Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Call No Man Father?

Protestants love to quote Matthew 23:9 in their attacks against the Catholic priesthood.

"And call none your father upon earth; for one is your father, who is in heaven."
Catholics call their priests "father".  Therefore, they are disobeying Jesus, they say.  Some even go as far as to say we deify priests by calling them "Father".

But is that the case?  Let's see what else the Bible has to say.

Let's look at Matthew 23:8;

But be not you called Rabbi. For one is your master; and all you are brethren.
 Jesus here commands  us not to call anyone "rabbi" either.  "Rabbi" basically means "teacher".  But don't Protestants call their teachers "teacher", in a pinch calling them "rabbi"?  If Protestants are going to argue that we shouldn't call anyone "Father" then they should also argue we shouldn't call anyone "Teacher" either.

Further, the passage is never quoted in context.  Protestants using it to attack the Catholic priesthood ignore Matthew 23:6-7

"and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the marketplace and being called "rabbi" by men."
Jesus words aren't meant to be taken literally here.  He was using hyperbole to make a point, in this case, the pride of the Pharisees and their grasping after marks of prestige.

Christ uses hyperbole often in the Gospels, as in Matthew 5:29
"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell."
Is Jesus really calling on us to mutilate ourselves?  No, He is using hyperbole here in the same manner as in Matthew 23:9; in this case, admonishing us to avoid sin.  If Matthew 23:9 is to be taken literally, than we would not even be able to call our own biological fathers "father", just as if Matthew 5:29 were taken literally, we would all be blind!

The book of Acts contains these two examples;

"Who said: Ye men, brethren, and fathers, hear. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charan." Acts 7:2
"Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye the account which I now give unto you."  Acts 22:1
 What's happening here?  The Apostles are addressing the elders of the Church and giving them the title of "father".  How another interpretation can be gleamed from this, I just can't see.

Not only that, but they also refer to Abraham as "our father Abraham".  Abraham was certainly a religious elder as they were.  Paul even refers to Issac as "our father Issac" in Romans 9:10.

Paul frequently refers to Timothy as his child in his epistles.

"Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church." (1 Corinthians 4:17)
"To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."  (1 Timothy 1:2)
"To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord."  (2 Timothy 1:2)
He also referred to Timothy as his son;
"This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, is accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare
."  (1 Timothy 1:18)

"You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."  (2 Timothy 2:1)
"But Timothy's worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the Gospel."  (Philippians 2:22)

Paul, as we know, is not Timothy's biological father.  Why is he then calling Timothy his child?  The answer; Paul is referring to him as a son in the spiritual sense.  Paul is Timothy's spiritual father, just as priests are the spiritual fathers of Catholics.

Paul referred to other converts in the same manner.
"To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior."  (Titus 1:4)
 "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment."  (Philemon 10)
It must be be said again; none of these men were Paul's biological children.  In these passages, Paul is emphasizing his spiritual fatherhood with them.

Perhaps the most pointed passage of spiritual fatherhood comes from this statement by Paul;
"I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as as my beloved children.  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers.  For I became your father through Christ Jesus through the gospel."  (1 Corinthians 4:14-15, emphasis mine)
Peter followed the same custom by referring to Mark as his son:
"She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, as does my son Mark."  (1 Peter 5:13)
John does likewise.
"My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Christ Jesus the righteous; (1 John 2:1)
"No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth."  (3 John 4)
John goes on further to refer to the men in his congregation as "fathers" in 1 John 2:13-14.

In referring to these people as spiritual sons and spiritual children, Paul, Peter, and John emphasize their role as spiritual fathers.  Catholics, when they call their priests "father" recognize them as their spiritual fathers, and the priests follow the example of the apostles by calling them "my son" or "my child".

To fail to recongnize this is to fail to recognize an honor a gift from God. 

No comments:

Post a Comment