Month 8:18, Week 3:3 (Shleshi/Bikkurim), Year 5935:218 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 13 November 2011
Pastor or Rabbi?
What Scripture Teaches About Titles
Continued from Part 4
I am asked by many messianics why I, as a messianic assembly leader, call myself 'pastor' and not 'rabbi'? Wasn't Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) addressed as Rabbi or Rabboni in Scripture? And isn't the word 'Pastor' a Latin word? Today I thought I would answer these questions.
To begin with, I will explain why I refuse to be called 'Rabbi'. First, the word 'Rabbi' is nowhere used in the Tanakh (Old Testament) as the title of any of Yahweh's priestly offices. In fact, as a religious title, the word 'Rabbi' was invented by the Pharisees with less than righteous motives in mind.
Their own name, 'Pharisees' literally means 'the separated' and relates to the political origin of the group. When they began campaigning for the rôle of the accepted religious authority of the people, they couldn't keep the name 'separated'. In a brilliant marketing exercise, they created the new title, 'Rabbi', from the Hebrew word 'much' which is similar to the word 'majority'. Then they unlilaterally assigned the title to Moses. Even today in the Israeli Republic and in Jewish circles internationally (not to mention many messianic ones), Moses is more often than not called Moshe Rabenu or 'Moses our Rabbi'. When the Sadducees, the traditional priest class, became weakened, the Pharisees usurped the title of 'Rabbi', now prestigious by association with Moses, for themselves and became the recognised religious authority in their time.
There are several things that must herein be said:
After all, some of Yah'shua's (Jesus') most scathing criticisms were of the religious class of His day - the Pharisees, Sadducees and Torah-Teachers (Scribes).
- 1. At no time in Tanakh (Old Testament times were any of Yahweh' servants ever called 'Rabbi', and certainly not Moses (Moshe);
- 2. Yah'shua (Jesus) transferred all toqef (authority) from the Pharisees to His own talmidim (disciples) (Mt.28:18; 10:40; Jn.17:18; 20:21; Ac.1:8; 2 Cor.5:20; Tit.2:15; etc.) and forbade them to use the title, presumably because of its ungodly associations.
Or as the Orthodox Jewish Bible puts it:
"Then Yah'shua (Jesus) spoke to the multitudes and to His talmidim (disciples), saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 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. 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. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Messiah, and you are all brethren" (Matt.23:1-8, NKJV).
Yah'shua (Jesus) goes on to say:
"But you are not to have pretentious titles like Rebbe, for One is your Rebbe [Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach], and all of you are Achim b'Moshiach (brothers in Messiah)" (Mt.23:8, OJB).
As it is written in this and most other English translations, this verse could be misconstrued to mean that we are never to call anyone "father" (or 'Dad') or "teacher", posing enormous problems at both school and home. However, Yah'shua (Jesus) was not talking about familial or scholarly relationships but religious titles as the Orthodox Jewish Bible makes clear:
"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Messiah. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt.23:9-11, NKJV).
In other words, don't use these pompous Pharisaic titles for there is only One authentic Rabbi, Yah'shua (Jesus), One who may be addressed with the religious title, 'Father' (Yahweh Himself), and only One who is an absolutely, authoritative Moreh, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus) (connecting back to the word 'Rabbi' which came latterly to also mean 'Teacher').
"And do not refer to anoyone in the Olam Hazeh (this World) as your Abba (Father), for One (Yahweh) is your Avshba Shomayim (Heavenly Father). Neither be called Moreinu, for One is your Moreh (Teacher), the Rebbe, Melech haMoshiach [Moreinu] (Christ)" (Matt.23:9-10, OJB).
Not that Jews and Messianics are the only guilty ones, for the Catholics refer to their priests as 'Father' and their pope as 'Holy Father'. Thus the excuse of one Messianic leader to cling onto the title of 'Rabbi' is scarcely credible:
'Rabbi' is a boastful title, coming as it does from the Hebrew rab meaning 'great', and hence 'master', only later to evolve into also meaning 'teacher'. Thus 'Rabbi' in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day meant, literally, 'My Teacher' and was a title for the authorised Judahite leaders. The B'rit Chadashah Scriptures (New Testament) tells us that the Torah-Teachers or Scribes particularly delighted in the title because they lacked humility, a prerequisite of true discipleship of Messiah.
"[Yahshua] is attacking a bad heart attitude, not one or two particular 'Jewish' religious titles, while allowing others to be permissible" (RSTNE, p.815, footnote #8, 2nd Edition).
'Rabboni' is a heightened form of 'rabbi' and is used to address Yah'shua (Jesus) (Mk.10:51; Jn.20:16).
The word 'pastor' is indeed Latin and literally means 'shepherd'. It has passed into the English language meaning precisely the same thing. Scripturally, it means one who takes care of talmidim or disciples, an unpretentious title compared to 'Rabbi'. The Hebrew for shepherd is ra'ah and could justifiably be used if one wanted to (though it does sound a bit like, and could be confused with, 'Rabbi' - some messianics call their Rabbi's Rav, an abbreviation of Rabbi, adding to the confusion) but since we already have a good word in English to describe a spiritual shepherd, we in this ministry have elected to use that. There is no prohibition on its use but many indices that it is acceptable, unlike 'Rabbi' which has too many negative associations.
Another acceptable word in English would be 'Overseer' and some congregational heads do indeed use this title with good precendents:
Those who like fancy, pretentious titles in the messianic movement will doubtless continue to hang onto 'Rabbi', like the Pharisees of old. All I can say is that they must answer to Yah'shua (Jesus) who says unambiguously that we are not to use the same title as the ministers of the "Synagogue of Satan" once did before (Rev.2:9; 3:9).
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) has made you overseers, to shepherd the Assembly of Elohim (church of God) which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:26-28, NKJV).
That's good enough for me.