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« Calling Priests "Father" In Latin | Main | Pope Benedict XVI . . . Now In English! »

April 06, 2008

Comments

Adam D

Excellent commentary, SDG! This is one of those subjects that, while I never fretted over, have always been a little bothered by the rather simple treatment I typically see it given, even by professional apologists. Usually it's just "if Jesus was speaking literally we would not be able to call our own biological fathers 'father.' Therefore he's speaking in hyperbole." P'shaw. This, what you presented here, is a much meatier, satisfying answer. Well done.

Tim J.

Nice tag-team work here, SDG and Jimmy. Excellent apologetics and very accessible, even to theological numb-skulls like me.

The upshot seems to be that if one insists on a literal reading of Matthew 23:9, this creates far more problems than it solves, both in relation to that passage and many others.

Michael

Well done! This will help a great deal with many people who have hearts that are open to the truth.
Way to go!

Laura Peratt

Thanks for a great answer, SDG! Very satisfying.

Jeffrey G

It seems such a small thing to not call clergy "father."

Sure you may have some long explanation where it is technically OK, but I gotta say, that from the outside looking in, it looks like you are thumbing your nose at Matthew 23:9 when you could easily call clergy something else.

Skgyor

What about priests as imago Christi?

labrialumn

SDG,
First of all, thank you for taking my question seriously.

I think that you've made a good stab at it, but I still don't feel like I know what Jesus meant, unless it was literal, which as you note, it might not have been.

Your answer, if I understand correctly, was to teach us not to seek the honor of being called father or teacher or leader. But the teaching is to the disciples to not call -others- those things. Might you continue in your thought on this, you may well be on to something, but haven't quite gotten there yet.

The Masked Chicken

Dear SDG,

Actually, it seems as if this is a problem more in ontology than semantics, per se (although semantics pre-supposes an ontology).

If one looks at the natural progression in the "call noone" trilogy, it goes: rabbi, father, master. It should be clear to the listener from the start that the term rabbi has to be used here to refer to a spiritual teacher, not a teacher of carpentry, say (who could also, rightly be called a rabbi of wood). Just so, to be consistent, the next two terms must also refer to a father and a master in the spiritual sense.

This must be the case, otherwise, the commandment:

honor thy father and thy mother

could never be spoken by man. It would be like the Jewish prohibition against writing or speaking the name of God. Clearly, earthly fathers are not worthy the same dignity of never having their name spoken as God might for the Jews, but they are worthy of the dignity of having their names spoken with respect.

Thus, a one sentence counterexample against call no man father is simply this: St. Paul quotes the fourth commandment. We must be able to, as well.

Now, calling no man father in the spiritual sense is more complicated, as there are different senses of the term. The easiest way to justify it is to say that each Catholic priest is an altus Christus (sorry for the poor latin, I'm in a rush) and if we can call Christ, rabbi, then we can call priests, rabbi (or father or master).

The Chicken

Barbara

I think that you've made a good stab at it, but I still don't feel like I know what Jesus meant, unless it was literal, which as you note, it might not have been.

Your answer, if I understand correctly, was to teach us not to seek the honor of being called father or teacher or leader. But the teaching is to the disciples to not call -others- those things.

Consider that in Jn. 8:56, Jesus refers to Abraham as "Father Abraham". Zechariah also refers to Abraham in Lk. 1:73, as "Father Abraham. In Acts 7, when Stephen is before the Sanhedrin, he refers to Abraham as "Father Abraham". Also, Paul in Romans 4 does likewise, referring to Abraham as "Father Abraham". I suppose we could conclude that it's o.k. to call dead men with the title of Father, or as Steve did, and look at other passages to gain a larger understanding.

Matthew addresses the entire chapter to the example of the Pharisees, and in fact declares 8 woes (9 in the D-R) upon them. He identifies who has authority, and that we are to follow that authority. However, the Pharisees sought after the honor, and not the responsibility to lead.

Earlier in ch. 18, Jesus had sent out the disciples with the instuction, "He who receives you, receives me...". They knew that they had the authority of Jesus. The Father sent the Son, and the Son, in turn, sent out those whom He had invested with His authority.

