What’s Up With the Word “Teacher”?

One of the verses in the gospels that puzzles me is in Matthew 23. Here, Jesus instructs His disciples not to call anyone Rabbi, Father, or Teacher. However, Paul later refers to people as teachers in his epistles. I don’t think he would have so blatantly contradicted a command straight from Jesus (that is, I think, one of the chief principals to keep in mind when trying to interpret Paul’s writings). Maybe Paul knew something about this instruction that isn’t readily apparent to us. Let’s start by looking at the context for Jesus’s remarks.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long. They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant.  And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12, NET

Reading this, we see the context is instructing us to avoide self-exaltation and not take on yourself titles/honors meant for God the Father and Jesus Christ alone. You are not to be called Rabbi (G4461, rhabbi, the Hebrew word used to refer to Jewish teachers) because Jesus is our Teacher (G2519, kathegetes, master, guide, teacher). You’re not to be called Father (G3962, pater, male ancestor, originator) because God is our Father (this would likely be an interesting study as well, but today we’ll just focus on “teacher”). Then the next verse warns against being called Teacher (kathegetes) again. Finally, this conversation wraps up with a warning against pride and an instruction to humble the self and serve.

Image of two people across from each other at a table with books, overlaid with text from 2 Timothy 2:24-25, NET version:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth”
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What Type of Teacher Ought You To Be?

Matthew 23 is the only place the word kathegetes appears in scripture. Rabbi doesn’t appear outside the gospel accounts. When we see other writers talking about teachers in the New Testament church, they use a different word. It seems that the New Testament writers were careful about this warning not to be called “rabbi” or “teacher” even though that’s not apparent in the English translations.

The word Paul uses for “teacher” is didaskalos (G1320). It’s a more widely used, general term for “instructor, master, teacher” (Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, entry G2519). While it is listed as a synonym for kathegetes, that word for teacher, master, or guide seems to have more to do with authority; Zodhiates also lists kathegetes as a synonym for lord, master, and overseer (entry G2519).

Both didaskalos and kathegetes are used as a synonym/translation for rhabbi (didaskalos in John 1:38 and kathegetes in Matt. 23:8) (Zodhiates entry G4461). It may be that using “rabbi” as a general Hebrew word for teacher is okay in modern use because it could be synonymous with either of these Greek words. However, Spiros Zodhiates thinks the didaskalos teacher would more commonly be seen in the NT times as an equivalent role to Jewish scribes, who are “acquainted with and interpreters of God’s salvation.” He also considers pastors a sub-set of teachers, and says that teaching can be a gift or an office within the church (entry G1320).

Didaskalos is a role linked with apostles, prophets, pastors, and other roles in the church (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Hebrews implies that all mature Christians should be teachers, though James warns it’s a great deal of responsibility and is paired with stricter judgement (Heb. 5:12; James 3:1). There’s also a very specific focus to this version of teacher and related roles, which links back to Jesus’s warning.

And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature

Ephesians 4:11-13, NET

Remember that when Jesus warned not to be called teachers (kathegetes), it was in the context of not exalting the self or taking His titles for yourself. Here, the role of teachers (didaskalos) has to do with serving and building up the whole body/church. I think that Jesus’s warning in Matthew 23 and the choice of NT writers to use didaskalos to describe their roles has to do with the way authority is supposed to work in the church of God.

Image of an open Bible with the blog's title text and the words, Why does Paul talk about the role of "teachers" in the church when Jesus said not to be called "teacher"?
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A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Luke 22:24-27, NET

Jesus didn’t want His followers lording it over people the way that the corrupt Jewish religious authorities did. That’s the main point in Matthew 23–their teachings were solid when they came from the Law of God, but many of the scribes, experts in the law, and Pharisees had a heart issue. They were not right with God and kept the letter rather than the spirit of the law (see the rest of Matt. 23). In contrast, teachers under the authority of Jesus serve the people they teach with humility.

