John 13:13-15:
Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

”Rabbi,” “master,” and “teacher “ are used synonymously in the New Testament. “Rabbi” is a transliteration from the Greek and means “my great one” or “my honourable sir.” It was a title used in addressing their teachers (and also to honor them when not addressing them directly). It is used 17 times in the New Testament and is translated “master” 9 times and “rabbi” 8 times. All but three of them are used of Jesus. There is another word always translated “master,” kathēgētēs which is used 3 times. It refers to a guide, master, leader or teacher. Jesus refers to himself as the kathēgētēs of his disciples in Matthew 23:10. Matthew 23:8 shows how rabbi and kathēgētēs are used synonymously,

Matthew 23:8:
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master [kathēgētēs], even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

“Teacher” is didaskalos. Didaskalos is used 58 times in the New Testament and is translated “master” (47 times), teacher (10 times) and “doctor” once. When used of Jesus it is translated “master” 40 times. “Teacher” is more of a descriptive or functional title. It is derived from the verb didaskō, “to teach,” and is used many times as a form of address in the Gospels. John 1:38b and 3:2 shows how rabbi and didaskalos are used synonymously.

John 1:38b:
They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master [didaskalos],) where dwellest thou?

John 3:2:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher [didaskalos] come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Jesus is widely seen as a teacher and even given the respected title of “rabbi,” even by some of Jerusalem’s elite, such as Nicodemus – a member of the ruling Jerusalem Sanhedrin and considered a “teacher of Israel” in his own right (John 3:10).

”Rabbi” isn’t really a word for the clergy of Jesus’ time. Rhabbi (literally from the Hebrew meaning “my great one” was used as a form of address much like “lord” or “master.” In Jesus’ day it was particularly used as an honorary title for outstanding teachers of the law. Jesus castigates the scribes and Pharisees for desiring to be called by such an exalted title: “They love. . . being called rabbi by others” (Matthew 23:5-7). This title was extended to John the Baptist (John 3:26), but is mainly used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. Twice Jesus is called “Rabboni,” an alternate form of Rabbi, translated “my lord” or “my master” (Mark 10:51; John 20:16).

“Master” is commonly used by the KJV to translate rhabbi, didaskalos and kathēgētēs. This is more a British usage than American English. In the British educational system, scholars are sometimes referred to as “master” (for example, “headmaster” or “master of arts”). Only rarely do modern translations use “master” in a teaching context (Matthew 23:8, NIV). Rather, they reserve the term “master” as a translation for kurios, “lord” or “owner” and use it in a master-servant relationship. Seven times in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is called epistatēs, always translated “master,” which is used of all sorts or superintendents or overseers (Luke 5:5; 8:24, 45; 9:33, 49; 17;13).

All these words were used synonymously in the Gospels to reflect the kind of teaching conducted by a rabbi with his students or disciples. In Jesus’ day a rabbi would gather disciples or students around him. They would accompany him wherever he went, listening to him, following his teaching, imitating him and helping him with his work.

We see this arrangement in the Gospels. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher…. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. . . .” (Matthew 10:24-25, ESV). The word “disciple” (mathētēs) means literally, “learner or pupil.” In the Gospels, it usually refers to “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciples or adherents.” It is not by accident that Jesus carefully chose 12 men to train to be apostles or “sent ones.” Many people followed him, but these twelve were appointed “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). Jesus and his band of twelve, of course, were joined by other close associates, some of whom provided for his mission financially (Luke 8:1-3). But when Jesus moved, he travelled with an entourage that included these twelve.

Near the close of his time with the twelve, Jesus makes the statement recorded in the verses of the day at the top of the lesson. The twelve were with him to learn, and he made a specific application of his teaching for them. Should we not also follow his example as we do our utmost to be like him and walk in his steps.

By Wayne Clapp