"Teachings of the Messiah" Series

Do Not Be Called "Rabbi"

Is It Okay For a Messianic Leader to Take On the Title of Rabbi?

By David M Rogers

Published: December 2014

Table of Contents

Who Are the Scribes and Pharisees?

Mosheh's Seat

The Problem With the Pharisees

Being Called "Rabbi"

Calling Men on Earth "Father"

Being Called "Guide"

Having A Servant's Attitude

Matthew 23:1-12

Then Yahusha said to the crowds and to his disciples:  "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Mosheh's seat.  So everything he says you must do and guard. But do not do what they do, for they speak but do not do.  They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'  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 'Seated One,' for you have one Seated One, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

With the arrival of the Messianic Movement comes a whole new set of questions, debates, discussions and conversations about how we ought to conduct ourselves as representatives of the Messiah.  Many of the customs and traditions which we used to follow have to be re-examined in light of our better understanding of the Scriptures.  If those traditions and customs and ways of doing things do not line up with the mandate of Scripture, it is best to either reform our traditions or discard them altogether.

When the Jewish Roots Movement began somewhere in the 1970s and Jews began to embrace Jesus as their Messiah, the way of Jewish worship needed to be adjusted to the understanding which Yeshua brings to the table.  Those Jews and congregations of Jews began to adjust their order of service to include New Testament writings as part of the liturgy, along with a number of other changes.

One of the things that didn't seem to change was the leadership made up of Rabbis in the assembly of Yeshua.  Jewish Rabbis for many centuries have been the leaders and authority figures in the synagogue system.  As some Jews have been turning to Jesus in our generation, this system of Rabbis leading the congregations hasn't changed.

Yet Yeshua himself seems to have made a very clear statement about his followers being called Rabbi.  As recorded in Matthew 23, Yeshua explicitly told his disciples not to be called Rabbi.  About the Pharisees, Yeshua said that

they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'  But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 

Yeshua had many conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees.  And this plain instruction to his disciples seems to lay out in no uncertain terms that they were not to have people call them Rabbi.

So, why are there so many self designated Rabbis in the Messianic and Jewish Roots Movements?  Jewish congregational leaders in Messianic assemblies still hold onto the title of Rabbi.  If Yeshua strictly commanded his followers not to be called Rabbi, then why do so many Jewish leaders who claim faith in Yahusha still hold this title?  This is the focus of our study here as we delve into the question of what Yeshua meant by his statement to his disciples, and how this is to apply in the assembly of believers.

Who Are the Scribes and Pharisees?

Then Yahusha said to the crowds and to his disciples:  "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Mosheh's seat.  So everything he says you must do and guard. But do not do what they do, for they speak but do not do. (Matthew 23:1-3)

Let's pick up the context of this saying of Yeshua so we may properly understand what Yeshua is teaching us about not being called Rabbi.  Yahusha was in Yerushalayim just before the Pesach and Feast of Unleavened Bread.  He was presenting himself as the spotless Lamb of God.  And the religious leaders were testing him to try to find fault in him.  At the end of the testing Yahusha had a few things to say about them.  And this is where we pick up in Matthew 23.

Yahusha noted that the scribes and Pharisees sit in Mosheh's seat.  Who are these scribes and Pharisees? The word scribe comes from the Greek grammateu,j  (grammatoos) - (1) one skilled in Jewish law and theology scribe, expert, scholar (MT 2.4); (2) as a town official secretary, town clerk (AC 19.35).  Also having to do with one who has special functions in connection with documents.  Also,

1.chief executive officer of a governmental entity, secretary (of state), clerk, title of a high official in Ephesus.

