Why To We Call Our Priests "Fathers"?

As I Was Reading The Bible I Come Across Matthew 23:8-9
8 But Be Not Ye Called Rabbi: For One Is Your Master, Even Christ; And All Ye Are Brethren. 9 And Call NO MAN YOUR FATHER Upon The Earth: For ONE Is Your Father, Which Is In Heaven.

If The Bible Tells Us This…Then Why Do We Call Our Priest “Fathers”?

Help Please!!..

I have thought this myself, though my best explanation is that we are not meant to take that literally, I think maybe it means dont have anyone higher than our Father in Heaven. Also, we call our dad father…

The rule is to call no man “Father”. But if that is the case, what would person call his/her biological male parent? :wink:


One thing that is good to learn about scriptural interpretation is that you have to take a verse in context to all the other verses. Another thing that is important to understand is scripture in light of the time it was written, who it was written to, etc. Most of all, you have to trust that God gave us His holy Church to guide us in these matters and all matters of faith. It may help you to know that God never contradicts Himself. With that understanding, you should know that St. Paul,** under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit**, referred to himself as a father to the Corinthians. He said in 1 Cor. 4:15 “I became your father in Christ Jesus.” This is the inspired word of God, right? So since Paul used the term in reference to himself, we can confidently conclude that Jesus did not mean for His words here to be taken in an exclusively literalistic manner.Here is a helpful link which shows an overwhelming number of verses which refer to spiritual fatherhood.

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=644618 contains a couple links that explain it well.


You have a library of apologetic articles on this site, use the search function.

This question comes up regularly.

ScriptureCatholic.com (remember that!)


They also note (here) from John Salza’s radio show:

Because Catholics call their priests “father,” many Protestants accuse us of going against the Bible. This is John Salza with Relevant Answers. In Matthew 23:9, when Jesus was teaching His disciples not to be like the Pharisees, He said “call no man father.” But was this a blanket prohibition on every using the word “father”? Of course not. In the prior verse Jesus also said “call no man teacher,” but Protestants call their pastors teachers, just like they call their biological fathers “father.” No, Jesus was teaching his disciples not to follow the hypocritical example of the Pharisees, who loved their titles more than their own people. So why do Catholics call their priests “father”? Well, in Acts 7:2 and 22:1, the New Testament priests are called “father.” In 1 John 2:1, 13 and 14, the apostle also calls the priests of the Church “father.” In 1 Cor 4:15, St. Paul calls himself a “father” in Christ Jesus. Jesus Himself calls Abraham “father” and commands us to honor our “father” and mother. And the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Mother and the angels all refer to our spiritual leaders as “father.” Call no man “father?” Catholics should ask their Protestant friends why they don’t call their pastors “father.” This is John Salza with Relevant Answers.

Catholic Answers also discusses this topic, see How can we respond to the “call no man father” question?

I like this question.

Mt 23:9: “CALL NO ONE ON EARTH YOUR FATHER; you have but one Father in heaven.” – a literalistic interpretation means no person on earth could be called father. Therefore we could not call our dads, father either. But if we are to take a literalistic approach then how come we find in the gospels and other books of the NT, which were written after the Resurrection, the authors using the term ‘father’ to describe both natural fathers and spiritual fathers?

Do you believe that scripture does not contradict itself? If you are a Christian who believes the bible is the inspired Word of God then you must believe that scripture maintains integrity across itself, that one part of scripture does not contradict another. In this way, we have to consider other scripture on the matter rather than just one or two verses.

Catholics believe and affirm what Jesus said in Mt 23:9. If we read the scripture in context we see Jesus using this term ‘father’ in conjunction with the Pharisees and scribes. The scribes and Pharisees were usurping the role of God the Father. Also, many Roman leaders were in those days calling themselves ‘Father’ and commanding people to burn incense to them in worship. Jesus is using hyperbole to make the point that no one should take the place of God the Father since you only “have but one Father in heaven”. This is similar to where Jesus uses hyperbole in Mt 5:29 where he says to gouge your eye out if it causes you to sin. If Christians were to interpret that literally we would all be amputees.

Scripture does not contradict itself. Here are a few other scriptures that make a case against a literal interpretation:

Jesus uses the term ‘father’ often in the gospels
Mt 10:35 (NAB): “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against his mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Luke 16:24-30: Jesus calls Abraham, ‘father Abraham’ in the parable of Lazarus

Angel Gabriel about John the Baptist
Luke 1:17 (NAB): “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children…”

Angel Gabriel about Jesus
Luke 1:32 (NAB): "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.

Mary calls Abraham her father
Luke 1:55 (NAB): “…according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Luke 1:72 (NAB): “to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant”.
Luke 1:73 (NAB): “and the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that,”

Mary calls Joseph father of Jesus
Luke 2:48 (NAB): “…Your father and I have been looking for you [Jesus] with great anxiety.”

The new Jewish Christians call David their father
Acts 4:25: “you said by the holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly?”

St. Stephen addresses the ‘fathers’ in the crowd-
Acts 7:2: “And he replied, “My brothers and fathers, listen. The god of glory appeared to our father Abraham…”
Acts 7:32: “I am the God of your fathers…”

St. Paul addresses the ‘fathers’ in the crowd:
Acts 22:1: “My brothers and fathers, listen to what I am about to say to you in my defense.”

Romans 4:11 – Abraham a spiritual father, not just a natural father
“Thus he [Abraham] was to be the father of all the uncircumcised…”
Romans 4:16: “follow the faith of Abraham, who is the father of all of us.”

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

Paul, a spiritual father:
1 Cor 4:15: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

1 Tim 5:1: “Do not rebuke an older man, but appeal to him as a father.”

Phil 1:10: “I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.”

John writes to elders in the church calling them fathers and exhorting them to teach their sons:
1 Jn 2:13–– “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.”
John writes to more than just physical fathers but to spiritual fathers who know him who is from the beginning.

All fatherhood is derived from the Father:
Eph 3:14-15 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family(1) in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

(1) The Greek for family (patria) is derived from the Greek for father (pater).

See also “Blessed to be Catholic”

Some Protestants try to use that verse to “prove” the Catholic Church does things that are clearly against the Sacred Scriptures. However, their literalist interpretation of the verse in question leads to serious logical discrepancies and contradictions of their own.

First, if we literally should call no man father, then every Christian in the world is going against the Bible. Why? Well, what do we call our male parent? You guessed it: our male parent is known as our “father.”

Second, go ahead and read the preceding verse to verse 9. Jesus also says call no man “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” (refer to Matthew 23:8) Therefore, if we interpret that verse literally, then we are going against Scripture when we call our school instructors (or any kind of instructor, for that matter) our teachers.

Third, if we should read that verse literally (meaning we should really call no man father), then Scripture clearly contradicts itself. There are several instances in the New Testament where people are referred to as “father.” In Romans 4, for example, St. Paul mentions how Abraham is a spiritual father. Since Scripture contradicts itself if you take Matthew 23:9 literally, one therefore cannot interpret the verse in that matter.

In reality, Jesus was not completely forbidding us from calling people father or teacher. He was simply talking about the hypocritical example the scribes and Pharisees were setting for the Jews. Our Lord specifically told them to listen to what the Pharisees were saying because they had authority (sitting on the chair of Moses). However, He told them not to do what they were doing. In a nutshell, the scribes and Pharisees were talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

They are our fathers in faith.

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