Nazarene Space

The “Call No Man Rabbi” Fiasco
By Jason Jordan

“You call me ‘Rabbi’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because I am.” – John 13:13 Yahshua’s words (Complete Jewish Bible – Translation by David H. Stern

Some fellow Nazarene Israelites that I have met, often those who are in self-imposed isolation from other covenant members, have come up with some of the most off the wall theologies that make even a Sunday worshipping Christian look good. Beneath this I have found the root of such bad doctrines being taught by maverick leaders who handle the faith of YHWH like Han Solo handles his Millennium Falcon. “...I’ve made a lot of special modifications myself.” – (Star Wars 1977)

One such issue concerns the claim that Messiah Yahshua imposed a ban on the use of the titles, “rabbi,” “father” and “teacher” in Matthew 23. The teaching of this doctrine is almost exclusively driven by the prohibition of the title “rabbi” with at best the rejection of the titles “teacher” and “father” dragging along behind it with barely a mention.

Citing the title “rabbi” as forbidden espoused from Messiah’s discourse is a blatant manifestation of anti-semitism that masquerades itself as doctrine. This is because the same person who corrects someone using the title “rabbi” fails to correct others or even themself with the same vigilance in the use of the titles “father” or “teacher.” The prevalence of the titles “father” and “teacher” far exceed the prevalence of the title “rabbi” and yet the objection to the title “rabbi” is the only one you will ever consistently hear. Imagine the “call no man rabbi” police trying to introduce their father to someone without using such a title or equivalent term. Using an equivalent title is no solution because it plunges Messiah’s teaching into a pet dislike of particular words.

Here is the Scripture that apparently forbids the use of the titles rabbi, father and teacher as it appears in the 1995 Edition of the New American Standard Bible (NASB); Matthew 23:8-11 "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, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant.”

Without exerting any degree of study and isolating the above verse from the rest of the text it is self explanatory. No man is to address another by the three titles, rabbi (one who has great understanding [master teacher]), abba (meaning father) or teacher. The absurdity of this conclusion from the text is mind-blowing in light of the amount of other Scripture that has to be ignored for it to work. In addition one should consider reading the teaching from a translation that recognises and restores a Hebraic perspective to the Scriptures. Matthew 23:8-11; “But as for you do not desire to be called Rabbi: For one is your Rabbi, even the Moshiach; and all you are Yisraelite brothers. And call no man abba (father) upon the earth: for one is your Abba, who is in the shamayim (heavens). Neither be called teachers: for one is your Teacher, even the Moshiach. But he that is greatest among you shall be your eved (servant).”

Yahshua taught according to Torah, never departing from it by so much as one yud or one nekudah (smallest letter and smallest marking in the Hebrew alphabet). If he forbade calling any man father he negated the very Torah that he came to proclaim by 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 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. Take for example James 3:1; “My Yisraelite brothers, not many should be rabbis, knowing that we shall receive a stronger mishpat (judgment).” And 1 Timothy 5:17; “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”

Look carefully at the beginning of verse 8 to see what Messiah is really saying, “But as for you do not desire to be called Rabbi…” 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. In the light of the “stricter judgement” that is placed on teachers in James 3:1 it can be said that Orthodox Jews (without realising it) follow this aspect of the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) very faithfully.

Messiah Yahshua is stating that no one should seek titles (in particular rabbi) to gratify his 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.

Matthew 6:2; “Therefore when you perform your mitzvoth (love deed), do not sound a shofar before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have tifereth (praise) from men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward. So when you perform mitzvoth, let not your left hand know what your right hand does.”


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. For example Moshe, the meekest of all men, was called a “servant of Elohim” though he confronted Pharaoh, served as a chief intermediary between YHWH and Israel and had superiority over the priesthood. This is why Matthew 23:11 continues in verse 12 saying, “And whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

In context Messiah’s whole discourse also serves as a warning to a believer not to allow anyone to make himself an exclusive spiritual source of supply over the One who is the true Master and source of supply - YHWH.

Ceasing to acknowledge and use titles unleashes confusion into the body and nullifies its effectiveness to hear and act in an ordered chain of command. Prophets would no longer be prophets, priests would no longer be priests, judges would no longer be judges and kings would no longer be kings. YHWH raises men and women up for particular roles and commands that they be acknowledged accordingly. This is to maintain order within the body and allow people to know who’s who. He has always used a defined order of authority to rule His Kingdom and his subjects. Deuteronomy 16:18; “Shophtim (judges) and officers shall you appoint in all your gates, which YHWH your Elohim gives you, throughout your tribes: and they shall judge the people with just mishpat (jugdement).”

