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Week One | The Rabbi-Talmid Relationship

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The Gospel on the Ground Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Session One (Pg. 12-33)
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 4 minutes

From the years I spent in youth group and working as a church camp counselor, I can safely say I’ve probably played the game of “telephone” hundreds of times.

You know the game where you stand in a single-file line and the first person whispers a phrase into the ear of the next person.  Then the message is shared similarly all the way down the line until the last person shouts out the message they received.  It’s always such a riot to hear the differences in the original message versus the message received by the last in line!

Since I began studying the Bible through a Middle Eastern Lens, I sometimes feel like I’ve been playing a centuries-old game of telephone, since my understanding of the message is vastly different than what the context of the passage suggests of its original meaning.

Sometimes the differences in meaning are laughable, and sometimes they are downright sad.

In the 21st century, we often emphasize areas of our faith that were of no concern to the original followers of Jesus.  It has even shaped the definitions of some of the basic principles of our faith.


In the Western church, the concept of discipleship is relatively common.  We are familiar with the standard mentor/mentee relationship that is often encouraged, as a way to develop and grow in faith.  

In fact, I feel like, at nearly every women’s ministry event I’ve attended, they talked about how they were “revamping” or getting ready to launch a new discipleship program.  They’d create a great buzz over building relationships. 

 And though I’ve filled out several discipleship surveys through the years, I was always left mentorless.

We’ve heard the same can be said in many different denominations.  

Women tend to shy away from these important roles of “disciple-maker” that so many are seeking, simply because they don’t feel equipped.  Subsequently, we fail at or don’t even attempt to form these kinds of faith-enhancing relationships.

Maybe we’re going about it all wrong?

The Rabbi-Talmid Relationship

When we look at the 1st-century Jewish world, the one Jesus lived in, their ideas of discipleship vary greatly.  

First of all, the relationship of discipleship is the epitome of the Jewish faith.  Therefore, boys as young as the age of 3 begin learning God’s Word and reciting the Scriptures.  At different stages in their growth, and as boys step into manhood, there are customary expectations of how they will advance in their learning.

We even see this advancement of learning in the Scriptures (Luke 2:41-52), when Mary and Joseph lost the Son of God… okay, Jesus wasn’t really lost.

“Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.  Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  Luke 2:44-46

He even says so, as He questions why Mary was so worried, wouldn’t she know He was in His Father’s house (i.e. the Temple in Jerusalem) asking questions of the rabbis.

But seeking out, asking, and then being accepted by a Rabbi, is a big deal in the Jewish faith.

It is a role that is considered to be even more important than the relationship between a son and his own father!

Jesus grew up in this system and He rose in His education and even studied at the prestigious Capernaum Beit Sefer, house of learning – thought to be the Harvard or Yale of its time.  

At the age of 30, Jesus became a Jewish Rabbi.

He used object lessons and spoken parables, as was common.

He traveled to different synagogues and taught from the Torah.
He strung pearls of Scripture.

And at the same time, He broke the mold.

Jesus wasn’t your typical Jewish Rabbi.
He called His disciples, talmidim.
His talmidim were “common folk” instead of prestigious learners.
He spoke to women & children.

In a world where it was the highest honor to be able to come under the yoke of a rabbi and walk with him, Jesus, the “great one” (rabbi), did the work of seeing, choosing, and inviting people to follow Him and learn to be just like Him.

Kristi Mclelland, the gospel on the ground – pg. 21

Discipleship happens with and among each other and the world so that they might know who Jesus is.  Discipleship is not about being more educated than the one you hope to guide and encourage.  That was not Jesus’ example.

Jesus met people where they were, in their places of work, in their homes, in their hot messes, and extended unconditional love and grace to them.  He looked them in the face and told them they could be just like Him.  And His disciples did!

So as Kristi McLelland says, “If those 12 boys could do it 2,000 years ago, we’ve got a chance!”

1. The church places emphasis on areas that are very different from the early church in Acts.
2. Women in the Western church tend to shy away from the role of a “disciple-maker” because they do not feel equipped.
3. Jesus used many common teaching methods of 1st-century Rabbis.
4. Jesus broke the mold of what a Jewish Rabbi should be through His unconventional practices.
5. Jesus came to tell us that we can be just like Him.

What’s the most encouraging thing that you’ve learned about the rabbi-talmidim relationship in the first-century world of Jesus?

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The Gospel on the Ground | Kristi McLelland

A 7-week study unpacking the life of the early church in the book of Acts to see that the kingdom of God is always on the move, always looking outward to bring meaning and joy to a world searching for true fulfillment and hope.

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  1. “Seeking out, asking and then being accepted by the rabbi” puts the responsibility onto the student to find the teacher. I am so thankful that Jesus chose His students instead, showing a new way to have a relationship. I am grateful that this same invitation extends to me. My choice is also the same as the one given to the first twelve disciples: to come and walk after Him, and to be so close that I can hear His heartbeat.

  2. That Jesus chose me and He works through me to become more like Him. Only He could do that kind of deep work in me through the Holy Spirit and the Living Word.

  3. Jesus treated Mary as a disciple. She sat at his feet and learned with the male disciples. She chose “the better thing.”

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