Amy writes to us by email, “Yeshua told His disciples not to call anyone rabbi or father. What was He referring to?” Messianic Rabbis Jack Zimmerman, Eric Raider, and Crystal Lutton give their expert answers to Amy’s question on the July 22, 2010 live Jewish Voice webcast.
JACK ZIMMERMAN: Regarding the Scripture where no one is to be called rabbi (I believe it’s Matthew 23:9), the rest of the verse also says not to call anyone on earth father. Many tend to take this verse very literally, but if it were meant literally, then the part of the verse that says “do not call anyone father” also has to be taken literally. We know that Paul referred to Abraham as father and that James referred to Abraham as father. Were they in sin for doing so because they, in theory, went against Yeshua’s message? Not at all!
The title of rabbi at that time meant “teacher” or “my honorable sir.” It wasn’t the rabbi that we understand today. There were many who, because of that position, felt that they needed to insist that others address them by that title. So, when Yeshua said, “Don’t call any man rabbi,” what he was saying was not to feel obligated that you have to address someone by that title if they insist you do so because if and when you do that, you will only be contributing to their sin of pride. That’s the first answer. The second answer is that there were actually those in the Sanhedrin – this is who this verse is being addressed to – who were taking on the title of rabbi simply to have it as a title, but they weren’t actually teaching any disciples.
ERIC RAIDER: Going back to Matthew, I think one of the points Yeshua is trying to make is that He is the ultimate rabbi. There is only one Messiah and there is only one Father. He was driving home the point that if you are calling other people rabbi, you are not showing your respect or your reverence to His title. He is the ultimate and only One who really deserves that title. He is our High Priest, and there is only one Father, God the Father.
CRYSTAL LUTTON: There is a difference between a simple title of respect or recognizing someone’s position and the position of honor and reverence. If someone is being elevated because of that title, it’s a very different situation than if someone is simply being shown respect because of their position in the community.
JACK: If you go back to the original language in the part of the verse where it says “Call no man father,” the usage of the word “father” is a different word than your earthly father. It refers to heavenly Father. When it says not to call anyone on earth your heavenly Father, of course not because you only have one Father in heaven.
Jack Zimmerman is Staff Evangelist at Jewish Voice and Sr. Rabbi at Congregation Beth Simcha in Phoenix, Ariz. You can book him to speak at your church or congregation by going to our Church Relations page. Crystal Lutton is Rabbi/Pastor at Shema Congregation in Buckeye, Ariz. Eric Raider is Assistant Rabbi for Congregation Beth Simcha in Phoenix, Ariz.