We’ve been looking at the names of God and how his names help us understand him better. This week I want to look at the name, ‘Rabbi’.
When the Son of God was on earth, his disciples often referred to him as ‘Rabbi’. But what does ‘Rabbi’ mean?
The Apostle John actually tells us what ‘Rabbi’ means. In his Gospel. When John is describing Christ’s early interactions with his disciples we read: ‘The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”’ (John 1:35-38). So, ‘rabbi’ means ‘teacher’.
‘Rabbi’ is originally a Hebrew word. John offers a translation because he wrote for a Greek speaking audience and knows that they may not have been familiar with Hebrew.
The Hebrew word ‘Rabbi’ literally means ‘my great one’ and so it is easy to see how it came to be used to refer to teachers. A student understands that their teacher is greater than them, particularly in knowledge and skills. If the teacher wasn’t greater than the student, then the student would no longer bother attending classes.
But is God a Rabbi? Is God a great one? Does God have great knowledge? Is God a teacher? Yes. Absolutely.
There is no one with more knowledge than God. David says: ‘O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in– behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain’ (Psalm 139:1-6).
So God is more than qualified to be a teacher. As Isaiah says: ‘Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? (Isaiah 40:13-14).
But is God willing to teach us his knowledge? Yes. Jesus says: ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ (John 14:23-26). God the Father teaches us by his Son and the Holy Spirit.
So God is indeed a ‘Rabbi’.
But is he your Rabbi? Do you listen to God and do what he says? Or do you believe that you are greater than God and have no need for him to teach you anything?