We don’t have different words for “teacher” with different nuances of meaning in our English translations of the Bible. But I think we all have enough experience with people to know the difference between teachers who want recognition and power, and teachers who want their students to learn and thrive. We don’t need to obsess about not calling someone “teacher” (particularly since English doesn’t have two words like we saw in Greek), but we do need to be careful which teachers we listen to and even more careful about the types of teachers we are.

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A Closer Look at the Roles of Pastors and Shepherds

A few weeks ago, I started a study on sheep, lambs, and shepherds in the Bible. One of the most interesting things I came across was looking into the words for “shepherd” and “pastor” in both English and Hebrew. As I mentioned last week, I don’t usually spend time looking at English words since they’re a translation choice rather than something that gives insight into the original intent, but sometimes it’s interesting. For example, in the case of “pastor,” it’s curious to see how the meaning of the word has changed over the years in Western Christianity. That study made me want to look into the roles of shepherds/pastors a little bit more. I wanted to see how looking at the Greek could add to understanding this, and dig more into our modern ideas of what a shepherd or pastor does.

Pasturing the Flock

First, a quick recap of the shepherd study from a few weeks ago. In Hebrew, the word translated “shepherd” is connected to the words for pasture, tend, and graze (Theological Wordbook: Old Testament 852). The shepherd is one who makes sure the flocks are fed in good pastures. In English, the word “shepherd” comes from sheep+herd and it means someone who herds sheep (Online Etymology Dictionary). But the English word “pastor” comes from the same Latin root as “pasture” (Online Etymology Dictionary). So really, “pastor” might be a more exact translation of râ‛âh than “shepherd” is, though the way those English words are used today makes shepherd the less confusing choice. (Interestingly, râ‛âh is translated “pastors” eight times in the 1611 KJV translation of Jeremiah.)

What about in Greek? In the KJV, WEB, and NET translations, “shepherd” and the one use of “pastor” (Eph. 4:11) are both translated from poimēn (G4166). The verb form is poimainō (G4165) and it’s translated in KJV as “rule” or “feed” but in WEB and NET as “shepherd,” “tend,” or “rule.” The word simply means to care for flocks of all sorts; it’s more like “flock-tender” than “sheep-herder” (Zodhiates G4165). Also, there’s another specific word, boskō (G1006), for taking animals to a pasture to graze. Bosko represents feeding where poimaino “involves total care” (Zodhiates G1006).

We see both of those feeding and shepherding words in Jesus’s conversation with Peter at the end of John’s gospel. He told Peter, “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep,” and “feed my sheep” (John 21:13-17, WEB). The word translated “tend” is poimainō and the one translated “feed” is boskō. In other words, Jesus is telling Peter that it’s his role to provide wholistic care for the flock and to specifically feed them and provide pasture. Later, Peter passed this instruction on to his “fellow elders,” telling them to feed or “shepherd the flock of God” (poimainō in this case) (1 Peter 5:1-3).

Feeding and Caring

The one time that translations like KJV and NET use the word “pastor” in the New Testament, it’s in Ephesians 4:11. Here, Paul is talking about unity in the body of Christ and the roles of people within His body. The WEB translation sticks with “shepherd” in this case, but let’s look at it in the NET.

He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things. And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

Ephesians 4:10-13, NET

Several translations see “pastors and teachers” as a linked concept. The freely paraphrased Voice and Message translations say “pastor-teachers,” while the Amplified Bible says “and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct].” Now, I’ll admit I resist this reading because I want pastors and teachers to be separate things (since I can call myself a teacher but not a pastor and I don’t want them to collapse into the same role), but that’s a selfish reason for preferring one translation over another so we’re going to push on with this study and see what we can learn.

Pastors take sheep to pasture. And since it’s translated from poimainō, it involves total care for the sheep. This does connect with “teacher” as a role when we think of the connection between God’s word and daily sustenance. For example, God wanted Israel to learn “that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of Yahweh’s mouth” (Deut. 8:3, WEB). It’s such an important lesson that Jesus quotes it in His show-down with Satan (Matt 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4).

