Updated: Jan 1
By Luke Lancaster
Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will say that Catholics are disobeying the Bible when they call their priests "father." For Jesus said in Matthew 23:9, "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven." They interpret these words of Jesus to mean that we should literally not call any man father. However, if that interpretation were correct, then Jesus contradicted Himself.
Jesus called human men "fathers" in Matt. 10:21. He called the spiritual leader of ancient Israel, "father Abraham" in Luke 16:24. If that is not enough evidence to suggest that this interpretation is phony, consider the fact that the word “father” is used in reference to human men 144 times in the New Testament! If Jesus was speaking literally in Matt. 23, then He would be contradicting himself. We should instead interpret the text to mean that, as usual, Jesus was speaking hyperbolically. For example, Jesus said that if our eyes cause us to sin, then we should pluck them out (Matt. 18:9). He DID NOT mean this literally. There is an inner meaning to the text, and Jesus is trying to get our attention by putting it in extreme terms.
The context of Matt. 23 is where Jesus is criticizing the Pharisees. They are "hypocrites" and are similar to "white-washed tombs," who try to make themselves look pretty on the outside, but are truly dead on the inside (Matt. 23:13, 27). The criticism Jesus gave of the Pharisees in Matt. 23:9 was that they had been pridefully chasing after titles and honors, calling themselves "father" and pointing to themselves - rather than to God the Father. It is through God the Father that all fathers derive their fatherhood from. So, the issue is the pride behind the title, and not calling priests "father."