Jesus the Teacher

Jesus the Teacher June 23, 2016

If not unique, Robert Banks’s Reenvisioning Theological Education is a rarity among studies of theological education in the amount of attention he devotes to biblical models of education and training. In reviewing recent literature on efforts to rethink seminary education, he notes again and again that little attention is paid to Scripture. The Bible is rarely treated as normative for theological training. Banks knows that we can’t make a direct transfer from the methods and models used by Paul to the present day, but he argues that we must reckon with the biblical methods and models if we are going to arrive at a theological vision of theological education. This is not, Banks claims, going “back to the Bible.” Rather, we haven’t yet caught up with the Bible. Banks urges us to catch up, to go “forward with the Bible” (81).

Banks devotes a chapter to Jesus’s way of selecting, teaching, and preparing disciples for ministry. He contrasts Jesus’s mode of training to that of other first-century rabbis: “unlike these figures [Jesus] had no fixed location or salary . . . and did not regularly cite the authority or seek the fellowship of other learned teachers. . . . Nor does he encourage his disciples to seek other teachers so that they may receive the fullest education. He does not present himself as an interpreter of the Law so much as the one by whom the Law is interpreted and to whom it points” (108).

Jesus’s relation to His disciples differs from rabbi-student relations. The disciples are not primarily “students”: “The word manthanein occurs only once undisputedly in close connection with teaching, and even there in relation to parables.” Nor are they slaves: “Jesus was a teacher in a different sense than his contemporaries. Whether the terminology of ‘friendship’ rather than servanthood goes back to Jesus or not [I believe it does. PJL]. it rightly conveys the spirit of his association with his followers. . . . Though we should not understand this in contemporary egalitarian terms, John indicates that it involved mutuality and love.” Banks cites CG Montefiore’s comment that following Jesus was oriented more to service than study, service of others and not of Jesus. This, Montefiore says, was a “‘new thing‘ which did ‘not fit in‘ with the usual rabbinic approach” (108-9).

Banks also points to the “holistic and communal training the disciples received as they accompanied Jesus. This took place partly through verbal instruction such as in the Sermon on the Mount and the parables . . . , partly through such actions as healing miracles and exorcisms, exercising forgiveness, as well as undergoing persecution, and partly through their eating, drinking, and praying together.” The point of all this “was to prepare and train the Twelve.” Citing William Lunny, Banks concludes that “Jesus set up a series of ‘training sessions’ and ‘immersion experiences’ for them. . . . it was not preparation of the Twelve for mission that was uppermost in his mind, but engagement of the Twelve in mission” (110-11).

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