Righteous Job “treasured up the words of his [God’s] mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12, WEB). One Psalmist calls God’s words sweet like honey (Ps. 119:103, NET). The Lord says when His word can’t be found in a land, it’s like a famine (Amos 8:11-12). There’s even a fascinating connection for Ezekiel and John between eating words given by God and speaking prophecies (Eze. 2:8-3:4; Rev. 10:8-11). Also, when we’re properly feeding on the word of God, we can all become teachers.

For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:12-14, NET

So if shepherding involves caring for the flock of God, including feeding them, and teaching involves sharing God’s words which are like food for our spiritual lives, then shepherding/pastoring and teaching are closely connected. They’re not exactly the same thing, but it would seem that a primary job for pastors is to feed the flock. That’s not a shocking revelation; most pastors in Christian churches today are also teachers. But maybe we don’t always think about feeding as the primary role of pastors.

The Importance of Feeding

There is a lengthy passage in Ezekiel 34, along with a shorter one in Jeremiah 23:1-8, where the Lord condemns ancient Israel’s leadership for not doing their job properly. They didn’t protect the flock from dangers. They focused on taking care of themselves rather than putting the flock first. And, perhaps the worst offense of all based on how many times God mentions it, is that they did not feed the sheep.

Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and tell them, even the shepherds, ‘The Lord Yahweh says: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat. You clothe yourself with the wool. You kill the fatlings, but you don’t feed the sheep. …

“As I live,” says the Lord Yahweh, “surely because my sheep became a prey, and my sheep became food to all the animals of the field, because there was no shepherd, and my shepherds didn’t search for my sheep, but the shepherds fed themselves, and didn’t feed my sheep.” Therefore, you shepherds, hear Yahweh’s word: The Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, I am against the shepherds. I will require my sheep at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the sheep. The shepherds won’t feed themselves any more. I will deliver my sheep from their mouth, that they may not be food for them.”

“‘For the Lord Yahweh says: “Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. … I will feed them with good pasture; and their fold will be on the mountains of the height of Israel. There they will lie down in a good fold. They will feed on fat pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will cause them to lie down,” says the Lord Yahweh. “I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will feed them in justice.”’

Ezekiel 34:1-3, 8-11, 14-16, WEB

In sharp contrast, we see Jesus coming as both the Good Shepherd (John 10) and the Bread of Life (John 6). As the Shepherd who guards the sheepfold, Jesus says, “I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9, NET). Perhaps, knowing the important role of a shepherd in feeding His flock, some of those listening to Him would have thought back to the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, and what Jesus taught after that about true sustenance.

 “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you.” …

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.” …

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” … Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” …

 “The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

John 6:27, 35, 51, 53-55, 63 NET

If you’re reading this article the weekend it posts, then Passover just over two weeks away. Eating Jesus’s “flesh” (unleavened bread) and “blood” (wine) is something we do on that day every year (Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25). But He’s also our sustenance year-round. We need to keep coming to Jesus to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst. We need to keep reading His words that are spirit and life. And if we’re someone with a teaching and/or pastoring/shepherding role, we need to make sure we’re sharing this spiritual food with others as well.

Recognizing Good Shepherds

As I already mentioned, I think I can call myself a teacher, but I’m definitely not a pastor. I went back and forth on actually writing this post because it really isn’t my role to tell pastors how to do their jobs. But I do think knowing something about what the Bible says about pastors/shepherds helps each of us as sheep.

First, we need to recognize that human shepherds are fallible. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. He’s the one who supplies all our needs and who the Father has given has ultimate Authority over His flock. Jesus doesn’t approve of it when people He lets tend His sheep fail in their duties, and He doesn’t abandon the sheep to substandard care. If you’ve had bad experiences with church leadership, that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t care (see those verses we talked about in Ezekiel 34). Also, sometimes people who are overall good leaders need grace and forgiveness because they’re human too.

