Doesn’t the Bible Call Jesus a Rabbi?

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From the Gospel accounts, Jesus clearly appears as a typical first-century Jewish sage, and was famous enough to draw students to himself.

Revised: 15 June 2023

It was only after 70 C.E. that רַבִּי (ra⋅BI, “my master,” “my teacher”) became a formal title for a rabbinic sage, so it is anachronistic to speak of Jesus as a “Rabbi.” Nevertheless, prior to the destruction of the Temple “ra⋅BI” was used as polite form of address to a social superior. It was in this sense that Jesus was addressed as “rabbi,” mainly by those who were not Jesus’ disciples. Disciples typically addressed Jesus as “Lord” (אֲדֹנִי [a⋅do⋅NĪ]).

Despite not being a Rabbi in the technical sense, it is clear that Jesus had much in common with the Rabbinic sages. Like the rabbis, but unlike any other ancient stream of Judaism, Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. Like the rabbis, Jesus used parables to illustrate his teachings. And like the rabbinic sages, but unlike the Essene separatists or the Sadducean elitists, Jesus appealed to the masses.

For further discussion of this subject, see David Bivin, “Was Jesus a Rabbi?

“Old Scholar in a Study” by an artist of the School of Rembrandt. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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