Would it have been funny if I had simply answered with the word “Yes” and published this article? While “Yes” may be a good and accurate answer to this question, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting read. On the other hand, it may end up being more interesting than what I end up writing! Only time and the reader—hi Mom!—will tell.
Teaching has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been blessed with a great variety of teachers who were favorites of mine at one time or another. Some of the adjectives that describe a few of my favorite teachers are brilliant, funny, warm, patient, humble, dedicated and—most importantly—truthful.
There are other reasons that certain teachers of mine have been memorable. A teacher who knows their subject matter very well tends to be passionate about what and how they teach. This kind of teacher knows how to bring their subject—that otherwise might be dusty and boring for some of their students—to life.
My professor of Ancient Greek at Wheaton College—Gerald F. Hawthorne—made me feel excited to attend his classes every time because of his knowledge and passion for this ancient language. I mean, talk about bringing a subject to life. Dr. Hawthorne brought an entirely dead language to life! He also displayed all the personality traits I listed above. In my opinion, Dr. Hawthorne was a good teacher.
But what about Jesus? What adjectives were used about him by those who knew Jesus in the flesh? How did people describe his words and deeds? After all, people can’t tell what kind of teacher a person is based on what the teacher is thinking, but what the teacher says and does speak volumes! A teacher’s thoughts do lead to what they say and do, so a good teacher must necessarily be a good thinker.
By all accounts, Jesus was a good teacher. But is that all? And if that is all that Jesus was—is he really a good teacher? Have you noticed yet the way I have been using the words “is” and “was” interchangeably when talking about Jesus? There is a specific reason for that word choice which may be quite obvious to some—particularly those who know me.
If you haven’t noticed when looking around this website yet—it is quite young after all—I am a Christian, and as such, I believe Jesus is both man and God. There is much more to come on that topic—Lord willing—as one of my primary goals for having this website is to bring glory to God. But as usual, I digress and must get back to the titular question of this article.
Is Jesus a good teacher? Certainly he was portrayed in the New Testament of the Bible having all the personality traits I attributed to Dr. Hawthorne earlier in this article—and then some. Jesus was sinless, a servant, holy, generous, submissive and full of love, compassion and forgiveness. 1 Peter 2:22 acknowledges that there was “no deceit found in his mouth”, i.e. he never lied. Consider, however, Luke 18:18-19 (ESV):
“And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Interesting. Here was a rich young man who knew the obvious thing about Jesus that everyone else realized—Jesus was a good teacher. Yet Jesus questioned his label of “Good Teacher”. Why? Was Jesus being hyper-humble? Did he really not think he was a good teacher?
Jesus went on to say, “No one is good except God alone.” Whoa! Is Jesus saying what I think he’s saying? Is he equating himself with God? From all the sermons I’ve heard on this scripture and from my own private study, it appears that Jesus was hinting at his own divinity. Sadly, the rich man missed this implication and the import of what Jesus went on to tell him about how to gain eternal life. This leads directly to my next thought.
The scholarly religious, political and social leaders of Israel during Jesus’ time—the Pharisees—were split on the idea of Jesus being a good teacher. Why? At least some of the Pharisees recognized Jesus’ claims of divinity. Some of them followed him, but some hated him. Why? Jesus was very hard on Pharisees, even more than on “sinners”. Also, Jesus was bad for business for the Pharisees, money changes, idol makers and the like!
Without a doubt, Jesus as portrayed in the Bible is a good teacher in the way I have described teachers both here and in my previous article. But Jesus as portrayed in the Bible could not be just a good teacher. Why not? I’m going to let C.S. Lewis address that question.
His take on the famous trilemma first posited by the nineteenth century Scottish preacher John Duncan—was Jesus a liar, a lunatic or the Lord?—is one of my favorite of Lewis’ quotes. More recently, others have suggested adding a fourth possibility to this trilemma—was Jesus a legend?—thus turning it into a quadrilemma. I might try to write on that another time. For now we’ll just consider the trilemma. Here is Lewis:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.¹
Fortunately, we have both a truthful and kind teacher in Jesus. In fact, you won’t find a more truthful or kind teacher anywhere! I mentioned earlier that my favorite college professor Dr. Hawthorne was a good teacher who brought a subject—the Ancient Greek language—to life for myself and others. Jesus was a good teacher who brought himself back to life for myself and others, thereby proving he is God.
If Jesus truly is the God-man the Bible describes him to be, he is the best teacher and we can trust that what he says is true. Jesus didn’t only tell the truth. He is the truth!
¹ Lewis, Clive Staples (1952) Mere Christianity, p. 55