"But be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master,
Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the
for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be called masters:
for one is your Master, even Christ" Matt.23.8-10
Isn't the distinct glory of Christ's dominion over His people that it is exercised predominantly through His Word? Breathing us into existence, at His Father's will, He by His power sustains our bodies and minds second by second. His sovereignty governing each minute circumstance of our pilgrimage, God in Christ holds absolute and irresistible sway over us. He might easily bypass our own wills and minds. Yet in the Kingdom of our Mediator, how sweetly He humbles Himself to relate to us, "for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends". It is a friendship only known through evangelical obedience, but a friendship nonetheless. His authority among us and over us is unerring and incontrovertible, yet His dominion is most clearly recognised through the teaching of His Word. Of course, the grounds of His authority also rest on many other relations He sustains to us, but in practice we see His face, feel His approval or taste His rebuke most frequently in the hearing or reading of His Word taught, particularly from His ministers.
So vast is the gulf between the Messiah and His appointed representatives that this command stands as a bar, to preserve His unique and particular glory, and to protect the mutual dependancy and service of the members of His body.
Three types of title are specifically and literally forbidden: Rabbi, Father and Master or Leader. Others indicative of service within the fellowship like elder, pastor, and minister are not.
Ironically whilst forbidden as titles, it is evident from scripture that they are apt descriptions of the function of members of the church. Paul frequently delights to enjoin Timothy, warning him, guiding him, encouraging and instructing him, with all the tenderness and urgency of a father. The Holy Spirit directs him to address Timothy as his own dearly beloved son repeatedly, and to appeal to the Corinthians not merely as an instructor but as father to his sons begotten by him through the Gospel. Yet to have replied to such warm and earnest appeals with the use of the title 'Father' would have represented a solemn theft of glory and intimacy from the everlasting Father. Similarly isn't Christ's description of the Pharisees as guides, though blind, as apt for those who wisely win and woo the lost from darkness, as those who lead them into it? Yet the using the title 'Guide' or 'Leader' would again be a direct contravention of Christ's Law.
The term Rabbi (or 'my lord'), undoubtedly carries considerable personal authority. It implies a following of disciples or pupils, and for this reason was naturally used for the Messiah by His own. Yet it is a lordship exercised through knowledge, not through physical might, elected or hereditary authority, nor primarily on account of greater sanctity. This is evidently the case with the vainglorious lawyers whose chief abuse lay in concealing the key of knowledge, which it was their chief responsibility to employ. The nature of the Baptist's authority over his disciples, who also called him by the title (John 3.26) again suggests that it has particular reference to prophethood, not kingship or priestliness. To leave us in no doubt however the word Rabbi and its more exalted derivative Rabboni are both directly translated into Greek as 'didaskalos' by the Apostle, even when applied to the Saviour. (John 1.38 and 20.16) It is derived from 'didaskein' to teach, from which we take the English 'didactic'. Thus Rabbi primarily means 'my teacher'. So we can see the glory of Christ's humbling of Himself, demonstrating His rule through the medium of our intelligent response, not as mindless slaves, but as obedient friends.
Does this mean there are to be no qualified teachers in the fellowship ? To pose the question is to answer it, since didaskolos is the description of the function of a member of the body in James 3.1, Ephesians 4.11, and 1 Corinthians 12.39. Yet as with fathers, and with guides or leaders the use of the word as a title is clearly forbidden within the precincts of the fellowship. Evidently for the same reasons, namely that it would blur and mar the distinct and unique glory of the Messiah's most public office. Secondly that it leads to clerical-secular divisions among the Lord's people that are not only unhealthy impediments to mutual fellowship, but actually unreal in that the Sovereign Rabbi often chooses to challenge, encourage and inspire His ministers by means of the lowliest in the flock.
The title doctor is an inappropriate one for a physician, largely because so little of his or her time is usually given to instruction, and physicians and surgeons are often not good educators. Nevertheless the word itself is the Latin based equivalent of 'didaskalos' (through 'docere', to teach). To remove doubt, on the three occasions when the word 'doctor' is used in the New Testament, Luke 2.64, Luke 5.17 and Acts 5.34, it is a translation of the Greek term used to translate Rabbi, (either with or without the attachment of the word for Law, nomos). It must therefore as a minister's title fall under the Lord's sanction. Certainly, even in medicine, it is a title of considerable personal authority. We do not speak lightly of the 'Doctor's orders', being based on the authority of acquired knowledge, skill and experience, and given in compassion. The patient who neglects or despises them is a fool, by common consent. Whilst medical peers will address each other on first name terms, more experienced colleagues will usually still be revered with their title. A consultant's authority is such that his juniors will often follow his instructions, even though unconvinced in their own minds of their appropriateness, the subsequent events often proving him correct. Yet this lordly authority rests ultimately solely in his superior knowledge and experience. In these circumstances his title might be translated as a secular kind of Rabbi.
There is always a danger that Christians will strain at gnats like this and neglect weightier matters of law, judgment, mercy and faith, but the Lord requires consistent obedience of us in small as well as large commands. No doubt, there is no wrong in its use in the secular preoccupations of the Lord's people, but within the sanctuary of the fellowship, as a minister's or elder's title, the term 'doctor' is strictly forbidden.