2. an expert in matters relating to divine revelation,

a. specialists in the law of Moses: experts in the law, scholars versed in the law, scribes;

b. interpreter of teaching connected with the ministry of Jesus, ext. of 2a scribe, instructor

The word grammatoos comes from the Greek root gra,mma (gramma) - a unit of an alphabet, in our lit. only of a Greek character: letter.  2. a set of written characters forming a document or piece of writing, a document, piece of writing.  This word is found in the following verses:

If you believed Mosheh, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote (literally, “you do not believe his letters”), how are you going to believe what I say? (4th Gospel 5:46-47)

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (Galatians 6:11)

And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? (4th Gospel 7:15)

The word learned in this sentence comes from the Greek manqa,nw (manthano).  This is the verbal form of the word translated disciple and means learn; find out, discover; learn by experience; attend a rabbinic school.  Thus, the Pharisees were intimating that Yeshua had not attended one of their authorized Rabbinic schools nor had he learned his understanding of the Scriptures from a Rabbi.

Mirriam\Webster Dictionary defines the scribes as

a member of a learned class in ancient Israel through New Testament times studying the Scriptures and serving as copyists, editors, teachers, and jurists a :  an official or public secretary or clerk b :  a copier of manuscripts:  writer; specifically:  journalist

So, the scribes were the scholars who were entrusted with the keeping of the manuscripts and the interpretation of those manuscripts.

Next, who are the Pharisees?  From the Greek Farisai/oj (farisai-os), corresponding to the Hebrew. ~yviWrP. (Prushim).  The Semitic words mean ‘the separated ones, separatists’. The Pharisees were the rulers of the synagogues while the Sadducees were in charge of the temple.  According to Josephus the Pharisees were

the organized followers of the experts in interpreting the scriptures (scribes). It was the purpose of the Pharisees to take the pattern of a pious Israelite as established by the scribes, and to put it into practice as nearly as possible.

But there's more to it than that.  The Pharisees were characterized by at least the following five traits.  They took it upon themselves to:

1 Believe in Two Torahs
2 Have absolute authority to interpret Scripture
3 Random, irrational interpretation
4 Traditions take precedence over Scripture
5 Enact new, man-made laws

Let's look at each of these five traits in some detail so we may understand why Yeshua told his disciples not to be like them and not to be called by their title Rabbi.

First, they believe in Two Torahs.  This point is best illustrated by one of their own writings.

“Our Rabbis taught: An incident with a certain gentile that came before Shammai. He said to him: How many Torahs do you have? (Shammai) answered: Two, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 31a)

The Talmud explains that the Oral Torah was revealed to Mosheh in a second revelation at Mt. Sinai. It was not written down in order to keep it out of the hands of the Gentiles. It was given exclusively to the Rabbis as secret knowledge.  So, the Pharisees acknowledge the written Torah and also the Oral Torah which later found written for in the Mishnah.  The Mishnah was written around 200 CE.

The reason this is so significant is that the Pharisees (Rabbis of those days) and the Rabbis who were their descendants and are the leaders of what developed into Judaism, acknowledge two Torahs.  But the Oral Torah, which is made up of their traditions, customs and additional laws not included in the written Torah of Mosheh, takes precedence over the written Torah.  In other words, the Rabbis put their own Oral Torah above the written commandments of the Scriptures.  To them, the Oral Torah has greater authority than the written Torah (the Scriptures).

Secondly, the Pharisees believe they have absolute authority to interpret Scripture in whatever manner they see fit.  This is based on their interpretation of Devarim [Deuteronomy] 17:11:

Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place Yehovah will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. (Devarim 17:9-11)

Of course, this instruction was given to Israel along with the commandments and dictates of the written Torah.  Thus, when the priests and judges of Israel were in compliance with the written Torah and used the written Torah as the basis for their judgments, all Israel was obligated to accept their judgments, because they were based on the judgments given by Yahuwah in the written Torah.

But the Pharisees high jacked control in Israel.  They added thousands of their own commandments and effectively changed the instructions written by Mosheh into what they called the Oral Torah.  So their judgments were not really based on Yahuwah's written instructions.  Their authority was based in their own laws and traditions.  Clearly, the instruction of Devarim 17:9-11 is not giving authority to anyone who rejects the written Torah and tries to enforce their own man made laws instead.

