I am Deeply Struggling with the "Call no one father on earth"

Hello folks, I am a catholic, and my catholicism is deeply shaking about the “Call no one father on Earth” of Matthew 23:9: “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”

I have seen some responses, of Jimmy Akin and others, but they did not seem fully convincing to me, and I am please want anyone to give me a full, and convincing answer for this.

There is the argument which Jesus was not forbiding anyone to call his biological fathers as “father”. But that doesn’t make sense to me, because Jesus is obviously talking about Fatherhood in a Spiritual sense not in a biological sense. Jesus says that we can’t call anyone “Teacher”, “Father” and “Rabbi” on earth, which he refers as titles of spiritual authority, and catholics do Believe the Pope is an authority to say what God wants on Earth. When we see the priest consacrating the Eucharist in the mass, it is clear that the Father is in Jesus place when he rises the host in the mass.

The argument which Jesus was making a Hyperbole to make a point, I think if Jesus meant to do that, he could make a Hyperbole in other way in order not to confuse us, and that would allow people use his hyperbole against his church. He could have said: “The Fatherhood of God is supreme above all fatherhoods, and the leaders will just share this fatherhood in a smaller way” It would be better than make a Hyperbole that would sound contradictory like: “Call no one father on earth” when we in fact are calling people father on earth.

Other point is that the Catholic Church is not an Earthly institution and when we are calling the Father as Father, we are calling him in a Divine Instituion on this earth. But it still did not sound convincing to me because it obviously the Catholic church is, Also, an Earthly institution.

And the case that Paul, Saint Stephen and others call father as a spiritual authority in other books of the New Testament may answer a Protestant Objection, but it does not respond to a “Non-christian objection”, an atheist, or a Muslim, a Jew, might say that Paul, Saint Stephen, Peter got Jesus wrong in his message and Paul and others are taking Jesus wrong.

Anyone could help me with that? Thank you!

Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary says this:

Ver. 9-10. Call none your father … Neither be ye called masters, &c. The meaning is, that our Father in heaven is incomparably more to be regarded, than any father upon earth: and no master is to be followed, who would lead us away from Christ. But this does not hinder but that we are by the law of God to have a due respect both for our parents and spiritual fathers, (1 Corinthians iv. 15,) and for our masters and teachers. (Challoner) — This name was a title of dignity: the presidents of the assembly of twenty-three judges where so called; the second judge of the sanhedrim, &c. (Bible de Vence) — Nothing is here forbidden but the contentious divisions, and self-assumed authority, of such as make themselves leaders and favourers of schisms and sects; as Donatus, Arius, Luther, Calvin, and innumerable others of very modern date. But by no means the title of father, attributed by the faith, piety, and confidence of good people, to their directors; for, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, that he is their only spiritual Father: If you have 10,000 instructors in Christ, yet not many Fathers. (1 Corinthians iv. 15.)

It was common among the Jews to follow after rabbis, scribes, Pharisees, Saducees who all claimed spiritual fatherhood over the people. In other words, they created and perpetuated divisions with each pulling the people in different directions.

Jesus is here saying that his Father is the ultimate authority, and therefore Our Father. But, Jesus does not mean that no one else may have the title of father or be looked to as a father in the faith. If that were so St. Paul would never have called himself a spiritual father. To doubt his words/motives is to doubt all he wrote, and I don’t think we want to go there.

Jesus is the author/father of our faith who appointed the Apostles to take his place–to stand in his place with his people. Therefore we refer to them as Father–a title of respect. It does not mean that we think they are God or that they replace God, but rather that they are “Alter Christi” to us, another Christ. We can say this because Jesus gave this authority to the Apostles, and thus their successors.

Jesus did not want division in his Church, as there was among the Jews. St. Paul wrote about this in 1 Cor. 1:12] What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” [13] Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

It’s not the word father that means anything here, but rather divisions, with each one claiming that he is truly following Christ by following a faction rather than remaining in his Church. Why should the word father is to be singled out when Jesus mentioned teachers as well? It makes no sense to say that word father can’t be used but teacher can, if the correct interpretation were to be taken literalisticly.

The text in question is Matt 23:9. It reads, “Call no one on earth your father (patera umon); you have one Father in heaven.” This is construed to mean Jesus, in this passage, prohibits priests from being addressed as “Father.” Is this valid?
Three biblical arguments suggest otherwise.

