Friday, February 01, 2008

How Smart was Jesus?

Here's the thing: those who follow Jesus are invited into a discipling relationship with him. Fundamentally, this is a student-teacher relationship. It's an apprenticeship. Jesus pushed the discipling relationship of his day to it's extreme. He said it was a slave-master relationship. To this day, anyone who follows Jesus enters a student-teacher, slave-master covenant.

Therefore, if I am a Christian (disciple) of Jesus, then he is my teacher and I am his student. As my teacher I trust that he is smart. That's part of what it means that he is worthy. I can't think of a reason why I should be Jesus' disciple if I don't think he is smarter than me or smarter than anyone else I could follow.

Maybe when Jesus walked the earth he didn't know as much about physics as Einstein. Maybe he limited his actual knowledge to cultural norms. I'm fine with that. But I find it hard to believe that he wasn't the smartest person who ever lived. I think it is hard for modern people to see anyone from antiquity as intelligent. They didn't have the internet or PBS or MIT. Maybe they had less access to data and accumulated knowledge than we do, but does that make us more intelligent?

I think it is hard to follow Jesus and still believe that someone else is smarter than him. I'm teaching a class at Vineyard midweek on discipleship for a few hundred folks. In a pre-survey, 31% of the attendees checked that they do not believe that Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. 98% of them labeled themselves as followers of Jesus. I don't mean to come down on anyone, but I wonder if this isn't key to our discontent as disciples. (Over 61% also said that they felt something was missing in their faith.)

Looking back on it, I might have phrased the question a bit differently, but it has given me a lot to think about. I wasn't trying to trick anyone. I'm assuming most people get hung up on the fact that Jesus, while he was on earth, may not have known the atomic weight of Barium, but our high school physics teacher did. So, how could we Jesus is smarter than him? Yet, I'm pretty sure Jesus is smarter than Mr. Wilke when I compare the two in my head.

I'm not sure I have all this thought out yet, but I think there is something to it.

If you want to think more about this, read this short essay by Dallas Willard:

Who is Your Teacher?


Bethany said...

First reaction- that said "was not" the smartest person who ever lived? I should read stuff more carefully...

Either way, I must admit that sometimes I DO question God's intelligence when he continually takes me back after I mess up...and that he DIED for me before I was born, knowing the mistakes I would make and how many times I would hurt him... It doesn't seem like the most intelligent thing to do, setting yourself up to get hurt for the sake of love. I think it's because I've been taught to equate intelligence with lack of emotion. hm...

Anonymous said...

I'm taking the Weds night class. I can't remember my reply to that question. I'll admit I have never thought before of Jesus' intelligence. But now I am. Given that he was God's son, and God is all-knowing and created all that ever was or will be it makes sense that Jesus would be the smartest person who ever lived. I think I fell into the trap of how this society measures intelligence. My error to use this broken and sinful society as any measures of Jesus.

Micah said...

I've got to respectfully disagree here, Joe. In theory I like the path you're going down.
There's a great CS Lewis quote in one of his books about "Does God understand the radio." Of course he does. But we tend to think that no, he doesn't.

But in this case, I think you're conflating Jesus-the-historical-man and Jesus-as-God. Jesus-the-man was limited, during his time on earth, by his own decision (Hebrews says he was "made like his brothers in every way"). He didn't have access to all the stuff of diety, except through the Spirit. He wasn't all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. So clearly Jesus-the-historic-figure didn't know the atomic weight of barium. God does, though. And part of following Jesus today means that you're following him today (duh), i.e. following a God who DOES know everything.

I don't think it's necessary to believe that the historical Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. It doesn't really get you anything.

Joe said...

I get that stuff, Micah...and it's not that I need historical Jesus to know a bunch of things that came out after the Enlightment. I wonder though if we wouldn't be amazed by his intellect if we could have had an hour with him. I wonder if somehow we (modern Western Christians) think of him as loving or moral or holy, but not particularly brilliant.

I would have phrased the question differently on the survey given the chance...the "smartest person who ever lived" is a strage and subjective phrase. You could say that it was Einstein or Leonardo or Sagan or Earl Woods depending on your pov, but is the theory of relativity any more brilliant than the golden rule or the parable of the seeds or the sermon on the mount? Like I said, it's too subjective. Comparing apples to oranges in some ways.

Maybe I should have said "Do you think Jesus was a brilliant thinker?" or something like that. I think we get in trouble when we follow a Rabbi/Teacher who isn't intelligent enough to speak into every area of our life.

To put it another way for me...even if Jesus were not divine I would see his life, teaching and legacy and conclude that he is one of the smartest people to ever live. I'd at least give him top ten consideration without playing the God-card. His teaching and subversive leadership style literally sent human history sideways.

Still struggling with this stuff this week. Dallas Willard is big on this and I picked it up first in Divine Conspiracy. The more I press into it, I feel like I am defending his views as much as mine. His ideas I like, but I'm reconsidering the words he uses now...

Dan said...

Assuming the words “smartest” and “intelligence” mean the same, for the sake of clarity I looked up the words “smart” and “intelligence” and found the following definitions on line.

Smart - Mentally alert, bright, knowledgeable, shrewd, witty clever.

Intelligence - Capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

If the question asked would have been when Jesus walked the earth “Did He know more or possess more knowledge or information than any other human being in the history of man between then and now?” The answer, I think is no.

But being intelligent or smart is another matter. As stated in the above definition, intelligence is the capacity to learn, it is not necessarily what we already know but our ability to grasp new information that is put before us. Jesus totally rocked in this arena; in my book he was the most intelligent person to walk the face of the earth period.

There are tons of stories where a very educated person is confounded by a problem only to have a “simple” uneducated person grasp the problem and solve it with ease. The educated Pharisees couldn’t grasp the simple truth of who Jesus was. So, who was more intelligent, the educated Pharisee who couldn’t accept Jesus or the prostitute who wept at His feet and received salvation?

I saw a Learning Channel special once where they tried to determine what intelligence was. Was it just having a great memory? Did being able to remember large quantities of information make people smart or intelligent? They quickly discovered being able to remember a lot of data didn’t necessarily make us smart. We had to also understand when to use the information that we could recall and also under what circumstances we should use the information. They even alluded to the idea that intelligence was maybe just common sense.

Well, I am not very intelligent and this is giving me a headache, so I think I’ll pray and ask the most intelligent person to ever walk the face of this earth to take it away…

God bless you all!

Micah said...

Right, Joe. I think we're not far apart on this. I don't particularly care about barium, and Jesus was obviously a brilliant thinker (whatever you think of his divinity).

From a paper I wrote for CCU:

Secular educator Douglas Groothuis says it this way: “Even those who hold to the theological doctrine of the Incarnation sometimes devalue Jesus as a thinker, considering his statements to be authoritative on the basis of his divinity, not his intelligence” (Groothuis 2002, p. 14).

I can send you a copy if you like.

matt said...

"Secular educator Douglas Groothuis"

Um, Micah, how is a professor at Denver Seminary a "secular educator"? Is it becuase he teaches apologetics and not systematic theology?

Darren said...

This is a very interesting concept. Basically it becomes a question of intelligence vs. knowledge.

Though I am unlikely to ever see proof of this (with the whole Jesus returned to His place next to the Father thing), I would argue that the DNA of God is likely to have a vastly larger capacity to retain and apply information.