It is quite astounding to read in popular publications the many and varied claims about who was Jesus. These statements include that he was a Muslim, a Buddhist, the reincarnation of Krishna, a hypnotist, an illiterate peasant, and a revolutionary military leader called a zealot. To discover the truth about who Jesus said he was, it is first necessary to discover if Jesus was interested in motivating his disciples to preserve what he taught. If Jesus did not portray himself as being a teacher, then it is less likely that the words of the New Testament reflect his words and actions.
I hope you enjoy this extract from Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said? It is from the fifth chapter titled Jesus the teacher.
If Jesus wasn’t an author, how do we know what he said?
I am sure many have pondered why Jesus didn’t write any of the New Testament books. At first sight it would seem that if Jesus had actually written his teachings down, this would have been more ideal than having the messages written by those who followed him. Some people I have met believe we can’t know with any degree of certainty what Jesus actually taught because he didn’t author any of the New Testament books. Others have gone so far as to say that if Jesus was a charismatic teacher, he would not have given any thought to his teachings being preserved in writing.
Even though Jesus didn’t compose a book of his teachings, he used techniques to make his lessons memorable. He taught using stories and images to help get his meaning across, and these in turn continue to carry the concepts through time and across language barriers. For example, in John 15:5, Jesus said:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit …
No matter what time period or culture you come from, most people reading these words will create a mental picture of a vine, and then realise that a vine is nothing but branches continually intertwined and that every branch depends on the vine. They get the message that Jesus expects a close relationship with his followers. They will also understand these words to mean that unless they do have this intimate relationship with Jesus they will not be fruitful. Providing they read the words in context, they will not start believing that the fruit being talked about refers to grapes, oranges or bananas. Jesus’ words in this case create an immediate and vivid understanding, but also leave the reader hungering for more details.
When researching this chapter and the next, I wanted to know what evidence there was that Jesus intended his message to be preserved in a very precise way. Did Jesus’ disciples have the ability to read and write? If they did, what evidence was there that they used written language to record Jesus’ teachings? Were they capable of capturing what their master said in an almost word-by-word fashion or did they only have the prowess to capture the essence of his message?
Before further discussion of Jesus as a teacher, I will digress to cover a couple of concerns that people have frequently made. These matters relate to translation and interpretation. The first concern is that because translations appear to distort the original meaning, then the accuracy of the original documents is irrelevant. The second issue is whether the recorded words of Jesus’ can be interpreted to mean just about anything. If they can, then there is no value in them.