First, the preceding passage used the title “Rabbi” in the absolute: “do not be called ‘Rabbi.’”
This passage, however, says call no one your (umon) father. It does not say: “call no one on earth ‘father.’” Jesus is using hyperbole to stress the uniqueness, sovereignty, and commonality of our heavenly Father with reference to earthly fatherhood.

Second, the above comports with other instances of hyperbole (exaggeration) in Christ’s teaching which are not followed literally even by those who want to follow the text in question literally.
Jn 6:27 – “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” No one says this text means we should not work for a living.
Lk 21:17 // Mt 10:22 – “You will be hated by all panton] because of my name,” Clearly each and every last person will not hate a given Christian individual or the church.
Mt 18:8-9 // Mk 9:43-48 – No one holds one should literally cut off ones hand if it is a cause of sin, etc.
Mt 23:8,10 – within the passage in question we read: “Avoid being called kathegetes teacher/leader/guide/master.” Are these titles rejected just like “your father”? NO!

Third, there are numerous instances in the New Testament where people on earth are called “father” using the same Greek word pater. St. Paul, a religious leader, is included. Below is a list.
Lk 15:12, 20, 22, 29 – In narrating the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus himself uses the word “father” four times when referring to the prodigal son’s . . uh . . dad.
Acts 7:2 – “. . . our father Abraham . . .”
Rom 4:12, 16, 17, 18 – for a total of five times Abraham is referred to as our “father” in faith
*1 Cor 4:15 – St. Paul describes himself as the Corinthian’s father in Christ Jesus
1 Cor 4:17 – St. Paul calls Timothy his “son.”
*1 Thess 2:11 – St. Paul says he treats the Thessalonians as a father treats his children
See also Gal 4:19.
Philemon 10 – In his imprisonment, St. Paul is the [spiritual] father of Onesimus.
Heb 7:9-10 – Levi’s “father” Abraham
Heb 12:7, 9 – fathers discipline their sons
James 2:21 – “. . . Abraham our father . . .”
*1 John 2:13-14 – John writes to “fathers” and calls his readers “children”
1 Tim 1:2, 18 – to Timothy, my true child in faith [which means Paul sees himself as a Father]
2 Tim 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4 – my true child (in faith) [which means Paul sees himself as a Father]

Hello Devonsams, Lots of people have been wondering about that passage. I think it is safe to say that since Jesus and the apostles called Abraham “Father Abraham”, there is no literal prohibition against calling someone “father”, otherwise Jesus would be contradicting Himself.

Whenever faced with seeming contradictions or confusing statements in the Bible, we have to stop and think, “What did he mean by this?” There is usually something *specific *being addressed here. We have to do our homework to understand what specific thing He meant by this. Truthfully, I don’t know what He meant by this. All I know is, by looking at Jesus’ own statements, He couldn’t possibly have meant it literally.

Here’s a simple idea: “Father” is one of the names the scriptures uses for God. Like Yahweh, or Abba, or Almighty, or I Am or Adonai, or Elohim. It’s God’s name. Perhaps Jesus is warning people not to use a name that is normally used to describe God for any ordinary man, as if you are calling that man “god”. In other words, don’t call any man “god”. Don’t call anyone “god” on earth. There is only one God, and He is in heaven. Just an idea.

Devon, with all the questions that you so often post on here I have to suggest that you consider more study of your Catholic faith and less attempts at apologetics. I don’t know how old you are , but if this very basic and common n-C shot rattles you so much then you are ill prepared to be doing much in apologetics. No offense intended Brother, but as one who has been in these trenches a while and helped you with so many other of your posts, it just looks like you need to school yourself on our most holy faith for a while before getting into this sort of stuff.

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CA handled this one many years ago in their online article Call No Man “Father”?

Call No Man Father – The Loss of the Fatherhood of God

If we followed the “Call No Man Father” prohibition literally, then no human on earth would have that title, and we would have lost the feel for the meaning of fatherhood since the word would have been expunged from our vocabulary and our conscience.

Think not? Consider how the trappings of European royalty have no meaning for Americans, and I think you’ll get some sense of how this happens.

Now, if we had no understanding of what it means to have or to be a human father, the "Fatherhood’ of God as revealed to us by Him would be completely sterile.

Now let’s look at the scriptures for additional insight.