So the arrogance of the Pharisees is evident in the following description of their own authority.  Concerning their own Rabbis, the Pharisees insist that

Even if they instruct you that right is left and left is right you must obey them (Sifre Deuteronomy #154 on Deut 17:11)

In their view, the Rabbis have to be obeyed even if the instruction makes no sense, is counter intuitive, or is foolish or ridiculous.  Regardless of one's own opinion or common sense, the Rabbi must be obeyed.

Now the Rabbis justify this view of their own authority by twisting the written Torah and taking out sound bites from the Torah and creating an impression of what is being said which the context doesn't support - much like Christian fundamentalists do today.  The Rabbis, for example, take Devarim 30:11-12, which reads

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"

and they tear out the phrase, "It is not up in heaven" and interpret that to mean, "the authority is no longer in heaven."  By this they mean that even Yahuwah in heaven cannot over rule their authority to interpret Scripture or to change law or to make new law.  This effectively amounts to the Rabbis believing that their own authority supersedes even that of God Himself.

A third characteristic of the Pharisees is that they practice a random and irrational interpretation of Scripture.  The Talmudic account of the dispute between Rabban Gamaliel II and Rabbi Joshua illustrates this irrationality when they interpret. (Rabban is a title traditionally given to the head of the Sanhedrin during Tannaitic times [10-220 CE] while Rabbi is the title of any of the “Great Ones” among the leaders and teachers of the Torah)  These rabbis disagreed about when Yom Kippur was to occur in a certain year.  But Rabban Gamaliel sat on the Rabbinic court. So, Rabbi Joshua was compelled to accept Rabban Gamaliel’s ruling even though he knew it to be factually untrue

Rabbi Dosa reasoned with Rabbi Joshua that he must give in to Gamaliel’s ruling because…“If we go and challenge Rabban Gamaliel’s court, we must also challenge each and every court that has presided since the days of Moses until now… each and every set of three that preside as a court over Israel are equivalent to the court of Moses” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 25a)

So, when it comes to decisions, you can throw reason, common sense and rationality and even the written Torah out the window.  They don't matter.  What matters is that when a Rabbi, and especially a high ranking Rabbi speaks, his word is the final say.

Yet another example of this irrational interpretation is their handling of Exodus 23:2

You shall not go after the majority to do evil, neither shall you testify in a matter of strife to incline after the majority to pervert justice.

In a matter of testifying to what one has seen this instruction clearly indicates that you should be honest and tell all you have seen so that justice may prevail.  Just because other witnesses say something else, you should not adjust your own testimony to fall in line with what others are saying.

But the Pharisees do something that is rather common in sermons and teachings across the world in Christian churches.  They pull out a phrase from this verse and give it its own life.

You shall not go after the majority to do evil, neither shall you testify in a matter of strife to incline after the majority to pervert justice.

So the Rabbis will often agree with the majority regardless what they see or think.  The Rabbis call this "creative interpretation."  We know this better as "ripping a verse or phrase out of context."  Doing this potentially gives the word, phrase or verse an entirely different meaning than the writer intended.  This kind of irrational, irresponsible and unethical handling of the Word is one of many reasons why the Christian church is fractured into thousands of sects and denominations, each with their own interpretation of Scripture.

A fourth characteristic of Phariseeism is that they take traditions and customs and make them law in Israel.  If a custom (Hebrew minhag)  is practiced by the entire community for an extended period of time then it  becomes binding upon all Israel.  So a saying has become popular: "A custom of Israel is Torah."

An example of this kind of custom becoming law is the wearing of the kippah.  The Rabbis say that "a man may not walk four cubits without his head covered nor make a blessing uncovered."  And so it is among the Jewish world even today.  The kippah is required head ware.  One cannot enter a synagogue without donning one.

