness to forgive. The parable's main moral point is that forgiveness should be contagious. The web of moral contingency means that we will always need forgiveness from someone, and that others will always need it from us; actions have too many unforeseeable consequences to avoid ever doing harm. But many complications are not addressed here: should we forgive unintended wrongs more readily than intentional ones; do we have less of an obligation to forgive repeated instances of the same harmful act by the same person; are some things unforgivable? A parable is not designed to answer these sorts of questions definitively; its efficacy lies elsewhere.

            The theme of forgiveness also arises in my last example, not strictly speaking a parable presented by Jesus, but more a parable about him, in which he appears as a character: the woman (another Samaritan, actually) accused of adultery and sentenced to punishment by stoning. This parable culminates in the famous proverb, "That one of you who is without sin shall cast the first stone" (John 8:7). I am treating it here as a parable because by most scholarly editions this passage was not part of the original Gospel of John, but survived through separate oral traditions and was added to the text later.[30] There is something else unique about this passage: it is the only instance in which we see Jesus writing anything; he writes with his finger on the ground both before and after his proverbial statement, above. What is he writing, and why? We are not told. One interpretation might be that writing in the dirt and sand is his way of indicating the transience of written moral pronouncements. Here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, he refuses to address a moral problem through formal rules that subject particular cases to general treatments. In the words of Manson, Jesus' morality is based on "a standard of example rather than precept."[31] He is, as noted earlier, trying to undermine the confidence of the righteous that they know whose sins to judge and what punishment they deserve.

 

V.

            I have made four general points here about Jesus' moral teaching. The first is that it is aimed at achieving a transformation of moral character; without changing certain traits and attitudes that impede moral responsiveness, moral teaching remains merely exhortative. Second, moral teaching cannot be moralizing; it must begin with an understanding of moral agency and motivation, and sometimes the way to influence these is not through direct moral instruction, but through other kinds of teaching. Third, many deep moral insights are gained only indirectly, through reflection on complex and puzzling cases that do not yield simple truths or directives. Hence, fourth, Jesus' use of proverbs, allegories, paradoxes, parables and other figurative forms reflects, on the positive side, a desire to cultivate in listeners a breadth and flexibility of moral imagination - and, on the negative side, a willingness to see many listeners misunderstand or not understand at all.

            Toward the end of John, Jesus says, "Till now I have been using figures of speech; a time is coming when I shall no longer use figures, but tell you of the Father in plain words" (John 16:25). In keeping with the more eschatological character of that Gospel, this promise anticipates the end of days. But were Jesus to do this, he would no longer be teaching. Certainly it would not be in keeping with his views on moral teaching (although I suppose moral teaching will no longer be necessary should that day arrive).

            The figure of Jesus presents us with an exemplar of teaching through nonliteral forms; he uses these not merely for embellishment, or as a way to entertain his audience, or to hold and sustain their interest - although they might have these benefits as well. He teaches morality this way, I believe, because he cannot conceive of any other way to teach it. His relation to his subject matter and his relation to his audience demand that he cede to his listeners the discretion to hear him in different ways, and to some the choice not to hear him at all. This may not be a very conventional way of thinking about Jesus - or about teaching - but I hope that even through disagreements with this view our capacities to imagine different kinds of teaching, and different roles for the teacher, can be enlarged. The aspiration to be a teacher, particular a moral teacher, need not be bounded by the constraints of a specific professional, institutionalized role; indeed, it may be that for moral teaching that context is among the least suitable.



[1]  Tim McDonough, Master's Thesis, Educational Policy Studies Department, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign.

 

[2]  This distinction between teaching and preaching is made in B. A.  Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1985),  1-5.

 

[3]  I should say here that the possibility of splitting off Jesus' moral from his religious teachings is explicitly denied by many Christian writers: for example, T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 285-286.

 

[4]  Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Macmillan Company, 1925).

 

[5]  Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 7. See also John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (Harper and Row: San Francisco, 1973).

 

[6]  Hans Hinrich Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1909), 109, 148.

 

[7] Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher, 159; Scott, Hear Then the Parable, 19-30; George Barker Stevens, The Teaching of Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1907),  41-42.

 

[8]  Pheme Perkins, Jesus as Teacher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990),  41-46.

 

[9] Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher, 140-144; Herman H. Horne, Jesus - The Master Teacher (New York: Association Press, 1920), 45-62.

 

[10]  All Gospel passages quoted from the New English Bible.

 

[11] Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher, 137-138.

 

[12]  Vernon K. Robbins, Jesus the Teacher (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 108-119.

 

[13]  Ronald Piper, Wisdom in the Q-Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 11-13; Scott, Hear Then the Parable, 7. However, Crossan disputes whether Jesus' aphorisms should be thought of simply as proverbs: John Dominic Crossan, In Fragments: The Aphorisms of Jesus (Harper and Row: San Francisco, 1983).

 

[14] Piper, Wisdom in the Q-Tradition, ibid.

 

[15] Stevens, The Teaching of Jesus, 37-38.

 

[16] Horne, Jesus - The Master Teacher, 90.

 

[17] Stevens, The Teaching of Jesus, 42-44.

 

[18]  Jacobus Liebenberg, The Language of the Kingdom and Jesus (New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2001),  53.

 

[19] Stevens, The Teaching of Jesus, 40.

 

[20] Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 71. See also Liebenberg, The Language of the Kingdom and Jesus, 157. Scott distinguishes two types of parable, the metaphoric and the metonymic: Scott, Hear Then the Parable, 29-30.

 

[21] Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus, 117-121. See also Alan P. Winton, The Proverbs of Jesus, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990).

 

[22] Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher, 167.

 

[23]  "A theory and method are...implicitly contained in all his teaching." Hinsdale, Jesus as a Teacher, 230.

 

[24] Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 299.

 

[25] Crossan, In Fragments, 2.

 

[26] Stevens, The Teaching of Jesus , 31-32.

 

[27] Horne, Jesus - The Master Teacher, 31-32.

 

[28] Horne, Jesus - The Master Teacher, 88.

 

[29] Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 311.

 

[30]  George Buttrick, Editor, The Interpreters Bible, Vol. 8, (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952),  591-592.

 

[31] Manson, The Teaching of Jesus, 302.