Do Not be Called ‘Rabbi’!
What did Yeshua mean when He admonished to His disciples “Do not be called Rabbi. One is your Rabbi, and you are all brothers. … Do not be called Rabbi, for one is your Rabbi, the Messiah?” And if He said it, why do so many religious leaders want and insist to be called ‘Rabbi?’
But you, do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, the Messiah, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in the heavens. Neither be called leaders, for One is your Leader, the Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Greek Mat 23:8-12
Above is the traditional translation from the Greek text and below is the translation of the same passage from the ancient Hebrew text of the Gospel of Matthew aka Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995, p. 115. Notice the differences.
But as for you, do not desire to be called Rabbi. One is your Rabbi, and you are all brothers. And call no man ‘father’ upon the earth: one is your Father, who is in heaven. Do not be called Rabbi, for one is your Rabbi, the Messiah. The greatest among you shall serve you. He who exalts himself shall be humbled; he who is humbled shall be exalted. Hebrew Mat 23:8-12
It is clear in v.8 of the Hebrew text that the title Rabbi refers to the Messiah given the meaning of this Hebrew word: My Great One, while Greek refers Rabbi to Yeshua the Messiah as only a teacher, thus equating the Hebrew word rabbi to a teacher. Rabbi does not mean teacher. Morey means a teacher. ‘Rabbi’ was a title invented by the Pharisees for themselves, because they loved titles that identify appellation and signify high public status and nobility. This is clearly seen in the preceding v.7 and the entire context of the chapter.
And they love the best place at feasts, and the beast seats in the congregations, and the greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi”. (Mat 23:6-7)
And another verse where we find the word “Rabbi”,
Yeshua said to her, Miryam! She turned and said to Him, Rabboni! (which means Teacher*). (Joh 20:16)
*The phrase above which means teacher is an apparent gloss added by the translator from Hebrew to Greek, since Miryam would not have possibly said which means Teacher.
Little history on the titles ‘Rabbi’ and ‘Rabboni.’ The title “Rabbi” developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when the religious leaders assembled to codify Judaism’s written and oral laws. There were actually three forms of the title, each given with elaborate ceremony:
1. “Rab” meaning “Great One” was a Babylonian title given to certain learned men who had received the laying-on of hands in the rabbinic schools. This was the lowest title among the three.
2. “Rabbi” meaning “My Great One” was designation, where a man was bestowed the title from the laying-on of hands by the Sanhedrin. The man was placed on a “high” chair which was raised above the assembly (hence “my great one”) and he was given a key and a scroll when the new title was spoken by a certain person. The key symbolized power and authority to teach others, and the scroll symbolized that he was learned in the Torah. He would wear the key as a token of greatness, and it was buried with him.
3. “Rabbon” meaning “Great Master” or “Rabboni” meaning “My Great Master” was the greatest designation of all. Once the “Rabboni” had seen two generations of disciples he was referred to with this title and also called by his own name so that he would not be forgotten. ‘Rabboni’ was a new term that had developed sometime either during or after the schism which arose between the schools of Hillel and Shammai. The first person in history to have been honored with this title was Gamaliel I sometime around 30 AD.
All these religious titles do not appear in the Tanak, the Hebrew Scripture, but only in the Apostolic Writings. However, the word they derive from does appear in the Tanak, and more particularly in the exilic text of Daniel and post exilic text of Ezra.
The word from which the titles “Rab,” “Rabbi” and “Rabboni” derive is the Hebrew word רַב, rav, which simply means great. It comes from the verb רָבַב, ravav, meaning to multiply by the myriad; to increase, be many. As a noun it has a Chaldean origin and means captain, chief, high rank official, but more literally great one.
Another word found in the Hebrew text is רַב־סָרִיס, rav-saris, which is a foreign word for chief chamberlain, a high rank official in Babylon. Or רַב־מָג, rav-mag, another foreign word in Hebrew, which means chief Magi. The idea is that rav having all these applications is one of high authority, or great one.
Below are just two examples of how this word is used in the Scripture. We should notice that in Ezr 5:8 rav is referred to none other than Elohim.
Be it known to the king, that we went into the province of Judah, to the house of the great (rav) God, which is built with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goes on with diligence and prospers in their hands. (Ezr 5:8)
You, O king, saw and beheld a great (rav) image. This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was surpassing, stood before you; and the appearance thereof was terrible. (Dan 2:31)
With that being said, we see that “Rab,” “Rabbi” and “Rabboni” appeared in the social and religious live in Judea sometime after the exile in Babylon and more certainly: in the first century A.D. during Yeshua’s ministry.
Let us return to the Hebrew text of Matthew. In verse 10 Yeshua the Messiah commanded His disciples not to be called ‘Rabbi’, My Great One, because the Messiah was their Great One. At that time, they were unaware of Yeshua’s mission.
Do not to be called Rabbi, for One is your Rabbi, the Messiah.
In other words, what Yeshua is saying is this: Do not be called Rabbi, because I am your Rabbi (My Great One); the words they would recall later.
In verses 11 and 12, Yeshua kept on teaching them how they should establish the relationship between brothers: But those who call themselves the greatest are to be humbled because they exalt themselves above you. Here the Hebrew word for the greatest is hagadol, a synonym of our word rabbi. Yeshua’s teaching is: “Do not desire to be called Great One for I am your Great one. But if you call exalt yourself with vain titles above the others, you will be humbled.”
However, the best way to understand the point Yeshua is making in Mat 23:8-12, is to read in context His teaching in Matthew 23. Now, let us read the whole passage as it was intended by the Messiah:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Mosheh. Therefore, whatever he says to you to guard, guard and do. But do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but with their finger they do not wish to move them. And they do all their works to be seen by men, and they make their t’fillen wide and lengthen the tzitzit of their garments, and they love the best place at feasts, and the best seats in the congregations, and the greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But as for you, do not to be called Rabbi. One is your Rabbi, and you are all brothers. And call no man ‘father’ upon the earth: one is your Father, who is in heaven. Do not be called Rabbi, for one is your Rabbi, the Messiah. The greatest among you shall serve you. He who exalts himself shall be humbled; he who is humbled shall be exalted. Mat 23:1-12
What Yeshua is saying to the professional priesthood today is this: Do not be called Rabbi, because I am your Great One.
In conclusion, we should ask the question: “Why are still there people who exalt themselves and desire and even insist to be called ‘Rabbi?'”
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.