"Jew & Gentile One in Messiah"

As it was in the beginning so it will be in the end-of-days

Statement of Faith for Beth Goyim Messianic Congregation

 RABBI or not to be called RABBI

8. To be called rabbi or not to be called rabbi?

To Call Someone "Rabbi" or Not to Call Someone "Rabbi" or a contradiction if you are just a NT person.

 Yeshua said in

Mat 23:8 "But you are not to let yourselves be called 'Rabbi'; because you have one Rabbi, and you are all each other's brothers.

Mat 23:9 And do not call anyone on earth 'Father.' because you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

From this statement alone, one might conclude that it is wrong to call someone "Rabbi." Let's hold that thought, read more of the context, and learn about Israelite culture and history. After all, there is a possibility that our initial conclusion might not be perfectly accurate. In fact, we have been known to misunderstand Yeshua's words in the past on more than one occasion. Maybe we're doing it again? This statement by Yeshua might seem to contradict the 4th commandment:

Exo 20:12 ה "Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which Adonai your God is giving you.

Let's start in the beginning of the chapter and read the whole section:

Mat 23:1 Then Yeshua addressed the crowds and his talmidim:

Mat 23:2 "The Torah-teachers and the P'rushim," he said, "sit in the seat of Moshe.

Mat 23:3 So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don't do what they do, because they talk but don't act!

Mat 23:4 They tie heavy loads onto people's shoulders but won't lift a finger to help carry them.

Mat 23:5 Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t'fillin broad and their tzitziyot long,

Mat 23:6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,

Mat 23:7 and they love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and being called 'Rabbi.'

Mat 23:8 "But you are not to let yourselves be called 'Rabbi'; because you have one Rabbi, and you are all each other's brothers.

Mat 23:9 And do not call anyone on earth 'Father.' because you have one Father, and he is in heaven.

Mat 23:10 Nor are you to let yourselves be called 'leaders,' because you have one Leader, and he is the Messiah!

Mat 23:11 The greatest among you must be your servant,

Mat 23:12 for whoever promotes himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be promoted.

          Mat 23:13 "But woe to you hypocritical Torah-teachers and P'rushim! For you are shutting the Kingdom of Heaven in   people's faces, neither entering    yourselves nor allowing those who wish to enter to do so.

What is the focus of his instruction not to be called rabbi, master, or father? It has to do with desiring praise of man for self-exaltation, rather than being a true servant and receiving the phrase of Elohim. In fact, this is his focus throughout the entire chapter, for it has everything to do with hypocrisy. And remember that hypocrisy is acting -- wanting to be seen by man rather than by Elohim.

If someone loves to be called Rabbi, then this is a problem to him. If someone loves to be Master, then it is a problem to him, and if someone loves to be called Father, then it is a problem as well. And we, if we are teachers, pastors, or whatever, in the Messianic community, should avoid falling into this trap.

Here's another way to approach these words. Are they to be taken literally? Generally speaking, if the literal meaning makes sense, then we don't need to find a non-literal solution. In this case, does his words make sense literally? After all, he told his disciples not to call anyone "father" too. Is this to be taken literally? Is it wrong to call someone "father"? Or rather, is it wrong for someone to exalt in being called "father"? Do you see the difference? We call our own dad "father" all the time. Is this wrong? No, not at all, for it is written, "Honour thy father and thy mother." Also, Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov are repeatedly called "fathers" in the Scripture. Is this wrong? No. Sha'ul referred to Abraham is "our father" in Romans 4:1. Was this wrong? After all Yeshua said, "Our Father which art in heaven..." No, it is not wrong. In fact, Sha'ul went so far as to call the Corinthians his sons and his own role as father in 1 Corinthians 4:14-17.

Was he contradicting Yeshua's teachings? No, he was not for this is what the prophets were called by their students. 2 Kings 2:12 shows that Elisha called Elijah "My father." The king of Israel also called Elisha "My father" in 2 Kings 6:21. There are other examples that you can find, but hopefully this illustrates a point. Is it wrong to call someone "father" in a spiritual sense if they "fathered" you in set-apart instruction? No, it is not.

