Being Fundamentalists for many years my husband and I had many misconceptions about the Catholic church. There were things we believed that the Catholic church was in error on. One of those misconceptions comes from this very simple verse in Matthew which appears to clearly state "call no man father." So why are Catholic priests and the Pope called father? Doesn't that clearly show that Catholics do not believe the Bible or at least go against it? By the way Episcopal, Anglican and Orthodox churches all call Priests father too. Well lets look at the scriptures.
8"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' (Gr. rabbi) for you have only one Master (Gr. didaskalos, kathegetes) and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' (Gr. patera) for you have one Father (Gr. pater), and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' (Gr. kathegetai) for you have one Teacher (Gr. kathegetes), the Christ.” (NIV)
8”But be not ye called Rabbi (Gr. rabbi): for one is your Master (Gr. didaskalos, kathegetes), even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9And call no man your father (Gr. patera) upon the earth: for one is your Father (Gr. pater), which is in heaven. 10Neither be ye called masters (Gr. kathegetai) : for one is your Master (Gr. kathegetes), even Christ.” (KJV)
Based on the preceding passage, many non-Catholics claim that the Catholic Church violates the scriptural prohibition against calling anyone “father” since its priests are commonly called “father” and the pope is referred to as the “Holy Father.” Is this really what the Bible teaches? Let’s take a closer look at this issue by reviewing not just a single verse but all that the Bible contains on this subject.
11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (Gr. didaskalovs), 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that God has established some people as “teachers” in the Church; this appears to be a direct violation of Jesus’ prohibition against calling anyone “teacher”. Does God contradict Himself?
1Not many of you should presume to be teachers (Gr. didaskaloi), my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that not many believers should presume to be “teachers.” This implies that a few (though not many) should and would rightfully have that position. Does God contradict Himself?
24So he called to him, “Father (Gr. pater) Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
Jesus tells a parable in which He has one of the characters speak to “Father Abraham” which would obviously be a bad example for His audience. Does Jesus contradict Himself?
1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
4Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7"Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him."
9Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father (Gr. patera)of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
18Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
In this passage, Paul refers to Abraham as a spiritual father eight times. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refers to the spiritual fatherhood of Abraham. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”
1 Corinthians 4:14-15
14I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers (Gr. pateras), for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
In this passage, Paul refers to himself as the spiritual father of the Corinthians. This is a terrible precedent to establish if Jesus has prohibited us from using the term “father.”
Q: The Bible says to call no man Father, so why do we call our priests "Father"?
A: Matthew 23:9, "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in Heaven." Notice, however, that this makes no distinction between spiritual fathers, which is what our priests are to us, and biological fathers. In other words, if you interpret this passage to say, absolutely, that no man is to be called father, you cannot distinguish between calling a priest, father, and calling the man who is married to your mother, father.
But, is that actually what this passage is saying? Or is Jesus warning us against trying to usurp the fatherhood of God? Which, in many ways, is what the Pharisees and Scribes were doing. They wanted all attention focused on them...they were leaving God, the Father, out of the equation. Which is why Jesus goes on to call them hypocrites, liars, and whitewashed tombs.
If you interpret this passage from Matthew 23 as an absolute ban against calling anyone your spiritual father, then there are some problems for you in the rest of Scripture. For example, Jesus, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, has the rich man referring to Abraham as "father" several times. Paul, in Romans chapter 4, refers to Abraham as the "father" of the uncircumcised, the Gentiles. That's referring to spiritual fatherhood, not biological fatherhood.
In Acts 7:1-2, the first Christian martyr, Stephen, referred to the Jewish authorities and elders who were about to stone him as brothers and "fathers," as does Paul in Acts, chapter 22. This is referring to spiritual fatherhood. So, if you interpret Matthew 23 as saying we cannot call anyone our spiritual father, then you have a problem with Jesus, Paul, Stephen, and the Holy Spirit...they must have all gotten it wrong.
It is okay to call priests "father", just as it was okay for Jesus and Paul to call Abraham "father" and for Stephen and Paul to call the Jewish elders "father." As long as we remember that our true Father is God the Father and that all aspects of fatherhood, biological and spiritual, are derived from Him. And as long as we do not allow anyone else to usurp that role in any way, shape, or form, as the Pharisees and Scribes were prone to do
Here is some Interesting History on Jewish Custom that sheds more light on the Interpretation of Mathew 23 8-10At the time of Jesus there were various sects within Judaism. These sects were the: Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes, and Zealots
These sects had houses of teaching within them .
Within the Pharisees there were two famous rival houses.
They were the House of Shammai(Beit Shammai) and the House of Hillel (founder of the Beit Hillel school). The individuals that these houses were named after were considered the "father" of the house.
Jesus warns the apostles not to be fathers to "separate" houses for there is but one house of the Lord. Jesus also says to call no man "teacher" or "master."
Paul was taught by Gamaliel[Acts22:3], a pharisee from the house of Hillel. Gamaliel was, in fact, the grandson of Hillel. Gamaliel was known as an elder and had the title of "Rabban" which means "Our Master." This title explains why Jesus also said call no one "master", for there is but one house and one master of all.
Again, Jesus wanted unity [ see John 17], and does not want the apostles to set up separate houses or schools of thought. The corollary of this is clearly expressed in Paul's complaint in 1 Cor 1:10-15 where some are arguing their superiority by being baptized by, and belonging to, Paul vs. Apollos, or Cephas, etc. Paul goes on elsewhere to further warn against factions and divisions, and stresses the importance of one mind and unity of doctrine.
The meaning of "call no man father, teacher, or master" concerns unity and consistency of doctrine and has nothing to do with the commonly used references that are seen elsewhere in scripture or everyday use.