Categories: Q&A

Why do Catholics call priests “father” when Jesus said not to?

Why do Catholics call priests “father” when Jesus said not to?

Full Question

Jesus says to call no man father. Yet Catholics use the title Father to refer to the priests. Why is this?


Jesus indeed said: “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9). But if you read the entire passage, you will understand the context. If this was meant literally, then no one could call their own dads “father” without going against the word of Jesus. But we know this was not what Christ had in mind. The very concept of calling God “Father”, draws from our earthly understanding of the term. Removing this will make the use of the term for the First Person of the Trinity a little meaningless.

In the Bible, the concept of fatherhood is not just applied to earthly fathers and to God. It is most times used to talk about people held in high esteem and with whom a special relationship is shared.

 “So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 45:8).

“I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know” (Job 29:16). 

“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah . . . and I will clothe him with [a] robe, and will bind [a] girdle on him, and will commit . . . authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah” (Isa. 22:20–21).

And Elisha called Elijah “My father, my father!” to Elijah as the latter is carried up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs. 2:12). 

The real meaning of the text

Jesus was known to criticize Jewish leaders for their love of earth honors and for always choosing the choicest places in synagogues. They loved to be saluted and recognized everywhere and be called “rabbi”. (Matt. 23:6-7). He used hyperbole to show how ridiculous they were for not looking up to God and conducting themselves humbly. Hyperbole is used as a means of showing how absurd something is employing exaggeration. Just like he said:  

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29, cf. 18:9; Mark 9:47). 

Jesus clearly did not mean either of these literally but was trying to show his followers a better, humbler way to conduct themselves. And in the second part, the seriousness of sin. 

Spiritual Fatherhood

St Paul considered himself a father to all the people he evangelized to. And this was not against the words of Jesus.

“Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ” (1 Cor. 4:17); 

“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2); 

“To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:2).

“This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare” (1 Tim 1:18)

 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1)

“But Timothy’s worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22).

“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” (Philem. 10). 

For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:14–15).

“Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2 Cor. 12:14)

“My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19).

St Peter:

 “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark” (1 Pet. 5:13). 

St John

 “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, Jesus Christ 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).

Paul was referring to his spiritual fatherhood with them, not biological. So, in the same way, the priests who feed the flocks of Christ are rightly called “father”. This is in keeping with the apostolic custom as seen above. 

Why do Catholics call priests “father” when Jesus said not to?

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This post was published on November 9, 2021 9:09 am


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  • Wow, very interesting discussion . I love it. I read each one of them. Tony and chad , I hope you two become friends. God bless all of you

  • Well done Chad. I am a catholic and to read all your comments and the way you dealt with Tony has been very interesting. He seems (and so do other individuals who read the KJV Bible) to have his perception on the interpretation of the passages in the bible. The interesting thing is that those individuals all seems to have their own interpretations, which make them argue amongst themselves. I'm very impressed by your knowledge on the RC faith and I guess( if you're not doing this) you could teach and guide those who want to mount the RC Church. God bless you.

  • "Apostolic which believes as the Apostles first taught God’s Word" ? I think God's word was a round long before the Apostles.

  • This is very interesting and amazing, Mr.Tony welldone, I pray that Holy Spirit will open your eyes one day and Mr.Chad u made my day, thank u so much for your enlightenment. God bless u both.

  • Learned a lot from this healthy discussion. Thanks chad. Glory and praise to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

  • to God be the Glory..good job chad well done..good luck for tony i hope that one day the Holy spirit will enlighten your mind and understand only whole truth..have a blessed day everyone..

