This is a question which Protestants frequently ask, but it needs some clarification before it can be answered properly. Because, well, it’s complicated. Let me explain.
Pope means father.
The word “pope" is a Latin endearment for “pater”. Pater means “father” in Latin. The equivalent in English is “pop”. Pop is to father as pope is to pater. Pop/father. Pope/pater. Do you see the relationship?
Essentially, then, pope means father. So, since we know that pope means father, then where ever we see the word “father” in the Bible, we see the word “pope”.
But that’s not a satisfactory answer, is it?
Why? Because the question is not intended as a question but as an objection. When Protestants ask this question, they are really objecting to the fact that we believe in something which they don’t see in Scripture.
What is that? Well, they don’t see a person given the title “pope” or “father” in Scripture. In fact, to their greater consternation, they see a verse where Jesus condemns the use of that title:
Matthew 23:9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.
Aha! Gotcha! The Pope is an unbiblical reference to father!
Well, yeah, it’s unbiblical in the sense that it isn’t in the Bible. But it is very much in agreement with the Bible. Part of the problem is that Protestants don’t understand Matt 23:9.
Call no man your father
First, let us go to Matt 23 and see the entire context of that verse. The KJV renders it thus:
8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
I think you would agree with me that the original Scriptures were not written in English. They were written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. And the words here translated Rabbi, Master and Father have other meanings which are commonly used in our everyday lives. Another, more modern, non-Catholic translation makes this more plain:
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
I would not call anyone "Rabbi" because I'm not Jewish. So, forbidding to call anyone "Rabbi" would not affect me. However, Rabbi means Teacher and I've called all my teachers, "Teacher". Have I sinned?
In fact, I know many who have called their teachers, Teacher. And they are devout people from many Christian faiths. But many non-Catholics seem to be only concerned about the part which says, "call no man your father". They ignore the other parts which say, call no man "teacher, or master". Did you know that the title, mister is another form of the word, "master"? So, does anyone call you “Mister”? Or do you call anyone else, “Mister”?
Now, I've talked to Protestants before on this subject and I ask them, "what do you call your "father"?" And they'll say, "I call him "dad"". As though they have somehow avoided calling him "father" by calling him "dad". But dad means father! So how did they avoid the sin they claim I make by calling the priest, "father"?
For another, the verse says, don't call any man "your father". Whereas, we don't say, Father Dan is my father. We say, Father Dan is my priest. Father is a title. I've never heard a Catholic say, my priest is my father. Whereas, many people of all denominations say, "My father's name is Joe."
So, please, if you’re Protestant, explain why you see there to be a sin in calling a priest, "father", whereas you don’t complain about folks calling a man, teacher, master, mister, Rabbi, dad, or any of the other titles which are forbidden in Matt 23:9?
Please help me to understand. Because as far as I can see, that objection has no merit. Especially since the Apostles themselves did not respond as though Jesus had condemned the word “father” from ever being applied to anyone but God.
St. Paul says:
Galatians 4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
St. John says:
1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
All the Apostles recognize Abraham as their father:
Acts 7:2 And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, ….
Scripture is also clear that the Apostles considered themselves our fathers. Even some other Protestant versions of the bible recognize this fact:
1 Corinthians 4:15
New International Reader's Version (NIRV)
15 You may have 10,000 believers in Christ watching over you. But you don't have many fathers. I became your father by serving Christ Jesus and telling you the good news.
And that is the more satisfactory explanation
There it is, in a Protestant version of the Bible. That is the concept which the title, Pope, signifies. That is why we call the Bishop of Rome, Pope. Because he, like every priest, became our father by serving Christ Jesus and telling us the good news. Jesus Christ appointed Simon to "feed" His flock. Therefore, the Church has always called him the first "Pope" or "Father" of the Church:
John 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
So, in a nutshell, you won’t find the word “pope” in the Bible. But the concept which it signifies is there. It just takes a more thorough understanding of the Word of God than one can glean by reading the Bible alone. One must understand the Sacred Traditions of Jesus Christ which are the solid foundation of the New Testament. At that point, you will recognize the concept of “Pope” where ever you see it in Scripture.