And a fifth characteristic of Phariseeism is that of enacting new, man-made laws.   The Hebrew takanah (pl takanot) refers to invented Rabbinic laws, enactments, reforms.  These takanot usually have the effect of taking precedence over Scripture - that is, the traditions of the Pharisees and Rabbis often carry more weight of authority than do the written Scriptures.

The clear example of this in the New Testament is found in Matthew 15 where the Pharisees question Yahusha about his disciples not washing their hands before they eat.  While the written Scriptures have no such commandment, the Oral Torah does.  But Yahusha gives no place for the Oral Torah.  Yahusha's response is to throw it back on the Pharisees:

"And why do you break the command of Elohim for the sake of your tradition?  4 For Elohim said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'  5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to Elohim,' 6 he is not to 'honor his father 'with it. Thus you nullify the word of Elohim for the sake of your tradition.

The Pharisees nullify the commandment of Elohim to honor your father and mother by their Oral Torah which says that instead of honoring them with your money you can give that money as a gift (korban) to the temple treasury.  Here the tradition of men outweighs the command of Yah in the thinking and teaching of Phariseeism.

Furthermore, the Rabbis teach that this tradition of washing the hands must be accompanied with this prayer as you wash your hands:

“Blessed art thou Lord, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to wash the hands.”

While it sounds like a nice prayer, the problem with this is that the king of the universe (Yahuwah) never commanded his people to wash the hands!  So this prayer of blessing actually contains a lie about what Elohim has commanded us.

Mosheh's Seat

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (Matthew 23:1-3 KJV)

Yahusha said that the scribes and Pharisees sit in Mosheh's seat.  What is Mosheh's seat?  Mosheh's seat may refer to one of two things.  Mosheh's seat may refer to the actual chair found in many synagogues that represents the place of authority which a leader would sit in to pronounce decisions which carry the weight of authority of Mosheh himself.  These seats exist in some synagogues today and many pictures are available of Mosheh's seats which archeologists have unearthed in ancient synogogues.

Or Mosheh's seat may refer in general to a Rabbi who teaches with the authority of Mosheh.  But the expression seems to have derived from the Rabbis sitting in a seat which they would term "Mosheh's seat."  So, both interpretations suggest that such a teacher is speaking with the authority of Mosheh.

With that in mind, Yahusha's statement as found in most English Bible translations reads something like this:

 The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  Therefore whatever they say to you, you must do and observe.  But do not do what they do because they do not practice what they preach.

This rendering found in the King James Version is taken from the vast majority of the available Greek texts.  The typical interpretation of this saying of Jesus usually indicates that Jesus is telling his disciples to obey the Rabbis in everything they teach, but not to follow their example because they do not do what they tell others to do.

However, there is a huge problem with this interpretation.  If Jesus is telling his disciples to obey everything the Pharisees tell them to do, then Jesus Himself should be observing their traditions and obeying their instructions.  But this is quite the opposite of everything else he says about the Pharisees and this runs contrary to the way Jesus responded to the Pharisaic rules and laws.

Yeshua’s confrontation with the religious leaders over the conflict between the commands of Yehovah and their traditions in Matthew 15 is a good example of the way Yahusha actually regarded the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Yeshua from Yerushalayim and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition (takanah) of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!” Yeshua replied, "And why do you break the command of Elohim for the sake of your tradition? For Elohim said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'  But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to Elohim,' he is not to 'honor his father 'with it. Thus you nullify the word of Elohim for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:1-6)

Here Yahusha is scolding the Pharisees because their teachings are in direct violation of the commands of Elohim.  Clearly Yahusha is not suggesting to anyone that they should follow and obey this command of the Oral Law of the Pharisees.