Any father, whether physical, or spiritual can only be father because God is first Father. As it says in Ephesians 3:14-15, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named".

Fatherhood gains it's efficacy from God the Father. Priests can be called Father because they are spiritually fathers, who receive their authority from Jesus and the Apostles.

JoAnna

Sure you may have some long explanation where it is technically OK, but I gotta say, that from the outside looking in, it looks like you are thumbing your nose at Matthew 23:9 when you could easily call clergy something else.

And yet if Catholics made the same request of Protestants (e.g., "while that's technically okay, from the outside looking in, it looks like _____, so could you do something else?"), the clamor and outrage could only be imagined...

Slowboy

Catholic answer's answer: http://www.catholic.com/library/Call_No_Man_Father.asp and in a second interesting commentary:

All too often, however, a rabbi would add his own grain of wisdom to the true tradition, thereby clouding it. Instead of passing down the sacred deposit along with the true interpretations of that deposit, he would add his own private interpretation. In turn his disciples, like their teacher, would, after becoming rabbis, do the same thing. (Some things never change, do they!) The final outcome of all this was a tradition of men that made the true Mosaic tradition of no effect.

In order to cut through all this tradition of men that had made the Mosaic tradition of no effect, and to bring people back to the truth, Jesus told His disciples, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'"15 In other words, He was telling them not to use their positions as fathers and teachers as an opportunity to build disciples around their own private opinions
In the face of the stench and shame of the apostasy of these religious leaders, therefore, Jesus commanded His disciples, "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."33 While Father Abraham by his faithfulness deserved the title, as did others of Israel's greats in history, these men had forfeited their role as fathers. They <>to cease and desist in their use of the term and, in turn, bow to God Himself as the fountainhead of all fatherhood. And in issuing His warning, Jesus addresses us today with the greatest of all commandments, pointing the fathers and teachers in His Church and those they lead to a primacy of love for God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and to a love for one's neighbor.

Actually from the comment above I would point back at the protestants who build churches around the opinions of one man over and against the Catholic tradion of building churches where the men (priests) who run them are bound by the Church iteslf.


http://www.protomartyr.org/father.html

labrialumn

Slowboy, so you are arguing against the development of doctrine?

Joanne, I'm not looking for apparent inconsistencies, I'm looking for what Jesus meant when He said that.

Tim J.

What do *you* think he meant?

JoAnna

Joanne, I'm not looking for apparent inconsistencies, I'm looking for what Jesus meant when He said that.

... and what makes your interpretation of "what Jesus meant" better or more accurate than mine? Or, for that matter, better or more accurate than the Catholic Church's?

In other words, by what authority can you [b]definitively [/b]say "what Jesus meant", and why should I (or anyone) accept your interpretation instead of the Catholic Church's?

LCB

Isn't it ironic that, 150 years ago, Protestant church leaders were often called "father", and they only stopped the practice when Irish Catholic immigrants arrived calling their priests "father."

A priest is properly called father in english because he participates in the spiritual fatherhood of all the faithful. The same could be said for a Protestant minister.

The text in question is clearly a form of exageration, common in semetic cultures. This doesn't seem to be a big deal, except to folks looking for an excuse for some good ol' fashioned Catholic bashin'.

SDG

It seems such a small thing to not call clergy "father."

Sure you may have some long explanation where it is technically OK, but I gotta say, that from the outside looking in, it looks like you are thumbing your nose at Matthew 23:9 when you could easily call clergy something else.

Is that your knee-jerk reaction to St. Paul and St. John too? "Come on Paul and John, why thumb your noses at Jesus this way? Wouldn't it have been just as easy, Paul, to say that you brought the Corinthians to Christ? Why call yourself a 'father' in a spiritual sense? And John, I understand calling your readers 'little children,' but why muddy the waters by also addressing some as 'fathers'?"

Believe it or not, there are sound anthropological reasons why 'father' gets used in a spiritual way that have nothing to do with thumbing one's nose at Jesus.

Your answer, if I understand correctly, was to teach us not to seek the honor of being called father or teacher or leader. But the teaching is to the disciples to not call -others- those things. Might you continue in your thought on this, you may well be on to something, but haven't quite gotten there yet.

