“Text without Context is just a Pretext”.
Before I explain about the context of “Call no man Rabbi”, I want to give a few scriptures and ask some questions.
Here is the foundational scriptures. It is found in Matthew 23:6-10, which reads:"They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. [Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, the Messiah.”
This verse created major problems. It is misused to “call no man Rabbi.”
Q: If we can't judge correctly the simple passages then how are we going to get to the meat of what the Scriptures offers us?
Consider This: The word “Rabbi” comes from the Hebrew word “rab” or “rav”, meaning “great” as in “numerous” or “much”. The name “Rabbi” means “one who has much”. This is why it is used for “teacher”, - because he has much knowledge and understanding. The word “Rabbi” means “Teacher,” as recorded in John 1:38 “And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? And they said unto him,Rabbi (which is to say, being interpreted, Teacher), where abideth thou?”
The phrase in “which means teacher” is in parenthesis (added by the Translators), yet appears in the Greek text as the word “didaskalos” (Greek for “teacher”)
The word and title “Rabbi” did not come from Babylon. It came into being after the return of Judah to Jerusalem. Judah would be governed by “Seventy Elders” (theSanhedrin) and the “High Priest”. These elders would be a mix of “rabbis”, who would form political parties, based on their interpretations of Scripture, (i.e.Pharisees and Sadducees).
Q: What’s Yeshua’s saying to them?
Q: Do not become “rabbis” or “teachers”? - No, that is a “gift of ministry.”
Q: Do not be known as a “father”? - No, even Paul called himself the “father” of Onesimus in Philemon 1:10. Alsomany scriptures refers to the patriarchs as our “fathers.”
Q: Do not be or become known as “leaders”? - No, Why?
At the last supper, after Yeshua broke the bread and gave thanks, we read in Luke 22:26, “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.”
After saying “only One is your Father", Yeshua proceeded to declare, "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Messiah". Yet He Himself acknowledged Nicodemus to be the "teacher of Israel" [John 3:10].
In the synagogue at Antioch, certain men were called "prophets and teachers".
Paul not only recognized teachers as gifts of God to the body of Messiah, but he also did not hesitate to call himself "a teacher of the Gentiles"
Major Point: Yeshua was condemning wearing religion on the outside for the praise of men. In the context here, He refers to the accepted common usage of His day to the word rabbi as “Master.” This was a misappropriation of the term of the title assigning authority not given by God.
Consider this: A Rabbi is A SOURCE of Knowledge; a Leader is A SOURCE of Authority; and the Father is the SOURCE of Life. With this in mind, let’s now consider the questions:
It is written in John 3:10, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?
Q: If Yeshua (Jesus) literally meant “Call no man Rabbi (Teacher)”, why would He call Nicodemus “THE TEACHER OF ISRAEL”?
It is written in Ephesians 4:11 “and *he* has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers “
Q: If, according to Matthew 23:8, there is only One Teacher (Rabbi), which is the Messiah, why did He give teachers to His body as part of the 5-fold Ministry?
Q: If Yeshua (Jesus) seems to prohibit the use of the term "teacher," Why, in Matthew 28:19–20, does the Messiah himself appointed certain men to be teachers in his Church: It reads "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teachingthem to observe all that I have commanded you."
Paul speaks of his commission as a apostle and teacher. It is written in I Timothy 2:7“Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
He also writes in II Timothy 1:11 “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.”
Q: Was Paul violating the Messiah’s teaching in Matthew 23 by referring so often to himself as a "teacher?"
Now allow me to quote another part of the verses. It is written in Matthew 23:7-12, “And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Consider this: Based on the way you interpreted verse 8, you must also apply that same interpretation to verse 9 or you will be taking the verse out of its context. With this in mind, I want to ask some more questions:
Q: What do you call the person who married your mother?
Point: Paul called himself a Father
I Corinthians 4:15 – “For even if you have ten thousand trainers in connection with the Messiah, you do not have many fathers; for in connection with the Messiah Yeshua it was I who became your father by means of the Good News.” It is written in Philemon 1:10, “I beseech thee for my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus,” Paul referred to himself as a “father” when he called Onesimus his child.
Q: Did Paul reject Yeshua’s (Jesus) words when he did this?
John, the Apostle, calls mature believers in the faith “fathers”. He writes in I John 2:13-14 “I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. I have written unto you,fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one.
Q: Did not John “get the memo” when Yeshua (Jesus) spoke these words in Matthew 23?
Believers sometimes slip up on this point by calling all sorts of people "doctor," for example, medical doctors, as well as professors and scientists who have Ph.D. degrees (i.e., doctorates). What they fail to realize is that "doctor" is simply the Latin word for "teacher."
Even "Mister" and "Mrs." are forms of the word "master," also mentioned by Yeshua (Jesus). If his words in Matthew 23 were meant to be taken literally, Believers would be just as guilty for using the word "teacher" and "doctor" and "mister" as Catholics are for saying "father." Clearly, that would be a misunderstanding of the Messiah’s words.
Yeshua taught according to Torah, never departing from it. If he forbad calling any man “father” he destroyed the very Torah that he came to proclaim. How? He would not be disallowing men to address Abraham as the forefather of Israel. It would have, from that point onward, caused all those who believed him to skim over the Torah that refers to fathers and teachers. It would have also called into question many verses in the Torah and many future epistles that became part of Scripture.
What did Yeshua (Jesus) mean?
Again, look at the context. He criticized Jewish leaders who love "the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men" (Matthew 23:6–7). His admonition here is a response to the Pharisees’ proud hearts and their gasping after marks of status and prestige.
