If you have encounters with non-Catholic Christians you might hope that they will ask you questions that really matter like, “Why do you trust church tradition in addition to the Bible?” or “Do you worship the Pope?” or “What is the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary?”
Unfortunately one of the most common challenges is “Why do you call your priests ‘Father’ when Jesus clearly says, ‘Call no man Father.’ in Matthew 23:9?”
Here are ten answers to this common question.
1. The Bible itself is full of examples of people calling an elder in the faith “Father”. Eliakim the steward is given a fatherly role of governance: Isa. 22:20-21 and in 2 Kings 2:12 Elisha calls Elijah, “My Father, My Father!”
2. The New Testament refers to the first priests (the Apostles) as “Father”. In I Corinthians 4 St Paul teaches about the true nature of being an apostle and refers to himself as the “Father” of the Corinthians (v.15) and goes on to say that Timothy is his son. In I John 2 the Apostle John writes to his “children” and speaks to his fellow priests as “Fathers”. This follows the tradition of referring to the Jewish elders as “Father” (Acts 7:2; 22:1)
3. Focussing on the prohibition against calling someone ‘Father’ misses the point. The point of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23:9 is not to prohibit calling people “Father” but to warn against religious teachers who set themselves up as the sole arbiters of truth. Reading the verse in context makes this clear.4 Jesus is warning against false religious teachers Jesus is teaching his disciples to watch out for egotistical false teachers. In the context he is criticizing the hypocritical Pharisees who were setting themselves up with particular schools of disciples. The disciples reverenced their scholarly teachers with the respectful titles “Father” and “Teacher.”
5. Jesus is teaching the disciples not to be totally subservient to a human teacher. This is similar to Paul’s warning for the early Christians not to give undue reverence and allegiance to their religious teacher. In I Corinthians 3 he says, “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,”are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
But there is a more fundamental problem in this discussion Continue Reading