Actually, a close reading shows that Jesus speaks both of how we call others ("Call no man...") and also of how we ourselves are called ("You are not to be called... Neither be called..."). This seems to me an instance of the semitic device of parallelism, in which essentially the same point (or parallel points) are made with various wordings.

The structural differences between the three clauses are, I think, due to the fact that Jesus cannot say "Call no man on earth rabbi" or "teacher," since there is one Man (the Christ) who can claim those titles. The more salient point, though, is that all three titles belong in a proper and absolute sense only to God. Men can only claim any of them -- even biological fatherhood -- in an analogical sense; and to love the honor of being associated with God in this way is the path to ruin.

David B.

It seems such a small thing to not call clergy "father."

From the outside looking in. From the outside looking in, many things can seem ostentatious or egregious to one's own senses. That doesn't mean it is so. It is my view (from the inside looking out) that, as illustrated by the reasons men more cerebral than I have given, God will not damn me for calling the 86-year-old pastor of my parish "Father." Why would He, when there are so many better reasons ;-)

francis 03

And from the outside looking in, couldn't we all just abandon use of the words "teacher" and "master/leader," which Christ also spoke against? While SDG is doing us all a service by treating the issue here in the abstract, I have yet to hear a good explanation of how anyone can criticize the use of the honorific "Father" while still calling other people his or her teachers or leaders. Do you use those appellations, Jeffrey G, and if so how are you yourself not thumbing your nose at the relevant Scripture?

Maureen

If you abandon the title "master", you do realize that you must forbid calling anyone "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Miss", "Miz" or "Ms." Those are all forms of address derived from "master" -- or "mistress", which is the feminine of "master".

Call no man Mister Tibbs!

labrialumn

Tim,
I'm not sure. On the face of it, that we must not call any religious leader 'father' or 'teacher' or 'master'.

Joanna, "to the law and to the testimony, if what they say is not written therein, know this, that I, the LORD, have not sent them"

Grammar, textual context and historical context. That is how you know what a written thing means. Ok?

You might have noticed that I haven't offered a claim to a certain reading of this text. The apparent meaning I have put above. SDG offers a different understanding. He may be on to interesting. Thus far, though, most Roman catholics seem to be saying "because non-Roman catholics don't follow it perfectly, therefore we don't have to, either." which isn't much of an argument, is it? It is perfectly reasonable for me to ask what then, SDG believes the text means.

The argument that it is hyperbole is interesting, and possible. But we have to have some objective means for determining when hyperbole is being used and when it is not. Is it hyperbole that divorcing ones' wife and marrying another is adultery? Is it hyperbole that those who call Jesus 'Lord' but refuse to do what He says, are lost? What is the objective demarkator that that this passage -is- hyperbole, and then, what is the actual meaning, and how might we know it?


bill912

"...which isn't much of an argument, is it?"

Nope. Nor was any such argument made.

Tim J

"I'm not sure. On the face of it, that we must not call any religious leader 'father' or 'teacher' or 'master'."

But Jesus said "Call no man 'Father'", not "Call no religious leader 'Father'".

How do we know what he meant... whether it was hyperbole? A big clue is how his disciples understood him (being in the same cultural milieu, and under his direct instruction for years, and having the Holy Spirit besides). Apparently, no one took this teaching literally until very recently in church history. Up until then, Christians were pretty unanimous in understanding that this was not meant literally. The Apostles, their immediate successors and the Church founded on their testimony just never took it that way. If we want to do that *now*, the burden of evidence is on us moderns as to why the constant teaching of the church has been in error.

Like the other passages SDG referred to, this passage makes sense as hyperbole, but is impracticable in literal terms.

Luke 14:26 is much the same kind of thing; "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple."

Clearly this can only be hyperbolic language. Jesus does not expect his disciples to literally hate their families. Quite the opposite.

RM

"Grammar, textual context and historical context. That is how you know what a written thing means. Ok?

- Not ok. Actually, that's a horribly messy assumption that can be easily disproved. While I don't have much time to get into specifics (this is sort of a blitz-post @ work), we can see that an effective counter-example to this line of thought would be the Song of Songs. The Grammar and Context of the book itself aren't enough to support most of the common exegesis done on its passages. For a far more intellegent summary than I could ever provide, I suggest consideration of the following:

http://pontifications.wordpress.com/sola-scriptura/


Cheers.

