You asked if the followers of John the Baptist were wrong in calling him (i.e., John) “Rabbi / Teacher.” I would have to say yes they were, according to Jesus, but they probably did this in ignorance, since Jesus addressed this topic AFTER John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:1-12).
Concerning the title “King,” this is not a SPIRITUAL title, which is what Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23.
“Jesus’ issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.”
That is partly true, but Jesus didn’t say, “Call only those with the RIGHT ATTITUDE “Father,” or only those who DESERVE it “Rabbi.” He said to give those spiritual titles to NO HUMAN (Matthew 23:8-10).
Russell ... thank you for your response. Your debate style is much like mine, calm and thorough. I appreciate that.
Regarding your first point, I think that if it was wrong of them to address John the way they did, then John himself would have objected to it. He is after all the model of humility. "His sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Mt 3:11) or "to stoop down and untie" (Mk 1:7). "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).
I guess you'll say that John was ignorant of Jesus' teaching as well. While I find it hard to believe that John would not have intuited the wrongness of these titles if indeed they were wrong, since neither of us can really know the mind of the baptist on this point, let us consider this particular argument a draw.
Regarding your second point, I think the title of "King" -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title. The Davidic king was God's anointed steward of His people, and the mediator of God's covenant relationship with them. The new Davidic king was the great hope of all of Israel. So, perhaps the references to Herod, Agrippa, and Aretas don't apply, but the ones to Saul, David, Solomon, and Adonijah do.
Regarding your final point, you say that we are to give spiritual titles to "NO HUMAN". I really think you're missing the point. Read everything in Mt 23 that is before and after the passage in question. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you" (vs. 2-3). Jesus' wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as "father", "rabbi", and "master" is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.
Continuing on, look at what Jesus says about them:
- "they preach but do not practice" (vs. 3)
- "they bind heavy burdens" (vs. 4)
- "they do all their deeds to be seen by men" (vs. 5)
- "they love the place of honor" and "the best seats" (vs. 6) "and salutations in the marketplaces" (vs. 7)
Look at this. Do you really think Jesus is concerned with titles, or is He concerned with the fact that the scribes and pharisees "LOVE" such titles and don't live up to them? Jesus is taking great pains to show how prideful and negligent the scribes and pharisees are. He continues:
- "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (vs. 11-12)
See? Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. Continuing on, we see that the scribes and Pharisees:
- "shut the kingdom of heaven against men" (vs. 13)
- make proselytes a child of hell (cf. vs. 15)
- make false distinctions between oaths (cf. vs. 16-22)
- "have neglected the weightier matters of the law" (vs. 23)
- "are full of extortion and rapacity" (vs. 25)
- "are like whitewashed tombs" (vs. 27), "full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (vs. 28)
- fill up the measure of God's wrath against their fathers for murdering the prophets (vs. 29-36)
Jesus issues 7 woes against them in this chapter for being the "hypocrites" and "blind guides" that they are. You have to understand vs. 8-10 in light of this context. Jesus' whole point is that the scribes and Pharisees exhibit a dastardly conduct that should not be imitated and they do not live up to the honor that they receive. God alone is the great and perfect Father, Rabbi, and Master. We can only fulfill these positions in a derivative sense.
Finally, think about it, Jesus is pissed off and fed up. He is angry, filled with righteous indignation. It makes perfect sense that He would use hyperbolic language. "You have ONE teacher" (vs. 8), "you have ONE father" (vs. 9), "you have ONE master" (vs. 10) ... yet obviously we have all had more teachers and fathers and masters than simply God. Thus, Jesus is NOT speaking literally, He is using exaggerated language. Verse 24 from this same chapter ("You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!") is obviously hyperbolic. Verses 8-10 are said in the same vein.
Like I said before, the Catholic interpretation is the only one that squares with the context of the passage and the greater body of Scripture. I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage. If you will simply put that aside, even just for a moment, I think you will see that what I am saying about this passage is true.
PS: From here you may proceed to Part Three.