From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Ten, Day One
In Jesus’ day, the name “rabbi” or “teacher” was normally reserved for someone who had studied under another rabbi for many years. Jesus offended the religious leaders of his day by ignoring this system. Instead of apprenticing himself to a rabbi, he simply laid down his carpenter tools and called twelve ordinary men to become his disciples. Unlike other rabbis, who merely passed on the teaching of the rabbi under whom they had studied, Jesus spoke with an authority that startled many of his listeners.
Two thousand years later, we are called to become his disciples, to stay as close to him as a disciple would to a rabbi, studying his life, examining his teaching, and allowing his Spirit to remake us in his image. When you pray to Rabbi Jesus, remember that you are praying to the only Teacher who is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, able to transform not only your mind but also your heart.
[Jesus said to his disciples] “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master.” Matthew 23:8
His Name Revealed
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master.” Matthew 23:8
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me…”
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:3-8, 12-17
Jesus, my Rabbi and Lord. On the night before you died, you painted a picture by your words and deeds of what it means to be your disciple. Help me to advance in wisdom, love, and grace as your disciple. Give me opportunities to follow you by serving those around me. Help me to seek hidden and humble ways to do your will.
Understanding the Name
In ancient Israel all education was religious education, and Scripture was the sole textbook. Understanding it was vital, because long life, success, and happiness flowed from living in accordance with the laws of God. But the Jews did not believe that ordinary people were equipped to understand and apply Scripture without the guidance of a teacher.
Gradually, scribes, who devoted their lives to copying and understanding the Mosaic law, became their primary instructors. Lacking access to the temple after the Exile, the Jews began meeting together for prayer and instruction in places that became known as synagogues. Eventually, schools formed around these synagogues, where boys began to be educated between the ages of five and seven.
In the first century, “Rabbi” (ra-BEE, a Hebrew word) came to be used as a title for scribes or theologians trained in the Law. (Rabbouni [ra-BOU-nee] is an expanded Hebrew form that means “my rabbi.”) Scribes were also known as “teachers of the law.” The King James Version of the Bible calls them “lawyers.”
“Rabbi” is literally translated “my great one” and can also be translated as “my master” or “my teacher.” During the first century it was customary for a rabbi to take disciples, who would be bound to him for life. After spending several years with their rabbi studying Scripture and the oral and written traditions surrounding it, the disciples would in turn become rabbis through the laying on of hands.
By Jesus’ day, the scribes held considerable power in Jewish society, serving not only as religious educators but as judges. The majority were members of the party of the Pharisees. Many of them, as Jesus pointed out, were consumed with the desire for public acclaim and positions of honor. Over time, the scribes added so many rules and regulations to the Law that Jesus faulted them for placing heavy burdens on the people without lifting a finger to help them.
Though Jesus’ disciples called him “rabbi,” which must have incensed the scribes because of his lack of formal training, there is no evidence he was ever ordained. Unlike most rabbis, who merely taught what they had learned from another rabbi, Jesus taught with his own authority, as though his wisdom came from above — a fact remarked upon by many who heard him. Jesus counseled his disciples never to seek the honorific title “rabbi.” He alone was to be their Teacher and Master.
Another word for teacher in the New Testament is the Greek word didaskolos (di-DAS-ka-los). Jesus was an enormously popular teacher who drew crowds wherever he went, using questions, discussions, proverbs, symbolic actions, parables, and even miracles in order to teach people the way to live. The content of his teaching is most powerfully and eloquently evident in the story of his life.
Studying the Name
- Why do you think Jesus cautioned his disciples in Matthew 23:8 against the title “rabbi”?
- Why do you think Jesus washed his disciples’ feet the night before his death, making this one of the last lessons he would leave them prior to his crucifixion?
- Describe ways in which you have experienced people in leadership serving you.
- How would your life be different if you understood that your primary identity consisted of being a disciple of Rabbi Jesus?
Meet your spiritual ancestors as they really were: Less Than Perfect: Broken Men and Women of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them.