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Religious Titles Forbidden in Christianity I recently got into a discussion with a messianic Jew who insisted he had the

right to use the title "Rabbi" without any violation of scripture. I pointed him to Matt. 23:8, "but you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren" (NKJV) to no avail. He is not alone for you could point a Catholic priest to Matt. 23:9, "do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven," (NKJV) and it would have no effect upon him either. Not only are men accepting religious titles, contrary to Jesus' teaching, but the general public is just as guilty in granting these titles. I have never seen a single instance in my lifetime of a Catholic priest being interviewed on TV without the interviewer calling him Father. Indeed, I suspect any interviewer who tried to do so would lose his job. There is little doubt his superiors would call him on the carpet and accuse him of being disrespectful. There is no problem being disrespectful to Jesus and what Jesus said but just do not offend the Catholic priest or the Catholic Church. What did Jesus teach on this subject? The answer is found in Matt. 23:1-12: "(1) Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, (2) saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. (3) Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. (4) For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (5) But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. (6) They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, (7) greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' (8) But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. (9) Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (10) And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. (11) But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.' " (NKJV) In his condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus says (verse 5) "all their works they do to be seen by men." The desire to be seen as a man superior to his fellowman, a man who ought to be bowed down to figuratively, if not literally, was the desire of the heart and the sin of the pride that resided within them. Jesus gives several examples of things they were doing and things they enjoyed that manifested this attitude. One of these things was to be called Rabbi, Rabbi. It was not a threat of something that might happen in the future but was a present reality. These men were actually being called Rabbi and loved it. It was wrong then to do this but my messianic Jew says it is fine to do it today. Albert Barnes, in his commentary on Matthew, says of the word Rabbi used here that, "It was a title given to eminent teachers of the law among the Jews; a title of honor and dignity, denoting authority and ability to teach." No doubt Barnes was correct in also saying that each time the word was used "it implied their superiority to the persons who

used it." (comments on Matt. 23:7) They thus reveled in having the title for their desire was to be seen (recognized) by men (verse 5). Jesus clearly gave the command in verse 8 of Matthew 23 to not accept the title of Rabbi for he says, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren." (NKJV) He gives two reasons. (1) Christ only is our teacher. (2) You are all brethren. The Rabbi I was in discussion with says that what Jesus wanted us to understand from this passage was only that Christ is our ultimate teacher, that we need to keep that in mind, and that we are not specifically forbidden from using the word Rabbi as a title. He never considers the second reason Jesus gave for forbidding the use of the title"you are all brethren." We all stand on equal footing before God. No one is special, no one gets a pass, and no one gets to exalt himself above the rest of the brethren. The reader might find it interesting to note that you will not find the word Rabbi in the Old Testament. The Bible commentator Adam Clarke says of the word Rabbi, "None of the prophets had ever received this title, nor any of the Jewish doctors before the time of Hillel and Shammai, which was about the time of our Lord." (commenting on Matt. 23:8) Man had come up with a title to give to himself that pleased his vanity. Jesus likewise forbids our calling anyone Father as a religious title in Matt. 23:9 already quoted. The word father is used in the New Testament as well as in the Old Testament many times in many different ways. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words lists 9 different applications of the noun as used in the New Testament alone. This means, obviously, that the word father can be used by men when used appropriately and not in the way Jesus condemned. What did Jesus condemn? Jesus condemned me, you, and the neighbor next door from calling any man Father as a title in the spiritual realm. Reread Matt. 23:1-12 as many times as it takes to get the gist of what Jesus is getting at. There is a problem among men (the scribes and Pharisees in particular) in that they are seeking the praise, honor, and glory of men. They are proud and puffed up. They want to be recognized and acknowledged as superior. They desire titles. They do not want to be the servant of Matt. 23:11. They want to be exalted among men (Matt. 23:12). The warning to you and me is don't do it, don't allow it, don't call them what they want to be called, and don't reward their pride and vanity. I am in full agreement with what Albert Barnes says in his commentary on the word father in Matt. 23:9 where he says, "But the word 'father' also denotes 'authority, eminence, superiority, a right to command, and a claim to particular respect.' In this sense it is used here. In this sense it belongs eminently to God, and it is not right to give it to people. Christian brethren are equal." Yes, it is true Paul said to the Corinthians, "For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." (1 Cor. 4:15 NKJV) Paul also referred to Timothy as his "true son in the faith." (1 Tim. 1:2 NKJV) He referred to Titus (Titus 1:4) and to Onesimus (Philemon 1:10) in a similar way.

