Religious Titles

The practice of distinguishing men by religious titles is wide spread in our world. We see and hear many people addressed today as Reverend, Pastor, Preacher, Father, etc.

Is this right, wrong, or a matter of indifference to us?

Wearing religious titles is not new to our age; Jesus dealt with this matter while He was on earth. He specifically forbade some religious titles and set forth the principles that condemned these and other religious titles.

Our purpose in this lesson is to observe the teaching Jesus did on this subject and to look at the meaning of various Bible words that are sometimes abused and misapplied as religious titles.

Matthew 23:1-12

1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. (KJV)

Three Underlying Principles That Condemn The Use of Religious Titles:

1) Men often wear religious titles because they desire the praises of men (Matt. 23:5-7).

God is not pleased with those who seek the praises of men rather than the praise of God (Matt. 6:1-18; John 12:42,43).

2) In Christ we are all brethren (Matt. 23:8). One is not exalted above another; one should not seek a title that appears to elevate him above others.

Gal. 3:26-29

James 2:8-9

This does not mean that everyone in the church has the same talents, occupies the same office, or performs the same duties (Romans 12:4-9; 1 Corinthians 12:24; Ephesians 4:11,12,16; 1 Tim. 2:8-15; 1 Tim. 3:1-13).

Christians must esteem one another better than themselves (Phil. 2:3; Romans 12:10).

3) Men must not assume titles that belong to God or Christ (Matt. 23:8-10).

Specific Titles That Jesus Forbade

1) Rabbi (rhabbi: an official title of honor; my great one; my honorable sir; master). (Matt. 23:8)

There is one Master (didaskalos: a teacher), "Even Christ" (added by the translators, but obviously Jesus has Himself in mind.)

Jesus was often referred to as Rabbi (Jn. 1:35-38,49; Jn. 3:2; Jn. 4:31).

Many of the Jewish faith who are leaders and teachers are wrongly distinguished by this title.

2) Father (Matt. 23:9)

Not talking about the earthly relationship between a man and his child (Luke 15:21; Eph. 6:2,4), but religious titles.

There is one Father which is in heaven.

Eph. 4:6

Many who are leaders in the Catholic Church and Episcopalian Church are distinguished wrongly by this title.

Padre is Spanish for Father and should not be used either.

3) Master or Teacher (kathegetes: a guide, i.e., teacher.)

Jesus has no reference to the secular slave /master relationship (Eph. 6:5), nor is He forbidding us from describing people who impart knowledge to others in either the secular or religious work as teachers (Eph. 4:11,12; 2 Tim. 2:2).

Jesus is forbidding religious titles that suggest some sort of Lordship and that elevate one brother above another in religion.

There is one Master (kathegetes: a teacher, a guide) even Christ.

Some Biblical Words That Are Sometimes Abused and Misused As Religious Titles

1) Priest

Old Testament priests were people who were appointed by God to attend the tabernacle or temple, offer sacrifices, etc.

The New Testament Christ is our High Priest and the only mediator between God and man (Heb. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:5). All Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6).

2) Elders

Perhaps, you have had the experience of answering the door bell and 2 young men are standing there who introduce themselves as elder ..and elder .
Elder is not these young men's' first name, but is used as a title by them and the Mormon religion.

3) Pastor

Many in denominations refer to their preachers by this title.

4) Bishop

This title is used frequently by Catholics and Methodists

In the New Testament these three terms all referred to the same office (Acts 20:17,28; Tit. 1:5,7; 1 Pet. 5:1,2).
Each term described some aspect of the persons holding this office. Elder suggests that one is mature in faith.Pastor refers to the work done by those in the office; they tend the flock among them (1 Pet. 5:1,2). Bishop also suggests the nature of their work; they are to oversee the church. There were qualifications these men had to meet before they could assume this work (1 Tim. 3:1-7). There must always be more than one pastor serving a church (Acts 14:23; Tit. 1:5). While some preachers were bishops, not all preachers meet the qualifications of the office nor do the work of a bishop, and neither are all bishops preachers (Eph. 4:11,12).

In the New Testament, the terms elder, pastor, and bishop refers to the office and work done by these men; it is not a religious title used to exalt them above their brethren.

5) Saint

Catholics and many in the world use this as a title for someone they deem to have lived an extraordinarily good life.

In the New Testament, the word saint means holy.
All Christians are saints (Phil. 1:3).

6) Brother

When used in the scriptures, this word is used to describe a relationship. It is not meant to be used as a title to exalt one person above another (Matthew 23:8).

7) Evangelist or Minister

Both of these terms are found in the scriptures (Eph. 4:11,12; 1 Tim. 4:6). They describe the work that some did in proclaiming the word of the Lord. Neither was used as a religious title to suggest they were above their brethren.

Titles Not Found In The Bible But That Are Condemned In Principles

1) Reverend

The term Reverend is use often to address denominational preachers.

The name of the Lord is Holy and Reverend (Psalms 111:9).
We must not assume a title in religion that belongs only to the Lord.

2) Dr.

This is not to suggest that those in the medical field are wrong in wearing the title; the title identifies the work they do.

We object to it in the religious work when used to elevate one above his brethren.


Jesus has forbidden some titles specifically. He has condemned others by the principles that He taught. We must respect the Lord's word and neither call nor be called by religious titles.

Through humble obedience we are exalted (1 Peter 5:6); through service we are made great in the kingdom (Matt. 20:26).