Second, knowing what we can expect from a human shepherd who’s following Jesus’s example helps us recognize if there’s a teacher or pastor that we shouldn’t be listening to. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. By their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:15-16, WEB). The same can likely be said of false shepherds. We’re to honor and respect those who serve in the church, but we’re also not supposed to follow them blindly if they’re going off after something other than the true Shepherd.

Finally, studying pastors and teachers reminds us that they do have a very important role in the church. There’s a tendency many of us have–especially if we’ve been burned by some of those wolves in sheep’s clothing–to be very skeptical of church leadership. We may think or act as if we’re the ones in charge and resist following someone’s leadership even if it’s a question of preference rather than something that’s actually, doctrinally important.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, NET

Remember, the peace that God expects among people in His church includes the church leadership. They’re not to “lord over” the flock (Matt. 20:25-26; 1 Pet. 5:2-4) but they do have roles of leadership and authority, and they deserve respect. Paul even says to give “double honor” to church elders if they “provide effective leadership,” especially when they “work hard in speaking and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17, NET). When things in the church are working the way God intends, then we all work together as a family with each part of the body filling different roles and some of those parts have more authority than others (all under the headship of Jesus, of course). We’re all learning submission and respect together, ultimately by submitting to Jesus’s leadership as the Good Shepherd.

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ENFJs, the Dead Poet Society, and Ways To Change the World

When I wrote my list of 7 Fictional Characters That You’ll Relate To If You’re An ENFJ, I rewatched the movie Dead Poet Society. I think both John Keating and Neil Perry are ENFJs, but they’re often typed as ENFPs and that got me thinking about some of the main differences between these types. And that led me to pondering the ways that NF types, and ENFJs in particular, work to change the world.

Most people don’t think of ENFJs as a type that would buck the status quo. We see them as harmony creators, best friends, and mentors but not necessarily as someone who swims against the flow of culture. I think that’s the main reason people type Mr. Keating and Neil as ENFPs, who we more often think of as the outspoken champions of causes. But ENFJs do have a rebellious streak. In fact, all NF types are idealists who typically find some way to seek a better world. Though the ways they work toward this change (and what a better world means to them) differ depending on their individual personalities, interests, and experiences most of them do want to change the world in some way.

Just to be clear, NF types aren’t the only ones who care about social change or want to see improvements in the world. Every one of the 16 types does that in their own way, and I’ll be working on a post that covers all of them in the near future. But just for today, I want to focus on ENFJs, ENFPs, and Dead Poet Society.

The Teacher

I’m not a huge fan of giving the Myers-Briggs types nicknames because there’s so much more to each type than can be neatly packaged into a single description. But we can look at the different nicknames as roles that each type fills often enough for it to stick as a label. Teacher, Mentor, Giver, and Charismatic Leader are all descriptions that are used to try and sum-up the key traits of ENFJs. Interestingly, all those labels could be applied to John Keating from Dead Poet Society. Read more

The Problem With Following People (Including Yourself)

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed people in the church don’t always act Christ-like. For many, the worst hurts they’ve suffered from another human being came from someone who called themselves “Christian.” Even if that’s not the case for you, I’m sure you’ve seen pettiness, hypocrisy, and other issues among God’s people.

Yet even though we know human beings aren’t perfect, there’s still a tendency to align ourselves with them. We’ve all known people who found a teacher they like so much they’ll follow him even if he contradicts the Bible. Maybe we’ve even been there ourselves, often without even realizing it. We might also have seen churches break into factions when leaders disagree over a point of doctrine, and then followed one of those leaders as the group splits apart.

When you go through something like that often enough, it’s easy to lose trust in other people. Maybe we stop relying on other Christians, or refuse to listen to the ministry, or become obsessively critical of others. We might decided we’re the only reliable authority on scripture and that it’s dangerous to listen to anyone else.

