It's no yoke....

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have recently heard a couple of times the idea that:
"In the time of Jesus, taking the yoke of the rabbi reflected a disciple’s willing submission and adherence to his rabbi’s interpretation and application of the Old Testament Scriptures." Thus, in Matthew 11, Jesus is referring to his own "yoke" as his specific teachings and style of scripture interpretation, as opposed to the "yoke" of other rabbis.

Apparently, Rob Bell wrote that: "A rabbi's set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi's interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi's yoke."

Now that all sounds like a very interesting insight into Matthew 11. BUT....

When I look into this, I can find loads of assertions about this on the internet but no citations. In fact, I have found a couple of Jewish websites that refute this assertion.

So, my questions are:
  • Does "yoke" in Matthew 11 refer to the yoke of the Torah (as I had previously understood) or to the "yoke of the rabbi" as described above?
  • If the latter, is there any reference anywhere from the time of Jesus that points to "yoke" being used in this way?

At the moment, I have the nasty suspicion that "yoke as rabbi's set of rules" is one of those things that come to be regarded as "fact" without any actual proof whatsoever. But I am certainly willing to be proved wrong.


  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    I think Rob - whom I love - and certainly others have used the similarly bogus claim that ancient Jerusalem's garbage dump was the inspiration for Hell. It didn't have one.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    A priest wears a stole as a symbol that they have taken on the yoke of Christ.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    I don't have a lot of insight into the nuances of the term, but offer up an interesting short blog on the term here. FWIW
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    I found this one reference that is similar to Jesus' saying. It comes from the Misnah, which is an authoritative collection of exegetical material embodying the oral tradition of Jewish law and forming the first part of the Talmud.
    Rabbi Nechunia son of Hakanah said, “Anyone who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah removes from himself the yoke of government duties and the yoke of the way of the world; but one who casts off the yoke of Torah accepts upon himself the yoke of government and the yoke of the way of the world.” Pirkei Avot 3:5

    I can find no Jewish reference to the yoke of a rabbi, though it is not beyond me to have Jesus changing the term from the Torah to himself. This is only found in Matthew. I have the impression Matthew is saying the freedom found in Jesus is much easier than the legalism of the Torah.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Here is an interesting side-issue. Apparently there was a traditional narrative that the main output of the carpenter's shop in Nazareth was ox-yokes. Some of them were still in use in the second century.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The metaphorical use of ‘yoke’ as a burden of regulation or rule seems quite widespread in the OT. It also crops up with similar meanings in Acts 14.19, Galatians 5.1, and 1 Tim 6.1. ‘Burden’ is used in a similar way in Matthew 23.4 and Luke 11.46.

    It also appears to be used in rabbinic literature in a similar way. It’s not much of a stretch to think of accepting or taking the teaching of one rabbi or another being referred to as a yoke.

    However, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for the idea of different yokes for different rabbis, and contemporary Jewish scholars seem to deny it. There is the idea of taking on “the yoke of the commandments” and if that is what was also current in Jesus’ day, then his teaching people to ‘take my yoke upon you’ is as strikingly radical as his “you have heard that it was said, but I tell you” from the sermon on the mount.
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