Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In the Bible it says call no one on earth Father. Does this apply to Priests?


This is a puzzling verse to those who casually read it:

Matthew 23:9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (NKJV)

To answer your question in great politician tradition: “yes” and “no”.

I have heard many times Christians whip this verse out to “prove” a wrong by the Catholic Church. It is a very poor use of the verse, so let’s establish that right up front.

First of all, it is obvious that Jesus does not mean in a superficial way, “call no man father”. He Himself commands us to honor our “father” (Matt 15.4). Paul called Abraham the “father of all who believe” (Rom 4.11). He exorted Timothy to exort an older man as “father” (1Tim 5.1).

Obviously Paul and Jesus don’t contradict themselves. Also, how illogical would it be if Jesus is telling us to NOT call our own father, “father” (after all, old Dad is included in “anyone on earth”).

So what could this verse mean? If you take the verse in context, the issue at hand is about HONOR. Jesus is rebuking the people for over-honoring the religious rulers, and rebuking the religious rulers for seeking honor.

There are appropriate times to honor men:

  • 1 Timothy 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. (NKJV)
  • 1 Timothy 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, (NKJV)

But we should always honor in proper perspective. Compared to Jesus, no man is worth honor. Compared to God, no man is worthy of honor.

Remember who Jesus was speaking about: the Saducees and Pharisees who had usurped God’s rightful place as the One who is due all honor, and they were elevating themselves as worthy of being thought of like God.

They were the “religious elite” and had convinced the people that they were above everyone else and special class of men. But Jesus set the record straight by telling the people the truth about the Saducees and Pharisees:

Matthew 23:2-7 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ (NKJV)

After blistering them about their hypocrisy, notice the Jesus says they love to be called “Rabbi” which means Teacher. This was a title of honor that the religious rulers coveted. And the people were all to happy to oblige and call them by their revered titles. So both parties are guilty, the people and the leaders.

Jesus goes on to say, “don’t call anyone Rabbi because there is only One teacher; don’t call anyone father because you have only one Father in Heaven”.

In other words, don’t elevate men to places of honor that are due only to God which happens often in religion.

So, back to the original question: does this apply to Catholic Priests? If calling a Catholic priest “father” elevates him to an improper position of honor that only God should have, if the Priest is a hypocrite or if the Priest does not truly know God – then YES, this verse would apply.

But is would just as well apply to the Televangelist who is overly honored and revered, especially if he is a false teacher or hypocrite. When people “over-honor” today’s Christian personalities, they are wrong. When the Christian personality himself seeks and accepts this honor, he is wrong.

It would apply to any religious leader who is seeking honor, and to be honored in such a way that God is robbed of his glory whether it’s a priest, preacher, Elder, bishop, pastor, pope or even a Bible teacher who writes a Devotional on the Internet!

God’s servants should not be seeking honor for themselves. If they are, this verse applies. Let’s conclude with what Jesus said the right attitude is:

Matthew 23:11-12 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (NKJV)