Next, Yahusha compares the teachings of the Pharisees to what Isaiah prophesied about the rebellious house of Israel:

You hypocrites! Yeshayahu was right when he prophesied about you: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'“ (Matthew 15:7-9)

In reciting Isaiah, Yahusha is saying that the teachings of the Pharisees are not pleasing to Elohim.  Their teachings are nothing more that their own man made commandments.  When you look at the Hebrew text of Isaiah, it literally reads, “learned commandments of men.”  In other words, the teachings of the Pharisees are their own made up commandments which they make their disciples learn, and these teachings get passed down from generation to generation, but they are not the instructions which Yahuwah has given.  So Yahusha is obviously in disagreement with these teachings of the Pharisees.  How then could he tell his disciples in Matthew 23 to obey everything the Pharisees teach?  This makes no sense at all.

What is Yahusha teaching his disciples, then, in Matthew 23?  He cannot be telling them to obey the Pharisees in everything because that contradicts everything else he said about the Pharisees in the Gospel accounts.  The solution seems to have come from the examination of a few ancient Hebrew texts of the Gospel of Matthew.

George Howard, in his publication, the Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew, presents evidence that Yahusha was NOT telling his disciples to obey everything the Pharisees teach.  A simple translation error occurred which makes it look like Yahusha was suggesting obedience to the Pharisees.

Howard's book replicates one of the indexes found in Ibn Shaprut's polemic, Even Bochan ("Test Stone").  Ibn Shaprut was a 14th century Spanish Jew who wrote Even Bochan for his fellow Jews who were frequently called upon to defend their Jewish faith to persecuting Christians.  Even Bochan consisted of New Testament writings and arguments agaist them which promoted and defended the Jewish position against Jesus as the Messiah.

In one of the indexes of this book, Ibn Shaprut included the Hebrew text of Matthew.  Now, scholars readily note that Matthew was originally written in the Hebrew language and was later translated into Greek in a form which the now available Greek manuscripts reflect.  But no original Hebrew text has been found.

The Hebrew text of Matthew which is found in Even Bochan was long thought to be a translation of Greek into Hebrew.  But this theory does not account for many expressions of Hebrew in this text which differ significantly from the Greek.  A better theory is that the Even Bochan Hebrew text of Matthew was actually derived from the original Hebrew Matthew.  With that in mind, the Hebrew text of Matthew can sometimes give great insight into what was actually said by Yahusha.

So, the Hebrew Matthew of 23:3 can be easily translated as follows:

“So everything he (Moses) says to you, diligently do. But according to their reforms (takanot) and their precedents (ma’asim) do not do, for they speak but do not do.”

Instead of saying, "everything they THEY say to you," the Hebrew text reads, "everything HE says to you."  The difference between "they" and "he" in Hebrew amounts to a tail on the end of a letter.  In other words, it is easy to see how a transcriber to the Hebrew text or even a translator of the text from Hebrew to Greek could have made this simple mistake of reading "they" instead of "he."  And making this mistake, writing it as "they" in Greek.

Yahusha was not telling his disciples to obey everything the Pharisees teach.  He was telling them to obey everything Moses teaches, but not to do according to what the Pharisees do.  This is perfectly consistent with everything else Yahusha taught about the writings of Moses.  All that Moses wrote was to be believed and obeyed, because it was all referring to the Messiah, who was to come.

The Problem With the Pharisees

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' (Matthew 23:4-7)

Next, Yahusha begins a critical examination of the Pharisees.  He first notes that the Pharisees put heavy loads on men.  What heavier load can a system put on a man than to add hundreds, even thousands of laws, rules, procedures and requirements on people with the understanding that they must perform every last one of these laws to be found worthy of entering into the kingdom of God?

One such example of "heavy loads" being put on men by the Pharisees is the procedure for tying one's shoe!

“A person must first put on his right shoe, but not tie it. Then he must put on his left shoe and tie it and go back and tie his right shoe”  (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 2:4)

Incredible as it seems, this is a real demand that the Pharisees and Rabbis place on their followers.  If one does not perform this and thousands of other demands, perfectly - they teach - a person puts himself in danger of being rejected in God's judgment.

