Was Jesus a Rabbi?

Articles 2 Comments

By the time Jesus began his public ministry, he had not only received the thorough religious training typical of the average Jew of his day, he had probably spent years studying with an outstanding sage (or sages) in the Galilee. Jesus thus appeared on the scene as a respected sage himself. He was recognized as such by his contemporaries, as passages in the New Testament illustrate.

Revised: 28-Oct-2016

To understand the full significance of Jesus being addressed “teacher,” one must know what a Jewish teacher of the first century was and how he functioned in society.

Origin of “Rabbi”

The term “rabbi” is derived from the Hebrew word רַב (rav), which in biblical Hebrew meant “much,” “many,” “numerous” and “great.” The word also was sometimes used to refer to high government officials or army officers (see, for example, Jer. 39:3, 13).

In Jesus’ day, רַב (rav) was used to refer to the master of a slave or of a disciple. Thus, רַבִּי (rabi) literally meant “my master” (a form of address like “sir” in English), and was a term of respect used by slaves in addressing their owners and by disciples in addressing their teachers.

It was only after 70 A.D. that רַבִּי (rabi) became a formal title for a teacher (see Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ [175 B.C.-A.D. 135] [ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar and Matthew Black; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1979], 2:325-26), and thus cannot correctly be applied to Jesus. Nonetheless, the designation “rabbi” may still be more helpful than any other in conveying a correct image of Jesus to the average Christian reader. If this designation suggests that Jesus was recognized as a teacher in his day and that he was famous enough to draw students to himself, then “rabbi,” although anachronistic, perhaps serves a useful purpose.

Premium Members
If you are not a Premium Member, please consider becoming one starting at $10/month (paid monthly) or only $5/month (paid annually):

One Time Purchase Rather Than Membership
Rather than a membership, you may also purchase access to this entire page for $1.99 USD. (If you do not have an account select "Register & Purchase.")

Login & Purchase

  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
    [Read more about author]

  • Online Hebrew Course

    Want to learn Hebrew? Check out our online Hebrew course Aleph-Bet: Hebrew Reading and Writing for Christians in 17 Easy Lessons.

  • JP Content