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Call No Man Father
Tim Staples' Blog ^ | October 21, 2013 | Tim Staples

Posted on 12/17/2013 8:22:57 AM PST by GonzoII

Call No Man Father

The other day I received a rather lengthy email from a fellow responding to a chapter in my book, Nuts and Bolts – A Practical How-To Guide for Explaining and Defending the Catholic Faith, specifically responding to my defense of calling priests “father.”

Score One Up For the Protestants

I have answered this question hundreds of times over the years, but this fellow’s critique caught my attention first of all because he used my own style of argumentation against me. I liked that. “Matthew 23:9,” he reminded me, “says, ‘Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.’ What would Jesus have to say to you, Tim, to get you to believe you can’t call your priest ‘father,’ other than by saying, ‘Call no man your father on earth?’”

I have to believe this fellow has heard me speak before because I have often (too often?) used a similar line, “What else would Jesus have to say…” to argue in favor of various Catholic doctrines. In fact, I used that very approach in my debate with Dr. Peter Barnes on the Eucharist in Sydney, Australia, when we were discussing John 6:53.

Cudos to my interlocutor at this point, but that would be, quite frankly, about the only round he had in his magazine.

An Earthly Argument

In Nuts and Bolts, I point out the fact that notwithstanding Jesus’ words in Matthew 23, St. Paul calls people “on the earth” father in Ephesians 6:2-4:

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Is this a contradiction?

Many will respond at this point and claim Jesus is not just condemning calling anyone father; rather, he is condemning calling religious leaders “father.” As I explain in my book, this is easily dismissed when we consider the words of our Lord from Luke 16:24:

And he (the rich man) called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.”

Abraham is clearly a “religious leader.” And Jesus is not alone in referring to him as “father.” St. James refers to Abraham as “father” in James 2:21, while St. Paul refers to Abraham as “father” seven times in Romans 4:1-18. If you believe in the inspiration of Sacred Scripture, St. James and St. Paul cannot contradict Jesus in Matthew 23:9.

At this point, my new friend argued something slightly different from what I’ve heard before. He said words to the effect of: “The key here is found in the words ‘on the earth.’ Abraham was not on earth. So Jesus was not simply condemning giving the ‘title’ of ‘father’ to men, but giving it to religious leaders who are on earth. And that is precisely what Catholics do!”

The Catholic Response

The first problem here is Jesus did not say “give no spiritual leader on earth the title father.” He simply said, “Call no man on earth your father.” More on that in a moment. For now, let’s follow the argument. So now our Protestant friend is saying it is okay to call our dads “father” because they are not “spiritual leaders” in the Church. We can also call our spiritual forefathers like Abraham or Jacob (John 4:12) father because they are no longer “on earth.”

Sounds okay so far, but here’s the problem. In I John 2:13-14, St. John refers to the leaders of the church in Ephesus to whom he is most likely writing as “fathers” twice. And notice he gives them the title “father.”

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning…

Notice, he does not say they are “fathers” because they are married with children. They are “fathers,” spiritually speaking. And they are presumably “on the earth.”

In Acts 7:1-2, St. Stephen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls both Abraham and the elders of Jerusalem “father” in the same breath:

And the high priest said, “Is this so?” And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…”

And in I Corinthians 4:14-15, St. Paul refers to himself as “father”:

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

What Does the Bible Actually Say?

What we need to do is get back to Matthew 23:9 and let the surrounding verses clarify things for us:

(8) But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. (9) And call no man your father… for you have one Father… (10) Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.

We have “one teacher,” and yet, many are called “teacher” in the New Testament (see James 3:1; Ephesians 4:11, etc.). We have “one master,” or leader, and yet, we have many “leaders” in the body of Christ to whom we are called to submit (Hebrews 13:17 uses the same Greek root for “leader” when it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them…”).

Ultimately, the key to understanding all of these seemingly contradictory texts is found in a proper understanding of the nature of the Body of Christ.

I am going to call upon the Douay-Rheims (Confraternity Edition) translation of Ephesians 3:14-15 to help me out here:

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom all paternity (Gr. – paternia – “fatherhood”) in heaven and earth is named.

God, the Father, is our one true Father. Any other case of true fatherhood, be it a father “on earth,” a spiritual leader in the Church, or a spiritual forefather in heaven, participates in the Father’s unique Fatherhood and represents it to us. It neither takes away nor adds to this one unique Fatherhood; it establishes that fatherhood on earth via participatio. 

In his famous Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1, Para. 23, St. Athanasius makes this very point explaining how Ephesians 3:14-15 employs a play on words when it says, “For this cause I bow my knees to the father of lights…” Father here is patera, in Greek. It then says, “… of whom all paternity (fatherhood, paternia in Greek) … is named,” or, “is derived.” The play on words brings out the truth that true paternia (fatherhood) participates in our one, true Pater in heaven.