The Pharisees and all religious zealots who reject the covenant of Yahuwah are always "showing off."  These kind of people make up their own laws, insist that others obey their laws on pain of rejection of God, and then pretend that they themselves are perfect in keeping their own laws.  They put on an act in public so that people see them as righteous, but in secret they don't care to walk in the commands that they demand other must walk in.

Yahusha puts it this way:

Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'

This public display of their own goodness includes taking prominent places in public, sitting in the front and most visible seats in the place of gathering, and even lengthening their tassels on their garments.  The true believers in Messiah should certainly not repeat the mistakes of these self-righteous Pharisees.  Let's hope not!

Yahusha further elaborates on the disgusting habits of the Pharisees immediately following his short explanation of "being called Rabbi."  This can be found in Matthew 23:13-33:

 13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Following that stern rebuke and characterization of the self-righteous Pharisees by the Master, its hard to imagine that anyone would want to follow them, imitate them, or obey their laws and commandments.  Yet still many continue to do this very thing even to this day.

With all this background in place, Yahusha then goes on to speak to the issue of being called "Rabbi."

Being Called "Rabbi"

They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'  But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.  (Matthew 23:7-8)

This simple instruction by Messiah Yahusha to his disciples should be sufficient to cause all believers and followers of Messiah to cease and desist with being called Rabbi.  But strangely, many leaders in the Messianic world, the Jewish/Messianic assemblies, and the Hebrew Roots congregations still allow and even insist on people calling them "Rabbi."  How can this be?  Why do these men and women defy the simple command of the Master whom they claim to represent and follow?

What Is a Rabbi?  Sometimes translated “Master,” a Rabbi is more than a teacher.  From the Hebrew root word rav, the word Rabbi literally means "Great One."  When used illegitimately, the title Rabbi is a term of self-exaltation.  Yahusha explained that men are not to be called Rabbi because there is only one Rabbi.  Yahusha is the Master and the only one who qualifies to be called Rabbi.  Yahusha our Messiah is truly the one and only Great One.  All others are pretenders.

The Rabbis of Phariseeism were the ones who would sit in Mosheh's seat and teach and act as if they had the authority of Mosheh when they spoke.  Yet, even the people recognized that Yahusha truly spoke and taught with authority while the Pharisees projected no such authority.  After his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the record indicated that

When Yahusha had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.(Matthew 7:28-29)

The Scribes had nothing on Yahusha.  Their teachings could not compare to the authority exuded by Yahusha when he spoke.  Yahusha - and not the Scribes and Pharisees - rightly sat in Mosheh's seat and place of authority and brought Mosheh's authority to bear.

This word Rabbi is used only of Yahusha in the four Gospels except for here in Matthew 23 where Yeshua tells his followers not to be called Rabbi.  If Scripture is studied, one can surely surmise the proper use of the title of Rabbi.  Yet, the Pharisees were fond of using this title for themselves.  It shows their state of mind. 

The Rabbis in Judaism exalt themselves and their own law over the written laws of Yehovah.  They want to usurp the authority that only the Son of Elohim has been given.  As such, the Rabbis hate Yahusha because he legitimately has what they want.  So Yahusha had to call them out and point out to his followers the wrong attitude and the false practices of the Pharisees.

In the Messianic world, some congregational leaders want to be called "Rabbi."  Like the Pharisees of old and the Rabbis in Jewish history, these self-proclaimed Rabbis are walking in defiance to the Master Yahusha.  I am calling out these people to stop exalting themselves with the title that they cannot wear and which belongs only to our Master - you know, the one that they claim to serve.

Messianic so-called Rabbis like to ease their conscience by referring to the apostle Paul as "Rav Sha'ul."  By referring to Paul as a Rav or Rabbi, it seems to legitimize their own claim to this title.  But nowhere in all of the New Testament is Paul ever called a Rabbi, nor does he ever call himself or have anyone else call him Rabbi.

