Religious Titles

Matthew 23:8-10
       Be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.  And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): It was but a little before Christ’s time, that the Jewish teachers, the masters of Israel, had assumed the title of Rabbi, Rab, or Rabban, which signifies great or much; and was construed as Doctor, or My lord. And they laid such a stress upon it, that they gave it for a maxim that “he who salutes his teacher, and does not call him Rabbi, provokes the divine Majesty to depart from Israel;” so much religion did they place in that which was but a piece of good manners! For him that is taught in the word to give respect to him that teaches is commendable enough in him that gives it; but for him that teaches to love it, and demand it, and affect it, to be puffed up with it, and to be displeased if it be omitted, is sinful and abominable;  instead of teaching, he has need to learn the first lesson in the school of Christ, which is humility.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): [Someone] has made the business a little more awkward to me by styling me Doctor, an honour which the newspapers informed me has been conferred upon me by the college of Princeton in America. However, by the grace of God, I am determined not to assume the title of Doctor, unless I should receive a diploma from the college in the new settlement at Sierra Leone. The dreary coast of Africa was the university to which the Lord was pleased to send me, and I dare not acknowledge a relation to any other.

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): None of the prophets had ever received this title, nor any of the Jewish doctors before the time of Hillel and Shammai, which was about the time of our Lord; and, as disputes on several subjects had run high between these two schools, the people were of course divided; some acknowledging Hillel as rabbi―infallible teacher, and others giving this title to Shammai. The Pharisees, who always sought the honour that comes from men, assumed the title, and got their followers to address them by it.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): The Jewish rabbis were also called father and master, by their several disciples, whom they required to believe implicitly what they affirmed, without asking any farther reason; to obey implicitly what they enjoined, without seeking farther authority. Our Lord, therefore, by forbidding us either to give or receive the title of rabbi, master, or father, forbids us either to receive any such reverence, or to pay any such to any but God.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Holy and reverend is His name, Psalm 111:9. Well may he say this. The whole name or character of God is worthy of profoundest awe, for it is perfect and complete, whole or holy. It ought not to be spoken without solemn thought, and never heard without profound homage. His name is to be trembled at, it is something terrible; even those who know Him best rejoice with trembling before Him.

JAMES STRONG (1822-1894): Reverend [means] to fear; morally, to revere; causatively, to frighten.

MATTHEW HENRY: His name is holy. His infinite purity and rectitude appear in all that whereby He has made Himself known, and because it is holy therefore it is reverend, and to be thought of and mentioned with a holy awe.

C. H. SPURGEON: These few remarks touch only upon ministers―but we cannot lay down the pen without asking why so many brethren still retain the title of Reverend? We are willing to reverence the aged pastor, and we did not hesitate to give that title to our beloved friend George Rogers, just in the same way as we use the term “the venerable Bede” or “the judicious Hooker,” but we are not prepared to reverence every stripling who ascends the pulpit; and, moreover, if we thought it due to others to call them reverend, we should still want some reason for their calling themselves so. It seems rather odd to us that a man should print upon his card the fact that he is a reverend person. Why does he not occasionally vary the term and call himself estimable, amiable, talented, or beloved? Would this seem odd?―If a man were to assume the title of reverend for the first time in history it would look ridiculous, if not presumptuous or profane. Why does not the Sunday-school teacher call himself “the Respectable John Jones,” or the City Missionary dub himself “the Hard-working William Evans?”

MATTHEW HENRY: Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away, Job 32:21,22.
      It is a good resolution [Elihu] has taken up―I know not to give flattering titles to men; and it is a good reason he gives for that resolution―in so doing my Maker would soon take me away. It is good to keep ourselves in awe with a holy fear of God’s judgments…The more closely we eye the majesty of God as our Maker, and the more we dread His wrath and justice, the less danger shall we be in of a sinful fearing or flattering of men.

C. H. SPURGEON: It may be said that the title of reverend is only one of courtesy, but then so was the title of Rabbi among the Jews, yet the disciples were not to be called Rabbi. It is, at any rate, a suspicious circumstance that among mankind no class of persons should so commonly describe themselves by a pretentious title as the professed ministers of the lowly Jesus. Peter and Paul were right reverend men, but they would have been the last to have called themselves so. No sensible person does reverence us one jot the more because we assume the title. It certainly is in some cases a flagrant misnomer, and its main use seems to be the pestilent one of keeping up the unscriptural distinction of clergy and laity. A lad fresh from college, who has just been placed in a pulpit, is the Reverend Smith, while his eminently godly grandfather, who has for fifty years walked with God, and is now ripe for heaven, has no such claim to reverence…We wonder when men first sought out this invention, and from whose original mind did the original sin emanate. We suspect that he lived in the Roman Row of Vanity Fair.

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): Let those who would have their name reverend labour to be as holy as God is holy.

C. H. SPURGEON: This may be a trifle―many no doubt so regard it―why, then, are they not prepared to abstain from it? The less the value of the epithet the less reason for continuing the use of it…How good men can endure to be called “reverend” we know not. Being unable to discover any reason why our fellow-men should reverence us, we half suspect that in other men there is not very much which can entitle them to be called reverend, very reverend, right reverend, and so on. It may seem a trifling matter, but for that reason we would urge that the foolish custom should be allowed to fall into disuse.
Editor’s Note: We entirely agree with Spurgeon’s assessment of this unscriptural and popish practice. And we would go one step further to say that there is not one iota of Scriptural justification for the use of any religious title whatsoever in the New Testament Christian Church, not even that of “pastor” or “deacon.” While pastors and deacons are indeed legitimate offices in the church, there is not a single usage of those terms as titles in the Bible. Peter and Paul, who were pastors, and apostles as well, although they mentioned their callings to those offices in their epistles, never once styled themselves with the form of a title such as the “Apostle Paul,” or “Pastor Peter.” Nor do we read of any “Deacon Stephen” or “Deacon Philip” (Acts 6-8). If simply Paul, Peter, Stephen and Philip were fully sufficient designations for these eminently holy men, what right has any Christian to call himself anything more?


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