Teacher and Rabbi in the New Testament Period -- By: W. Harold Mare

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 11:3 (Fall 1970)
Article: Teacher and Rabbi in the New Testament Period
Author: W. Harold Mare


Teacher and Rabbi in the New Testament Period

W. Harold Mare

Professor of New Testament Language and Literature
Covenant Theological Seminary

[The above article was delivered at the 14th general meeting of the Midwestern Section of the Evangelical Theological Society, held at Fort Wayne Bible College, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on April 18, 1969.]

Joseph Klausner1 observed that Graetz2 holds the view that the name rabbi used in the Gospels is an anachronism, the reason for this conclusion being given, as Goodenough observes, “because it does not follow later rabbinic usage,” the anachronism lying “in taking the later rabbinic usage as valid in the early period since for this period we have only the New Testament to certify.”3 Of course we do not accept as necessarily valid such a conclusion even if the New Testament were to present the only known evidence, on the grounds that other evidence might be forthcoming. As a matter of fact, we believe there is other evidence from contemporary literature and archaeology to verify the accuracy of the New Testament picture of a Rabbi-teacher-pupil complex in the early part of the first century A.D.

Albright, in commenting on the ascription to Jesus of the Aramaic name rabbi (literally “my master”) or the Greek equivalent didaskalos (literally “teacher”) in John, states that the arguments that the number of passages where such terms are so ascribed show the relative lateness of that Gospel to the Synoptics since “these terms are much more frequent…in the former than in the latter” and “that a teacher would not be called rabbi in the time of Christ,” based on the claim that this was a Tannaitic development—such arguments are negated by Sukenik’s discovery of the term didaskalos inscribed on a pre-A.D. 70 ossuary referring to the person whose bones were interred therein.4

Albright goes on to say that further study of didaskalos, both archaeologically and linguistically, needs to be made,5 and it is our purpose to make such an investigation of both rabbi and didaskalos using evidence such as that set forth by Sukenik.

The Words Rabbi and Didaskalos Used in Literature of the New Testament Period

In the N...

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