The context of Matthew 23 emphasizes the sin of pride among the scribes and Pharisees. They loved to be called “teacher”, “father”, or “Rabbi,” but their pride pointed men to themselves rather than to God the Father from whom they received true fatherhood and in whom their fatherhood subsisted. Outside of God the Father, there are no fathers at all in the true sense of the term. But in God, we have all sorts of true “fathers.”

Moreover, we must recall that Roman Caesars all the way back to Caesar Augustus, thirty years before our Lord would utter these words, demanded divine adoration from citizens of the empire. Many early Christians were martyred not simply for refusing to adore that pantheon of the gods, but for refusing to adore (worship) the emperor. And guess what one of the emperor’s titles was? “Father!” He was the “father” of the empire and the citizens were his children who had to worship him as a god.

This brings a whole knew light to Jesus’ words, “Call no man father…”

Ultimately, Jesus is condemning the usurpation of the fatherhood of God in Matthew 23:9, not the proper participation in that fatherhood.



TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; timstaples
1 Jn 2:14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.

Eph 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

1 posted on 12/17/2013 8:22:57 AM PST by GonzoII
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To: GonzoII
"Moreover, we must recall that Roman Caesars all the way back to Caesar Augustus, thirty years before our Lord would utter these words, demanded divine adoration from citizens of the empire. Many early Christians were martyred not simply for refusing to adore that pantheon of the gods, but for refusing to adore (worship) the emperor. And guess what one of the emperor’s titles was? “Father!”/ He was the “father” of the empire and the citizens were his children who had to worship him as a god."

You learn something everyday!

2 posted on 12/17/2013 8:26:05 AM PST by GonzoII (Ted Cruz/Susana Martinez 2016)
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To: GonzoII

I will call my priest Father untilhe proves he is not worthy of it.

That is why I no longer call Jenkins at Notre dame Father.

Perhaps the Church recognizes him, but I do not.


3 posted on 12/17/2013 8:26:22 AM PST by Venturer (Half Staff the Flag of the US for Terrorists.)
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To: Venturer

I’m a priest. ALL christians are priests.

Will you call me Father?

Just curious.


4 posted on 12/17/2013 8:30:06 AM PST by Responsibility2nd (NO LIBS. This Means Liberals and (L)libertarians! Same Thing. NO LIBS!!)
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To: Responsibility2nd

I need a little more than that how about I call you Hoss.


5 posted on 12/17/2013 8:41:24 AM PST by Venturer (Half Staff the Flag of the US for Terrorists.)
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To: GonzoII

Excellently argued. There are a LOT of Bible verses and traditions to be considered, not just one, and he does it very well.


6 posted on 12/17/2013 8:43:26 AM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: GonzoII

Abraham was recognized as the father of many nations and the father of faith. The context of Matt 23:9 is that no man is supreme over you in matters of faith. You are responsible for your eternal destiny. This way you can’t direct this responsibility to another charismatic religious leader. No matter what the evangelist in Florida says or the Pope in Rome says, YOU are responsible to search out the Scriptures to please God and obey His Word. It lends more weight to Sola Scriptura than the “I sure thought God said He wouldn’t let His Church err” philosophy to abdicate this personal obligation.


7 posted on 12/17/2013 8:55:24 AM PST by BipolarBob
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To: GonzoII
‘Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.’

If you substitute the word "Creator" for Father in this line, it makes total sense in all contexts.

8 posted on 12/17/2013 9:14:26 AM PST by Last Dakotan
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To: GonzoII

bkmk


9 posted on 12/17/2013 9:49:41 AM PST by Sergio (An object at rest cannot be stopped! - The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight)
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To: GonzoII

**The context of Matthew 23 emphasizes the sin of pride among the scribes and Pharisees. They loved to be called “teacher”, “father”, or “Rabbi,” but their pride pointed men to themselves rather than to God the Father from whom they received true fatherhood and in whom their fatherhood subsisted. Outside of God the Father, there are no fathers at all in the true sense of the term. But in God, we have all sorts of true “fathers.”**

This is exactly what Jesus was talking about — the sin of pride.


10 posted on 12/17/2013 9:56:46 AM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: GonzoII

Nice try.

Clearly not aimed at the man who has 0.5 of your DNA.


11 posted on 12/17/2013 10:02:30 AM PST by Gamecock (There are not just two ways to respond to God but three: irreligion, religion, and the gospel. (TK))
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To: GonzoII

What is the semantic weight of calling someone something - one translation uses the word, “address?” The Greek root KALEO is used 148 times in the NT with varying contexts, but only once in Aorist Subjective Second Person Plural, which is at Matthew 23:9, FWIW. I do not know how or whether this changes the meaning we typically apply here.

