How Jesus Copied Another Famous Rabbi

Famous Rabbi If you’ve ever struggled with whether or not God wants to bless your life, there’s background to the following verse you might find helpful.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:9-11,

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

I want you to pay attention to three words in that verse: “how much more.”

It wasn’t an accident that Jesus used that EXACT phrase.

Those unfamiliar with the religious context in which Jesus taught might not be aware that what he is doing is attacking our objections about God by using a common rhetorical technique used by rabbis of his time.

The Famous Rabbi Jesus Copied

When Jesus was a young child the most popular rabbi in Israel was a man named Hillel (110 b.c. to 10 a.d.). Hillel is widely considered one of the most influential teachers in all of Jewish history.

Some scholars wonder if the story in Luke’s gospel about Jesus’ parents losing him in Jerusalem and finding him days later in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:41-46) is an allusion to Jesus meeting Hillel. Luke said, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his answers” (Luke 2:47).

Whether or not Jesus actually met Hillel, we know that Jesus certainly learned how to debate using his techniques.

One of Hillel’s strategies* for proving points about God is a technique called “Qal Wahomer,” which when translated from Hebrew into English means “light to heavy.”

Basically, if you are debating someone about God and wanted to prove a point, a Qal Wahomer argument would take something small that everyone agrees on, and prove that if something applies to that smaller situation, it would certainly apply to God.

You know when you’re dealing with a Qal Wahomer argument when you see the words “how much more.”

Like all great rabbis, the apostle Paul used the principle of Qal Wahomer (“how much more”) when he tried to prove his points about Jesus:

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:9-10)

Elsewhere we see Jesus himself using the principal of Qal Wahomer (“how much more”) when attacking the Pharisees for critiquing him for performing miracles on the Sabbath in Matthew 12:11-12:

“What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

What We Can Learn From The Most Famous Rabbi

The Sabbath sheep-pit illustration is a perfect example of using Qal Wahomer (“how much more”) to prove a point. Jesus picked a smaller thing that everyone considered valuable (a sheep), and compared that to something the Pharisees didn’t agree upon as being valuable (human beings in pain on the Sabbath).

Understanding Qal Wahomer (“how much more”) helps us understand what Jesus was trying to do in Matthew 7:9-11:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Jesus said that if parents like you and me are evil (compared to God), but we still know how to give good gifts to our kids, how much more will God give us good gifts if we just ask!

Jesus’ point is that God wants to intervene in our everyday lives to provide for our needs just as powerfully and miraculously as he did in the Bible.

God has not changed in the least.

What has changed is our expectation of what He is capable of doing, and our understanding of how He goes about doing it.

*Hillel popularized seven strategies for biblical interpretations and argumentation, which are often called the “Seven Middoth” of Hillel – or the “seven rules.”

About Brian Jones 40 Articles
Brian is the founding Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He’s the author of 3 books, and a forthcoming title in Fall of 2017. You can find out more about his writing and ministry at BrianJones.com and his ministry to Senior Pastors at SeniorPastorCentral.com.