Do you know history, "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven"?

Every Catholic has had Matthew 23:9 thrown at him:

"And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (King James Version).

Fundamentalist or Evangelical say, "This means you shouldn't call priests 'Father.' It's against the Bible."

Catholics and Protestants alike have worked on the assumption that opposition to the title "Father" has been part of the Protestant position from the beginning of the Reformation.

It turns out that not so long ago Protestants used to call their own clergymen "Father"--and their clergywomen "Mother."

For many years the male clergy in the high-church wing of the Episcopal Church denomination commonly had used the title "Father." Holmes quotes writers who argued that the appropriate title for newly-ordained female priests should be "Mother," to keep the usage in parallel.

Until the nineteenth century it was common for Protestant clergy, whether male or female, to use titles that nowadays are pretty much restricted to Catholics. We use "Father" when referring to priests and "Mother" when referring to heads of women's religious orders.

It turns out that Protestants used to do much the same.

In the early years of our country, "Father" was a term of respect given to older men, including clergy. "Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and German Reformed commonly addressed older ministers as 'Father' well into the nineteenth century."

The title also was given to younger ministers who "served as spiritual fathers.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was known not only as "Mr. Wesley" but also as "Father Wesley," and "the Shakers called their matriarch 'Mother' and their male leaders 'Father.'"

Mary Baker Eddy, the foundress of the Christian Science Church, was known as "Mother Eddy." Likewise for the foundress of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Ellen Gould White, who was called "Mother White."

In surveying early American usage, that "if calling clergy 'Father' had violated biblical norms, the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ surely would have opposed it, for these groups were formed in an attempt to restore not only the doctrine and practices of primitive Christianity, but also its very nomenclature."

Those denominations said that using "reverend" or "doctor" for clergy was unscriptural, and that the founders of these churches used "Father" "for their own clergy as well as for each other. And none of the movement's opponents ever seemed to exploit a contradiction in the movement's use of 'Father' as a clerical title. They apparently saw no contradiction."

But by the middle of the nineteenth century these usages began to disappear. "By the 1920s only Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Episcopal clergy and nuns were being addressed as 'Father' or 'Mother.'"

Until the great wave of Irish immigration in the 1840s, most Catholic priests in America were addressed as "Mister," "Monsieur," or "Don," not "Father." This was the Continental usage. The title "Father" was restricted to monks, and few priests in America were monks.

But the Irish had a different custom. They referred to all priests, whether religious or secular (that is, monastic or diocesan) as "Father." By the late nineteenth century "the Irish had influenced English-speaking Roman Catholicism to call every priest 'Father.'"

This bothered Protestants. So long as Catholic priests had been called "Mister," Protestants were comfortable calling their ministers "Father." But when Catholics changed their usage, Protestants, in order to distinguish their position from "priestcraft" and "popery," changed their usage too.

Matthew 23:9 now began to be used in a polemical sense. Protestants discovered in it a warning against the Catholic usage, a warning they had not seen when their own clergy were titled "Father."

As more and more Irish Catholic priests moved into the United States, Protestants began to assert that 'Father' was unbiblical. The literalist interpretation of Matthew 23:9 became a standard weapon in the arsenal of anti-Catholicism. ... As a result of this reaction, the twentieth century brought generations of American Protestants who knew nothing of ministers addressed as 'Father.'"

13 Answers

  • Bruce
    Lv 7
    10 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Thanks for the history lesson. I did not know that Protestant ministers like John Wesley were called Father Wesley, and women like Mary Baker Eddy "Mother Eddy." Of course, Episcopalian clergymen as still called Father.

    And apparently, your first three answers didn't read your question details to learn anything to overturn their anti-Catholic prejudice. I wonder if following their mistaken literal reading, they called their own fathers "Bob" or "Henry."

    This is an excellent example of how modern Protestants reading ancient manuscripts with a modern mindset, without historical context, fail to interpret Jesus' teachings well. Jesus was telling us not to automatically honor the undeserving with titles of respect. I think of "Father Pfleger," the political hack posing as a priest in Chicago, or "Reverend Jesse Jackson," who is not bothered by the fact that black babies are the leading victims of abortion.