  • Chad, I will admit that I have a fundamental ignorance of the Catholic version of Passover, but I do know about the sacrificial lamb of the of the original Jewish Passover or “Pesah” as the Jews called it. The sacrificial lamb was meant to save the Jewish “firstborn” in much the same way we (Christians, the firstborn of Jesus) are saved by the blood of our sacrificial lamb, Jesus Christ. The first Passover have to be done in EXACTLY the manner as God prescribed or there would be no salvation (from death) for the firstborn of that household. In like manner, we must conform to the Exact instructions (Acts 2:38) of Jesus or our salvation will be in vain. In the first Passover, the lamb had to be eaten and the blood spread on the door post and the salvation that was received was not eternal, it was a one time thing. The O.T. Jews never had nothing more than a one year remission of sin. Here is where the truth is hidden from you. Like you said, “DURING THE LAST SUPPER”, you had that part very right for Jesus implied that there would be no more “Passover meals with literal food eaten.” Then in Luke 22:19, Jesus said, “...........This IS my body………” He did not say, “this represents my body (there is no substitution for the Bible tells us what the flesh is).” So, we are back to, How does one eat Jesus’s flesh? The answer is, through “spiritual communion.” The Word of God IS Jesus Christ. John 1:14 says, “ And the “ WORD WAS MADE FLESH”....” Consuming the Word of God (that was made flesh) by reading, studying, and OBEYING is in essence, eating the flesh of Jesus. we are spiritually nourished by consuming the Word. If this is done properly, you will obtain “ETERNAL SALVATION.” Now, you say by prayer the wafer of the Eucharist becomes the “real flesh” of Jesus. When you place that wafer in your mouth and chew it up, you can not say that it taste like “raw flesh.” If it does not taste like raw flesh, then I must make you aware of the fact that it is not the flesh of Jesus or the flesh of any other person. The flesh of Jesus is now “spiritual,” thus the need for “spiritual communion.” You gave proof of a Communion service by quoting Acts 2: 42 which says, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and IN PRAYERS.” If you had read ahead through verse 44, you would have understood the context of that portion of Acts chapter 2. Here is what verse 44 says, “ And all that believed were together, and had all things common;” At that time the Apostle held everything in common and took their daily meals together, these meals were referred to as “the breaking of bread.” By the way, your Bible changed verse 42 to say in THE PRAYERS instead of IN PRAYERS so that it would be consistent with Catholic doctrine. You quoted St.Ignatius and St. Justin as proof of the Eucharist service being authentic and approved of (implied) by the Apostles. You, yourself agreed that you had popes that were fallible. With that record of fallibility, why would you accept the word of Justin and Ignatius instead of God’s printed Word (the New Testament)? You say that the Catholic Church has taught the same thing for 2000 years. You know that is not so. One thing comes to mind is the doctrine of “purgatory”. It was first taught about 1160 A.D.. And also the popes have changed the church’s doctrine many times over those years. I have some scriptures that I want you to tell me what they mean to you(please do this). 1 Cor. 11:17,19-20 says, “17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.19 For there must be also HERESIES among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is NOT TO EAT THE LORD’S SUPPER.” Next,1 Cor. 11:34 says, “ And if any man hunger, LET HIM EAT AT HOME; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.”(please give your meaning of this) I believe a 100% in John 6:60 & 66 (the Bread of Life), I just believe that Jesus does not want a substitution (the wafer) for his flesh (or for his blood) and you believe substitution is O.K.. I guess time will tell which of us was right.

    • Tony, I realize that I've wasted too much of my time trying to help you to understand the true history of Christian theology. Your view and interpretations of the "Word" being the thing consumed, and "true born again Christians" being the only ones that scripture applies to, and your convenient doctrine of accepting what you want, and then dismissing anything that you don't like because people were just confused about Jesus' teachings, is the newer and novel doctrines of the Protestant Reformers starting in the 1500's. Catholic teaching's have been the same for 2000 years, even if you don't understand them, and believe do NOT understand them. And these teachings are knowable because of 2000 years of Christian writings, but you choose to ignore those because they clearly refute your doctrines. All Catholic doctrine is in complete agreement with all scripture and history, period. My church is responsible for there being a Bible to begin with. Understand that you would not have the Bible if not for the Bishop's of Christ's Church, collecting and canonizing the Bible. Its your Protestant forefathers who chose to remove 7 entire books from the Bible, 1500 years A.D. And Martin Luther wanted Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation removed!
      I'll leave you with this scripture verse from 2 Peter 3:15...."as our beloved Paul, according to the wisdom given him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures"
      Jesus established and left us a Church as a means to help us know him, and help us get to heaven. That church gives us the scriptures and helps us to understand them correctly. Jesus plan for our salvation didn't rest on the need to pass out a book and hope everyone figures out the right things. Good luck Tony, I hope you realize the truth someday.

      • Chad, you conveniently omitted answering my questions from my previous post. I assume you had no answers, but I will repost them incase you accidentally overlooked them.-------------. I have some scriptures that I want you to tell me what they mean to you(please explain these).(#1) 1 Cor. 11:17,19-20 says, “17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.19 For there must be also HERESIES among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is NOT TO EAT THE LORD’S SUPPER.” (#2) 1 Cor. 11:34 says, “ And if any man hunger, LET HIM EAT AT HOME; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.”------- I feel the opposite of you, I do not think I wasted my time explaining God's Word to you. As an ambassador of God, that is my duty. One day when wisdom matures in you, you will remember our discussion and you will start doubting the doctrine of your church. Then, take out your KJV Bible and start with reading Acts 2:38 which describes the only way TO RECEIVE REMISSION OF YOUR SINS & BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY GHOST. Your sins is the only thing that will keep you out of heaven. When you receive TRUE remission of your sins and are filled with the Holy Ghost, your eyes will be opened, just as Paul's were opened after his meeting Jesus on his way to Damascus. Everything you need to know will be revealed to you from that time forward. I would like for you to explain 1 & 2 above if you can. If you can not, lots of luck to you and may God be with you always. (THIS WAS WRITTEN SHORTLY AFTER YOUR LAST REPLY BUT THIS SITE BLOCKED ME AND WAS UNABLE TO POST. ALWAYS KEEP AN OPEN MIND AND LOTS OF LUCK ----------TONY

        • Tony,
          I wanted to touch, once again, on your view of the Baptismal formula that should be used. We have several writings that have survived down through the centuries, and I'll give you some text from 2 of the earliest regarding baptism.
          The first is from the "Didache" or "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles". This is believed to have been used as a work of instruction for Jewish catechumens, from about 140 AD.
          In regard to baptism - baptized thus: after the foregoing instruction, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
          The second is taken from St Justin the Martyr's writing called First Apology, from about 155 AD. The word "apology" is from a Greek word that means to defend or explain. Many modern day people aren't aware of that. "Then they are led by us to a place where there is water; and there they are reborn in the same kind of rebirth in which we our selves were reborn: in the name of God, the Lord and Father of all, and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they receive the washing with water."
          So, as we can clearly see, the Trinitarian formula has been used from the beginning, and you reject it at your own peril!

