Jesus wasn’t just a master teacher, He was THE master teacher. Jesus amazed the crowds. He taught with authority, not like the scribes (Matthew 7:28-29). Even the temple guards declared they never heard anyone teach like Jesus (John 7:45-46). The Pharisee Nicodemus recognized that Jesus was a teacher sent by God (John 3:2).

Jesus wanted His disciples and the crowds to both grasp and remember His teaching. To make it engaging and memorable, Jesus used a variety of teaching methods. To best grasp the truths Jesus communicated, we need to recognizing the teaching method He used and how it should be and understood.  (See also “4 Tips for Understanding the Gospels.” and “The 4 R Bible Study Method.“)


1. Hyperbole

A hyperbole is a purposeful exaggeration of the truth to make a big impact by engaging our emotions. The shock of the statement is meant to rouse us from lethargy. 

Typically, hyperbole is easy to spot. For instance, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). But, in other passages Jesus taught we should honor our parents (Mark 7:8-13) and He would not contradict Himself. So, we can know Jesus used hyperbole to emphasize that He must be first and foremost in our lives.

2. Parable 

A parable is a story told to illustrate an important truth. Although they do appear in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 12:1-2), we are most familiar with them because Jesus often used them as a teaching tool. We should not treat parables as allegories, but rather look for the general principles illustrated by the story that teach spiritual truths. Considering the surrounding literary context in which Jesus told the parable can help us recognize the points He wanted to make with the parable.

3. Metaphor and Simile

Both of these figures of speech compare one thing to another. One item in the pair is usually something common and familiar used to help us understand something less familiar or understood. The primary difference between a metaphor and simile is that similes include “like” or “as” in its comparison. We find these throughout Scripture including in the teachings of Jesus. For instance, when Jesus sent out His disciples He used a simile: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Jesus also used many metaphors to help us understand His divine nature.  “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). We know that Jesus is not literally a loaf of bread. But the metaphor teaches us that He alone provides life. He alone sustains us spiritually. 

4. Miraculous signs

In his Gospel account, John used the word “sign” to refer to the miraculous works Jesus performed. John’s stated purpose in recording the seven signs he selected out of the “many others” Jesus did was so people would believe in Jesus for eternal life (John 20:30-31). The miracles confirmed that everything Jesus said and taught about the Father, the Kingdom of God, the way of salvation, and Himself were indeed true. 

Jesus also performed signs to teach specific truths about Himself. In addition to ministering to His friends, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to teach prove He has the power over life and death. Jesus is the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:15, 26-27). Jesus fed 5,000 plus people from a small boy’s lunch to feed the hungry crowd, yes, but more importantly to teach His disciples that He alone gives spiritual satisfaction. But they failed to grasp it (Mark 7:52).

5. Proverbial Sayings

A proverb is a short, pithy statement that communicates an observable truth about life in a memorable way. They are not used to communicate absolute truth but rather wise generalizations about life. If we do such and such, usually this will happen. 

Jesus used a lot of these. Maybe the most well-known is the one often referred to as the Golden Rule. “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). Here’s a couple more:

  • “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matthew 10:24).
  • “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25).

To best understand the proverb, focus on the general principle Jesus taught but don’t consider it a promise or non-negotiable truth. (Also see “3 Tips to Help You Understand Proverbs.“)

By the way, this is not an exhaustive list of Jesus’ teaching style. For instance, He also used questions, and object lessons, and conversation to teach. But these will get you started! (See also “6 Preaching Methods Jesus Used” and “The Teachings of Jesus.“)

What is your favorite teaching methods of Jesus?

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