Section IV.5 – Questions versus Answers
You might have noticed that Jesus does not always answer the questions that were brought to him. Sometimes he responds by asking a question. In ancient Judaism, the rabbis would debate about what the Scriptures mean. They would ask how to translate certain words, phrases, verses, or passages. When there was a debate over whether this passage means this, or does it mean that, they would not give points that prove they are correct. Instead, they would continue to ask questions to one another. This is also how the rabbis tested their students. They would ask a question, and the student then had to respond with another question. Your knowledge of the Scripture was tested by how well you could respond with a question. I might ask you, “What does it mean when David said, ‘The LORD said to my Lord…’? Then, you would reply by asking a question that refers to another Scripture.
When I ask a question regarding laws or commandments, I might ask you, “What does it mean that God so loved the world?” You, then, would know that I am quoting John 3:16, and would have the whole verse and context in your mind. You would know the larger context that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, what the conversation is generally about, the point that was made just before Jesus said this to Nicodemus, and what conclusions Jesus makes from this point that God so loved the world. Then, you would think about other Scriptures that discuss the exact same subject, and you would in return ask me something like, “What did it mean for God to provide the lamb?” I would then know that you are talking about when Abraham offered his son Isaac and said, “God will provide the lamb,” and that the angel stopped Abraham just before he killed his son. I would then also recognize that you are making the point that Jesus is the Lamb of God that not only is offered in place of Isaac, the father of Israel, but also the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (remember the context of our discussion being about laws and commandments).
Then, I might return with another question of, “But how is it that Israel is supposed to eat the Passover lamb and not leave one piece for the morning?” You would recognize that I am referencing Exodus, and that the Passover is about the death of the firstborn. You would also know that the whole point is to deliver Israel from the hand of the Egyptians. So, you would see that my argument is that you can draw a parallel between Jesus and the lamb that God provided for Abraham, but how does that really help us when you assert the point that this is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world? Then, you might respond with something like, “Why else would Isaiah proclaim, surely he took up our infirmities”?
I would know that you are saying that Jesus bore our iniquity, and that to eat the Passover lamb was commanded because he was our sin offering. It is possible that you might be referencing John 6 that we eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood, which of course is our symbol of communion, but you might not be referencing that. So, I would then use John 6 in my next question to better understand your point. This kind of questioning would be something that tests your knowledge of the laws and commandments, specifically how Christ is the fulfillment of those laws, but it would involve all subject matter in theology. We would address covenant, sin, human nature, eschatology, ecclesiology, the heart of God, and everything in between.
This could go on for hours. We both reference Scripture back and forth. For the ones who are debating, the point is that we are trying to disprove what the other is saying. For the rabbi giving a test to his disciples, he is probing the depth of their understanding. If the student has sufficient understanding of the Scripture, both in what it says and also what it means, then the rabbi will allow the student to continue in their studies. Otherwise, the student is sent home to take up the family trade. It is Greek thinking that asks questions expecting a “correct” answer. It is Hebrew thinking that asks questions expecting a well thought out point of view.
This is quite different than even essay questions. An essay question might be opinion related, and we need to be able to address the question and explain ourselves well, but it still falls short of the depth required. The Hebrews were not abandoned to only asking questions. They made statements all the time. Yet, the thing to notice is the vast difference in the type of statements and assertions being made. Peter replied to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Does that statement sound like a Greek answer? What is the intention behind that statement? What is Peter referencing? Everything goes back to the Scriptures. Nothing is stated simply because “this is my opinion.” Peter is referencing something, and if we can find what he is referencing, it might give us a better understanding as to why Jesus replied with, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” We would then have to ask the question, what is Jesus saying? Is Jesus referencing anything in that reply? Is there something about Peter’s answer that would then lead us to understand Jesus’ reply, and then something about Jesus’ reply that would better help us understand a Scripture in the Old Testament?
Do you see how this is an important aspect to know? Whether the Hebrew is answering with a question or with a statement, it always goes back to the Scriptures. When we read the words of the apostles to the Church we should not expect that these things are new revelations. Every statement in the New Testament should be able to be traced back to the Old Testament somehow. It is either found in a pattern that God has established, or found in a specific verse or passage, but the statement being made in the New Testament – whatever passage you might be reading – has its root and origin in the Old Testament somewhere.
