One of the first times that a religious individual tried to show me that the Catholic Church was wrong was by pointing out that we call our priest ‘Father’ even though Christ Himself said not to call anyone by that name. In this article I shall try to explain why it is not against Christ to call our priests ‘father’.
I acknowledge that Jesus did say: “And give no man the name of father on earth: because one is your Father, who is in heaven ” (Mat 23:9). Was Jesus saying an all-encompassing statement? Did He leave any room for exceptions? This verse seems to indicate that the Catholic Church is wrong in calling Her priests ‘father’.
After being barraged with questions mostly to trick Jesus into saying something unscriptural, Jesus turned to the people who were following Him and said: “The scribes and the Pharisees have the authority of Moses; All things, then, which they give you orders to do, these do and keep: but do not take their works as your example, for they say and do not.” Jesus was condemning their actions for they may be teaching correctly but they were not doing what was taught…they were being hypocrites.
But Jesus also said in the next few verses: “But all their works they do as to be seen by men…and the things desired by them are the first places at feasts, and chief seats at Synagogues, and the words of respect in the market-places, and to be named by men, Teacher.” Jesus was denouncing their egos, he was telling everyone that these priests were in it for the fame and not for the Glory of God. And so, our Lord wanted to make sure that the people knew because he did not wish it to continue.
And so, in this context did Jesus say in Matt 23:8 : “But you may not be named Teacher: for one is your teacher, and you are all brothers. And give no man the name father on earth: because one is your Father, who is in heaven.” It seems as if Jesus was trying to condemn what the Pharisees and Saduccees were doing. They were, in effect, misusing the title of Father. It is this misuse that Jesus is condemning.
If Jesus was condemning all uses of the title father then surely His disciples would have understood it that way. But you can see many different instances where Jesus’ apostles use the title father. In the book of Acts St Stephen addresses the rabbis and his fellow jews as “Men, brothers and fathers, listen”(Acts 7:2). Also in Acts 4:25 we find Peter and John Glorifying God saying with one accord: “Sovereign Master, You are the One who has made heaven and earth and the sea and all things in them, Who, through the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, has said, ‘Why, did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise vain things?’” And once more in Acts we find the apostle Paul talking to the elders of Jerusalem saying: “Men, brothers and fathers, hear my defense which I now make to you.”
With these past verses we find that Peter, John, Paul and Stephen all use the title ‘father’. Would it surprise you that even Jesus himself used that title? He uses it when referring to Abraham in his parable of the suffering rich man. Being a parable Jesus is unrestrained in using any and all terms allowable to Him for describing this story and He still chooses to use the term ‘father’ when referring to the rich man by addressing Abraham in Luke 16:24: “…Father Abraham, have mercy on me…” and again in verse 30: “…No, Father Abraham; but if someone risen from the dead would go to them, they will repent.” If Jesus was making an all-encompassing statement when He said to call no man Father, then He either made a mistake (which I don’t believe) or He is not the perfect example of man (which I believe He is the perfect example to follow). Therefore, there is no other conclusion to come of this other than Jesus was denouncing the misuse of the title and not of the word itself. Anything else would deny the deity of Christ.
This little study also points out that to take anything on its own, that is not to use the whole of the scriptures to compare what is said about a certain subject is to possibly bring you to some very wrong beliefs which Christ never intended. Some of what is said in one verse of scripture cannot be all-inclusive statements. It needs to be interpreted in light of other passages that refer to the same subject matter in order to have a clear picture of what the Word of God is trying to teach you.