Paul reveals to us his attitude toward Phariseeism.  Speaking of his former peers, the Pharisees, Paul warns his readers:

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of Elohim, who glory in Messiah Yeshua, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Yisrael, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (Philippians 3:2-5)

Calling the Pharisees "dogs" should be the first clue to us that Paul has a low opinion of these self-exalting Yahusha haters.  Though he himself was one in their ranks, he no longer can promote their agenda.  He recognizes them for the deceivers that they are.

Paul's opinion of them is further described as he continues...

 as for zeal, persecuting the assembly; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Messiah. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Messiah Yeshua my master, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Messiah and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Messiah-- the righteousness that comes from Elohim and is by faith. (Philippians 3:6-9)

Paul considers his time as a Pharisees as a "loss" because he realizes that his zeal was misplaced and his religion as a Pharisee was misguided and far from the mark.  Furthermore, he says that his way of life as a Pharisee he now considers as "rubbish" or "dung" or "crap."  As such Paul would never have anyone call him Rabbi since he left behind all the self-exalting religious crap.  The ways of the Rabbis had been eradicated from his own walk and lifestyle.

Yahusha told his disciples not the have anyone call them Rabbi.  And the biblical record shows us that none of them did, including Paul.  So why should anyone today - especially one who claims to be a teacher of the Way - call themselves a Rabbi or have anyone else refer to them with the title Rabbi?  Any truly humble disciple of the Master would steer clear of such a conceited, haughty and egotistical title.

Calling Men on Earth "Father"

And do not call anyone on earth 'Father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9)

Not only is Rabbi a title which should not be used of a follower of Yahusha, but "Father" is not a term which should be used as a title either.  "Father" suggests authority, too.  The Torah teaches that earthly fathers have authority in their family, represent their wives and children in the community and have the right to overrule their wives when the woman speaks rashly or takes a vow.  The authority of a husband and father gives them the right to reverse anything spoken by those under their authority (their wife and children).

So, what aspect of fatherhood is Yahusha talking about when he tells his disciples not to be called Father?  He cannot be speaking of our earthly fathers who have authority.  So, he must be talking about appointing spiritual fathers who have authority over you.  Just as people have genetic, human fathers who exercise authority over them, some people want to place a spiritual father over them to take responsibility for their spiritual life and walk.

Many religious people call their spiritual teacher or leader "Father."  They  usually do this so that they themselves do not have to study and draw near to God to know how they ought to life.  They do not want to get too close to God or have an intimate personal relationship with the Almighty in such a was that they communicate with him daily.  Its easier to have a "Father" who tells them what to believe and what to do.

In Christianity, there are some Protestant denominations which actually practice calling their priest or pastor or spiritual leader "Father."  These individuals who are called Father have authority over their parishioners so that they tell them what they can and can't do to incur God's favor.  But no Protestant church can compare with the audacity and bold arrogance that the Roman Catholic Church projects with their use of the term Father as an authority figure over the assembly.

Roman Catholicism has their “Fathers” which are found in every Catholic church on the face of the earth.  But none is as powerfully authoritative as the grand daddy of all the fathers, the Pope, or “Papa”, which means in Latin daddy or Father.  The comparisons of the Pope to the Scribes and Pharisees who sit in Mosheh's seat are profound.  The Pope sits on a grand seat of authority and makes law for Catholics.  And he speaks “ex cathedra” which means “from the chair” – the place of authority in Roman Catholicism.

In connection with papal infallibility, the Latin phrase ex cathedra (literally, "from the chair") has been defined as meaning "when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (the Bishop of Rome) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church."

The Catholic Church boldly and arrogantly claims the place of authority that only Messiah Yahusha rightly retains.  Roman Catholics are required to respect and honor their Father priests in all their churches and have supreme respect and bow in obedience to their supreme head - the Pope in Rome.  "Papa" sits on his self made throne and commands millions of Catholics all around the globe of what to believe, what to do, how to think and how to express their man-made commanded faith toward God.  The decree of the Pope, in their view, carries with it the authority of God himself.

