I had said that “King” is not a spiritual title, and you said:I should not have made my point so tentatively before. That is my fault. All I meant to affirm is that "King" is a spiritual title when it is applied to the Davidic Kings. That much is true, and it follows from this that we have a spiritual title being used quite extensively in Scripture. Also, you didn't address the fact that Jesus told a parable where servants refer to their owner as "Master" (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
“Regarding your second point, I think the title of ‘King’ -- at least as it applies to the Davidic kings -- is very much a spiritual title.”
But many other kings, even UNGODLY ones, in both the Old and the New Testament, were also called “King” as a title (for example, “King Nebuchadnezzar,” or “King Herod,” etc.). So, this is a very weak argument. If “King” is a SPIRITUAL title, why would the writers of Scripture give such an honor to those kings who were spiritually UNdeserving?
I found some other passages too. In another parable, Jesus had the rich man refer to Abraham as "Father Abraham" (Lk 16:24, 30). Paul addressed the high priest and the council of elders by saying, "Hear me, brethren and fathers!" (Acts 7:22). Paul isn't just describing a position. He actually called them fathers, even though Jesus said, "call no man father."
And concerning whether one is “deserving” of a title or not, let’s address this common Catholic argument (surrounding Matthew 23) that it’s ok to have these formal spiritual titles “as long as the person is deserving.” Some of your own comments suggest that you believe this.I never said that it was ok to have a formal title as long as the person is deserving. As you rightly conclude, that would not square with Catholic practice. Let me be clear on this. I think there are two lessons we should derive from Mt 23:
But Jesus didn’t say, “Whoever humbles himself gets to be called ‘Father.’” If Matthew 23 is about “deserving” a title, Jesus would have used some sort of “give honor to whom honor is due” expression in the context. But He doesn’t. But He does tell us, quite clearly, who is worthy of such a title – “… NO man…” (23:9). There is far more reason to believe that this context is about the FORBIDDING of titles than some human DESERVING them. So, the “as long as the person is deserving” argument is bogus.
By the way, how do you know that a priest you have never seen before is deserving of the title “Father”? There could always be some deep, dark, continual sin in his life that no one but God knows about. Yet, Catholics do not hesitate to call almost any priest by that spiritual title.
1. The Pharisees do not deserve the honor they receive.
-- Consequently, respect their authority but do not abide by their example.
2. God is the ultimate Father, Rabbi, and Master
That's as far as I think we should go with it. Protestants go too far when they say that this chapter is evidence that Jesus wanted to do away with spiritual titles.
You mentioned that Jesus, in anger, was saying that we have only ONE “Teacher,” ONE “Father,” and ONE “Master,” when we actually have many teachers / fathers / masters to teach and guide us. That may be true, but the point is that there is only One who is DESERVING of these titles, and that One is God / Jesus. Again, no hyperbole, no exaggeration. There is no connection or similarity between “straining a gnat / swallowing a camel” and “call no man Father,” as you implied. It seems that claiming hyperbole may be just an excuse to continue with an unbiblical (and anti-biblical) practice. This is an excellent example of voiding Christ’s command for the sake of your own traditions (Matthew 15:3, 6).In a sense, I agree with you. No one is a Father like God is a Father. But, that doesn't mean we can't have a share in His work, or that we shouldn't call a thing what it is, or that we should fail to respect the noble office a person has been given. Jesus told the people to practice and observe whatever the scribes and Pharisees told them to do. Why? Because they sit on Moses seat. The honor is given because of the position that is held. Jesus does not want to do away with this honor, He wants the scribes and Pharisees to live up to it. Do you really think that Jesus went through such great lengths to catalogue their many sins so as to do away with titles? Or, could it be more likely that He did this so as to expose their failure to be the fathers, rabbis, and teachers that they should be?
When I mentioned that Jesus said to give no human a spiritual title, you implied that the context of Matthew 23 denies this. You said:You're obviously begging the question here. This argument only holds if Jesus actually spoke against using spiritual titles. But, you haven't proven that yet.
“’The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you’ (vs. 2-3). Jesus’ wants the people to continue to respect the authority of the scribes and Pharisees. Using titles such as ‘father’, ‘rabbi’, and ‘master’ is how you show this respect for someone in a position of authority. Yet, by your interpretation, Jesus told the people to respect their authority one minute, then disrespect it the next. That makes no sense.”
Nicholas, Matthew 23:2-3 is more about respect for the Law that they were obligated to preach, than for the Pharisees themselves. Respect for the role of “teacher” is fine, but you’re assuming that one way to do this is by giving them spiritual titles. But Jesus speaks directly against this very practice. It is not “disrespect” to avoid what the Ultimate Teacher says to avoid.
You emphasized that Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. I certainly agree! And these personal, spiritual, exalting titles CONTRIBUTE GREATLY to this problem! If using these titles were discontinued, we wouldn’t have as many ego problems in many churches. Jesus knew what He was talking about. He said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) But I’m sure it’s hard to have the mind of a servant when people you don’t even know are feeding your ego with flattering titles like “Father” or “Reverend.” God knows the selfish tendencies of man and how quickly this can go to his head.Having a spiritual title does not necessarily lead to ego problems. Surely you know that. In some cases, it probably does, but not in every case or even most cases. To call a priest "father" has catechetical value for people. It reminds them that God has called this man to be a father and has truly made him one through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He exercises this role in his ministry. The priest fathers many spiritual children in the Sacrament of Baptism. He creates them anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He protects them from sin and temptation with his blessing. He feeds them with the Eucharist. To make children, to create, to protect, to feed -- these are all fatherly duties. And so it is with good reason that we call priests "father."
The title is for the priest's benefit insofar as it reminds him of what his identity is and what God has called him to do and to be in His Church. Instead of getting rid of the title, perhaps it would be better to make sure that only the best men receive it. This is what the Church strives to do. But even when wretched men become priests, they still remain fathers through the exercise of their priestly ministry.
You said:Everyone brings biases and preconceived notions to the text. This is unavoidable. The task then is to decide which preconceived set of beliefs is the proper one. How about the set of beliefs that Christians have always had? How about the set of beliefs of the people out of which the Scriptures came? That seems like the proper context to me. It is ancient Christian practice to at least call bishops "father." For thousands of years, if you were a Christian, that's simply what you did. It was only after the Protestant reformers abandoned the ministerial priesthood altogether that anyone had the notion that Jesus was somehow against this title. Your bias is the abberation, not mine ... unless you would have us believe that Jesus allowed all of Christendom to confuse and betray one of His explicit commands for over 1500 years.
“I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage.”
Nicholas, thank you for being respectful (and I believe you have good intentions), but, with all due respect, I can say the same thing in reverse. I believe that your Catholic bias, i.e., your will to serve the Catholic Church at any cost, is misdirected and will not let you accept the simple interpretation of this passage in its context.
If it was wrong of Christians to call a bishop, or the pope, or one of the ancient teachers of the faith "father," then the great leaders and theologians of the Church that fought so ardently and even gave their lives to eradicate heresy would have squashed that bug a long time ago. You have separated your self from the Church of the Apostles and from the Church that emerged from the apostolic period. That is why you misinterpret this text as you do.
And with that, things boil down, as they always do, to authority. But let us leave that debate for another day (at least as long as we are able). It is Holy Week and I am very busy!
Peace of Christ to you,
PS: From here you may proceed to Part Four.