Therefore, if it is scripturally accepted to call true servants of Elohim "father" then it follows that Yeshua's words are not to be taken literally. As such, his references to being called "rabbi" and "master" are to be understood in a similar fashion. So, what was Yeshua talking about? He didn't want his disciples to honor themselves and crave such titles for themselves. Rather, he wanted them to be servants and behave as servants. He wanted them to focus on others rather than on themselves.

You see, there is "our Father" and then there are "fathers." There is "our Rabbi" and then there are "rabbis. There is "our Master" and then there are "masters." This is all fine. But some may argue that this reasoning is wrong, and that we should be called "pastors" and "shepherds" or "teachers" instead. But think about it. What's the difference? Is it okay for us to be called "Pastor" (meaning "Shepherd") when there is only one Shepherd, and yet wrong for us to be called "Rabbi" when there is only one Rabbi? Do you see the illogic in that reasoning? No, it is the same as with Father, Rabbi, and Master. Equally, there is "our Shepherd" and then there are "shepherds." This is equally scriptural.

In fact, Adonai gives, "some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." So, there are apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and even teachers. So, is it wrong to be called "teacher" since Yeshua is our Teacher? No, in and of itself, this isn't wrong either.

Therefore, if someone is known as "Rabbi so-and-so," you should acknowledge his office, honor his devoted years of training and dedication, and not have a problem in referring to him as "Rabbi."

With this in mind, here are some excerpts from various sources which add even more understanding to Yeshua's words.


Messiah Yeshua gave this teaching in the context of warning His disciples not to love to be called exalted names, which would seem to give them more importance than others. They were/are not to seek the praise of men. He wanted them and us to know that the greatest one among them or us is the one who serves (bows low) the most. So He did not want them to want or seek to be called or bided in a way which is glorifying to our selfish pride (ego). Messiah Yeshua was teaching a broad principle that applies to all titles of people which they perceive to be those of mastery. This would include, besides doctor, lawyer and Indian chief, the fivefold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers. The principle of Messiah Yeshua is this: "Do not accept anyone's attempt to make you their master, or their source of supply. There is only One who is your/their Master and Source of supply"

Shaul called himself an apostle. Was he building himself up? No, he was only stating what work he was assigned. He really was only saying, 'I am one sent." So, if one says, "I am a rabbi" and considers that simply to mean "I am one who teaches," is that an error? Not at all! It would be error only if he believes in his heart that the title makes him a master over people, instead of a servant to people, and/or he encourages and allows others to view him as someone more important."

You might notice that some religious leaders think they are more accurate to scripture by being called pastor or elder. Yet, under the principle of Messiah these titles can be just as much used in an evil way. Pastor, scholars say, means shepherd, but 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. And we should call no man father?

Elder means "older one", by inference, more knowledgeable, wiser. Such a distinction in the body can just as easily cause a person to be exalted in their heart.

Moses had a title, the Servant of Elohim. Though he was the meekest of men, yet he also fell because of pride and self-interest, and thereby was kept from the promise. Yet, his title was a humble one.

The point in all this is, it was not titles themselves that our Messiah was warning against, but rather the disciple's desire to be exalted.



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 order. YHVH used a chain of command when He set Israel in order, using Moses, Samuel and David to define it. By Elohim's Word there was set judges, elders, priests, captains, prophets, and eventually kings and princes.

The army of 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. The Most High 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 negate the necessary chain of command and the appointment of certain ones to certain tasks.

The thing which our Messiah wants us to know is that the titles in the chain do not define our importance, but only our responsibility to Him. The title is not evil by itself; what we think of it, or how we want people to see us because of it, determines the good or evil of it.

You are Not to be Called Rabbi

But there is one large difference between discipleship to the Sages of Yeshua's day and discipleship to Messiah. In Matthew 23:8-10 Yeshua warns his disciples, "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah."

