Was Jesus a Rabbi?

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It was only after 70 A.D. that רַבִּי (rabi) became a formal title for a teacher, and thus cannot correctly be applied to Jesus.

How to cite this article: David N. Bivin, “Was Jesus a Rabbi?” Jerusalem Perspective 9 (1988): 1-2 [https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/2182/].
Revised: 15 June 2023
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To understand the full significance of Jesus being addressed “teacher,” one must know what a Jewish teacher of the first century was and how he functioned in society.

Origin of “Rabbi”

The term “rabbi” is derived from the Hebrew word רַב (rav), which in biblical Hebrew meant “much,” “many,” “numerous” and “great.” The word also was sometimes used to refer to high government officials or army officers (see, for example, Jer. 39:3, 13).

In Jesus’ day, רַב (rav) was used to refer to the master of a slave or of a disciple. Thus, רַבִּי (ra⋅BĪ) literally meant “my master” (a form of address like “sir” in English), and was a term of respect used by slaves in addressing their owners and by disciples in addressing their teachers.

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This article originally appeared in issue 9 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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