Yet this should not surprise us.  We have known, and it has been proclaimed for many centuries that the Church teaches about this authority held by the Pope.  But we are merely putting this long time claim to authority in perspective with what the Master "Jesus" or Yahusha (his true, proper Hebrew name) himself taught his disciples.  The Roman Catholic claim to maintain the same authority that Jesus said he alone wields is indicative of the spirit which operates in the Catholic Church.  The Roman Catholic dogma insists that the Pope has the authority of Christ and speaks "as Christ" in the world.  Thus, they reveal their anti-Christ presence in the world (anti-Christ means in place of Christ).

In contrast to their arrogant, anti-Christ claims to authority, the apostle Paul never claimed the title of "Father."  You will not find Paul referred to anywhere in the New Testament as “Father.”  Yet Paul makes reference to his fatherhood of some believers.

Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Messiah, you do not have many fathers, for in Messiah Yeshua I became your father through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)

Here Paul is referring to being a Father in the sense of begetting them in a spiritual birth into the family of Messiah.  He is not claiming to be their Father in any sense relating to having ultimate authority over them like Elohim being our Father in Heaven.

So, if Jesus (Yahusha) is to be believed and obeyed in any real sense of the word, those who are disciples and followers of Him must stop practicing what he said not to do.  Don't call any man on earth your Father, because in doing so, you are giving that individual authority over you to tell you what to do.  Only your Father in heaven should have that kind of authority over you.

Being Called "Guide"

Nor are you to be called 'Seated One,' for you have one Seated One, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:10)

And finally, Yahusha uses a third word suggesting authority as a term which should not be used as a title for his disciples.  Most English Bible translates say something like: "Nor are you to be called 'Teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:10), or "Nor are you to be called 'Guide," for you have one Guide, the Messiah."

The Greek word employed here is kaqhghth,j (kath-ay-gay-tays) - guide, leader; in the NT teacher, instructor.  Another lexicon says kaqhghth,j (derivative of kaqhge,omai 'to guide, to explain,' not occurring in the NT) - one who provides instruction and guidance - 'teacher, instructor.'  The resulting popular translations are understandable.

But when we did a little deeper and consider the Greek roots of this word, a picture emerges which links it indelibly with what precedes it.  Breaking it down… kath-ay-gay-tays comes from the roots words kath – root word for seat, chair, to sit, and agoto lead.  This rare Greek word literally means one who leads/guides from a chair – “a seated guide” or even "a chair man."  This person sitting in the "chair" is "leading and ruling  from the chair."

Yeshua is coming full circle on his teaching.  He started by saying that the Pharisees sit in Moses seat of authority, but misuse that authority.  Now he is ending with the the teaching that his disciples should not be called "one seated in a place of authority."  This is what kath-ay-gay-tays means.  The scribes and Pharisees express their own sense of usurped authority by taking on titles such as Rabbi and Father and Seated One.  But Yahusha's disciples are not to be arrogant like that. He alone carries that kind of authority.

So what manner of authority do the disciples of Yahusha have?  Clearly he passed on authority to his followers.  In short, the Torah is our authority.  The right rulings of the Torah were given as the correct way to judge and to decide in disputes between people.  The Torah consists of the very words which proceed from the mouth of the Almighty, and as such, they are the authoritative teachings for the assembly of believers.

For a thorough examination of the authority which Jesus imparted to Peter and to all his disciples, see my teaching “Is the Church Built on Peter: The Judgments of the Torah.”

Having A Servant's Attitude

The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:11-12)

The arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees is in stark contrast with the humility with which Messiah's disciples are commanded to walk in.  Yahusha gave several examples of this kind of humility and the leadership style his disciples should adopt as their own.

This example of humility is aptly described by Paul in Philippians 2:3-11 who wrote of the humility of Messiah in his mission to come to earth as the servant of all.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Messiah Yahusha: Who, being in very nature Elohim, did not consider equality with Elohim something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!  Therefore Elohim exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yahusha every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yahusha Messiah is Master, to the glory of Elohim the Father.