The context bears an admonition to humility while recognizing one’s place in the order of creation. It is a nearly constant temptation for one who is a teacher in the Church to seek vainglory and to be greeted favorably in the marketplaces. Much wrangling takes place in the Church over matters of authority, so, as usual, repentance and faith as worked by the Word of Christ are necessary.

It is difficult to read these words of our LORD and not take them literally. Why would He speak thus if He was not enjoining to a particular manner of speaking, namely to refrain from addressing any other person as “teacher,” “father,” or “master?” It is true that all authority originates from, and is found in the Creator, who in turn invites all to call Him “Father.”

He’s tearing the Pharisees a new one in these verses. Pride is most certainly the target. It does not make much sense for practicing Christians constantly to monitor titles, but it is good to consider one’s station in life. To assert one’s position and authority for anything other than service is contrary to the way of Christ. John 13:12-17 sheds some light on this.


12 posted on 12/17/2013 10:38:23 AM PST by Fester Chugabrew
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To: Gamecock
"Nice try.

Clearly not aimed at the man who has 0.5 of your DNA."

Stephen had a lot of daddies: ;0)

"In Acts 7:1-2, St. Stephen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls both Abraham and the elders of Jerusalem “father” in the same breath:

And the high priest said, “Is this so?” And Stephen said: “Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…”

And I thought St. Paul was celibate? ;0)

"And in I Corinthians 4:14-15, St. Paul refers to himself as “father”:

I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

13 posted on 12/17/2013 11:06:57 AM PST by GonzoII (Ted Cruz/Susana Martinez 2016)
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`


14 posted on 12/17/2013 1:31:33 PM PST by Mrs. Don-o
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To: GonzoII
Here is perhaps the best worded expository on that verse.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

And call no man your father upon the earth,.... Not but that children may, and should call their natural parents, fathers; and such who have been instrumental in the conversion of souls, may be rightly called by them their spiritual fathers; as servants and scholars also, may call those that are over them, and instruct them, their masters: our Lord does not mean, by any of these expressions, to set aside all names and titles, of natural and civil distinction among men, but only to reject all such names and titles, as are used to signify an authoritative power over men's consciences, in matters of faith and obedience; in which, God and Christ are only to be attended to. Christ's sense is, that he would have his disciples not fond of any titles of honour at all; and much less assume an authority over men, as if they were to depend on them, as the founders of the Christian religion, the authors of its doctrines and ordinances; and to take that honour to themselves, which did not belong to them; nor even choose to be called by such names, as would lead people to entertain too high an opinion of them, and take off of their dependence on God the Father, and himself, as these titles the Scribes and Pharisees loved to be called by, did: and who were called not only by the name of Rabbi, but Abba, "Father", also: hence we read of Abba Saul, or "Father" Saul (n); Abba Jose ben Jochanan, a man of Jerusalem (o), Abba Chanan (p), Abba Chelphetha, a man of the village of Hananiah (q); Abba Gorion (r), and others; and this name was , "a name of honour, even as Rabbi" (s), and of great authority: the wise men are said to be , "the fathers of all" (t), to whom all gave heed, and upon whom all depended, as so many oracles. There is a whole treatise in their Misna, called Pirke Abot, which contains some of the oracles, and peculiar sayings of these "fathers", the Misnic doctors, and which are preferred to the writings of Moses, and the prophets. In this sense, and upon this score, our Lord inveighs against them, and cautions his disciples against giving or taking all such titles, in such sense. "For one is your Father, which is in heaven"; who is so, both by creation and adoption, and is possessed of all paternal authority; and is to be honoured and obeyed by all; from whom all wisdom and knowledge is derived, and who has the care and government of all in heaven and in earth. [http://biblehub.com/matthew/23-9.htm]

15 posted on 12/17/2013 2:20:58 PM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ)
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To: CynicalBear
"reject all such names and titles, as are used to signify an authoritative power over men's consciences, in matters of faith and obedience; in which, God and Christ are only to be attended to."

Think this through CB, it follows we shouldn't be attending to Gill's Exposition.

16 posted on 12/17/2013 9:11:07 PM PST by GonzoII (Ted Cruz/Susana Martinez 2016)
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To: GonzoII

That’s what authoritative power means to you? Just reading one person’s explanation is authoritative power? Oooofda!! I can only imagine the fear and trepidation you have for that magesterium you guys got.


17 posted on 12/18/2013 5:15:49 AM PST by CynicalBear (For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ)
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