In a previous post I wrote about how the parables of Jesus were intended to hide truth rather than reveal it. We looked at some reasons why Jesus taught this way. We looked at this briefly in the post where we defined preaching and contrasted preaching and teaching, but let us look in more detail now at how Jesus taught, specifically in regard to His use of parables and the text of Scripture. We also discussed some of this here.
But a follow-up question remains. If Jesus told parables, and parables were cryptic, can we say that the primary teaching method of Jesus was to confuse people rather than teach them? No, we cannot say that. Though disguising truth was why He told parables, parables were not the primary teaching method of Jesus. He spoke in parables to certain people, for certain occasions, to accomplish certain purposes, when teaching about certain truths.
But every other time Jesus taught, He used what some might call an “expository method.” Jesus taught through books of the Bible. The gospels reveal that nearly every week of His ministry, on the Sabbath, Jesus could be found in the synagogue, teaching the Bible to those who had gathered to hear it. We often don’t realize Jesus did this. We tend to think He just wandered about from place to place, healing people, and telling stories on mountain tops.
But the reality is that those are a few isolated incidents. His miracles and parables in the countryside get recorded and get the most attention because they were what made His ministry memorable. But nevertheless, every week, Jesus was in the synagogue, teaching the Word of God.
And how did He teach in the synagogue? Well, we know from the Bible and from many other sources that the teacher would pick a section of Scripture, would stand and read it, then sit and explain it. Jesus does this in Luke 4:16ff, Luke 6:6ff, Luke 13:10ff and many other places.
And the typical method of synagogue teaching was book by book, verse by verse. Typically, when Jewish Rabbis taught the Torah, they taught it straight through (cf. Neh 8:8), and this is probably how Jesus taught (cf. Luke 4:16-21; 4:31; 6:6; 13:10). Jesus “took the Old Testament Scriptures, read them, explained them, and caused the people to understand them” (Pentecost 1981:137). This practice was also used by the early church (Acts 2:42; 13:14-15; 14:1-3; 15:21; 18:4; 19:8-10; etc.). John Lightfoot records that the one who taught this way was often referred to as “an interpreter,” and the teaching as an “interpretation” (Lightfoot 1989:68; cf. 1 Cor 12:10; 14:26). This is partly because the readings were in Hebrew, while some of those in the synagogue may have only understood Greek or Aramaic. So the text was read in Hebrew, then if an interpreter was present, it would be interpreted into a language everyone could understand, and then explained and taught so it could be understood and applied. This is what Jesus did in the synagogues He visited.
Jesus taught the Scriptures every week. He read the text, explained the text, applied the text. There is no better way of understanding God and His Word.