“Never Has Another Man Spoken Like This”
“They all began to give favorable witness about him and to marvel at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth.”—LUKE 4:22.
1, 2. (a) Why did the officers who were sent to lay hold of Jesus return empty-handed? (b) What shows that the officers were not the only ones who were impressed with Jesus’ teaching?
THE officers failed in their mission. They were sent to lay hold of Jesus Christ, but they returned empty-handed. The chief priests and Pharisees demanded an explanation: “Why is it you did not bring him in?” Indeed, why did the officers not seize a man who would offer no physical resistance? The officers explained: “Never has another man spoken like this.” They were so impressed with Jesus’ teaching that they could not bring themselves to take this peaceful man into custody.*—John 7:32, 45, 46.
2 Those officers were not the only ones who were impressed with Jesus’ teaching. The Bible tells us that people turned out in great numbers just to hear him speak. The people in his hometown marveled “at the winsome words proceeding out of his mouth.” (Luke 4:22) More than once he spoke from a boat to great crowds assembled on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 3:9; 4:1; Luke 5:1-3) On one occasion, “a big crowd” stayed with him for days, even going without eating.—Mark 8:1, 2.
3. What was the primary reason why Jesus was such an outstanding teacher?
3 What made Jesus an outstanding teacher? Love was the primary reason.* Jesus loved the truths he conveyed, and he loved the people he taught. But Jesus also had an extraordinary grasp of teaching methods. In the study articles appearing in this issue, we will discuss some of the effective methods he used and how we can imitate them.
Simplicity and Clarity
4, 5. (a) Why did Jesus use plain language in his teaching, and what is remarkable about the fact that he did so? (b) How is the Sermon on the Mount an example of the simplicity with which Jesus taught?
4 It is not uncommon for well-educated people to use language that is far above the heads of their listeners. But if we do not make ourselves understood by others, how can they benefit from our knowledge? As a teacher, Jesus never talked over the heads of others. Imagine the range of the vocabulary he could have had at his disposal. Yet, despite his vast knowledge, he thought of his listeners, not of himself. He knew that many of them were “unlettered and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13) To reach them, he used language that such people could understand. The words may have been simple, but the truths they conveyed were profound.
5 Take, for example, the Sermon on the Mount, recorded at Matthew 5:3–7:27. It may have taken Jesus just 20 minutes to deliver that sermon. Yet, its teachings are deep, getting to the very heart of such matters as adultery, divorce, and materialism. (Matthew 5:27-32; 6:19-34) There are, however, no complicated or high-sounding expressions. Why, there is hardly a word that even a child could not readily understand! No wonder that when he finished, the crowds—likely including many farmers, shepherds, and fishermen—“were astounded at his way of teaching”!—Matthew 7:28.
6. Give an example of how Jesus uttered sayings that were simple but rich in meaning.
6 Often using clear, short phrases, Jesus uttered sayings that were simple but rich in meaning. In the era before printed books, he thus imprinted his message indelibly on the minds and hearts of his listeners. Note some examples: “No one can slave for two masters; . . . you cannot slave for God and for Riches.” “Stop judging that you may not be judged.” “By their fruits you will recognize those men.” “Persons in health do not need a physician, but the ailing do.” “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”* (Matthew 6:24; 7:1, 20; 9:12; 26:52; Mark 12:17; Acts 20:35) To this day, nearly 2,000 years after they were spoken by Jesus, such powerful sayings are easily called to mind.
Use of Questions
7. Why did Jesus ask questions?
7 Jesus made remarkable use of questions. He often did so even when it would have been less time-consuming just to tell his listeners the point. Why, then, did he ask questions? Occasionally, he used piercing questions to expose the motives of his opposers, thereby silencing them. (Matthew 12:24-30; 21:23-27; 22:41-46) In many cases, however, Jesus took the time to ask questions in order to convey truths, to get his listeners to express what was in their hearts, and to stimulate and train the thinking of his disciples. Let us examine two examples, both involving the apostle Peter.
8, 9. How did Jesus use questions to help Peter come to the right conclusion on the matter of paying the temple tax?
8 First, recall the occasion when tax collectors asked Peter if Jesus paid the temple tax.* Peter, impulsive at times, answered, “Yes.” However, a short while later, Jesus reasoned with him: “‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?’ When he said: ‘From the strangers,’ Jesus said to him: ‘Really, then, the sons are tax-free.’” (Matthew 17:24-27) The point of Jesus’ questions should have been obvious to Peter. Why is that?
