Call No Man “Father”

Q. How can Catholics call their priests “Father” when scripture clearly says, “Call no man father”?

A. When you read Matthew 23:1-12 it can seem like Jesus is prohibiting the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father”.

Matthew 23:8-12 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.[a] 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

However, from this we see that if we were to take these words literally no Christian should ever call anyone ON EARTH Rabbi, Father, or teacher. Now of course Rabbi is not used at all among Christians but not because of this verse in Matthew but because it is reserved for use of Jewish teachers. However, no one in all of Christendom seems to have any problem with calling a teacher a teacher or their dad Father. Why is this OK but calling a Catholic priest “father” is NOT OK?

Jesus is emphasizing in context that all legitimate authority and truth reside in God alone. And we must not let ourselves replace the authority of God with mere human authority. He could not possibly be prohibiting the use of the words father and teacher, as we shall see.

In the Old Testament alone there are over 1500 uses of the word “father” by the inspired authors. Sometimes it is referring to…..well…fathers…and sometimes it is referring to fathers in the faith. The Matthew passage cannot be an absolute prohibition of the word “father.” After all no one in Christendom follows this anyway.

But, it will be argued that, “Of course, Jesus was not talking about birth fathers but about religious authorities. They are the ones who should not be called, “Father”. However, Scripture does not support this theory either.

This verse says, “call no one on earth father”. So it is an interpretation to say this refers only to religious leaders.

Why does Scripture use this title for religious leaders?

Luke 1:73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham ( John the Baptists Father)

Also, in his speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen addresses the Jewish religious leaders as fathers.

Acts 7:1-2 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”2To this he replied: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me!

St. Paul also addresses the Jewish religious leaders as fathers.

Acts 22:1“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians reminds them that they only have one father in Christ, himself. And he claims them as his spiritual children.

1 Corinthians 4:14-15 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

St. Paul continues this father/child relationship in the following epistles. He identifies himself as their spiritual father either directly as in I Thess. or indirectly by calling Timothy and Titus his “true son in faith”.

1 Thessalonians 2:11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,

1 Timothy 1:2 To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Titus 1:4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

St.Paul felt a fatherly affection for those he brought to life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And he had no problem with appropriating this title to himself.

And then Jesus Himself uses “father Abraham” in

Luke 16:24 & 30So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire….’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Based on the reality of so many other passages of scripture it would seem that picking out the phrase “call no man on earth..father” has been latched onto for the sole purpose of vilifying the Catholic Church. Especially, since the application of this passage is not consistent because the use of “teacher” and “rabbi” are not equally excoriated.

Our priests forgo ordinary marriage in order to marry the Bride of Christ–The Church. As a faithful Bridegroom, the priest is even more fruitful than an ordinary husband, by giving birth to many souls for the Kingdom of God through the sacraments. Out of love and respect for these doctors of our souls we fittingly honor them by calling them Father.

8 Responses

  1. It seems Paul’s words are always used to contradict Jesus’ word.

  2. Dear John,
    But Luke, who wrote Acts of the Apostles, and Stephen who Luke quotes also must seem to “contradict” Jesus too? If Paul or Luke contradict Christ then we have a gigantic problem. We say the Sacred Scriptures are infallible. But if we have scripture actually contradicting scripture they cannot both be TRUE! Either one is true and one is false or else these scriptures cannot be truly infallible.

    This was Martin Luther’s conclusion when he developed his theology of “Faith Alone”. So, he solved his dilema by simply deleting five New Testament books from his Bible.
    James, I Peter, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation contradicted his new theology. So, rather than wonder if his new theology was in error he just got rid of the books that did not agree with him. He was later persuaded reluctantly to return these books to his Bible.

    We need to be docile before the scriptures and question our own interpretation. We must consider that perhaps there is a way to understand both so that they support each other…give light on another facet of truth.

    If one is convinced that Jesus literally meant “Call no one father or teacher or rabbi.”
    How can the Acts and Pauline passages be understood? Were these men rebelling against Jesus?
    Why do Protestants have no problem with calling male parent “father”?
    Why do Protestants criticize Catholics for calling their priests “Father” in imitation of Paul but have no problem with calling their own pastors “teacher” or “pastor-teacher“?

  3. if you were Born-Again ,you would understand what the Holy Spirit is saying! Scriptures don`t contradict themselves,and Jesus is not confused.Martin Luther and Calvin are simply a continuation of the historic Catholic Church,but under a different and “purified” form.Luther himself vehemently affirms their essential oneness with the Catholic Church!

  4. Peter,
    The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ Himself. Why would any Christian want to belong to any church other than the one He founded and desired to be ONE?

  5. How can you say that the Catholic Church was established by Jesus Christ Himself, when googling “Origin of The Catholic Church, you learn that The Catholic Church was established between 300 to 400 years after Jesus walked on the Earth.
    Donald E. Miller

  6. @ Donald: You can’t expect to find unbiased history of Catholicism from anti-Catholic sources. Happily, one can easily investigate and verify for him- or herself on the veracity of the claims of the Catholic Church from secular and non-Catholic sources like the Britannica Encyclopedia and other respectable scholarly places. For an introduction, try this Catholic source:

    And here’s a good timeline on Christianity:

  7. Dear Donald,
    To add to Hoc Est’s link, which was very interesting, let me say simply, Jesus Himself said He would found a church.

    Mt 16:17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

    And His Church was called Catholic: The Early Church Fathers on The Church

    Ignatius of Antioch-[A.D. 110]

    Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).

    The Martyrdom of Polycarp-[A.D. 110]

    When finally he concluded his prayer, after remembering all who had at any time come his way – small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world – the time for departure came. So they placed him on an ass, and brought him into the city on a great Sabbath (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8 [A.D. 110]).

    Irenaeus [A.D. 189]

    The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said (Against Heresies 1:10 [A.D. 189]).

    Tertullian [A.D.200]

    Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago – in the reign of Antoninus for the most part – and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled (The Prescription Against Heretics 22,30 [A.D.200])

    Cyprian [A.D. 251]

    The spouse of Christ cannot be defiled; she is uncorrupted and chaste. She knows one home . . . Does anyone believe that this unity which comes from divine strength, which is closely connected with the divine sacraments, can be broken asunder in the Church and be separated by the divisions of colliding wills? He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation (On the Unity of the Catholic Church 6 [A.D. 251]).

    Peter speaks there, on whom the Church was to be built, teaching and showing in the name of the Church, that although a rebellious and arrogant multitude of those who will not hear or obey may depart, yet the Church does not depart from Christ; and they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another (Letters 66 [A.D. 253]).

    For an interesting thought experiment—>Which Church Did Jesus Start?

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