  • 10 years ago

    Jesus definitely never said "Call no man father...." because he didn't speak English. English is a mongrel language. It has absorbed many other languages. That is why the same word can mean something entirely different according to how it is being used. Another thing words take on new meanings. Bing Crosby sung a song where he said he felt "happy and gay." The word "gay" didn't have the same meaning. Also we have many words for the same thing. So the English translators shows to use the word "Father." A lot of people with their literal interpretations don't realize in the long run they are not reading the original text. But you can't argue with them. They are too thick headed.

    I know once I was talking and I said something about John the Baptiser. A woman who is Baptist got very upset. That wasn't right! I explained the words mean the same and it is just a matter of which word the translator chose.

    Some Catholic Bibles have Baptist and some have Baptiser.

    Someone came up the word used in Aramaic. She wanted to do know which was it Baptist or Baptiser. The answer she got - the definition is one who baptises.

  • 10 years ago

    There is a difference between recognizing that someone may be an earthly spiritual father, in the sense that he has educated you or led you to Christ, and on the other hand revering him with the title of "Father", which is to supplant the real Father in Heaven who has created us, saved us, and regenerated us.

    The title then makes no sense, as people call others father who they do not even really know, nor have they spoken to them or been influenced by them, but rather call them "father" merely because of a position. This leads to a very poor understanding of what a father is, and a poor understanding of what it means that God is our Father in Heaven.

  • 10 years ago

    I totally agree.. call no man pastor, father, priest etc... Christ is the priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.. there is not one man on this planet blameless without sin that can do what Christ has done for us in taking up our sins the way he did.

    "And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; " Hebrews 10:11,12

    "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: " Hebrews 8:1-4

    "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second."- Hebrews 8:7

    No man on earth can compare to Christ as a priest doing what he has done.. Christ is blameless, sinless, and gave such a sacrifice that cannot be replaced by mankind.. and we know very well that the priests of this earth are not on the same level as Christ and cannot do what he has done for us all.

    "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore." - Hebrews 7:28

    Christ is forever, is and still remains high priest.

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  • 10 years ago


    It boils down to anti-Catholicism.

    Common sense tells us that Jesus wasn’t forbidding this type of use of the word "father."

    In the Bible the concept of fatherhood is not restricted to just our earthly fathers and God. It is used to refer to people other than biological or legal fathers, and is used as a sign of respect to those with whom we have a special relationship

    Jesus was using hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.

    Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love "the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men" (Matt. 23:6–7).

    Do Fundamentalists even read that Peter, Paul, and John imply their own roles as spiritual fathers. Since the Bible frequently speaks of this spiritual fatherhood, we Catholics acknowledge it and follow the custom of the apostles by calling priests "father." Failure to acknowledge this is a failure to recognize and honor a great gift God has bestowed on the Church: the spiritual fatherhood of the priesthood.

  • 10 years ago

    What you quote here is true, However it is Not a good case to argue that the R/C Church is Not in Error it Totally is on hundreds of accounts, as Revelation Points out this Influential Mystery whore has Many Harlot Daughters whose traits were the Same and some still are centuries Later, the Mysteries are the unparalleled Power and influence that the Vatican has had upon the Whole Earth through dark dealings in Secret causing Wars Assassinations strange unelected risings to power! and more whilst having a well dressed deceptive Window to the World deceiving even its own Congregation for the Most part, as one Pope Stated : What a Lucrative Con this Christianity has proven to be to US!!!.

    Eph 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

  • 10 years ago

    Protestants take every thing from the bible literally. This is the main problem Jesus also said call no man teacher.

    Source(s): Catholic Christian
  • Mythos
    Lv 7
    10 years ago

    Maybe when Christ said that He was pre-empting what He knew was coming with the catholic church (and any other church for that matter) when making the distinction between who was the real "Father" and who would try to usurp that title away from Him such as is the practice of catholic priests.

    I've never called any priest/pastor/preacher/minister "father" and I never will.

    Christ said that for a reason, and I really don't think He left the matter for debate. Why is it so difficult for people to simply hear and understand His words?

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    1Corinthians 4:15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.

    Hmm....I guess none of the Protestants Pastor have achieved what St. Paul has?

    I will continue to call my Priests Father because they became my Father through the Gospel.

    Peace be with you

    <<<Devout Catholic>>>

    Lv 7
    10 years ago


    Romans 12

    1 I APPEAL to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.

    2 Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].

    3 For by the grace (unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn everyone among you not to estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought [not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance], but to rate his ability with sober judgment, each according to the degree of faith apportioned by God to him.

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