Summary: What did Jesus learn about God from his “rabbi-pastor,” as He studied the first three chapters of Genesis?
Let's consider what Jesus might have learned:
What did Jesus learn about God from his “rabbi-pastor,” as He studied the first three chapters of Genesis?
The New Testament provides only brief glimpses of Jesus’ youth and training. One such glimpse is found in Luke 2:40, where we read that He “continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (NASV). Luke also tells us that when Jesus was twelve, He was found in the temple in Jerusalem, both listening and asking the teachers questions; and that they were amazed by Him (Luke 2:46-47). From these limited passages we cannot determine what understanding of God Jesus “brought” with Him when He, being omniscient God, became man; or what knowledge He, becoming created man, had to learn about God. Therefore, rather than attempt to examine what Jesus learned about God, I will consider what Jesus might have been taught about God.
If Jesus were studying the first three chapters of Genesis in a contemporary Bible study group here in our western society, He might be challenged to think of God in certain “western” ways. For example, Jesus today might be called upon to consider questions such as: Were there seven literal days of creation? What is the origin of Cain’s wife? How do prehistoric people fit into the creation account? He would likely be exposed to a God who appeals to the intellect of humankind, who works within laws of reason, and provides in His word, tangible evidence of Himself. This would not be an unreasonable approach. From the discovery of the first dinosaur bones in the early 1800s, to the study of black holes and their relationship to the genesis of life, western society has challenged the faithful to view God through spectacles not formerly worn. As a result, Christians are often compelled by the challenges of the modern, scientific community to review the book of Genesis, and the Person of God, for answers that satisfy western pragmatism.
I do not believe it is wrong to ponder God in “western” terms. But, it is probable that Jesus’ first-century, Middle-Eastern teachers did not ask these types of questions, and likely thought of God in a different way. It stands to reason, therefore, that the way in which Jesus’ teachers understood God, is the way they taught God to Jesus.
For the sake of this study, let us examine a fictional character. His name will be Rabbi Zechariah. Rabbi Zechariah’s most significant tenure was at a small synagogue in the unassuming hamlet of Nazareth, near the beginning of what we now know as the first century. Rabbi Zechariah has a heart for ministry, and especially enjoys his role as a teacher within this Jewish community. Among his pupils is the son of a local carpenter – a bright lad who Rabbi Zechariah believes has considerable promise. The boy is attentive, considerably less mischievous than his colleagues, and seems to take special delight in listening to the scriptures being read during class.
During one such teaching session, Rabbi Zechariah takes the first scroll of the Torah, and unrolls it to its beginning. Reading in Hebrew, a tongue now reserved for religious use, Rabbi Zechariah begins to teach his class about God through the story of creation, while a young Jesus sits nearby, absorbing each spoken word with unprecedented attention.
The opening chapters of Genesis are not narrated to Jesus like data from a science book. Rather, Rabbi Zechariah unravels from the scroll, a beautiful, poetic story that tells of the dawning of life. That story begins with God Himself: Elohiym. This name, Rabbi Zechariah points out, is unique, speaking of the distinct character of God. He points out that it is in plural form, yet it does not suggest that the Hebrew people serve many gods. Instead, Rabbi Zechariah tells them, the word could refer to God and his heavenly court, or perhaps the word has been intensified to the plural to represent the supreme God. How interesting to consider that as Rabbi Zechariah labored to provide his class with a meaning of the word Elohiym, there was one present who would later claim to be a living definition.
Jesus’ “pastor” next compares the story of creation found in the Torah to that told in ancient Babylon, as found in the Enuma elish. In the latter story, the earth and heavens were the haphazard result of a brutally fierce battle born of envy and anger between the gods. The Genesis account, in contrast, reveals a God who thoughtfully and circumspectly spoke each element of our universe into existence, and then bound Himself to His created world. From that explanation, Rabbi Zechariah teaches his class about the care, orderliness and commitment of Elohiym.
Continuing their study of Genesis, the class hears from their teacher how God created all things good. The rabbi is compelled to address a growing Greco-Roman philosophy expounding a completely different, dualistic concept of life that teaches that spirit is good, but matter is evil. This teaching readies the class to form answers to a current and very important topic.