Religious Titles

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Jesus, while visiting Jerusalem's temple a few days before his crucifixion, seized on the opportunity to educate the multitudes. After warning the crowd (and his disciples) about the hypocrisy of Jewish leaders, he further warns them regarding religious titles vainly enjoyed by such leaders.

5. And they (referring to the religious scribes and Pharisees) do all their works to be seen by men . . . they love the first place at the suppers, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7. And the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called by men (using the titles), 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' 8. But you are not to be called Rabbi; for one is your Master, the Christ, and all of you are brethren. 9. Also, do not call anyone on the earth your Father; for one is your Father, Who is in heaven. 10. Neither be called Master; for one is your Master, the Christ (Matthew 23:5 - 10, HBFV throughout).

The Greek word Rhabbi (Strong's Concordance #G4461) is translated as "Rabbi" in verse 7 above. Its literal meaning is "my master" (Strong's) or "my great one" (Thayer's Greek Definitions). Clearly, the religious use of this title is prohibited in Scripture.

The Greek Pater (Strong's #G3962) is where we get the English word "father." Its use, in a religious sense (as the Catholics do when addressing their priests), is also clearly forbidden in the Bible. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to refer to one's male parent as "father."

The word from which we get the English "master" in verses 8 and 10 comes from the Greek kathegetes (Strong's #G2519). Its use in these verses is to someone who is a teacher or guide with the implication that they possess a powerful spiritual position or office. Jesus, as the God of the Old Testament and man's Messiah, claims the use of this title for himself.

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At the time of Christ, a crucial part of a person's "higher education" was through being personally taught by someone considered an expert (referred to as "sitting at their feet"). The apostle Paul, before being taken away as a prisoner from Jerusalem's temple, referred to this type of education when he told a crowd about his "advanced degree" in Judaism.

3. I (Paul) am a man who is indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel (considered one of the greatest teachers of Judaism), having been instructed according to the exactness of the law of our fathers . . . (Acts 22:3)

Other religious titles that are unacceptable, based on the spiritual intent of Jesus' teachings in Matthew 23, are "Pope," "Vicar of Christ" and others used by the Catholics. Such designations are used by them to denote the person they believe is the highest-ranking spiritual authority on earth (1913 Catholic Encyclopedia). The word "vicar" means a person who acts in place of another or as their substitute (dictionary.com).

Such religious appellations like "Pope" are not only wrong but also blasphemous, since they claim divine authority and power over Christians that was never given. Christ NEVER gave any human being the absolute power to dictate doctrine and rule over the faith of his people (see our article called "Keys of the Kingdom"). Jesus, at God's right hand, has and continues to be the only true head of His church on earth (1Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 1:22, 4:15, Colossians 1:18). Even the apostle Peter, whom Catholics consider the first Pope, NEVER claimed such titles for himself. He, instead, referred to himself as "a fellow elder" (1Peter 5:1), one of many mature Christian believers who served in the church.

What is and is not acceptable

Scripture teaches against using terms, in a religious context, that are meant to convey one person's spiritual "rank" or authority (many times believed to be absolute) over others. The apostle Paul taught that even HE did not claim authority over anyone's faith, but rather saw himself as someone who helped increase a person's joy in God (2Corinthians 1:24).

Two acceptable New Testament references to other believers (including those more mature in the faith) are "brother" (Romans 14:10, 1Corinthians 16:12, Ephesians 6:21, etc.) and "sister" (Romans 16:1, 1Corinthians 7:15, James 2:15, etc.).

Some have wondered whether the abbreviation "Mr.," which originated in the mid-1500s as a shortened form of the word "master" (dictionary.com), is acceptable to use. In modern times, this term is considered a shortened form of "mister" and is usually used as a generic courtesy title to refer to an adult male. It is generally acceptable to use.

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Religious Titles