9 In Jesus’ day, the family members of monarchs were known to be tax exempt. Thus, as the only-begotten Son of the heavenly King who was worshiped at the temple, Jesus should not have been obligated to pay the tax. Note that rather than just telling Peter the right answer, Jesus effectively but gently used questions to help Peter arrive at the right conclusion—and perhaps to see the need to think more carefully before speaking.
10, 11. How did Jesus respond when Peter cut off a man’s ear on Passover night 33 C.E., and how does this show that Jesus appreciated the value of questions?
10 The second example involved an incident that took place on Passover night 33 C.E. when a mob came to arrest Jesus. The disciples asked Jesus whether they should fight in his defense. (Luke 22:49) Not waiting for an answer, Peter cut off one man’s ear with a sword (though it may be that Peter intended to inflict more serious harm). Peter acted in a manner contrary to his master’s will, for Jesus was fully prepared to give himself up. How did Jesus respond? Ever patient, he asked Peter three questions: “The cup that the Father has given me, should I not by all means drink it?” “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels? In that case, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must take place this way?”—John 18:11; Matthew 26:52-54.
11 Reflect for a moment on that account. Jesus, surrounded by an angry mob, knew that his death was imminent and that the clearing of his Father’s name and the salvation of the human family rested on his shoulders. Yet, he took the time right then and there to impress important truths on Peter’s mind by questions. Is it not obvious that Jesus appreciated the value of questions?
12, 13. (a) What is hyperbole? (b) How did Jesus use hyperbole to stress the foolishness of criticizing minor faults of our brothers?
12 In his ministry, Jesus often made use of another effective teaching method—hyperbole. This is an intentional exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. With hyperbole, Jesus created mental pictures that were hard to forget. Let us consider a few examples.
13 In the Sermon on the Mount, when stressing the need to “stop judging” others, Jesus said: “Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3) Can you visualize the scene? Someone who is prone to be critical offers to extract a mere straw from his brother’s “eye.” The critic would be claiming that his brother could not see matters clearly enough so as to render acceptable judgments. But the critic’s own ability to judge is impaired by a “rafter”—a log or beam that might be used to support a roof. What an unforgettable way to stress how foolish it is to criticize the minor faults of our brothers when we may have major faults of our own!
14. Why were Jesus’ words about straining out the gnat and gulping down the camel particularly powerful hyperbole?
14 On another occasion, Jesus denounced the Pharisees as “blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel.” (Matthew 23:24) This was a particularly powerful use of hyperbole. Why? The contrast between a tiny gnat and a camel, which was one of the largest animals known to Jesus’ hearers, was striking. It is estimated that it would take up to 70 million gnats to equal the weight of an average camel! Also, Jesus knew that the Pharisees strained their wine through a cloth sieve. Those sticklers for rules did that in order to avoid swallowing a gnat and thereby become ceremonially unclean. Yet, they figuratively gulped down the camel, which was also unclean. (Leviticus 11:4, 21-24) Jesus’ point was clear. The Pharisees meticulously complied with the smallest of the Law’s requirements, but they disregarded the weightier matters—“justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23) How clearly Jesus exposed them for what they were!
15. What are some lessons that Jesus taught by using hyperbole?
15 Throughout his ministry, Jesus often used hyperbole. Consider some examples. “Faith the size of a [tiny] mustard grain” that could move a mountain—Jesus could hardly have found a more effective way to emphasize that even a little faith can accomplish much. (Matthew 17:20) A huge camel trying to squeeze through the eye of a sewing needle—how well that illustrates the difficulty facing a rich person who tries to serve God while holding on to a materialistic life-style! (Matthew 19:24) Do you not marvel at Jesus’ colorful figures of speech and his ability to achieve maximum effect with minimum words?
16. Jesus always used his keen mental faculties in what way?
16 With his perfect mind, Jesus was a master at reasoning logically with people. Yet, he never misused this ability. In his teaching, he always employed his keen mental faculties to advance truth. At times, he used powerful logic to refute the false charges of his religious opposers. In many instances, he used logical reasoning in order to teach his disciples important lessons. Let us look at Jesus’ masterful ability to employ logic.
17, 18. What powerful logic did Jesus use to refute a false charge of the Pharisees?
