Apologetics Corner – Call No Man ‘Father’

One day in fifth grade I happily told my father about a school project on which my friends and I were working. It was an oral report about the Founding Fathers, and we felt lucky to have an actual British boy in our group to play King George III (you know, for authenticity).

By telling you all that little story, I have violated a direct command from Jesus Christ Himself…at least, I have according to some Protestants. After all, Matthew 23:9 reads: Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. That seems pretty cut and dry, right? That’s why Protestants never use the term father for their male parent, or for the men who founded our country, or in that old song “Father Abraham.”

Need I say that common sense tells us that Jesus might have used hyperbole here? If we expand our reading of the passage, it reads: As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 1Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. Curiously, I’ve never heard anyone rail against schoolchildren for calling their instructors “teachers” or against art historians for calling the great artists of the past “masters.”

Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in this passage, specifically addressing their love of undue honor and prestige. They liked titles they hadn’t earned, including “father”, “teacher”, and “master.” He used hyperbole to make His point, something He did in other parts of the gospels (Mt. 5:29).

Not only did Jesus not forbid using the term “father” when referring to genetic forbears, St. Paul takes the identity of a spiritual father several times in the epistles (1 Cor 4:17, 1 Tim 1:18, Titus 1:4). The most direct use of the idea of spiritual fatherhood is demonstrated in St. Paul’s first letter to church at Corinth: 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. (1 Cor. 4:14–15). Sts. Peter and John use similar language in their writings.

Every one of these passages was God-breathed and intended for instruction and imitation. To say that Jesus forbade acknowledging fatherhood, either actual or spiritual, is patently absurd and even dangerous to Christian theology, as God uses our human understanding of fatherhood to express who He is and how He relates to us: Our Father, who art in Heaven…

God bless you.

Suggested Reading

A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture


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