          • Chad, there is an old saying, " You are not seeing the forest because of the trees." Chad, the answer to the proper formula for a proper baptism is right before you in Matt. 28:19 which uses the phrase "IN THE NAME OF." When you acknowledge what the meaning of that phrase is, then you will realize that the NAME OF Jesus is the proper name that means the same as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In the Acts of the Apostles, you will find that the "Jesus name" formula is all that they used. The Catholic Church developed the "trinity formula" gradually between the years 325 A.D.(Nicene Council ) and 381 A.D. (First Council of Constantinople). The first emperor to be baptized in the Nicene faith being Theodosius the Great, emperor from 379 to 395 A.D.. There is no record of the Apostles ever using the trinity formula and they always immersed under water those being baptized. Baptize comes from the greek word "baptizó" which means, "to dip, submerge". You have the freedom to base your religious beliefs on writings of historians (or anybody else), but I chose to stick with the Apostles.

          • Tony, I think you take obstinancy to a whole new level. I also wonder if you even recognize the fundamental contradiction from your last post? For the last several weeks you have glibly discounted any writings from the 1st few centuries as nothing but the fallible writings of men. But now you're trying to lecture me about how and when various Catholic doctrines were developed over those first few centuries? I'm confused, I thought if it wasn't specifically in the New Testament we weren't supposed to believe it? So, on what basis do you accept whatever historical writings you used to draw those conclusions? And for you to state that there is "no record of the Apostles using the Trinity formula", after I gave you 2 examples from 140 & 155 AD, that both state this is how the Apostles taught us, is remarkable. Yet again, another example of the intellectual dishonesty of your arguments.
            I'm also going to try to clear up your confusion about church councils and church doctrine. Just because a specific doctrine/practice was defined at some church council, does NOT mean that doctrine was INVENTED at that council. The purpose of the church councils was to clear up any confusion in regards to church practices and doctrines, that had slowly arisen between the various dioceses. So when someone claims the Catholic Church didn't start this doctrine or that dogma until (fill in the blank) AD, at a certain Church Council, they are speaking out of ignorance. Again, best of luck to you Tony, may God bless you and open your mind to see the truth someday.

        • Ok, I'll bite again. *I sure hope this counts for some graces!
          1 Corinthian's 11:17-34, is Paul reprimanding the Corinthian's for their abuses of the Lord's Supper. He's telling them that they're doing it all wrong. Some are just eating as if it's a regular meal and others are just getting drunk. He's informing them that what they're doing can't be considered the "Lords Supper", and they should just do their eating and drinking at home instead of showing contempt for the church. Paul then goes on to explain how Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper..."This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me" and "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me". Paul then warn's them that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will bring judgment on himself, and says that's why many of them are sick and dying.
          So, I'd recommend you go back to your KJV and read the whole passage again, and not just cherry pick a few verses that you think supports your view. I'm afraid you've only proved once again that you don't really understand many scripture passages.
          I don't want to come across as harsh or disrespectful, because I really only want to engage in constructive dialogue. But I can't help but feel, in most of your posts, a condescending tone. I'm still holding out hope that I managed to plant a kernel of doubt somewhere in your thoughts, that may someday grow into a fuller understanding of the truth!

          • Chad, in 1 Cor. 11:19 Paul says, "that the Corinthians were teaching HERESIES (Paul's word, not mine) and he goes on to explain (in verses 19-34 ) what those heresies were. The heresies that they were teaching was the substitution of real bread and wine for the spiritual flesh and blood of Jesus. That is why Paul told them in verse 34 "if they hungered (for real food) to eat at home." The Corinthians were the only church that taught such a doctrine and the Apostles never did. Again, the best of luck to you---Tony

          • Again, 1 Corinthian's 11:29,30..."for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying."

          • The heresy was that they were not treating the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus, therefore they were doing more harm than good and bringing judgement on themselves. Seriously Tony, you're misunderstanding the context of the whole passage.

          • Afraid not Tony. You are misunderstanding the entire point of Paul's admonishment. And while you claim the Corinthian's were the only church doing this, you also stubbornly refuse to accept any historical writings that plainly refute this. Your arguments are not intellectually honest if you refuse to consider early church writings. It's like a stubborn, spoiled adolescent who refuses to hear what he doesn't want to hear.

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