A few weeks ago I reviewed Robert Stein’s commentary on Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. It is fantastic, and so when I received that book I knew I would have to get more books authored by Stein. One of those books is The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings; Revised Edition. This book isn’t a “tell-all” of everything Jesus did and sad, but it does introduce us into His world and way of thinking. This isn’t so much a book of cultural exploration as it is the ‘how’ (method) and ‘what’ (message) of Jesus’ teaching.
I am very thankful for Stein’s work on the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. The outline for the book is:
1. Jesus the Teacher
2. The Form of Jesus’ Teaching
3. The Parables of Jesus
4. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Kingdom of God
5. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Fatherhood of God
6. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Ethics of the Kingdom
7. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: Christology
The Chocolate Milk/Overview
Stein looks at the emphasis on teaching the Gospel writers give Jesus. “Teacher” is used to denote Jesus 45 times, and “Rabbi” 14 times. Jesus proclaimed the divine law, gathered disciples, debated the scribes, answered questions and made propositions with authority, and supported His teaching with Scripture. What makes Jesus’ teaching so engaging (aside from the Holy Spirit) was ‘how’ Jesus taught which leads us to chapter 2.
Jesus employed overstatements (exaggeration), hyperbole, puns, similes, metaphors, proverbs, riddles, paradoxes, a fortiori arguments, irony, the use of questions, poetry, and parabolic/figurative actions (and probably more). This is an important chapter by showing that we don’t want to take everything Jesus says literally “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire….‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9.43, 48).
Jesus isn’t telling the people (and us) to actually cut their hands off, but instead “the need to remove from their lives anything that might cause them to sin. There is no sin in life worth perishing over. Better to repent of that sin, even if it is as painful as tearing out and eye or cutting off a hand, and as a result enter into the kingdom of God than to cherish that sin and be thrown into hell” [pg. 9].
On top of this Stein gives us the references to those verses where Jesus employs figurative language. Here Stein shows his immense knowledge of the Scriptures with a wealth of verses from the Synoptics, John, and from the various books remaining.
Stein covers the definition and use of Jesus’ parables, along with the history of the interpretation of parables from the early church fathers to present-day. Stein shows how much of the parables were (wrongly) interpreted as allegory, and how we are to read and interpret them today:
1. Seek for one main point
2. Seek for what Jesus meant in the original setting
3. Seek to understand how the evangelist [author] interpreted the parable in his setting of life
4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today through this parable [which should flow from having sought the answer to the first three propositions]
Stein ends the chapter with a look at a few examples of parables, how to read them, what the point is, and what it means for us 2,000 years in the future. This chapter was a condensed version of Stein’s An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus which I will be reviewing shortly.
Stein moves through Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God while looking at different schools of interpretation on this Kingdom. Is the Kingdom here in full now? How much of it are we still waiting for? Is it merely an ethical correction in our hearts to make us better citizens on earth? Stein presents us four different (general) schools of thought which was helpful to see how some think of the Kingdom and how that wasn’t what Jesus was teaching. Stein takes us through the biblical arguments for Jesus teaching a now-but-not-yet Kingdom. Jesus’ coming changed history, as did His death and resurrection. To a degree the Kingdom came with Jesus, but it has not yet been fully consummated but will be when He returns.
Stein does the same as Chapter 4 in showing 6 different schools of thought on the ethics of Jesus (Catholic, Utopian, Lutheran, Liberal, Interim ethic, and Existential). Again, these are generalities, but they clearly give a good overall picture of different teachings from life which I’m familiar with. Did Jesus teach an ethic for everyone, but that there is a higher ‘elite’ who can be ‘better’ and have the ‘victorious Christian life’? Or maybe His ethics were so impossible we’re supposed to see that we can’t fulfill the commands and actually reveal our depravity, leading us to call upon the mercy of God and receive His grace?
Yet Jesus ethics extend from a change in the heart, a completely new attitude. His commands are in context of loving the Father with all of your strength, and loving others as yourself. This makes Jesus a unique teacher. Much of his ethics were similar to Jewish sages of His time (similarities can be found in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha), but Jesus wants us to perform acts of love to others, even our enemies. It’s not “don’t do wrong against them”, but “do right to them.” “The ethic of Jesus is an ethic of relationship in which the nucleus is provided by the love commandment” [pg. 111].
The Spoiled Milk
My only real complaint is the amount of time (which isn’t too much) Stein does spend on textual criticism. Stein really knows his stuff! The information that he relays about textual criticism, authenticity, and form is good information. The issue is it doesn’t seem to fit with the purpose of this book which is “to understand better the form and content of Jesus’ teaching” [pg. xiii]. Perhaps it better helps us to understand the “form” in a more academic way, but it didn’t help me know much more about the method of Jesus’ teaching.
The subject of the final chapter was Jesus’ teaching on Christology. Stein explains three titles used by Jesus: Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. All three were exceptional in their explanation of Jesus’ self-understanding and -designation of Himself. The section on the Son of Man was the longest, but much to my chagrin, it’s length was due to discussions of authenticity and textual criticism.
Yes. You won’t find any liberal interpretations in this book. You will gain a better overall understanding of the teachings of Jesus and a better understanding on many details of what He has said. I’d pretty much back anything by Stein (at least what I’ve read so far) and say that it’s good to go. Fortunately too, this book was written a bit more for the layman with less textual criticism than I’ve seen by him before. (Though I will say that if TC piques your interest, definitely read Stein). But regardless, this book will help define just what Jesus taught and how He went about doing that in a clear and properly biblical way.
++++Paperback: 220 pages
++++Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; Rev Sub edition (Nov. 1, 1994)
[Special thanks to WJK Press for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]