Wanting someone to follow as an authority, or rejecting others and their ideas to avoid getting hurt, are both natural human impulses. But that doesn’t make either of them a good thing. Whenever we trust a human being (including ourselves) more than God, we’re going to get into trouble. We need to find a balance that lets us live in unity with our brethren while following God first and foremost. Read more

Putting On Our Teacher’s Mind: How Christians Learn To Be Like Jesus

When we go to school or a lecture or seminar, we’re typically looking to find out what the teacher knows. And it’s rare for most of us to have a continuing relationship with a single teacher, unless you’re in an apprenticeship situation. We tend to think of teachers as people you get information from, not necessarily someone you mimic or have a relationship with (though it’s great when that does happen).

These assumptions color how we respond to the Bible’s description of Jesus as Teacher or Rabbi (Matt. 19:16; John 1:38, for example). Being a student of this type of teacher goes beyond just listening to what he has to say. The relationship between a rabbi and their disciples, or talmidim in Hebrew, went deeper.

those who leave family to study and follow the ways of their teacher [rabbi].  They study not only to learn what their teacher knows but to become the type of man their teacher is.” (Psalm 11918.org)

Being taught in this sense isn’t just about taking in knowledge. It’s about changing who you are and how you think.

Putting On Our Teacher's Mind: How Christians Learn To Be Like Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Our Two Great Teachers

We’re not just pulling this idea that disciples of Jesus should become like Him out of Jewish tradition. It comes straight out of the Bible. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, WEB). That’s our goal — to become exactly like our Teacher. And while this title is usually applied to Christ, it also includes God the Father.

It is written in the prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who hears from the Father, and has learned, comes to me. (John 6:45, WEB)

Both member of the God-family are closely involved with teaching us. And as we learn from them, we’re to become like them. The idea that we can become like God is so incredible it’s almost unbelievable, but that really is our ultimate goal (1 John 3:1-2). They mean for us to become part of their family and even share in their oneness (John 17:20-23).

Patterned After God

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about how we need God’s spirit in us to learn the things God gives us. God’s truths don’t make sense to “the natural man … because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9-15, WEB). We need God’s spirit to unlock our minds and transform them. And this process results in us developing “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16, KJV).

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5, KJV) Read more

Instructions To Teachers

In June, I’ll be giving my first seminar at a church-sponsored young adult retreat. The last time I spoke in front of an audience was in a college class five years ago, so I’m a bit nervous. On top of that, teaching the Lord’s people is a serious responsibility. But it’s also one I’m grateful to have an opportunity for here on this blog and soon in-person as well.

While the Bible does talk about female prophets, it’s a bit fuzzy on the subject of women teaching. On the one hand, we have examples of prophetesses advising and instructing and women like Priscilla going out and teaching God’s truth. On the other, we have Paul’s admonitions for women to keep silent in the churches. So if I am going to teach in writing or speech, I want to be particularly careful I go about it in the way God intends.

The New Testament contains several instructions, as well as warnings, for teachers. Many are aimed at people in ministry, but I think in most cases we can apply them to anyone teaching God’s way of life. And to a certain extent, that includes every one of us in the church. Even if we’re not a “teacher,” we’re still serving as examples of God’s way and have a responsibility to faithfully represent Him to others.Instructions To Teachers | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Teach Only Truth

The bulk of the instructions to teachers concerns what they teach. They’re given the responsibility to faithfully share God’s words without straying from His truth. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that their worship was “in vain” because they taught human traditions instead of sound doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). That’s a trap we mustn’t fall into.

Jesus’ parting command to His disciples, which we now call the Great Commission, tells them to teach the nations “to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20, WEB). The early disciples followed that command by teaching in Jesus’ name the same things He taught (Acts 4:18; 5:42; 15:35; 28:31).

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spends quite a bit of time warning him not to get distracted from sound doctrine. There will be people people who teach other doctrines, who get distracted from God’s message, who pollute Christ’s teachings with their own ideas. But that’s not what a teacher of God does. They stick to the scriptures, use the law lawfully, and faithfully practice righteousness (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-12; 6:3-6). Read more