Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Calling Men Father

Matthew 23:1-12:

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

OK, so what's He saying here? What's His point? He is admonishing those who would raise themselves up as "holier than thou," are spiritually prideful, and boasters. He is saying that we are not to put any man, including ourselves, including the Pope, above God, simple as that. He is not saying that we are not to literally ever call a man father or rabbi or teacher or master; to believe otherwise is to call Him a liar because He Himself calls people father, in both the physical and spiritual sense (in that same chapter, even, in Mark 7, Mark 10, Mark 13, Luke 6, etc.) and doesn't admonish those who refer to "our father David" as they greet Him during His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The four evangelists speak the same way, Christ's Mother speaks the same way, as does Paul who refers numerous times to our "father Abraham."

More important to the argument is Paul's acknowledging his own spiritual fatherhood, I Corinthians 4:14-17 being among the most explicit in which he says "I have begotten you through the Gospel," translated in the NIV and NASB (among others) as "I became your father through the Gospel." Tellingly, in this verse he even distinguishes between people who teach about Christ and "fathers" in Christ (see verse below) -- i.e., he differentiates between all Christians, who are exhorted to teach about Christ, and "spiritual fathers," who are ordained priests.

In addition, he is constantly referring to his "children," calls Timothy and Oneismus his "sons," and indicates that the other elders (presbyteros, priests) do the same: 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12: "As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children." Spiritual fatherhood is a New Testament reality.

If you want to interpret the above verses to mean that Catholics are woefully sinning by calling their priests "Father," and that Jesus meant we are to never literally call anyone "father," "rabbi," "mater," or "teacher," then for consistency's sake you'd better stop using the following words and phrases: Mister (means "Master"), Master of Ceremonies, Maitre d', master of the house, master sergeant, magistrate (from the Latin "magistratus" for "master"), Master of Arts (M.A.), founding father, city father, snake doctor, and witch doctor, teacher, substitute teacher, student teacher, and so forth. And you'd best never let me hear you calling your Dad "father" and you'd better start addressing the guy who works at the synagogue as "hey, you" and wax as indignant toward Jews who won't buy your ideas as you are toward Catholics. You might also want to start getting extremely indignant at the forced blasphemy every time you fill in a government form asking for "Father's Name."

So, decide: was Jesus being figurative in Matthew 23:1-12 and making a point about the spiritually prideful and those who are impressed by them -- or did He contradict Himself when He went on to refer to people as "fathers" in that very same chapter? Was He being literal or were the evangelists correct in referring to both physical and spiritual fathers? Is it OK to consider the presbyters "fathers" or were Paul and the other priests making a big mistake?

Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Greek rhabbi, from Hebrew rabbI my master, from rabh master + -I my Date: before 12th century
1 : MASTER, TEACHER — used by Jews as a term of address 2 : a Jew qualified to expound and apply the halakah and other Jewish law 3 : a Jew trained and ordained for professional religious leadership; specifically : the official leader of a Jewish congregation

Etymology: alteration of [1]master
1 : capitalized : MR. — used sometimes in writing instead of Mr. 2 : SIR — used without a name as a generalized term of direct address of a man who is a stranger <hey, mister, do you want to buy a paper> 3 : a man not entitled to a title of rank or an honorific or professional title <though he was only a mister, he was a greater scholar in his field than any PhD> 4 : HUSBAND

Etymology: Middle English doctour teacher, doctor, from Middle French and Medieval Latin; Middle French, from Medieval Latin doctor, from Latin, teacher, from docEre to teach —more at DOCILE
1 a : an eminent theologian declared a sound expounder of doctrine by the Roman Catholic Church; called also doctor of the church b : a learned or authoritative teacher c : a person who has earned one of the highest academic degrees (as a PhD) conferred by a university d : a person awarded an honorary doctorate (as an LLD or Litt D) by a college or university 2 a : one skilled or specializing in healing arts; especially : a physician, surgeon, dentist, or veterinarian who is licensed to practice

Relevant Scripture

Mark 11:9-10
And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

Matthew 23:29-31
[Jesus speaking in same chapter as the "Don't call men 'fathers' verse] Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Luke 6:23
[Christ speaking] Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.

Romans 4:1
What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?

Romans 4:11-18
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

Romans 9:3-5
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 11:28
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes.

I Corinthians 4:14-17
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. [NIV: "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."] [NASB: "For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." -- He not only talks about spiritual fatherhood in these verses, he differentiates the spiritual fatherhood of the presbytery from common teachers about Christ.]

1 Corinthians 10:1
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

Galatians 1:14
And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

Galatians 4:19-20
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

Philippians 2:19-22
But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12
As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

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

1 Timothy 5:1
Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren;

Philemon 1:10
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: [ESV: "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.


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