He was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers
Another example of Hyperbole is when Yeshua (Jesus) said “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:29, 18:9; Mark 9:47). Yeshua certainly did not intend this to be applied literally, for otherwise all believers in the Body of Messiah would be blind amputees!
There was also a temptation in the Jewish world of Yeshua’s day, when famous rabbinical leaders, especially those who founded important schools, such as Hillel and Shammai, were highly exalted by their disciples. It is this elevation of an individual man—the formation of a "cult of personality" around him—of which Yeshua is speaking when he warns against attributing to someone an undue role as master, father, or teacher.
He is not forbidding us to recognize that the person does have a role as a spiritual father and teacher. The example of his own apostles shows us that.
(NOTE: My Bible is the Hebrew and Greek Study Bible (NASV). It is one of the only Bibles I found that lines up with the original manuscripts. It also gives me the meanings of Hebrew and Greek words through the Strong’s numbering system).
With this understanding, reread the context of Matthew 23:1-7, but let me quote it from this Hebrew and Greek Study Bible (NASV). It is written “saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses: therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe: but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. and they tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men: for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments, and they love the place of honor at banquets, and thechief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and tobe called of men, Rabbi.”
Consider this: Judaism has had an ancient tradition that when a leader is appointed to the Sanhedrin, he declines the post three times. In fact it is unheard of within Judaism for a Jew to work ambitiously toward any spiritual leadership role with the aim of making a name for himself. Yeshua is stating that no-one should seek titles (in particular rabbi) to gratify their own selfish desire. Such a man receives openly the praise of men and in so doing becomes disqualified from a reward in the World to Come.
The Messiah was teaching that all titles, which denote mastery of a profession should not be used to make one a master over another or allow one to view another as being more important.
Torah teaches that the greatest person is the one who serves and attends to the needs of others vigilantly
Remember, Yeshua was talking to Jews and therefore dealt with the title that they were most abusing. In the context here He refers to the then accepted common usage of the word rabbi as “Master.” This was a misappropriation of the term of the title assigning authority not given by God. He is not picking on one or two titles out of a multitude of manmade titles and forbidding their usage. He is attacking an ungodly principle involving that which religious people tend to play. Their desire for titles that men invest with has attached to them authority, esteem, and self-importance. This is an ungodly attitude, and is prohibited by Yeshua.
Unfortunately, the church has a problem with the Hebrew word "Rabbi," but not the concept of “teacher,” thereby revealing their latent anti-Semitism. True rabbis are teachers of God’s word. The proof is all the religious leaders today who prefix their name with the title “Doctor” that is not earned, yet used to set himself/herself apart from the rest of the people is sinful behavior.
Consider this point: Some religious leaders think they are more accurate to scripture by being called pastoror elder. Yet, under the principle of Messiah these titles can be just as much used in an evil way. “Pastor”, scholars say, means shepherd,
With this fact in mind, now answer these questions:
Who can be a shepherd but the Good Shepherd, Yeshua?
Who is worthy to be called Shepherd except Him?
Does not the title shepherd distinguish one from the sheep?
So a pastor cannot be equal with the sheep, but rather the master of the sheep! In addition, the word “pastor” is linked to the Greek word pater, which means father.What do we do when we should call no man “father”? It was not titles themselves that our Messiah was warning against, but rather the disciple's desire to be exalted.
God’s Chain of Command
In any army there is a chain of command. Winning battles depends on everyone's important contribution. The chain of command is used for communication and ord YHVH used a chain of command when He set Israel in order, using Moses, Samuel and David to define it. By God's Word, there were set judges, elders, priests, Prophets, Captains, and eventually Kings and Princes.
The army of our Messiah, Yeshua, is no different. There must be a chain of command, and titles are used to define the chain. The purpose of the title is to set in order, not to puff up those who have them. God has equalized his people, as He did with Israel of old, by declaring them all kings and priests in the realm of the Kingdom of heaven. But this does not change the necessary chain of command and the appointment of certain ones to certain tasks.
These titles in the chain do not define our importance, but only our responsibility to Him. The title is not evil by itself; it is what we think of it. This is why my Rabbi asked to be called “Rabbi.”
In the Messianic Jewish movement the title of Rabbi consists of a vocation ministry responsibility under the Messiah. It is NOT a title of exaltation, but given only for purpose of order in the body. In Modern Hebrew it means simply teacher.
Today a Rabbi is a congregational leader/servant.
- He is an administrator of the business and spiritual things in the congregation given to him by God.
- He organizes and encourages the various gifts and callings in the congregation.
- He is responsible to teach the Torah, the Word of God, soberly with earnest study, but He is not the only one responsible.
He is traditionally of Jewish origin, so the title helps him to identify with and to serve the Jewish people especially, but not exclusively. The Messianic Rabbi is in his role because of Divine appointment, not because of personal worth or even skill. He will be judged, according to James 3:1, more severely than most at the judgment because of his responsibility.Consider this verse: It is written in James 3:1 “Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.”
This verse sets up the context of Chapter 3 which talks about the “power of the tongue.” To remove this verse, as most people do, destroys the entire context of chapter 3.
Rather than prideful in His work, the Messianic Rabbi mostly feels inadequate, unworthy, and trembling at the task. He realizes that nothing he does of himself actually accomplishes anything; that it is Adonai who does all that is good and eternal in quality. He knows and acts, knowing that he is no more important than the least, in fact, he is the least.