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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 18: Matthew 22:41-23:39, by Kevin M. Williams

Therefore on the one hand, Yeshua upholds the Pharisees’ and potentially all religious leaders’ right to set policy—Halakhah—but cautions the laity, and His own disciples, to beware becoming like them, susceptible to moral corruption. It would appear that while “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” even a small measure of power or influence can tempt one toward spiritual corruption as well.

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“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12).

There are those who would use this passage to say that no one should be called “rabbi,” “father,” or “leader.” So why not simply strike the words from our dictionaries and be done with it? Because mankind would find other words to substitute and accomplish the same task.

The problem is not the title, nor the use of the words. Do we not need “teachers?” If not a “teacher” then someone else with a different title would instruct us nonetheless. Do we not need “fathers?” Abraham was given his name by God (Genesis 17:5), a name that means “Father of multitudes,” so it would appear God does not have a problem with using such titles. We all have and need fathers.

What then of the designation “leader?” Shall we be without earthly leaders? Again, God speaks of leaders repeatedly in the Hebrew Scriptures, recognizing their positions and the need for them.

The conflict is not with titles, nor with the ones who honorably discharge their roles in those offices. The conflict is when the people in those positions are elevated above God and/or His word—such as had happened with the Pharisees and Scribes.

I remember when I was in the eighth grade; I became disenfranchised with the church precisely because the people seemed incapable of discussing the Bible without beginning each sentence, “Reverend [so-and-so] says …” At that young age, I understood that no matter what the text said, the only way the people would drink in the Word of God was if it first passed through the filter of the pastor. The “Reverend” had been elevated too highly.

Titles or labels need not conflict with the will of God. Used correctly, they help define our religious culture and bring order to what might otherwise be anarchy. The King of the universe used them and applied them, so we too may follow His example. Of what we need be wary is abusing those titles.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2005

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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