Jesus and Social Customs and Traditions

In response to Whose Discple, my brother Jeff wrote:

Jesus was born, grew up and lived his entire life in a certain cultural setting and from almost everything I have studied, there is nothing to indicate he did not act according to the customs, traditions, and lifestyle of that setting. He becomes a rabbi at the age of 30, like every other rabbi. He teaches in the same manner of every other rabbi, using parables, many of which had been used for many years before he used them. Everything Jesus does he does in the context of the cultural setting, one by the way established by God through Moses. To think he is changing this is a bit of a stretch I think.

I typed such a lengthy reply that I decided to make it a whole new post.

First, I don’t think God established the ages of schooling Jewish boys way back in the days of Moses. I think the model of a Jewish boy starting to follow a rabbi around the age of 15 and staying with that rabbi until he became a rabbi himself at age 30 was a man-made custom and tradition. And later in this post, I will discuss Jesus and man-made cultures and traditions. I don’t think He chose to follow all of those, and I’ll offer scriptural evidence to support my idea.

Quite honestly, I just don’t know how old Jesus’ disicples were. Here is what we do know. We do know Jesus was 30 — which, as you said, Jeff, is the traditional age for men to stop being disciples and start being rabbis. So it does seem Jesus followed that cultural norm, perhaps because nobody within that culture would have recognized Him as a teacher or rabbi had He not waited until He was 30.

We do know that Peter was a fisherman. And we know that his brother Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. (John 1:35-40). Andrew left John to follow Jesus. Peter left the family trade to follow Jesus. (Matthew and Mark call Peter and Andrew fishermen.)

We do know that James and John were fishing with their father when Jesus called them. (Luke explains that James and John were business partners with Peter.)

We know that Peter and his wife and mother-in-law all lived with Peter’s extended family. So we know that Peter was married. This does not prove that he was not a teenager, though, because it was common to get married during the teenage years.

We know Matthew was a tax collector. We can assume this was also his family trade.

We know from John’s account that one other disciple was John the Baptist’s disciple first.

We do know that the other Simon was a Zealot, a fanatical Nationalist who wanted to overthrow the Roman government. Traditionally, Zealots were known for their reckless personalities and for their hatred of Romans. Simon may have been following a Zealot rabbi before he began following Jesus, though we really don’t know.

We don’t know for certain what the rest of the 12 main disciples were doing before they began following Jesus. Maybe they were like Andrew and were disciples of someone else. It is reasonable to assume they were between the ages of 15 and 30. It is very unlikely they were older than 30. If they were already disciples of someone else, they would not necessarily be young teenage boys. They could have been disciples of someone else for a few months or several years before they began to follow Jesus. Again, though, I do agree that it is highly unlikely these men were old gray-haired men. I think it’s unlikely any of them were older than 30.

Jeff, I do agree that Jesus did behave in many ways according to the customs of His time. I think He also did many things that were not in accordance with the customs and traditions of His time. For one, He called at least 4 disciples who were already relegated to their family trade (Peter, James, John, and Matthew). From everything I’ve studied, the general custom was that once a young man returned to his family trade, his religious formal training was over and he was not able to become a disciple of a rabbi (in the sense that he spent all his time following that rabbi with the intent on becoming a rabbi some day).

Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be a disciple. This also wasn’t really in accordance with the Jewish culture and custom. Tax collectors were hated and reviled. Not exactly respected members of Jewish society who would be voted “most likely to become a rabbi.” :)

Jesus ate meals with people whom respectable Jewish rabbis wouldn’t eat with — tax collectors and sinners (those who didn’t follow the Pharisaical interpretation of the Torah). Jesus allowed the “unclean” woman who had been bleeding for years to touch His garment, and He healed her. This was a huge break in custom. Jesus allowed a sinful woman (presumably a prostitute) to touch, annoint, and kiss His feet. None of this was culturally acceptable for a Jewish rabbi.

Jesus also traveled through Samaria and taught Samaritans. Again, this wasn’t within the culture and tradition of His society.

Jesus included women among His outer circle of disciples and taught them. He also allowed women to travel with Him and financially support Him. This was highly unusual within the Jewish culture, since women did not usually speak to men in public much less travel the countryside with men.

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet learning. This was traditionally where male disciples sat and learned from their rabbi. It was unusual in this culture for a female to sit at the feet of a rabbi.

When Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at the well, He actually broke with more than one custom. He spoke with and taught a woman publicly. And He spoke with and taught a Samaritan publicly.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to women and instructed them to go and tell. Judaic law did not allow women to bear legal witness. Still, Jesus instructed these women to bear witness of His resurrection. This was obviously not in alignment with the custom of His day.

Jesus touched dead people. A no-no in Jewish culture.

Jesus also broke with custom and tradition by teaching monogamy and by teaching against divorce. At the time, in that culture, Jewish men could marry more than one woman and could easily divorce their wives for flimsy reasons. Jesus went against that custom and taught against divorce.

Jesus broke a lot of social customs and traditions of His day. He did so in order to teach the main points and fulfill His purpose and accomplish His plan.

17 Comments

Filed under Bible, Christianity, faith

17 responses to “Jesus and Social Customs and Traditions

  1. I will probably not have time to read through this until tonight. I just wanted to say, I am totally in awe of the relationship you have with your brother. How cool that the two of you can critically examine Scripture together…

  2. Well, Julie, it helps to do it in writing and with a lot of time to process and think so we don’t just argue. :) So don’t be too awed. hee hee I mean, this is the brother I used to not be able to play board games with because our zeal and enthusiasm and competitiveness would sort of take over and every game would result in a loud disagreement. But we have gotten older and (hopefully) matured a little.

    And, you know, my brother probably won’t agree with me completely. That’s OK. And I probably won’t agree with him completely. But I do hope we learn some things from each other and are challenged to learn more and study more because of each other.

    I’m just beginning to really study the whole Jewish culture thing. I know I learned some of this in college Bible classes, but that was a long time ago and I was learning a lot of other stuff then too, so my brain didn’t hold onto all of it. :)

  3. Good job, Jenn.

    I do have to say that I have learned, too – that the rabbi “of the day” did indeed want his disciples to be just like him – not just in spirit and intent, but to be actually like them in every way.

    You point out some very real ways that Jesus broke with the customs of his day. He was revolutionary – and in one sense, this is why he was hated and rejected.

  4. Martha

    I think another way that Jesus broke with Jewish rabbinical tradition was that Jewish disciples pursued a rabbi to follow, whereas Jesus pursued the twelve to call them as disciples.

  5. Martha, I thought of that too. Good point.

    While studying The Lord’s Prayer the other day, I also thought of other ways Jesus broke with the customs of His day.

    He referred to God as a personal Father (Abba, Daddy). This wasn’t common at all during that time. God may have been the Father of the nation of Israel, but He wasn’t considered a personal, intimate Daddy/Father.

    There were others, but that was the biggest one that stuck out at me.

  6. leslie mitchell

    i am studying the trades of the apostles. i know that peter was a fisherman and saul/paul was a tentmaker. was it the custom or traadition that jewish males had to have a trade and what ages?

  7. Leslie,

    I am not Jenn, but I was looking at “My Comments” and saw your question. I am reading Sketches of Jewish Social Life by Alfred Edersheim. (I have a hard copy, but the whole book is available on-line here). I just read Chapter 7, “The Upbringing of Jewish Children” and underlined the following:

    “At five years of age, reading of the Bible; at ten years, learning the Mishnah; at thirteen years, bound to the commandments; at fifteen years, the study of the Talmud; at eighteen years, marriage; at twenty, the pursuit of trade or business (active life); at thirty years, full vigour; at forty, maturity of reason; at fifty, of counsel; at sixty, commencement of agedness; at seventy, grey age; at eighty, advanced old age; at ninety, bowed down; at a hundred, as if he were dead and gone, and taken from the world.”

  8. Jeff

    It was customary for a young boy to formally start learning the family trade somewhere between the ages of 12-15. If they were exceptional students however, they might be able to continue to study with a rabbi potentially up until the age of 30 when they would most likely become a rabbi themselves. the study with a rabbi and then become a rabbi can be likened to making it to the NBA in basketball – it is only the very gifted that make it that far.

  9. manana

    I’ve learned a lot but where are scripture references?

  10. Jesus

    Poop nugget
    -Jesus

  11. God

    Enough of that son.

  12. Paula Copty

    would you know the Jewish tradition concerning the napkin Jesus folded before He left the grave. Someone told me it was a message to His disciples, He would not ever return to the grave again.

  13. You share interesting things here. I think that your blog can go
    viral easily, but you must give it initial boost and i know how to do it,
    just search in google (with quotes) for – “mundillo traffic increase make your website go viral”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s