In 2 Cor. 12:14 Paul implies that the church at Corinth is his children (making him their father) and likewise in Gal. 4:19 with reference to the churches of Galatia. John, the apostle, does the same sort of thing when he says, "My little children, these things I write to you." (1 John 2:1 NKJV) There are other passages with similar import. It is said that Paul and John, and Peter also (1 Peter 5:13), are referring to themselves as spiritual fathers so we can use the word father as a title in reference to priests who are spiritual fathers over their flock. There is a lot wrong with that line of thinking. Neither Paul nor John nor Peter was using the word as a title. They were rather simply describing the fact that by teaching and preaching the gospel children of God had been begotten. That they felt some duty or obligation toward those whom they had taught the gospel there is no doubt. Those who had obeyed the gospel under their preaching felt like children to them. They had a love for them and felt a kinship to them much like a father toward his children but that is as far as it went. They did not adopt the title Father and attach it to their name. All three of these apostles would have recoiled in horror at the thought of being given the title Father. Paul says, "There is one God and Father of all." (Eph. 4:6 NKJV) Paul was not seeking the title of Father, had no desire to be called Father Paul, and that is just the opposite of the desire of the Catholic Church for their priests. I wonder what would happen in a Catholic congregation if all the membership would suddenly stop calling their priest Father and refused to do so. Would the fur start to fly? [Paul compared himself and his companions not only to a father but also to a mother. In 1 Thess.2:7-8 Paul says to the church of the Thessalonians, "We were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us." (NKJV) Dear to us like a mother's children are to her.] None of the apostles even took the word apostle as a title. They claimed to be apostles for such they were but not one time in scripture (I just searched my online concordance) will you find the word apostle before their name. An apostle was what they were just as a man might be an elder (a bishop) or an evangelist in the church. These words were never meant to be titles or given as titles but were rather descriptive of the work or role one had. But there is a lot more wrong with the Catholic position than just this. Their idea is that only certain men are priests (one per local church) and they have a spiritual fatherhood over "their flock." Peter and John both teach that all Christians are priests, not just a select few. (Read 1 Peter 2:9 and Rev. 1:5-6.) There is also nothing in the New Testament giving authority to one man only to rule a congregation or flock if you want to designate it that way. This desire for position over others is what led to one man rule. If you will read your New Testament you will find that every congregation was to be overseen by a plurality of elders (bishops), not just by one.

Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey "appointed elders in every church" (Acts 14:23 NKJV). That is plural, not singular. Every church was overseen by a group of men known as elders or bishops, not by a singular man designated the one and only priest of the congregation with the title of Father. Paul told Titus "appoint elders in every city as I commanded you." (Titus 1:5 NKJV) Remember in New Testament times there was only one church within a city, unlike today, so when Titus appointed elders in a city he was appointing them within the church in that city. Every church had not a single elder but plural elders. The terms elder and bishop were used interchangeably and describe the same set of men (read Titus 1:5-7). The Catholic position is thus wrong not just on a single count but on multiple counts. The desire for position and importance, for power and prestige, is what led to the concept of one man rule and the title of Father within the Catholic Church but as all know it did not end just within the local congregations. Indeed, it only started there for all know there is now a hierarchy within the Catholic Church. The next step up after being a Father or priest in a local congregation is to become a bishop with the highest position being that of Pope but we must remember (a little sarcasm here) it is not about titles, power, and position (Oh, really!). It is said by both the messianic Jew I was in discussion with and by the Catholics that we cannot take the passages literally in Matt. 23. Why not, Jesus did. He was describing a real situation that then existedmen being called rabbiand he said to stop doing it. That is as literal as it can get. He was attempting to stop a practice then in existence. It is still in existence because men desire the titles and the glory that goes with them and thus want to get around Jesus' command by trying to make his language out to be figurative when the context will not allow it. In Matt. 23:10 Jesus says, "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ." (NKJV) The word rendered teachers here is in other versions rendered masters (ASV, KJV, HCSB), instructors (ESV, NRSV), leaders (NAS, LITV), or directors (YLT). All of these translations are helpful when taken as a group for they give us a better idea of the meaning than any one single word alone. God wants teachers of his word or else the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled but a man can go out and teach and preach the word without taking a title. It is good to teach, not bad. What is bad is to want to be exalted for doing so. Don't allow men to give you a title. You do not need it. Often preachers are given titles like Reverend or Pastor. This is certainly a violation of the principle Jesus taught in Matt. 23 regarding the giving of titles. We can do the work God has given us to do without a title. Why desire a title? If I have a Ph.D. I can preach perfectly well without being called Dr. Smith. I do not need the title and if my pride demands it and I want the attention then I have a problem don't I? If I want to be called Pastor or Reverend I have a problem don't I? To ask is to answer. It is not wrong to say what we do. If I preach it is not wrong to say I preach. If I teach it is not wrong to say I teach. But the desire for a title and the recognition that goes with it is where the wrong comes in. Who am I? Who are you? We are just brothers and sisters in Christ all equal within the body of Christ.

Finally, we have to recognize that Jesus was talking about the spiritual realm of life and not the secular in Matt. 23. He was talking about religion, not about medicine, not about education, not about the military, not about secular government. We must have titles in the secular world. But I think this is so obvious that a child can see it. Jesus was not talking about the things of the world. In this world in secular affairs we must have titles to designate knowledge and authority or power but that is the whole point of Jesus' argument in Matt. 23 for he is saying in the spiritual realm it is different as there is only one authority and that is God so don't go around acquiring titles and making some pretense of authority you don't have. Don't accept a title and don't give one to others. That includes the uninspired Pope.