How Smart Was Jesus?
Here is a profoundly significant fact: within our Western culture, whether Christian or not, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from intelligence or any form of high brain capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with adjectives such as: well-informed, brilliant, or bright.
If you don’t believe me, try the exercise out for yourself. With no prompting, simply ask any person who are the first three people who come to their mind when you say the words: inventive, knowledgable, or smart. You likely will receive a list that includes individuals such as: Einstein, Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama, or Richard Dawkins.
Jesus? ! Not a chance.
I don’t believe this is an intentional smite against Jesus, people merely view him as nice but not very intelligent. In fact, for many, he is looked at as a mere icon, a moral compass, one fit to be a sacrificial lamb, but not “scholarly” by any means.
In our minds we picture Jesus as a shepherd roaming the hills of ancient Palestine, showing love and care to the broken and uttering vague and irrelevant messages to the elite. There is no doubt that Jesus is good, but we have done a phenomenal job at opposing intelligence to goodness. (See Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy).
Mother Teresa. Florence Nightingale. Harriet Tubman.
Sacrificial. Loving. Brave. . . . . Smart?
While we look up to individuals such as these, no more than Jesus are they thought of as “smart.” Nice, of course, but not really smart. Let me say it again, our culture has done a phenomenal job at opposing intelligence to goodness. There is a Russian saying that speaks of those who are “stupid to the point of sanctity.” In other words, you have to be really dumb to live a live considered holy.
So, was Jesus smart?
Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. Perhaps you chalk that statement up to my Christian bias bleeding through, but I genuinely and whole-heartedly believe that Jesus, being in the very nature of God, had more insight on creation, human intuition, and the working of the world, than any other human.
I am reminded of this truth when I read through Jesus’ discourse found in Matthew 5-7 (Sermon of the Mount). Jesus saw the world and the human heart with a clarity that still blows me away, and his wisdom is put on full display in this one discourse:
Ordinary people have a significant role in the world and the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:1-20).
The downfall of humankind begins in the heart (Matt. 5:21-28).
Many of us hold false securities in reputation and wealth (Matt 6).
Action is required to fulfill belief (Matt. 7:13-27).
I once heard it said that we come to Jesus looking to learn how to play checkers, when all along he is playing chess. Jesus understood the world, and computed in it, at a completely different level (for those alive in his lifetime and, yes, even to the brightest among us today).
People didn’t follow Jesus because he made them feel good. In fact, we are told about a time when a great number of people left Jesus because he was telling them things that was hard for them to hear (John 6:66). No, people listened to Jesus because he has unordinary insight to the world; Jesus rubbed shoulders with the best minds in the land.
Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived. It makes sense, logical sense, to believe Jesus. He is beyond good, loving, and faithful. Jesus is bright, insightful, well-informed, intelligent, inventive, and knowledgable.
Everyone has something to learn from Jesus, no matter how “smart” they might be.
(A portion of this post is a slightly edited excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy).