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118 Jesus said “Call no man on earth your father” and yet He referred to Abraham as “Father.” Why???


The problem for some is that Catholic priests are usually addressed as father, and after all, didn’t Jesus say “Call no man on earth your father” (Mt 23:9). There is this belief by a distinct minority of non-Catholics that the Catholic Church is clearly wrong in calling priests father, because, for them, Jesus forbids it in Mathew 23:9. And they believe this way, even though there are hundreds of examples of people in the Bible being referred to as father. 

Some of the Protestant fringe groups such as 7th day Adventists, 7th day Baptists, independent non-denominational groups and others indulge in this sort of allegation. For them, calling priests father is not Biblical and a false teaching. Herein lies the problem, these same people, using this against the Church; call their own fathers, father. If they read the Bible regularly then they have used the word father on hundreds of occasions for people other than God and this is okay for them, but they only have a problem with others calling priests father. 

In fairness to my Protestant friends usually this type of allegation is not coming from main-line denominational Protestants. The reason they don’t use this against Catholics is because they know something about their own history. All though the practice has fallen by the way side, Protestant used to refer to their own ministers as father. 

The practice of calling Protestant ministers father can be confirmed by David L. Holmes in this article, http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1916 . David Holmes says; “American Protestants regularly called their clergy "Father" 200 and 300 years ago, and some continued to do so a century ago. And during the same years, Protestants addressed venerated women in their churches as "Mother." The title "Father" was used in four ways in addressing clergy (see my article, "Fathers and Brethren," Church History [September 1968], pp. 298-318). In early America "Father" was a title of respect for elderly men. Although, for example, "Mister" (the designation of a gentleman and a college graduate) was the normal title for Puritan clergy in colonial New England, Congregationalists. Baptists, Methodists and German Reformed commonly addressed older ministers as "Father" well into the 19th century…Thus the title of ‘Doctor" gradually replaced "Father" as the professional expectation for Protestant parish clergy. Most Protestant ministers now looked forward to being called" Doctor," honoris causa, so "Father" (and its companion "Mother") virtually disappeared from Protestant use.” 

This is the reason why older main-line denominational Protestants do not have a problem with the use of the word father for clergy. It is only the newer non-Catholic churches, who do not have a history and are not aware of Protestant history, who have a problem with the word father applied to clergy.  How can you be against the use of the word father for others when Jesus used it in reference to Abraham; “And he cried out, Father Abraham, have pity on me” (Lk.16:24). The apostle Paul used the word father to refer to himself; “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor.4:15). There are hundreds of examples of people, who are not god, being called father in Scripture. 

We now know that Mathew 23:9 cannot be used as an absolute prohibition against using the word father for others. However; Jesus did say “Call no man on earth your father” (Matt. 23:9) and so what did he mean if it is not an absolute prohibition. We can get some clues in other parts of Scripture. Jesus also said; “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt.1O:37). Here Jesus uses the word father for biological fathers and He makes the point that we are to love Him more than biological fathers and mothers. And so when he says “call no man father,” He is using the word father in an exclusive sense to refer to, God the Father. 

We have many fathers in this world, but we only have one father who is our creator. We have mothers and fathers and we refer to them as co-creators cooperating with God. Never-the-less, there is only one ultimate creator, one ultimate father, our Father in Heaven. We can use the word father to refer to others as long as we don’t mean that that person is the Father God, when in fact they are a human being. 

Jesus used the word father for others. Paul referred to himself as the father of the people he was in contact with. There are hundreds of examples in Scripture of people being called father. There is a lack of intellectual honesty and a lack of historical understanding on the part of some, who claim the use of father for priests is false religion. 

  • Call no man on earth your father (Matt. 23:9).
  • For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel (1 Cor.4:15). 
  • And he cried out, Father Abraham, have pity on me (Lk.16:24). 
  • But to those who follow the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God (Rom.4:16). 
  • If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Lk.14:26).