Is Jesus contradicting himself with the use of the word "father" for Abraham?
The problem for some is that Catholic priests are usually addressed as "father." 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. They believe this way, even though there are many examples of ordinary people, in the Bible, being referred to as "father."
Some of the Protestant fringe groups such as 7th day Adventists, 7th day Baptists, independent nondenominational groups and others indulge in this sort of allegation.
For them, calling priests "father" is not Biblical and is false teaching. Herein lies the problem, these same people, using this against the Church; call their own biological fathers, "father." And their own Bible regularly uses the word "father" for people other than God. Even though this is true, they will still object, to addressing clergy as "father."
In fairness to my Protestant friends usually this type of allegation is not coming from mainline 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 wayside, 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.”
It is usually only the newer Evangelical churches, who are not aware of Protestant history, who have a problem with the use of the word "father" being applied to clergy.
How can you be against the use of the word "father" when God makes Abraham "the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:56)? Jesus used the word "father" 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 many 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” (Mat 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” (Mat 1O:37). Here Jesus uses the word father for biological fathers and Jesus 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 do not call earthly fathers, God.
We have many fathers in this world, but we only have one Father who is our creator. References are made to 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, who is our Father in Heaven. The use of the word "father" for others is acceptable as long as we don’t mean that the person is God the Father.
Jesus said "Call no man on earth your father" (Mat 23:9).
God called Abraham father; "No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen 17:5-6).
The Apostle Paul called himself, father; "For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor.4:15).
Jesus calls Abraham, father; "And he cried out, Father Abraham, have pity on me" (Lk.16:24).
The Apostle Paul calls Abraham, Father; "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).
James calls Abraham father: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar” (Jm 2:21)?
Stephen calls Abraham father; “the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” (Acts 7:1).
John refers to others as father; "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning” (1 Jn 2:13).
Jesus references earthly fathers; "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).
Not acknowledging that the word "father" is used for others in Scripture is a most convenient ignorance. Tim Staples, a Pentecostal brother, used to go after Catholics who used the word “father” when addressing Catholic priests. This worked out very well until he ran into a Catholic, who started referencing many of the places where the word “father,” in Scripture, is used for persons, other than God. Tim conceded that you can call others "father." "Well alright you can call a physical father, "father; what Jesus meant was you don't call spiritual leaders father." By saying this, Tim was coming from his man-made tradition because Jesus doesn't say this in the Bible.
His Catholic friend retorted "Let's go to Luke 16:24, Jesus refers to Abraham as father Abraham. He looked me in the eye and said, 'Tim would you say that Abraham is a spiritual leader?' Of course I had to acknowledge that Abraham is a spiritual leader." He was our spiritual father in the faith." Tim is now working for Catholic answers in San Diego.
As Tim put it, “I was being out Bibled by a Catholic” https://www.facebook.com/tim.staples.catholic.evangelist/
From a Catholic Biblical point of view this is pretty elementary. The word "father," in scripture, is used in many different ways for lots of different people. My Catholic friends are often times frustrated in dealing with non-Catholics. They do not understand, why after explaining this that some non-Catholics still object to the word "father" being used for others.
However; let's take a look at this from their point of view. These same non-Catholics have been taught, from the time they were children, that the Catholic Church is false Christianity. And they are taught further that the use of the word "father" for others is an example of this false Christianity. If they were to acknowledge that the word "father" for others is Biblical, then they have to admit that the Catholic Church, what they call false Christianity, got this one right.
This is huge for them to admit, because they would implicitly be admitting that their non-Catholic church, the church of their youth, got it wrong. If they cannot believe the church of their youth, then who can they believe? These same people are not ready to become Catholic and yet they are troubled that their non-Catholic tradition got it wrong. And so what do you expect them to do? This is why non-Catholics have to ignore or attempt to explain away the many Biblical references to the word "father" being used for others. My experience is that they tend to change the subject.