The Master


In many martial arts systems, there are those who call themselves or are called by others, “Master”.  Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the term “master” as being commonly used to refer to a male teacher, an artisan qualified to teach apprentices, a player of consummate skill, a great figure of the past whose work serves as a model or ideal, a presiding officer in an institution or society.  Some, even all, of these definitions may truly apply to those who use or accept the title of Master, but, how then do we handle the clear teaching of Scripture denouncing its use as a title?

 Jesus addressed the issue of leaders who coveted recognition. Jesus said “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” He went on to say “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Then He cautioned “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:10-12 – King James Version)  The question that arises then is; should we follow the guidance of Merriam Webster or Scripture? 

Mario Pei explains the goal of producers of dictionaries in “A Historical Sketch of the English Language” found in the New Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition.  Mr. Pei wrote; “It is the task of good dictionaries to keep abreast of the rising tide of words that threatens to engulf us; grant them admission where permanence is more or less assured, and reject the nonce [special occasion] words; to indicate those words which have become completely archaic … properly label as obsolescent others … and maintain a clear-cut distinction between what is standard and what is substandard, what is general … and what is purely localism.”  Mr. Pei makes it very clear that new words are continually created by mankind to communicate new ideas and new concepts and that the task of good dictionaries is to act as a word clearing house and to provide a clear-cut distinction between standard and substandard usage.  So, it appears that producers of dictionaries are not the last word on the true meaning of words, mankind is.

Since mankind determines the meaning of words and producers of dictionaries merely record their meanings and distinguish between standard and substandard usage, then the definition provided in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary for the term “master”, would seem to be an acceptable term for distinguished martial artists.  But, for the Christian, how will we handle the clear teaching of Jesus Christ who said that mankind is not to be called by the title of master?

The Greek word, kathegetes, translated “master” in the King James Bible is translated “teacher” in the New King James Bible. While the words master or teacher may be an accurate interpretation of the definitions sited in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, for the Christian, the warning we have from Jesus cautions us not to elevate ourselves or another to a position of reverence. Clearly, one could refer to a male teacher or a great figure of the past whose work serves as a model or ideal, as a master, and not confer upon him the title of Master.  Likewise, one could refer to an artisan qualified to teach apprentices, as a teacher, and not confer upon him the title of Teacher. For the Christian, the titles of Master and Teacher should be reserved for Christ and the teachings of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary should be weighed against the teachings of the Master / Teacher.