In a first-century setting, the word “teacher” (didaskalos) would have conjured up a very different picture from either the 20th century denizen of chalkboards or the 21st century operator of a computer and “smart-boards” in front of a class. If you were of Greek heritage, you thought of Socrates, Plato, and their cohorts, surrounded by eager “disciples” (mathetes), deeply engrossed in philosophical dialogues. Your Jewish counterpart would think of a rabbi, inculcating the intricate details of the Law into his young charges, or arguing its fine points with others of his status. So it was no surprise to either group when a new Teacher appeared on the scene, with a cadre of disciples. “Teacher” or “Master” (the British version of the same word) was one of the primary respectful titles by which Jesus was often addressed. However, very early on, people recognized that there was a difference.
Matthew (7:29, Mark (1:22) and Luke (4:32) all note that one thing that “amazed” the hearers was that Jesus taught “with authority, and not like the scribes” who usually needed to buttress their arguments by quoting others of their number. (Does that sound like any “theological” teaching you have heard?)
Jesus’ teaching was unique in that he undertook to correct the prevalent misunderstandings that were touted as “the Law.” In fact, this makes up a large part of his “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt.5-7), which is bookended by references to his “teaching.” Luke, referring to his first account, summarizes it as “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Ac.1:1) as he begins “Volume 2.”
It is also notable that Jesus’ “teaching” was often connected with healings (Mt.9:35), casting out demonic powers (Mk.1:27), and feeding the crowds (Mk.8), further demonstrating his identity.
Jesus’ frequent use of parables to make a point was not particularly rare in the culture, but his subject-matter certainly was. All the synoptic writers describe “teaching and preaching [proclaiming] the Kingdom”!
Most of these items are also included in his instructions to the disciples whom he sent out as his representatives (Mt.10, Lk.6:1-6 and 10:17). Their discipleship seems to have served as a kind of apprenticeship, as both Matthew (10:24-25) and Luke (6:40) record the reminder that “a disciple is not above (huper) his teacher,” but when fully trained, will be “like (hos) his master”, and Matthew adds (23:7) the blunt prohibition against assuming a title of any kind, reminding them “You all have one Teacher, and you are all brethren.”
This sets the instructions that have been called “The Great Commission” (Mt.28:19-20) in an interesting light. Faulty translation, due to poorly understood grammar, has led to many an unwarranted guilt-trip, as well as serious neglect of our responsibilities. According to most interpretations, “Go” and “preach [evangelize]” (this latter borrowed from a late manuscript of Mark’s version) are treated as if they were continuous imperatives (commands) issued to every “believer,” (which, if true, would require a present tense in the imperative), while “baptizing” and “teaching” are reserved for the “clergy” — a word, incidentally, that does not exist in the New Testament. In point of fact, there is only one imperative in the entire passage – matheteusate.— “make disciples.” It is a second person plural, aorist imperative: which indicates definitive action, by all the hearers. Interestingly, the sense of this word changes with the case of its object. (L/S). If the object is genitive or dative, it refers to being disciples of or to another person. If, as in this case, the object is accusative, (panta ta ethne), “all the nations [Gentiles – same word]”, then it becomes a transitive verb and refers to “making” the object to become disciples. It may be that the risen Lord is thereby deliberately opening the door once-and-for-all (aorist) to “all nations”! It took the disciples a while to internalize that, but the grammar is unmistakable.
All three of the other verbs are present participles, implying continuous action. They govern dependent clauses, modifying matheteusate, the main verb. Poreuthentes, is temporal or spatial: “as” or “while” you are going [or even “wherever” you are going]. Baptizontes (baptizing) and didaskontes (teaching) refer to what the “making disciples” involves. A “how-to”, if you please. Please note that the subject of the sentence has not changed. Matheteusate is second person plural. THE WHOLE THING IS EVERYBODY’S JOB! Please see chapter 10 of Citizens for more discussion.
This seems to have been well understood in the early church. The teaching job comes after the new disciples are recruited and baptized. It was a major part of their early gatherings (Ac.2:42 and 4:33), as those who had “been there” shared the resurrection message. Paul reassured the congregation at Colossae (3:16) that they are perfectly capable of “teaching and admonishing one another.” Jesus had after all, promised that the Holy Spirit would “teach and remind” his people of all that he had said and done (Jn.14:26). Timothy (II Tim.2:2) is reminded to find faithful folks to whom he can pass on the responsibility of teaching. Paul lists “teachers” (plural)among the gifts to the church in Rom.12:7, I Cor.12:28, and Eph.4:11, but also assumes that anyone (I Cor.14:26) might have a “teaching” to contribute.
Indeed, the expectation that multiple folks will be involved in teaching is obvious in the scolding by the writer to the Hebrews (5:12), “By this time , you all ought to be teachers, but you have need for someone to teach you again the very basic principles of God’s words!”
Both Timothy (I Tim.5:17) and Titus (1:9 and 2:3) are reminded that an elder must be a patient and able teacher, and warned of those who teach a mistaken, warped, or deliberately distorted version of the message (II Tim.4:3 and Tit.1:11).
Teachers (Ac.13:1) were together with prophets (see previous post) in the prayer-meeting in Antioch when two of their number were commissioned for itinerant service. I Cor.12:29 implies that (although Paul in chapter 14 directs that anyone may teach) not all are “teachers”. Probably the situation is similar to the directions for prophesying. Those who fill that function responsibly and well, acquire the label – but in obedience to Jesus’ instructions (Mt.23:7), it is deliberately to be avoided as a title or status.
So – what is the “teacher” to teach? Jesus said it quite simply in the Commission mentioned already: “teaching them to follow my instructions!” We will consider this in more detail in the next post