What does he mean when he tells us, "You are not to be called Rabbi or Father or Teacher"? How does that bode for Messianic Rabbis? How does it bode for teachers anywhere? What about our paternal fathers? What about our congregational elders? Does the Master mean that we should eschew all such titles? Is Pastor or Reverend permissible when Teacher and Rabbi are not? Is Elder permissible when Father is not?

The Master's words here can only be understood within the institution of First Century, teacher-disciple relationships as described above.

Each disciple, when fully trained, was expected to raise up his own disciples. He then became the teacher, the rabbi, the master, and the father to a new generation of disciples.

Yeshua forbids his talmidim to raise up disciples for themselves. They were not to be the teachers, rabbis, masters and fathers to the next generation of disciples. There was not to be a School of Peter, a House of Andrew, an Academy of James. There were not to be disciples of Beit Yochanan and disciples of Beit Nathaniel.

The disciples of Yeshua were never to assume the role of master, because unlike the masters of the Pharisees or the men of the Great Assembly or sages like Hillel or Shammai, Yeshua is still alive. Followers of Yeshua are forbidden to make their own disciples because our job is to raise up more disciples for Yeshua. For we have one teacher! The Messiah.

Ultimately, His words are not meant to forbid teachers among us, or elders, fathers, rabbis or even leaders. Of course we have and need all of these. But we must never let our elders, fathers, rabbis, leaders or teachers take the place of our one Master. We must never be the disciples of men. Rather, we are called to be disciples of the Messiah. Nor are we allowed to raise up our own disciples to satisfy our need for self-aggrandizement. Rather we must raise up more disciples for him!

The Discipleship of Sha'ul/Paul

If any of the Apostolic writers understood the institution of discipleship, it was Shaul of Tarsus. Discipled under the famous Sage Gamliel, he had spent the better part of his life learning the ins and outs of discipleship. Thus we should not be surprised to find that, as he kept the Master's Great Commission, he passed the discipleship model on to his congregations.

The congregation in Corinth was the first Assembly to formally separate from the Synagogue (Acts 18:7). Perhaps as a result, Corinth was beset with problems. Rav. Sha’ul/Paul attributed their tendency towards deviancy to a lack of qualified men that might disciple them. In his first letter to that congregation he speaks about the death of "fathers" among them. He is not referring to paternal fathers.

I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children? you do not have many fathers, for in Messiah Yeshua I became your father through the Gospel.

Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Messiah Yeshua, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every assembly. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

He regards himself as a father to both the Corinthians and to Timothy his disciple. The father-to-son language is characteristic of the Pharisaic teacher-disciple model. Furthermore, he urges the Corinthians to imitate him, thus spurring them on to live out their discipleship.


Disciples in Judaism

Our image of a disciple maybe of a bearded man in a robe and sandals. Or it may be simply an image of one of the Twelve that followed Yeshua. We tend to think of discipleship as a New Testament, Gospel phenomenon, perhaps something Yeshua introduced when he chose his 12 disciples. This is wrong.

Long before the days of the Master, discipleship was already a well-established institution within Jewish culture. All the great sages, the rabbis, the sages among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Torah had disciples.

The Hebrew word for disciple is talmid. Talmid means student. The plural is talmidim: students. We translate talmidim as disciples. A talmid was a student of one of the sages. A talmid's job was to learn everything that his Master had to teach.

The disciples of First Century Judaism learned everything from their teacher, and they learned to be just like their teacher. They learned the stories that the teacher told. They learned the lessons that their teacher taught. They learned to eat the foods that their teacher ate, the way their teacher ate them. They learned to keep the Sabbath the way their teacher kept Sabbath and to give charity the way their teacher gave charity. They learned to pray the way their teacher prayed and to fast the way their teacher fasted. They learned how to keep God's commands the way their teacher kept them. The disciples followed their teacher everywhere he went, and the teacher taught his disciples everything he could.

Then, after a disciple was fully trained, he would become a teacher and teach disciples of his own. A disciple's job was to become like his or her teacher. So it written for us in the Gospel:

"Every disciple fully trained will be like his teacher." (Luke 6:40).

