The Question: A question that is often brought up in conversations with our Protestant brothers and sisters is the following: "Why do Catholics address their priests as 'Father' when this clearly goes against what the Bible says? Matthew 23:9 says, 'Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven.'". Here are a couple of ways to defend your Catholic beliefs on this subject.
What does the Bible Say? People in the Bible use the word "Father" frequently. If your protestant brother or sister relies on Sola Scriptura, you could use the following Biblical passages to point out the use of the word "Father" :
1) Luke 16:24, "...Father Abraham, have pity on me."
2) James 2:21, "Was not our Father Abraham considered..."
3) 1 Cor. 4:15, "I became your father in Christ...."
4) Matthew 19:5, "For this reason, a man will leave his father.."
5) Matthew 21:31, "Which of the two did what his Father
6) Ephesians 6:2, "Honor your mother and father."
So our Protestant brothers and sisters see these verses and decide that it is OK to call a man “father” in the biological sense, just not pertaining to a spiritual life. Yet Matthew 23:9 does not say: "It's OK to call your biological father, "father," just not in a spiritual sense." No! It says to call no man “father.” So Protestants themselves do not take the verse literally - as they have called their biological father, "dad," or "father."
What Does Tradition Say?
It always helps to look at a verse in context. Let's take a look at Matthew 23:1-10.
"Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they 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. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ."
It is in these verses that the Pharisees were essentially exalting themselves. Their position was highly honored in the Jewish society, and pointing out the faults and sins of the Scribes and Pharisees wasn't something you did. Christ then says, "call no man Father," but He isn't discouraging the use of the word though. He is instead is getting on the Pharisees because they were putting themselves in the place of God for the Jewish people.
What Does the Catholic Church Say?
When we consider a priest to be God, we have missed the point. The priest is a channel through which God works. So, we worship God and do not believe that Catholic priests are God. However, to consider them spiritual Father is in fact very biblical! (1 Corinthians 4:15)
In Matthew 23:9, Jesus is not telling His followers that they can never say Father. This applies to men who are biological or spiritual fathers. To call biological and spiritual leaders Father is the truth and supported by the bible, and not discouraged by Christ. In this Bible verse, Christ is instead warning us to not place any man as equal to God (as the Pharisees were doing with themselves).
Do you have anything you would like to add, or did I miss anything? Do you have an apologetics question you would like me to answer on the blog? Let me know in the comment below? Thanks!
God Bless you all,