Did Yeshua Say “Call No Man Rabbi”?

Did Yeshua Say “Call No Man Rabbi”?
James Scott Trimm

So often I hear people supposedly quote Yeshua as teaching “Call no man Rabbi” and proclaim that the term Rabbi should not be used by believers.

This is absolutely false, and can be shown to be in error for several reasons.

Yeshua was not addressing a clergical title.  In fact the first Jewish 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.

Be Not Called Rabbi

The passage in question, often misquoted “Call no man Rabbi” but it actually says “Be not called Rabbi” (Matt. 23:8).  Now there is a big difference between calling someone a “Rabbi” and being called a “Rabbi”, one is an active while the other is purely passive.  To confuse the two statements is to confuse “Thou shalt not steal” with “Thou shalt not be stolen from.”  The two are actually opposites.  Stealing may be a sin, but being stolen from most certainly is not.  So there is just no basis to interpret “be not called Rabbi” to mean “call no man Rabbi”, and even if one were a sin, that would not mean that the other is.

Now if we stick with the actual wording of the passage, “be not called Rabbi” then we must ask the question, is it reasonable to conclude that being called Rabbi is a sin?  Of course not.  It would be ridiculous to think that a person commits a sin whenever someone else calls them a Rabbi, as this is not even within their control.  By that reasoning I could run around calling random people “Rabbi” and thus bestowing a sin upon them each time I did so.

So this passage is not a restriction on calling anyone “Rabbi” and it also cannot mean that being called a Rabbi is a sin.

No Teachers of Fathers Either?

The passage in question also states in parallel “call no man your father” (Matt. 23:9) and “neither be you called teachers” (Matt. 23:10)  (The KJV has “master” rather than “teacher” but translates the same word as “teacher” in many places, including Eph. 4:11).

So does this mean that my children should not call me “father”?  Obviously that is ridiculous. There should be no harm in my son calling me exactly what I am.

Does this man that no man should be called “teacher”?  Again this is ridiculous, as Scripture plainly states:

11  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12  For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
(Eph. 4:11-13 KJV)

Clearly some have been called by Elohim to serve as “teachers” and so why would it be a sin for one to be called a teacher, if in fact YHWH has called him to be a teacher?

You Shall Not Add to the Torah

The Torah states clearly:

“You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish a thing from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God which I command you.”
 (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Whatever thing I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”
 (Deuteronomy 12:32)

The prophets after Moses did not add to the Torah, they admonished Israel for not following the Torah, and at times elaborated on the meaning of a commandment.  For example when Jeremiah says “Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day,” (Jer. 17:22) he is actually only elaborating on what “work” includes.

(Although some accuse the so called “Oral Law” of violating this commandment, that is actually not true.  There are two kinds of Oral Law.  Oral Law from Sinai was not added, as it was always part of the Torah.  And the judgments of the elders, are themselves an extension of Torah (Deut. 17:8-13).)

Yeshua and the Emissaries in the Ketuvim Netzarim, never add to the Torah, they only admonish us to observe Torah and elaborate on its meaning.

So if calling a man a “rabbi”, “teacher” or a “father” was a sin, where is this commandment laid out in the Torah?

Rabbi Yeshua

In fact Yeshua himself was regularly called “Rabbi”:

Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?
(John 1:38 KJV)

Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
(John 1:49 KJV)

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him
(John 3:2 KJV)

And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?
(John 6:25 KJV)

Now why would Yeshua engage in activity in which he tells us not to participate?

Remember Yeshua set the example for us.  When he came to Yochanan to be immersed the following exchange took place:

13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14  But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
(Matt. 3:13-15 KJV)

Notice Yeshua did not claim that we need to be immersed for the remission of sins, but he did not, he did what we should do so as to serve as our example.  So why would he willingly be called “rabbi” if he objected to men being called “rabbi”?

A common T-shirt in Christian circles today says WWJD “What Would Jesus Do?” The implication is that we should act as Yeshua acted. As the Scripture says:

He who says, I am in him, ought to conduct himself
according to his conduct.
(1Jn. 2:6)

So how did Yeshua conduct himself regarding being called “rabbi”?

Rabbi Yochanan

We also have a Scriptural example of another man (other than Yeshua) being called “rabbi”.  We read in the Goodnews according to Yochanan:

And they came unto John, and said unto him,
Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan,
to whom thou barest witness, behold,
the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
(John 3:26 KJV)

So it is clearly biblical to call a man other than Yeshua “rabbi”.

He Gave Some Rabbis For Edifying the Body of Messiah

We read earlier:

11  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12  For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13  Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
(Eph. 4:11-13 KJV)

Now it is important to understand that the Scriptural meaning of the word “rabbi” is teacher.  As we read in John:

Then Yeshua turned, and saw them following, and said unto them, What seek you? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, teacher,) where dwell you?
(John 1:38)

(The KJV has “master” where most translations have “teacher” however the KJV translates the very same word as “teacher” in other passages, including Eph. 4:11 above).

So if the word “rabbi” is a synonym for “teacher” then we may understand Ephesians 4:11-13 as telling us that some have been called as “rabbis”.

What Does the Passage Really Mean?

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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