Now lets take up again the point that I didn’t conclude earlier. Every Hebrew child went to school to learn the Torah. They were then tested on their knowledge of the Torah. By the time they were about 10, they would have the entire five books of Moses memorized. So, the rabbi would test their knowledge on how well they know the Scripture, and how well they know what it means. This would include using only pieces of the Scripture that has a distinguishing wording. If the student is unable to recognize that this particular wording is only used in this place, even though that statement is made in other places, then the student might not be able to correctly respond to the rabbi. Because the rabbi uses the wording from Deuteronomy 5 instead of Exodus 20, you answer in accordance to the Ten Commandments, but you reply wrongly for not recognizing the subtle nuance of Deuteronomy as opposed to Exodus.
If the rabbi does not think that you are fit to continue in your schooling to learning the rest of the Scripture, he will tell you to go home and take up your father’s trade. But, if you are qualified to continue your learning, then you will begin to study the rest of the Old Testament. By the time you are around 14, you will have the whole of the Old Testament memorized. Now, instead of the rabbi testing you again, you have the choice to go back home to your father and mother, or you can find a rabbi to become their disciple. If you go back home, you pick up the family trade. If your parents don’t want you to continue in your studies, then you should honor their opinion and take up your father’s trade. This is why Jesus got on the Pharisees. They would teach that it is more important for the disciple to cleave unto a rabbi and continue in their spiritual walk than to honor their father and mother, thus nullifying the word of God through their tradition. If, however, you are permitted to follow a rabbi, you then go to someone that you want to teach you for the next 15-20 years. They would test your knowledge asking the question, “Does this young man have what it takes to be like me?” If they do not think you have what it takes to be like them, they will tell you to go back home. But, if you do have what it takes to follow in the steps of the rabbi, they will say, “Come, follow me.”
Every day you follow this rabbi. You listen to their teachings. You go to the bathroom with them and wait outside. You eat with them. You ask them questions. You listen to their replies when others come to them with questions. Your whole life is now dedicated to one thing: becoming like your rabbi. Now, the rabbi is not interested in teaching you all of the knowledge that he has. Instead, he is interested in your character. The rabbi invests in your character and lifestyle so that you might come to maturity. It is after 15-20 years, when you are now old enough to have your own ministry (traditionally the age is about 30), and when you have come to a maturity and caliber of character to make your own disciples, that the rabbi will tell you, “Go, and make disciples.”
We come to Jesus. He is a rabbi. This would mean that he didn’t pick up his father’s trade. Mary and Joseph allowed him to continue through school and to learn under another rabbi. He has spent years dedicated to this. Now the rabbi that he studied under has told him, “Go, and make disciples.” He goes out, and instead of waiting for any disciples to come to him, he goes to them. Who does Jesus go to? He goes to the fisherman. He goes to the tax collector. He goes to the zealot. Jesus actually goes to they that were turned down. He goes to the people that took up their family trade. Do you realize the implications? These are men that were told they don’t have what it takes to be a rabbi, and here comes Jesus – the Son of God – and he says, “Come, follow me.” What Jesus is saying is, “I believe that you have what it takes to be like me.”
We see that many of the disciples follow him. There are others who don’t. For example, the rich young ruler is told to sell his possessions and follow Christ, but he goes away saddened. The statement that Jesus is making is huge. Now, these men that Jesus has called to himself as his disciples are with Jesus every day. They discuss Scripture with him, they eat and sleep with him, they travel with him, they listen to his responses to other’s problems, and they are seeking to know one thing: how can I be like my rabbi? So we have these stories in Scripture like Peter walking on water with Jesus. Peter says to himself, “If my rabbi is walking on water, I want to be like him.” When Peter begins to sink, Jesus asks him, “Why did you doubt?” Who did Peter doubt? Jesus wasn’t sinking. Peter doubted whether he truly had it in him to be like the rabbi.
After about three years (some say three and a half) their rabbi is crucified. Now what? Do you understand a little more of the context of the story? This is devastation beyond devastation. But when Jesus resurrects and goes to his disciples, what is it that he says? “Oh you of little faith…” Christ had taught his disciples to follow him, even by taking up their own crosses. What is Jesus saying? You take up your cross and follow me to death, and you will also taste of the resurrection as I taste of it. Then, after 40 days of teaching his disciples about the kingdom of God, Jesus tells them one last thing before he ascends to the right hand of the Father: “Go, and make disciples.” What did Jesus just do? Jesus just told His disciples, “You have been brought to maturity to make disciples of your own. Now go and do as you have seen me do.”