17 Consider the occasion when Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak. Upon hearing about it, the Pharisees said: “This fellow does not expel the demons except by means of Beelzebub [Satan], the ruler of the demons.” Note that the Pharisees conceded that superhuman power was needed to expel Satan’s demons. However, to keep the people from believing in Jesus, they attributed his power to Satan. Showing that they had not thought their argument through to its logical conclusion, Jesus replied: “Every kingdom divided against itself comes to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. In the same way, if Satan expels Satan, he has become divided against himself; how, then, will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:22-26) Jesus was, in effect, saying: ‘If I were, as you say, an agent of Satan, undoing what Satan did, then Satan would be working against his own interests and would soon fall.’ Powerful logic, was it not?
18 Then Jesus reasoned further on this matter. He was aware that some from the Pharisees’ own ranks had cast out demons. Hence, he asked a simple but devastating question: “If I expel the demons by means of Beelzebub, by means of whom do your sons [or disciples] expel them?” (Matthew 12:27) Jesus’ argument, in a sense, was this: ‘If, in fact, I expel demons by the power of Satan, then your own disciples must be acting under this same power.’ What could the Pharisees say? They would never acknowledge that their disciples acted under Satan’s power. With irrefutable logic, Jesus reduced their charge against him to an absurdity.
19, 20. (a) In what positive way did Jesus use logic? (b) How did Jesus use a ‘how much more so’ line of reasoning when responding to his disciples’ request to teach them how to pray?
19 In addition to using logic to silence his opposers, Jesus also used logical, persuasive arguments to teach positive, heartwarming truths about Jehovah. A number of times, he used what might be called a ‘how much more so’ line of reasoning, helping his listeners to advance from a familiar truth to further conviction. Let us examine just two examples.
20 When responding to his disciples’ request to teach them how to pray, Jesus related the illustration of a man whose “bold persistence” finally persuaded an unwilling friend to grant his request. Jesus also described the willingness of parents “to give good gifts” to their children. Then he concluded: “If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:1-13) The point Jesus made is based, not on similarity, but on contrast. If an unwilling friend could finally be persuaded to meet his neighbor’s need, and if imperfect human parents care for the needs of their children, how much more will our loving heavenly Father grant holy spirit to his loyal servants who humbly come to him in prayer!
21, 22. (a) What reasoning did Jesus use when offering counsel on dealing with anxiety about material things? (b) After reviewing a few of Jesus’ teaching methods, what conclusion do we reach?
21 Jesus used similar reasoning when offering counsel on dealing with anxiety about material things. He said: “Mark well that the ravens neither sow seed nor reap, and they have neither barn nor storehouse, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more worth are you than birds? Mark well how the lilies grow; they neither toil nor spin . . . If, now, God thus clothes the vegetation in the field that today exists and tomorrow is cast into an oven, how much rather will he clothe you, you with little faith!” (Luke 12:24, 27, 28) Yes, if Jehovah looks after birds and flowers, how much more will he care for his servants! Such tender but powerful reasoning no doubt touched the heart of Jesus’ listeners.
22 After reviewing a few of the teaching methods of Jesus, we can easily conclude that those officers who failed to seize him were by no means exaggerating when they said: “Never has another man spoken like this.” But the teaching method for which Jesus is perhaps best known is that of using illustrations, or parables. Why did he use this method? And what made his illustrations so effective? These questions will be discussed in the next article.
The officers were likely agents of the Sanhedrin and under the authority of the chief priests.
This last excerpt, found at Acts 20:35, is quoted only by the apostle Paul, although the sense of those words is found in the Gospels. Paul may have received that statement orally (either from a disciple who heard Jesus say it or from the resurrected Jesus) or by divine revelation.—Acts 22:6-15; 1 Corinthians 15:6, 8.
The Jews were required to pay an annual temple tax of two drachmas (about two days’ wages). The tax money was used to pay for the maintenance of the temple, the service performed there, and the daily sacrifices offered on behalf of the nation.
Do You Recall?
• What examples show that Jesus taught with simplicity and clarity?
• Why did Jesus use questions in his teaching?
• What is hyperbole, and how did Jesus use this teaching method?
• How did Jesus use logical reasoning to teach his disciples heartwarming truths about Jehovah?
[Picture on page 9]
Jesus used plain language that ordinary people could understand
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The Pharisees ‘strained out the gnat but gulped down the camel’