Consider Ephesians 4:11; “And He gave some, shlichim (Sent ones/Apostles); and some, neviim (prophets); and some, proclaimers; and some, roehim (shepherds) and morim (teachers); For the perfecting of the Yisraelite kidushim (saints), for the mitzvoth (love deeds) of service, for the rebuilding of the body of Moshiach.”

Those who teach the “call no man rabbi” doctrine should consider this: If each individual will be called to account for every word they have uttered, then certainly every written word about the Heavenly Father will be judged with greater scrutiny. Matthew 12:36-37; “But I say to you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account of it on the Yom HaDin (Day of Judgement). For by your words you shall be declared tzadik (righteous), and by your words you shall be condemned.”

Furthermore if the accounting system in the heavens retains detailed documentation on each individual strand of hair that has ever grown on the head of every human being that has ever existed, how much more would potential misguidance, whether transmitted verbally or in writing be remembered on the Day of Judgement? Luke 12:7; “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered….” It is for this reason that the Scriptures place great emphasis on believers at no matter what level of understanding to remain teachable and to love correction. Proverbs 12:1; “Whoever loves discipline loves da’at (knowledge): but he that hates correction is stupid.”

I appeal to all rabbis and teachers within the Nazarene Israelite community to unify and prepare the flock and step up to the task that you have been appointed. Natsarim (Offshoot Branch Watchmen) congregations are not to be fashioned with a pretext to compete with other congregations or used as opportunities to build personal empires. Such conduct has already occurred and scattered the flock and caused many to refrain from meeting together. Israelites (whether Jews or Ephraimites), as a people, are to meet YHWH in unity according to His prescribed method, not according to the traditions of men. This is done through preparing teachers, judges and rulers who shepherd different segments of the multitude. But how can this occur when wolves have come in and obscured these roles by denying frames of reference? Exodus 18:21-22; “Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear Elohim, men of emet (truth), hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for yourself, and they shall bear the burden with you.”

My Rebbe has often said, “If there is a King there is a kingdom and if there is a kingdom there is a rule and if there is a rule there is a ruler and He’s not kidding.”

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Comment by James Trimm on June 8, 2009 at 8:05pm
Matt 23:5-12 you shall not be called ‘rabbi’ – Some have taken this text as a prohibition against the use of the title “Rabbi”. However there are a number of problems with that interpretation. To begin with the same passage also says the same thing about the terms “father” and “teacher”. It must be remembered that neither the terms “father” nor “Rabbi” were clergical titles in the first century. The first Jewih teacher to actually use the term “Rabbi” as a clergical title was Rabbi Judah (around 250 C.E.) who is for that reason sometimes simply called “Rabbi”. Whenever one reads “Rabbi” without a name in the Talmud it is taken to refer to Rabbi Judah. Catholics did not make the term “Father” into a clergical title for their clergy until much later. The common, but over simplistic interpretation of Mt. 23:7-10 to forbid calling a Rabbi “rabbi” would also prevent my children from calling me “father”, which is clearly a wrong interpretation. The Greek version of John 1:38 interprets “Rabbi” as meaning “teacher” (see Jn. 1:38 RSV version) and Paul tells us that “He [YHWH] gave … some [to be] teachers, for the perfecting of the set-apart-ones…” (Eph. 4:11-12) so it stands to reason that such a person could legitimately be called “rabbi” (because he is really a “teacher”) just as my children legitimately call me “father” (because I am really a “father”). So what does Yeshua really mean? If these three terms were not clergical titles in the first century, what did they have in common and what does Yeshua mean?

Here we must apply the fifth and seventh rules of Ishmael.

Here we have a list of specific examples (23:5-11) followed by a generalization (23:12). The fifth rule of Ishmael tells us that when specific instances are stated first and followed by a generalization, instances other than those in the specific examples, but which fall within the generalization are also intended. Thus the list of examples in 23:5-11 are only understood as being examples of self exaltation as stated in 23:12.

This brings us to the seventh rule of Ishmael, which tells us “The general requires the particular and the particular the general”. That is to say that specification is provided, by taking the general and particular together, each requiring the other. In other words each of the specific instances cited in 23:5-11 must be understood in light of the generalization given in 23:12. Any application of the specific examples in 23:5-11 which is not an example of the generalization in 23:12 is not a valid understanding of what the text is saying. In this case the specific instances of 23:5-11 are intended only in context of being examples of self exaltation. Any application of these specific examples which is not a case of self exaltation is not a valid application. Thus any use of the term “Rabbi” as a apelation of an actual teacher (as in Eph. 4:11-12) is not a case of self exaltation and is not being prohibited in this text.

In fact the terms “Father” and “Rabbon” (closely related to “Rabbi”) were both used in the first century as euphemisms for YHWH (certain Targums substitute “Rabbon” for “YHWH”). Yeshua is saying that men should not be exalted to God-like status.

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