The Title "Father"
Some Protestants say Catholics are wrong to call priests "father" because Jesus forbade the use of the term: "Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). But there are many problems with this understanding of these words of Jesus. For one thing, if Jesus meant to say that no one should ever use the word "father," what are children supposed to call their male parent? If "father" is out, so is "dad," because both words are similar translations of the Aramaic word that Jesus spoke.
In the Scriptures, the word "father" is used in many places, denoting not only human relationships: "So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Joseph, Gen. 45:8). "I was a father to the poor" (Job, Job 29:16); but also spiritual relationships: "My father, my father" (Elisha to Elijah, 2 Kgs. 2:12; See also 2 Kgs. 6:21).
Protestants admit that the word "father" was properly used in the Old Testament, but they say that in the New Testament, the term is no longer permissible. The first problem with this is that there is no logical basis for saying there was a change in the New Testament. Why was the change made? There is no answer to this. The second problem with this is that the New Testament writers and figures used the word "father" the same way as the Old Testament saints did. When speaking of their ancestors, Stephen says "our father Abraham," (Acts 7:2) and Paul says "our father Isaac." (Rom. 9:10). The term "fathers" is used thus in so many places (Acts 5:30, 24:14, 26:6) that the Protestant interpretation of "call no man father" must be mistaken.
There is another problem with the Protestant interpretation. When read in context, the passage reads: "But you are not to be called ‘teacher,' for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 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" (Matt. 23:8-10).
We know that Jesus did not forbid the use of the word teacher: "His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). Protestants themselves violate the passage by calling their physicians "doctor," because "doctor" is the Latin word for "teacher." They also use the terms "mister," but "mister" is just a form of the word "master," which is the title given to an unmarried man. Obviously, Jesus did not intend to forbid the use of these words absolutely.
So what was Jesus getting at in Matthew 23? He was criticizing proud Jewish leaders who liked to have great honor (and titles) heaped upon them. Jesus made the hyperbolic statement (Matt. 5:28, 18:9, Mark 9:47) that no one should be called "father" or "teacher" or "master" (thinking, of course, of the scribes and Pharisees), because God is the ultimate teacher and father, and no man should usurp that role and make themselves out to be the ultimate teachers and fathers. No man should be given a kind or degree of fatherhood that no man really has or should have. In saying "call no man father," Jesus condemns the pride of the Pharisees, and accuses them of giving themselves a position of authority that only God has.
Many other Biblical examples abound. Stephen, while speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55) addresses the Sanhedrin as "brothers and fathers" (Acts 7:2). John, writing under the Holy Spirit's inspiration, refers to men in the Christian community as "fathers" (1 John 2:13).
Paul makes it clear that spiritual fathers should be called "fathers": "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).
Paul called Timothy his child and his son: "Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:2). "You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1; Phil. 2:22). And he referred to others as his children (Tit. 1:4; Phmn. 10). Paul even refers to entire congregations as his "little children" (Gal. 4:19). Those who are spiritual fathers are rightly called by the name of "father."