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Jesus said to call no man “father”  so why do Catholics call priests  “father”  ?

Matthew 23: 9
“And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” 


Looking at other Biblical references will help to show Christ's true meaning.

Jesus could not have been speaking literally as he would have been contradicting his own prohibition in other passages.

Matthew 19:19
“Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  
Cf. Luke 18:20

Ephesians 6:2-4
“ ‘Honor your father and mother’  (this is the first commandment with a promise), .. .. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Luke 16:24
“And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ ”   
Cf. James 2:21

Romans 4:12-18
“.. .. and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. .. .. 16  .. .. to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, 17 as it is written,  ‘I have made you the father of many nations’ . .. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations”  

Acts 7:2
“And Stephen said:  ‘Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia’ ”

This quote below from Ephesians will also help to bring out Christ’s true and deeper meaning.

Ephesians 3:14-15
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [Greek  ‘pater’ ]  from whom every family [Greek  ‘patria’ ]  in heaven and on earth is named .. ..” 
RSV  [ Original Greek words identified in brackets.]

The original Greek word for “Father” is  “pater.”  The original Greek word that is translated as  “family”  above is  “patria.”   This Greek word  “patria”   is actually based on the word  “pater”  from which it comes.  Although the word  “patria”  is sometimes translated as  “family”  the word  “fatherhood”  would be a better translation since that would show the actual relationship with the original Greek word for  “Father.”

God is the ultimate  “Father”  in heaven.

Yet, in a secondary sense God’s fatherhood is manifested in others.

St. Paul is a father in Christ and he calls Timothy his son.

1 Corinthians 4:15-17
“Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. .. .. For this reason I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord; he will remind you of my ways in Christ (Jesus), just as I teach them everywhere in every church.” 

Christian spiritual leaders are called fathers because God, who is our perfect Father in heaven, works through them and in them for our benefit and leads us to Him through these fathers on earth.

1 John 2:13-14
“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.14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 

Acts 22:1
“Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you.”

1 Thessalonians 2:11
“ .. ..  for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you ..  ..”

Let us go back and look at the original verse about fathers in Matthew 23.

Matthew 23:8-10
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.”  

“Rabbi”  means teacher.  Yet Paul also calls himself a teacher in 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy 1:11
“For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher .. ..”

Therefore, Jesus was not speaking literally but showing how fathers and teachers find their true authority only in God.  Since, the Bible shows that Christian leaders are called fathers it is most biblical to call priests  “father.”

So, the all important question is why do Protestants NOT call their spiritual leaders “Father?”



 Also see

Fathers  of  the  Church
Why  They  are  Important


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