So when the disciple is fully trained, he becomes the teacher, and raises up disciples of his own, who in turn, when fully trained become teachers and raise up disciples of their own.

The Three Charges to Disciples

The process of handing on teaching from generation to generation stretches back in time, a long continuous chain, all the way back to Mount Sinai. Through the teacher-disciple chain, the teaching of the Torah was passed on from generation to generation. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot begins with a description of how this transmission process carried the Torah from Moses to Ezra's generation.

"Moshe/Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua/Joshua (his disciple) JYehoshua/oshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets, the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. The Men of the Great Assembly said three things, 'Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah." (Avot 1:1, 2)

Ezra's generation, the Men of the Great Assembly, issued three charges to their disciples.

1. Be deliberate in judgment: The Men of the Great Assembly warned the disciples to be careful when judging. They warned them to weigh all the evidence. When asked a question regarding scripture, when making a legal ruling, when hearing court cases as elders or as judges sitting on a court of law or even when simply making a small decision on a point of law, be careful and be deliberate. Disciples are to take the Scriptures seriously and study them diligently.

2. Raise Up Many Disciples: The Men of the Great Assembly told the disciples to raise up many students. Disciples are to pass the teaching on to the next generation of students. If we do not, there will be no continuity of the faith. If disciples do not raise up disciples who in turn become teachers raising up disciples, the teaching is lost.

3. Make a Fence for the Torah: : The Men of the Great Assembly told the disciples to protect the law. They were to protect the commandments by teaching their disciples to avoid even seemingly benign behaviors that might lead to sin. For example, the commandment not to look at a woman lustfully is a fence protecting the commandment not to commit adultery. If one does not look with lust, one will never come near committing adultery.

The Disciple -Teacher Relationship

The teacher-disciple relationship was a powerful bond. Disciples regarded their teachers higher than their own fathers. It was a relationship over and above any student-teacher relationship that exists in our culture.

It was expressed as a servant to master relationship. (See Matthew 10:24) Thus the disciples of the First Century referred to their teachers as Rabbi meaning "Revered One" or as Master.

It was expressed as a son to father relationship. In Rabbinic literature, the Torah sage is the Father and his disciples are called his family, hence terms like Beit Hillel "The House of Hillel." The collected words of the Torah Masters are called "Sayings of the Fathers." The sages say that your Teacher is to be accorded higher honor than your birth father, because your birth father brought you into this world, but your teacher brings you into the next world. (Bava Metsi'a 2:11)

The Four Jobs of a Disciple

In the first century, the disciples of the sages had four major tasks to perform.

1. To memorize their teacher's words. It was the job of a disciple to memorize his teacher's words. The oral transmission process was the only method practiced among the sages. The great rabbis and Torah scholars did not write scrolls or compose books for their students to read and study. Instead, they taught orally and their disciples studied by memorizing their words. Through constant repetition, disciples memorized their teacher's words verbatim and were able to repeat them to subsequent generations.

2. To learn their teacher's traditions and interpretations. It was a disciple's job to learn the tradition of how his teacher kept the commands of God and interpreted the Scriptures. Every detail about the teacher was important to the disciple. The disciple needed to learn how the teacher washed his hands, how he kept the Sabbath, how he fasted, how he prayed, how he gave charity, how he affixed a mezuzah, how he said the blessings over food, etc. Furthermore, the way the teacher interpreted passages of scriptures, the meanings he drew out, the midrashim he told, the parables and stories he used to elucidate with, the way he explained a verse or understood a concept, each of these was of utmost importance to the disciple. Details of this sort were not just trivia. To a disciple, these were like gems and pearls meant to be gathered and treasured.

3. To imitate their teacher's actions. It was the job of a disciple to be like his teacher. A disciple's highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. His goal was to one day be just like his Master. A disciple studied to learn to act and to speak and to respond the same why his Master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his Master did. The gospels express this concept with the words, "Every disciple, fully trained will be like his master." (Luke 6:40)

4. To raise up disciples. It was the job of a disciple, when finally trained, to raise up his own disciples. He was to create a new generation of students and to transmit to them the memorized words of his Master, the traditions and the interpretations of his Master, the actions and behaviors of his Master. The goal was to pass the teaching and the torch of discipleship from generation to generation. So each disciple became the teacher, the rabbi, the master, and the father to a new generation of disciples.