JoAnna

labrialumn, I'm afraid I couldn't make heads or tails out of your response. It didn't answer anything I asked below; rather, it seemed to be a baffling mishmash of verbiage in an attempt to dodge my questions by providing the illusion of a response.

Here are my questions again, and I'd appreciate a direct response:

What makes your interpretation of "what Jesus meant" better or more accurate than mine? Or, for that matter, better or more accurate than the Catholic Church's?

In other words, by what authority can you definitively say "what Jesus meant", and why should I (or anyone) accept your interpretation instead of the Catholic Church's?

SDG

The argument that it is hyperbole is interesting, and possible. But we have to have some objective means for determining when hyperbole is being used and when it is not. Is it hyperbole that divorcing ones' wife and marrying another is adultery? Is it hyperbole that those who call Jesus 'Lord' but refuse to do what He says, are lost? What is the objective demarkator that that this passage -is- hyperbole, and then, what is the actual meaning, and how might we know it?

I think the fact that the saying is bookended by warnings against the prideful attitude of wanting the honor of men, coupled with the fact that elsewhere in the NT we have precedent for doing precisely what a literal reading of Matthew 23:9 seems to say we must not do, provides warrant for the reading I have given. The structural similarities to Matthew 6:1-4 help too -- and there we KNOW that Jesus is not literally forbidding us to do good deeds in a visible way, because in Matthew 5:16 Jesus gives us exactly the opposite advice.

You ask: "Is it hyperbole that divorcing ones' wife and marrying another is adultery?" My answer: The kind of hyperbole I am speaking of is a kind of parabolic illustration or embodiment of a point about heart attitude. In the case of divorce and remarriage, had Jesus said, "But I say to you, do not remarry after divorce, nor marry a divorcee," that might be parallel to the kind of hyperbole that Matthew 6:1-4 and Matthew 23:7-9 exemplify.

However, what Jesus actually gives us on divorce and remarriage -- no fewer than SEVEN TIMES in four passages in three gospels -- is a stark identification of divorce and remarriage with the sin of adultery. In Mark and Luke this stark equation is stated simply; in Matthew there is a much-debated exclusionary clause, "not in the case of porneia." This isn't the place to debate that clause, but on the face of it I see nothing to warrant seeing this as the kind of hyperbole I've been discussing, especially since other NT teaching seems to corroborate the plain sense of Jesus' teaching -- and nothing contradicts it.

"Is it hyperbole that those who call Jesus 'Lord' but refuse to do what He says, are lost?" If so, what would it be hyperbolic of? What would the literal interpretation be? I think we are giving figurative language its due by noting that the "outer darkness," "weeping and gnashing of teeth," "the worm that dieth not" etc. are not necessarily literally true. But whatever they represent, it's something pretty damn bad.

Once again, we seem to have here a teaching corroborated by (rather than nuanced by) the rest of the NT, with no obvious hyperbolic interpretation or structural reason not to take it as really saying what it seems to say.

Of course anyone is free to offer an argument in defense of any scriptural text they want; others will judge how plausible or implausible their reading and arguments are. My reasons for reading Matthew 23 as I do are given above. Readers are free to accept them or not. If someone wants to advance an alternate reading of some other Gospel saying, let him put it forward and others can judge its credibility.

Candy

There is a fundamentalist Christian radio progrm in my town, for several hours every evening. Sometimes I listen in. Last night, they spent a good deal of time criticizing Protestant ministers who call themselves "Reverend", because in the Bible, only God is called "Reverend" (Psalm 111:9).
According to the preachers on this show, the only acceptable title for the leader of a local church is "Pastor".

LCB

My favorite way to trip up ultra-literalists:

Where does the bible say you can translate the bible into other languages?

If we are such literalists, he text CLEARLY says (if we translate only part of it): call no man "pateras." As long as I don't call anyone pateras then I'm okay. Right? Right?

Protestant ultra-literalists are the modern day Pharisees.

