Print

You explained in a previous Q&A (in Update #341) that Christ said to His disciples that they should only call Him their Teacher. But does not the Bible refer to ministers as teachers on numerous occasions?

The Scripture in question is Matthew 23:10, which reads: “And do not be called teachers, for One is your Teacher, the Christ.”

However, as you rightly point out, there are several passages, which speak of ministers as teachers.

For instance, 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 reads:

“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers… Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?…”

Ephesians 4:11-13 confirms:

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith…”

Notice, too, that Paul describes himself in 2 Timothy 1:11 as “a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles…”

Also, Hebrews 5:12 states:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

In all the above-quoted passages, with the exception of Matthew 23:10, the Greek word for “teacher” is “didaskalos.” Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible defines this Greek word as “teacher” or “instructor.” It is clear from Scripture, then, that God’s ministers are, and can be referred to as “teachers” or “instructors” of the Word of God.

However, the Greek word used in Matthew 23:10 is a different word altogether. It is “kathegetes.” This word is only used three times in the entire New Testament, i.e., in Matthew 23:8 (once) and in Matthew 23:10 (twice). We have already seen the two usages of the word in verse 10. Surprisingly, perhaps, Christ is using the same word in verse 8 as well, where He says: “But you, do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher (“kathegetes”), the Christ, and you are all brethren.”

It is unfortunate that the New King James Bible translates this word “kathegetes” as “teacher.” The intended meaning is quite different. Note how the Authorized Version (AV) renders Matthew 23:8, 10:

“(Verse 8) But be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your MASTER, even Christ; and all ye are brethren… (Verse 10) Neither be ye called MASTERS: for one is your MASTER, even Christ.”

The Living Bible, the New American Bible (NAB) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translate the word “kathegetes” also as “master” in verse 10, but the RSV and the NAB inconsistently translate it as “teacher” in verse 8. The New International Version (NIV) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) confuse the issue even more, by translating the word as “master” in verse 8, but as “teacher” in verse 10.

Quite interestingly, the German Menge Bible explains that the word “kathegetes” actually could mean, “Fuehrer.” If the Germans would have had and applied that biblical understanding during the Third Reich, perhaps Adolph Hitler would not have been accepted as their political AND spiritual “Fuehrer” for that reason alone.

This discussion of the appropriate application of the words “teacher” and “master” illustrates important principles for correct Bible study, which we must apply when reading God’s Word:

(1) We must understand that the Bible never contradicts itself. Jesus said that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). In order to comprehend the meaning of a particular passage, it is necessary to read it in light of additional biblical passages–“precept must be upon precept… line upon line… Here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, 13).

(2) We must begin with a clear and easy passage, using it as the foundation for our understanding of a particular concept, before trying to attempt to “explain” a seemingly more difficult passage. We explain seemingly difficult passages in the light of unambiguous Scripture, and not vice versa. Peter warns us not to be “confused” by passages which might be, at first sight, “hard to understand,” so that we don’t fall into the trap of “untaught and unstable people [who] twist [Scripture] to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).

(3) When reading all relevant passages in context, most “inconsistencies” will resolve themselves. However, if there still remains a perception of a contradiction, we must realize that the problem might lie with the particular translation which we might be using. TRANSLATIONS ARE NOT INFALLIBLE. We should never arrive at a teaching or doctrine by exclusively relying on a particular translation. Especially modern translations must be read with caution. For instance, the Living Bible is more of an interpretation, rather than a translation. The same can be said for numerous passages in the NIV and the NAB.

In the English language, the AV (the “old” King James Bible) is perhaps the most reliable rendition, but because of its antiquated English, it may be difficult to read for the modern student–and even it contains errors. The language of the New King James Bible has been modernized, and it is perhaps the most reliable English rendition after the AV, but it has introduced errors of its own. As mentioned, the NIV and other modern translations are unreliable in many respects, and they should NEVER be used to ESTABLISH doctrine.

Returning to the issue at hand, we have seen from a reading of the pertinent Biblical passages in context, and in applying the intended meaning of the original Greek, that God’s ministers CAN be called teachers or instructors of the Word of God–but they should not be called or viewed as MASTERS or dominating FUEHRERS.

We explained this fact in our last Q&A (in Update #341), in quoting approvingly from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, as follows:

“‘Christ’s ministers must not affect the name of Rabbi or Master… to covet or accept the honour which they have that are in kings’ palaces… They must not assume the authority and dominion implied in those names; they must not be magisterial, nor domineer over their brethren, or over God’s heritage, as if they had dominion over the faith of Christians: what they received of the Lord, all must receive from them; but in other things they must not make their opinions and wills a rule and standard to all other people, to be admitted with an implicit obedience… Christ is our Master, our Teacher, our Guide… the great Prophet, whom we must hear, and be ruled and overruled by; whose word must be an oracle and a law to us… And if he only be our Master, then for his ministers to set up for dictators, and to pretend to a supremacy and an infallibility, is a daring usurpation of that honour of Christ which he will not give to another…'”

God’s people had better heed Christ’s instructions, as explained, lest they be found guilty of violating the very words of their Master.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link