These functions describe the cultural context of the institution of discipleship in the gospels. When Yeshua called his disciples, these four tasks are the things they were called to do. This is how they understood their job.

He spent three years teaching them and training them. When he left them, he gave them this command, Mat 28:19  Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh,

Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age." The great commission is the normal job of a disciple, to raise up more disciples.

An Important Difference

But there is an important distinction that needs to be made when we speak of discipleship and the disciples of Yeshua. It is a distinction that Yeshua himself drew for his disciples. We find it in Matthew 23:8-10 where he says to his disciples:

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah."

On the surface this would seem to contradict other parts of the NT in which we see that elders, fathers, teachers and leaders are ordained in the communities of faith. Are we to not have teachers or leaders?

The context in which he is speaking is the teacher-disciple relationship of the first century. We have already seen that this teacher to student relationship is likened to a master to servant and father to son relationship.

Yeshua says it is not to be like that for his disciples. He says that his disciples are not to be like other disciples in that regard. Other disciples, when they are trained go and raise disciples for themselves and then they become the teacher, the father, the rabbi, the master. Yeshua's disciples are instructed not to raise disciples for themselves. There was not to be a School of Peter, a House of Andrew, an Academy of James. There were not to be disciples of Beit Yochanon and disciples of Beit Nathaniael.

The disciples of Yeshua were never to take the role of master, because unlike the master's of the Pharisees or the men of the Great Assembly or sages like Hillel or Shammai, Yeshua is still alive. Followers of Yeshua are forbidden to make their own disciples because their job is to raise up more disciples for Yeshua.

For we have one teacher! The Messiah.

Ultimately, it is not that we do not have teachers among us, or elders, fathers, rabbis or even leaders. Of course we do. But we must never let our elders, fathers, rabbis, leaders or teachers take the place of our Master. We must never be the disciples of men carrying on the traditions of men. Rather, we must be disciples of the Messiah. We must never raise up disciples for ourselves, for our own self-aggrandizement. Rather we must raise up more disciples for him!

This is the peculiar distinctive of the Disciples of Yeshua. Our Master is still alive.

Question: Isn't it wrong to call yourself "Rabbi" in light of Matthew 23:8?

Let's take a look at Yeshua's teaching in Matthew 23:8-12: "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, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted."

One of the most important principles that will help us correctly interpret the Word of God is: "If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense." The Word of God is to be understood in its historical/ grammatical context. If a passage makes literal sense historically and grammatically, then that is what it means. However, if the literal sense is impossible or does not make sense, we should seek a non-literal sense. In the passage we are considering, Yeshua's words about not being called "rabbi," "father" or "leader" are not meant to be understood in a strictly literally way. If we interpreted these words with a 'wooden' literalism, then we could not call anyone on Earth "father" (without exception). But of course we have earthy fathers, and it is right to honor them with the term "father." In fact, the Holy Scriptures frequently use the term "father" to describe human beings, even in a religious sense (see 1 Corinthians 4:15). The New Testament also acknowledges the word "leader" as a legitimate term (see the Letter to the Messianic Jews - "Hebrews" 13:17, 24). The term "rabbi" is defined for us in John 1:38 as "teacher." Again, according to the New Testament, the office of teacher is specifically part of the leadership of the New Covenant Community (see Ephesians 4:11). Ya'akov (James) also acknowledges the office of teacher (James 3:1).

The rest of the passage tells us that the Messiah is concerned about pride among us, about the desire to be exalted, about the desire to rule and not to serve. Those who are leaders and teachers and fathers in the Faith are not to develop an attitude that demands unquestioning submission. They are to be servant-leaders. Nor is Messiah's Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles to develop an elite group of clergy/priests who are qualitatively different from the rest of the New Covenant community. In conclusion, the titles, "rabbi" "father" and "leader" may be used, but with humility.









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