Jesus: Logician and Lord

by Travis Dickinson

Jesus as Philosopher and Thinker

Dallas Willard once said, “There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence.”[1] What Willard meant is that there are many things we, as Christians, think of when we think of Jesus, but His smartness and intelligence are not often among those things. It’s true that most of us will affirm Jesus’ divine omniscience, but we do not seem to think of Him as generally a brilliant thinker. That is, when we think of the world’s great philosophers and thinkers, Jesus doesn’t often make the list. Or when we read through the Great Books, we read Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and often blow right past Jesus and perhaps pick up with Plutarch to Athanasius and Augustine. We rarely read the teachings of Jesus as a great and influential work of intellectual history.

Why is this? Perhaps it is, in part, that Jesus did not often teach on the level of theory. Jesus taught us how to live (applied ethics) and what to think (worldview) without providing a specific philosophical theory to underlie this ethic and worldview. Though there is some truth to this, His claims and thought are still revolutionary and turned the world upside down.

A more salient reason that we fail to appreciate the intellect of Jesus is that we fail to make Jesus Lord of our intellectual lives. We look to Jesus for how to live morally and perhaps what to think theologically, but we do not look to Jesus as our model in how to think. We seem to think being Christ-like intellectually is simply optional.

The Intellect of Jesus

Jesus performed miracles and cast out demons. These things gathered a crowd, to be sure. However, Jesus also regularly put on display His intellect and wisdom. And people gathered and were equally astounded! There are far too many examples of this to mention (consider Matthew 7:28-29; 13:54-57; Mark 11:18; Luke 4:22). At one point, having heard His teaching, the Jews asked in amazement, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” (John 7:15).

Many of us know the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) by heart. But we often fail to notice the context and some of the implications of this command. The intellectual elites of the Jewish world, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, attempt to theologically trap and intellectually confound Jesus. This does not go well for them…

Jesus: Logician and Lord