Rabbi, father and leader – why did Jesus say to not call anyone this way?


How do you understand the text of Matthew 23:8-10, where Christ commands us to not call anyone Rabbi, father and leader?

To understand better, it is important to look at

The text in its context

which says:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying:“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 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.Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)(NASB)

Rabbi, Father and teacher were called Pharisees and scribes

In this passage Jesus condemns the attitudes and behavior of Pharisees and scribes because:

  • They have seated themselves in the chair of Moses and were saying true things from God’s law, but they did not observe them. They were saying, but were not doing what they were saying and this was HYPOCRISY.
  • They tied up heavy burdens and laid them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves were unwilling to move them with so much as a finger, that means they asked people to observe the laws of God and the many that they had added to the law of God, but they themselves made no effort to observe what they imposed on others.
  • They did all deeds to be noticed by men because they liked human glory. One of these deeds was that they liked respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men, which in translation means “Teacher!”
  • They did not serve people, but exalted themselves before them, and attributed to themselves these titles and required people to use them when addressing them.

Lord Jesus told this parable to warn His disciples and to protect them against such an attitude. In this category are not included just such titles as “Rabbi, father and leader”, but any kind of titles one can use to exalt himself rather than to serve people. Jesus said that we must look at each other primarily as brothers who have the same rights before Christ and not to exalt one over another, using for this different titles or other human merit. He called us to serve, to serve one another and to not encourage such an attitude of pride.

It happened to me to hear someone who had a doctorate in theology and who used to repeat this thing always and whenever he wanted to emphasize this thing, he was saying it again, so that others began to make jokes on his account. I think Lord Jesus Christ referred to such attitudes to warn us to avoid them and not to encourage others to have them.

Do not be radical and narrow-minded in understanding things

Some have come to believe that it is not allowed and should not address either with the word “Rabbi” or “Father” anyone on this earth, not even the biological father. No, the Lord Jesus did not refer to that. In fact, the Apostle Paul called himself “teacher” when he said:

For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. (2 Timothy 1:11)(NASB)

Then he said he was like a father …

Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:11)(NASB)

About Rufus’ mother he said that she behaved like his mother.

Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. (Romans 16:13)(NASB)

This again is a proof that Jesus was referring to attitudes of pride and exaltation over others, attitudes which He wanted us neither to have them nor to encourage or support others who have them. So help us God.

Translated by Felicia Rotaru