As I continue this series of articles on the words of Jesus I would like to point out something that has always puzzled and intrigued me about the way many others "know" Jesus. Simply put, consider this, my dilemma, both for yourself and those you know. Why is it that so many know and talk about why Jesus died; but, seldom if ever, about why He lived? He lived knowing He was to suffer a horrible death for us; but, He did more than die for us - he lived for us. You may know why He died for you. Do you know Him well enough to know why He lived for you?
To begin focus on the words of Jesus I feel it may help prevent some potential future contention (from non-believers or "bible scholars") by pointing out that we draw our knowledge of His words and His teachings primarily from the synoptic gospels - and John (his gospel account and his Revelation). Though commonly referred to as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that is not what they actually are or claim to be. They are the Gospel "according" to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John hence it is not relevant if they were actually written by them, or by a scribe taking dictation, or a student of theirs. All that is relevant is that they were inspired to be written by God. The Gospel is the Good News as taught by Jesus Christ - not by Paul!
Our focus isn't to just read the words of Jesus or to just study His teaching. Our goal is to learn what He was trying to teach us and learn it well enough that we carry His Words in our heart and live them. To do this I break down his teaching into a few sub categories to hopefully simplify the process. I break down His words and teaching into three types. These are His: 1) Old Testament references, 2) commands, and 3) parables.
Of Jesus' teaching, a rough estimate is that approximately one third is discussing, referencing or citing Scripture (Old Testament) that He considered important or relevant to the Gospel. His concern for Scripture should be a strong indicator to us that the Old Testament is still a highly relevant source of information concerning Gods plan for us and our lives. In the Free Downloads section of my website there is a PDF compilation of New Testament references, by Jesus to the Old Testament, which I have put together. I do not claim the work is definitive; but, it should be adequate as a worthy study tool.
Of His teaching, about one third is in the form of commands. All deserve study and reflection though many of His commands seem self-explanatory. Many people are familiar with the primary two given love God and love your neighbor. To fully understand these commands you must first understand His meaning of love. Many folks are also familiar with a few other commands i.e. repent, forgive others, love your enemy, etc. Some of His commands certainly deserve more study than is typically given them some have become "pet" sayings often edited and taken out of context i.e. judge not. Depending on how His teaching is viewed it has been asserted that He gave anywhere from as few as 50 commands to as many as 125. One reason for this wide disparity may be due to whether or not the commands listed are "new" or representative of reassertions of commands from the Scriptures. Note1 lists a file name on my Free downloads page that is a PDF of a commonly accepted summary list of 50 of His commands.
Roughly, the remaining one third of His teaching is in the form of parables. As with the commands there are varying opinions as to the number of them depending on what is called a parable. The numbers range anywhere from as low as 32 to over 60. The study aids given in Note2 (also on the Free Downloads page) average about 32. In Note2 there is also a list of 46 possible parables in an extimated chronological order. In the order they are believed to have been given, they begin in subject from not putting new cloth on an old garment to ending with the separating of the sheep from the goats. Chronological order should not be taken as an indicator of importance for us today; because, we should always remember that Jesus was in the process of not only proclaiming the Gospel but also training disciples to become His 12 Apostles. We have two advantages of looking at His teachings today; 1) though we are to be witnesses for Christ we are His disciples and not one His 12 Apostles, and 2) we can view His teaching as a completed whole rather than as a work in progress (we are the work in progress now).
His Old Testament references are easy enough to find and study on their own; but, to fully grasp why he chose those particular references we often need a better understanding of what He was trying to accomplish by citing them. One way we can learn this is by studying what His commands are. As an analogy: if I give a reference to a young child that a certain book says paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit and matches burn hotter than that, it may not mean much to them. A young child may not reason out a third fact not specifically mentioned that a match will ignite paper. But, if I first command them, "don't play with matches", and then give them the reference, they may grasp the purpose and meaning of my command more fully and grasp the third fact quicker.
Some may say that it is a matter of simple reasoning and that people should be able to figure out the third fact without being told to which we must consider that not all of us have the same reasoning abilities. In point of fact, many will read certain references and come up with a third "fact" for a command that others do not see. Hence, we have many different "takes" on what the Bible says. I would suggest that we do as Jesus commanded us and be as children. We should listen to His commands whether we understand the reasoning or not; and, we should not use our reasoning to give commands to others that He does not give!
The parables of Jesus offer yet another tool to better understand His teaching. Many of these parables are cause for an even more determined and dedicated approach to study. There are a few study aids in the file listed in Note3. As in all things concerning the study of God and His will for us, we should approach in humility and prayer. No writing of any man can replace the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even so, we have in writing, for a couple of the parables of Jesus, His own explanation of their meaning. One of these is commonly called the Parable of the Sower and the other is commonly the called the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
Because we have Jesus' own explanation for these two parables I will continue in the next article of this series by focusing on His parables.
In Brotherly Love,
Note1 - Commands of Jesus - 50 - Summary List
Note2 - The Parables of Jesus - Insight into the Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven
A Study Guide to the Parables of Jesus
Study Guide of the Parables of Jesus - A Look at the Parables of Jesus in 35 Lessons