I have just completed a book by Rob Bell entitled Velvet Elvis. It is very thought-provoking and makes a argument that Jesus was a trained rabbi. Have you read or heard of this book, and what are your thoughts on the idea that Jesus was a rabbi? -- Fred

Well, it looks like Jesus was a rabbi. Didn't Nicodemus address him by this title (John 3:2)? Come to think of it, so did Jesus' own disciples (John 1:38, 49; 4:31; 9:2; 11:8), as well as the crowds that sought him (John 6:25). Outside John's gospel, Jesus implies that he is a rabbi (Matthew 23:8), and we find the appellation again in 26:25, 49 (on the lips of Judas), and Mark 9:5, 11:21 (Peter). Finally, in Mark 10:51 and John 20:16, Jesus is called rabbouni (rabboni), which has essentially the same meaning. So there can be no doubt that Jesus was a rabbi. He was Jewish. Since rabbi means "my teacher" (literally, "my great one"), I see nothing new in Bell's argument.

I would suggest one caution, however. Are we surprised Jesus was a rabbi because we view him through our twenty-first century eyes? The rabbis you and I are familiar with are representatives of much more modern forms of Judaism, not the same as their first century counterparts. What we know of first-century Rabbinic Judaism is colored by the filter of the Mishnah. Jewish traditions written down in the 200s may not accurately reflect practice some two hundred years earlier! There is very little written before 200 AD, apart from the New Testament, that tells us about the rabbis, teachings, and their methods.

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