Leo

The title "Pastor" is not necessarily humble or unproblematic. A "pastor" is a shepherd/feeder of sheep. But Jesus, who is God, claims to be the "Good Shepherd". The only time I recall Jesus giving anyone else a pastor-like title was telling Peter (only) to "feed my sheep". Which is understood by Catholics as refering to the Petrine/Papal office. The gap in status between "pastor" and "sheep" seems to be much greater than that between father and (adult) son/daughter. The title "pastor" seems to me to imply a higher status than "father".

I knew of one evangelical church where the founding minister was called "Brother X", no-one else was called "Brother Y" in the same titular manner. Although this avoidance of "father" was within the letter of the law, as they understood it, it was, in practice, a special honorific title reserved to that minister alone.

Some of the more radical Christian groups have tried to avoid titles altogether. But even Quakers have 'clerks' of Meetings.

Various egalitarian political movements have given everyone the title "Citizen" or "Comrade", but even this safeguard has not prevented high-status Citizens and Comrades from arising, with their own special usage of "Comrade" or "Citizen" and with their own special powers.

Almost any title can become a term of honour and become a sign of and a means of increasing pride and power.

Titles seem to be secondary to status/power/behaviour, which is, I think, the point Jesus was making.

Pasture

But Jesus, who is God, claims to be the "Good Shepherd". The only time I recall Jesus giving anyone else a pastor-like title was telling Peter (only) to "feed my sheep".

Who is not his brother's keeper? Which comes first, who you are or a title?

Whether you call me pastor, pasture, fodder or whatever -- who is it that cares?

LJ

"Your answer, if I understand correctly, was to teach us not to seek the honor of being called father or teacher or leader. But the teaching is to the disciples to not call -others- those things. Might you continue in your thought on this, you may well be on to something, but haven't quite gotten there yet."
-labrialumn

A good point. In this passage Jesus is talking to those who do the "calling" of rabbi, father, master, not to those who have the titles. Previously he was discussing acts of piety and charity. Consistent with Jesus' teaching that the state of the heart is as important to God as the action itself (hatred of brother is murder in the heart, and lust is adultery in the heart) it seems to me that he is hyperbolically pointing out hypocrisy and false humility on the part of those who would play Uriah Heap without humility in their heart.

LJ

We can also understand this passage as a sermon on unity. Citing St. Paul once again, we see him castigating the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:12) for factions in the church. "I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ." This would seem contrary to the teaching that SDG cited regarding his spiritual fatherhood.
Note that Jesus tells the people to obey the appointed leaders in what they instruct, but don't do what they do. He doesn't counsel rebellion against their spiritual authority. Instead he points out that God is the source of that authority and teaching.
In context of St. Paul above we can see clearly that Jesus is teaching against the cult of personality and the divisions it causes. He is saying don't be following this or that rabbinical school as the source of all truth, or this or that rabbi, or spiritual master as the source of all truth. God is the source of all truth. He is the Father, the master, the teacher.
Likewise, the Catholic Church is "catholic" in its unity, and derives that unity of authority from God, through Christ Jesus. The spiritual, teaching authority is there to be obeyed, but the men come and go. Benedict XVI will be here Tuesday and will be celebrating his 81st birthday. He, as well as any of the rest of us know that his time is limited. But for now he holds the office of the Servant of the Servants of God and we honour that office and teaching authority by addressing him as "your holiness," just as we did his much loved predecessor.
My own parish is being pastored by a priest of the Franciscan order. We call him "father" as we would a diocesan priest or a Jesuit priest or Benedictine, etc., etc. It is a recognition of the office of priesthood. In fact, it is an equalizer among the various religious orders, even though at different times in Church history there have been those of some orders who tried to be autonomous from the Church in varying degrees. In reality, they are first followers of Christ, the ultimate Lord and Master, and receive their authority and office through Christ's universal or "catholic" Church, and finally, within that universal Church they follow a specific spiritual leader.

There are always those who promote factions in the Church, right from the start, and there probably will be until Christ returns. I am of Paul, I am of Apollos . . . And then there are those that break communion in Christ, the real bond of that unity. I am of Luther, I am of Calvin . . .

c matt

So do Protestants call their biological parternal units "father"? That violates the injunction just as much as calling a priest father.

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