Great Teaching: Why Didn't Jesus Write Anything Down

Apart from scribbling in the sand, why didn’t Jesus write anything down? My favorite answer is that Christ knew the most important ingredient for great teaching. He made his message memorable! So memorable that he didn’t even need modern communication tools to change the world. Dallas Willard has some interesting thoughts in The Divine Conspiracy that are quite helpful.

“Christ’s teaching was so memorable that he didn’t need modern communication to be remembered.”

Willard reminds us that how we both teach and learn is different today than it was in the day of Christ. He writes:

We must recognize first of all that the aim of the popular teacher in Jesus’ time was not to impart information but to make a significant change in the lives of the hearers. Of course, that may require an information transfer but it is a peculiarly modern notion that the aim of teaching is to bring people to know things that may have no effect at all on their lives. In our day, learners usually think of themselves as containers of some sort with the purely passive space to be filled by the information the teacher possesses and wishes to transfer – the from jug to mug model. The teacher is to fill in empty parts of the receptacle with truth that may or may not make some difference in the life of the one who has it. The teacher must get the information into them. We then test the patient to see if they got it by seeing if they can reproduce it in language, rather than watching how they live.

Willard goes on to imagine what would happen if you or I were to listen to Jesus preach today. Likely, we would want to record him in order to make sure that we would have every word to listen to again later. He pictures Jesus at the Sheraton preaching a message, and a modern person going with an audio recorder in one hand and a notebook in the other. Picture our time-traveller walking up to Peter and saying, “Where are the lecture outlines and other materials for the sermon?” Peter would answer, “You don’t need anything like that, just listen to Jesus.”

Great Teaching is Memorable When it Changes Us:

As a personal example, Willard goes on to describe the time he heard about Kennedy’s assassination, pointing out that he knew exactly where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news. He says, “I never wrote it down and I never memorized it.” The point is this: “we automatically remember what makes a great difference in our lives.” Jesus, the great teacher, knew this and taught in a way that tied his teachings to concrete events that make up the hearer’s lives.

So as Willard concludes, when people cannot remember truth that makes a difference for their lives, then that truth makes no difference at all. Great teaching requires that we make things memorable and teach for life-change.

“We automatically remember what makes a great difference in our lives.” Dallas A Willard

Great Teaching: Why Didn’t Jesus Write Anything Down?
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One thought on “Great Teaching: Why Didn’t Jesus Write Anything Down?

  • August 13, 2015 at 11:42 am

    I found this excerpt in Ravi Zacharias’s book on the same topic: “I have often wondered this: if the visual through which we gain most of our enchantment today is truly as persuasive a means as we claim it to be, why did Jesus not wait to come to earth until the camera had been invented? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to show the miracles, especially with high-definition television available, and let the feeding of the five thousand play itself out on the news rather than just writing about it? Even the news has become a show, and we live in great danger as we find ourselves at the mercy of our fleeting enthrallment span and our collective short memory for news—a dramatic event a day. Instead of “give us each day our daily bread,” it is now “give us each day our daily thrill,” because the shelf life of thrills is directly proportional to the latest invention or latest story. In a day’s span we move from horror in the streets of Iran to the infidelities of an absent governor to the death of a pop icon to thousands of pages of legislation that legislators don’t have time to read before voting—all in a few minutes. The show is all-important, and the news producers choose the stories they will feature based on what will elicit the greatest response from the audience. Perhaps, on second thought, if Jesus had come during our time, his message would have made no greater impact on society than it did then, even though his message would have been available to so many more people. Feeding four thousand people wouldn’t have been enough to warrant continued coverage in the news; he would have had to feed five thousand the next day and then ten thousand the next. Even that would eventually become boring. The means have definitely eclipsed the ends.”

    Ravi K. Zacharias, Has Christianity Failed You? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), Kindle Location, 3082.


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