Don’t you know that the Bible tells us not to call any man Father? Why are Catholics so persistent in their unbiblical practices of calling Priests Father? It has been awhile since I have heard these statements, but I am sure I will hear them again at some point in my lifetime. Occasionally I have heard “Why do Catholics call their Priests Father?” At least this last one wants to understand our view point. However, this argument stems from an Anti-Catholic view point. It is hard to believe that if Catholics did not call Priests Father that this argument would even be around. The Protestant that has asked one or more of these questions wants to pit the Catholic against Scripture, but since it is impossible to do so in context, they must take this verse out of context.
The Protestant Argument:
Premise 1: The Bible is the Word of God.
Premise 2: The Bible tells us not to call any man father on earth.
Conclusion: Therefore, in keeping with the Word of God, we should call no man father on earth.
We will set the scene with a fictional conversation between me and an imaginary interlocutor on lunch break. While the conversation is fictional the arguments presented are real.
*Noah: Hey Kevin, how are you doing today?
Kevin: Good thanks. I was just talking to Father Ignatius about some of our conversations we have been having on the differences between Catholics and Protestants.
Noah: I am doing fine, thanks. Well you bring up a good point about our differences in theology. Don’t you know that the Bible tells us not to call any man Father? I mean the Bible is very explicit in saying not to any man Father in Matthew 23:9. I know you are Catholic and follow the magisterium of the church instead of the Bible but come on, do you have to explicitly violate a command given by Jesus?
Kevin: What would like me to call the male who contributed his DNA in order to create me?
Noah: (short pause) Well, we would call him Dad of course!
Kevin: Noah, dad is a synonym for father so in effect I am still calling a man father. Wouldn’t this still violate Jesus’ command?
Noah: I guess it would but I would imagine that Jesus would make a dispensation for this and allow for it.
Kevin: I agree that a dispensation would be made but I can’t imagine that that is the only case. In fact, Jesus calls Abraham “Father Abraham” in Luke 16:24.
Noah: That is true, he certainly does however, Abraham is more a fore-father in the faith.
Kevin: While it is true that he is a fore-father, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we are still calling him father.
Noah: Well I guess that is true, but surely there are not any other dispensations. This is solely referring to his spiritual status since he is no longer on the earth. He was a great religious leader after all.
Kevin: Abraham absolutely was a great religious leader. There is no doubt about that. I can name another instance for you when leaders are called father though and this time they are still on earth. In 1 John 2:13-14, St. John uses the term fathers twice when referring to their title.
Noah: Well maybe he is doing that because they are married and not necessarily because of their title. Besides you are only presuming that they are on earth. The Bible doesn’t say either way.
Kevin: Well it would be kind of silly to think that St. John would write a letter to someone not remaining on earth but let’s get past that and assume that he did. In 1 Corinthians 4:14-15, St. Paul refers to himself as a father. Surely St. Paul was still on earth, was not a father and a respectable religious leader was he not?
Noah: Hmmm. Well it seems I have something to contemplate but surely this fatherhood would take away from God’s fatherhood would it not?
Kevin: Please, take time to contemplate it. There is no way though that this could take away from God’s fatherhood. The passage here is taking about people who usurp the title of father for their own pride. Men like St. Paul are called father because they point us to God and not themselves.
Noah: I get what you are saying. Maybe my interpretation is in correct in this case.
Kevin: Think about it this way, if we take this passage literalistically, as written, surely we must take many other verses in the same sense such as when Christ says “this is my body” in Luke 22:19 and Mark 14:22 which I do and you do not.
Noah: Well surely those are written in a spiritual sense but this is a topic which we do not have time for today.
Kevin: Well I assure you, Jesus did mean that literally but you are right there is not enough time to get into this and it is time to get back to work. Have a good day and thank you for your company today.
Noah: Absolutely, we need to do this more often. Maybe I can teach you a thing or two next time. Take care and see you soon.
As we saw in this conversation, there is a Biblical case for Catholics to call Priests “Father.” Religious leaders, such as St. Paul even referred to themselves as Fathers. There is, however, no case to be made against this practice since then we would also not be allowed to call people teachers (the meaning of Rabbi) either. This is quite an absurd argument as well that no Protestant I have encountered would take up. In fact, one could lead the counter point asking whether we are to call people teachers. This would put the Protestant in a difficult position as then they would have to admit a belief contrary to the Bible and embrace relativism as no one then could teach Scripture.
*Note: I chose the name of my interlocutor by taking the #1 name from this list.
If you have a suggestion for an apologetic article please leave a comment and I will do my best to get to it or a similar topic. I will also credit you with the question.