Matthew 23:8-10
8"But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ (Gr. rabbi) for you have only one Master (Gr. didaskalos, kathegetes) and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ (Gr. patera) for you have one Father (Gr. pater), and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ (Gr. kathegetai) for you have one Teacher (Gr. kathegetes), the Christ.” (NIV)

Matthew 23:8-10
8”But be not ye called Rabbi (Gr. rabbi): for one is your Master (Gr. didaskalos, kathegetes), even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father (Gr. patera) upon the earth: for one is your Father (Gr. pater), which is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters (Gr. kathegetai) : for one is your Master (Gr. kathegetes), even Christ.” (KJV)

Based on the preceding passage, many non-Catholics claim that the Catholic Church violates the scriptural prohibition against calling anyone “father” since its priests are commonly called “father” and the pope is referred to as the “Holy Father.” Is this really what the Bible teaches? Let’s take a closer look at other verses to see whether this is really what the Bible tells us.

Jesus Violates This Command

Luke 16:24
24So he called to him, “Father (Gr. pater) Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

Jesus tells a parable in which He has one of the characters speak to “Father Abraham” which would obviously be a bad example for His audience. Does Jesus contradict Himself?

Paul Violates This Command

Romans 4:1-18
1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?

In this passage, Paul refers to Abraham as a spiritual father eight times. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”

1 Corinthians 4:14-15
14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers (Gr. pateras), for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

In this passage, Paul refers to himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthians. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”

Ephesians 4:11-13
11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Gr. didaskalovs), 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that God has established some people as “teachers” in the Church; this appears to be a direct violation of Jesus’ prohibition against calling anyone “teacher”. Does God contradict Himself?

James Violates This Command

James 3:1
1Not many of you should presume to be teachers (Gr. didaskaloi), my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that not many believers should presume to be “teachers.” This implies that a few (though not many) should and would rightfully have that position. Does God contradict Himself?

James 2:21
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refers to the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”

Stephen Violates This Command

Acts 7:2
2To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me!

Call No Man Father – Another View
Originally posted by Pax in the Catholic Answers Forum

In Jesus time, there were a number of Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. These sects had schools or houses of teaching within them. Within the Pharisees there were two famous rival houses. They were the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel. The individuals that these houses were named after were considered the “father” of the house.

Jesus warns the apostles not to be fathers to “separate” houses—for there is but one house of the Lord. Jesus also says to call no man “teacher” or “master.” This is interesting because the Apostle Paul was taught by Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3), a Pharisee from the House of Hillel. Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, was known as an elder and had the title of “Rabban” which means “Our Master.” This title explains why Jesus also said call no one “master”; there is but one house and one master of all. Jesus prayed for unity (cf. John 17) and did not want the apostles to set up separate houses or schools of thought.

This is clearly expressed in Paul’s complaint in 1 Corinthians 1:10-15 when he describes how some are arguing their superiority after being baptized by, and belonging to, Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, etc. Paul goes on elsewhere to warn against factions and divisions and stresses the importance of one mind and unity of doctrine.

The meaning of “call no man father, teacher, or master” concerns unity and consistency of doctrine and has nothing to do with the commonly used references that are seen elsewhere in scripture or everyday use.


So they accept one part of the Bible but reject the other parts? How does that work?

Muslims and some Non Christians argue that Saint Paul misrepresented Jesus Teachings and Church Teachings are Paul Teachings and not Jesus Teachings.

Anyway, the most convincing answer I’ve heard is that to understand Matthew 23:9 is in Matthew 16:19, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” that the church and it’s hierarchy would not be an earthly thing, something like that.

Thank you for your answers

Greetings Devonsams,

Here’s the passage:

Mt 23
5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

OK, we’re not to be called “Rabbi” (Teacher), “Father”, “leaders”. But one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is teaching.

1 Cor 12
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

Back in Matthew 23, Jesus wasn’t talking about what God would do in the church in the future. No, Jesus was referring to the present…saying not to exalt oneself like the Pharisees (self-appointed!) were doing. Fallen man just can’t promote oneself to teach others about true spirituality. That’s what the Pharisees did…they were fallen humans, self-appointed, not born again, not send from God (like the apostles were). That’s what’s this is all about.

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is teaching (see above)…so surely some can be called teachers.

Jesus is warning his disciples not to exault themsleves as they exist in the flesh (like the Pharisees did). Mankind is fallen…fallen man cannot teach spirituality. God has to regenerate some.

Rom 11
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

This “not by works” means God chooses whom to save. Fallen man walking around saying they are a “teacher”, “father”, “leader” (all the same idea) is crazy. Jesus told his followers not to do what the Pharisees did…our fallen flesh is corrupt. The point is the God will choose whom to use, not us (like the Pharisees did).

We do know one of the gifts of the Spirit is “teacher”, so I think this is the correct way to look at this teaching.

God bless you!

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