09 June, 2009

Is father an acceptable title for clergy?

From the early Church we find that clergy were addressed as father. There are those with little knowledge of history or hermeneutical discipline such as understanding Scriptures within context, who believe that the Bible prohibits one from calling a priest father. The words they rely on come directly from Christ:

(Mat 23:9 DRB) And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven.

Keeping the verse in context let us look at the verse preceding this verse:

(Mat 23:8 DRB) But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master: and all you are brethren.

Rabbi means teacher and the Latin word for teacher is doctor so anyone using these terms as well are violating the literal interpretation of the text.

Let us look at the verse after verse 9:

(Mat 23:10 DRB) Neither be ye called masters: for one is your master, Christ.

There is no way that the interpretation could be correct if one reads and understands the Matthew passage in context. He is clearly teaching that one should not look to any human authority as our teacher, father, master, doctor or other titles of respect but instead give to God those things that are reserved for Him. Do you also refuse to call people doctor, teacher, professor, mister, or master? All of these are forbidden as well if we are to accept a literal understanding.

Context also requires that we investigate what the other Scriptures say as well as the understanding of these words by those who followed Christ. There are many instances where the writers of the New Testament contradict a literal understanding of not calling a man father, teacher or master. Consider the following verses:

(Act 5:34 DRB) But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while.

(Col 4:1 DRB) Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal: knowing that you also have a master in heaven.

(2Ti 1:11 DRB) Wherein I am appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles.

Let us examine the statements of St. Stephen to see if he understood Christ to be speaking literally….In is soliloquy (Acts Chapter 7) before the Sanhedrin before his stoning to martyrdom he used the term father in referring to Abraham Isaac and Jacob as fathers and also to his Israelite ancestors as fathers.

St. John the beloved disciple also did not understand Christ to be teaching literally as we can see in the following verses:

(1Jn 2:13 DRB) I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one.

(1Jn 2:14 DRB) I write unto you, babes, because you have known the Father. I write unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

(1Jn 2:15 DRB) Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.

(1Jn 2:16 DRB) For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life, which is not of the Father but is of the world.

St. Paul also had a different understanding of Christ’s words than the literalists:

(1Co 4:14 DRB) I write not these things to confound you: but I admonish you as my dearest children.

(1Co 4:15 DRB) For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you.

(1Co 4:16 DRB) Wherefore, I beseech you, be ye followers of me as I also am of Christ.

St. Paul was speaking of the fact that he is called to shepherd the flock as are all priests. We not only give birth to the Christian through Baptism but also nourish the faithful with the Holy Eucharist and God’s Word. We care for them and bind their spiritual wounds through the delivery of the Sacraments. It is no wonder that we are called father as we care for our Church family as a father cares for his own family.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph


  1. Look again at the context of Matt. 23:9. At verses 2-10, Jesus counseled his apostles not to imitate the ways of the Pharisees, who, among other things, liked being called by RELIGIOUS titles as "Rabbi," "Father," and "Master." Concerning "Rabbi" and "Master," Jesus said: "You have but one teacher [or "Rabbi"], referring to himself. (Matt. 23:8) Jesus also said: "You have but one Master, the Messiah," also referring to himself. (Matt. 23:10) Although Jesus accepted the titles of "Rabbi" and "Master" for himself, he did NOT assume the title of "Father, saying: "Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven." (Matt. 23:9)

    So, while neither Jesus nor his followers were ever addressed by religious titles such as "Father," you try to put a spin on what Jesus said about religious titles. As you said on your blog: "Do you also refuse to call people doctor, teacher, professor, mister, or master? All of these are forbidden as well if we are to accept a literal understanding."

    Can I call someone "Doctor"? Yes, if he is a medical physician. Can I call someone "Mister"? Yes, since that is a SECULAR custom. Can I call someone "Master"? Yes, if he is skilled at some craft or skill. HOWEVER, if the above terms are used as RELIGIOUS titles, that would go against what Jesus said. Got it now?

  2. Thank you for your commentary. Forgive me for recognizing the absurdity of your claims. The truth is that Jesus indeed referred to others as Father. St. Paul referred to Himself as Father. You are going to great extremes to twist the Scriptures to satisfy your prejudice. God bless!

    In Christ
    Fr. Joseph