Thursday, March 07, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 2

Russel responded to my previous post. As before, his words will be indented and italicized.
Hi Nicholas,

You asked if the followers of John the Baptist were wrong in calling him (i.e., John) “Rabbi / Teacher.” I would have to say yes they were, according to Jesus, but they probably did this in ignorance, since Jesus addressed this topic AFTER John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:1-12).

Concerning the title “King,” this is not a SPIRITUAL title, which is what Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23.

You said:

“Jesus’ issue was with people who seek certain positions because of the title that it affords them, or who do not live up to the title that they have received.”

That is partly true, but Jesus didn’t say, “Call only those with the RIGHT ATTITUDE “Father,” or only those who DESERVE it “Rabbi.” He said to give those spiritual titles to NO HUMAN (Matthew 23:8-10).

Russell ... thank you for your response. Your debate style is much like mine, calm and thorough. I appreciate that.

Regarding your first point, I think that if it was wrong of them to address John the way they did, then John himself would have objected to it. He is after all the model of humility. "His sandals I am not worthy to carry" (Mt 3:11) or "to stoop down and untie" (Mk 1:7). "He must increase, I must decrease" (Jn 3:30).

I guess you'll say that John was ignorant of Jesus' teaching as well. While I find it hard to believe that John would not have intuited the wrongness of these titles if indeed they were wrong, since neither of us can really know the mind of the baptist on this point, let us consider this particular argument a draw.

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. The Davidic king was God's anointed steward of His people, and the mediator of God's covenant relationship with them. The new Davidic king was the great hope of all of Israel. So, perhaps the references to Herod, Agrippa, and Aretas don't apply, but the ones to Saul, David, Solomon, and Adonijah do.

Regarding your final point, you say that we are to give spiritual titles to "NO HUMAN". I really think you're missing the point. Read everything in Mt 23 that is before and after the passage in question. "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.

Continuing on, look at what Jesus says about them:
  • "they preach but do not practice" (vs. 3)
  • "they bind heavy burdens" (vs. 4)
  • "they do all their deeds to be seen by men" (vs. 5)
  • "they love the place of honor" and "the best seats" (vs. 6) "and salutations in the marketplaces" (vs. 7)

Look at this. Do you really think Jesus is concerned with titles, or is He concerned with the fact that the scribes and pharisees "LOVE" such titles and don't live up to them? Jesus is taking great pains to show how prideful and negligent the scribes and pharisees are. He continues:
  • "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (vs. 11-12)

See? Jesus is concerned with THEIR DISPOSITION. Continuing on, we see that the scribes and Pharisees:
  • "shut the kingdom of heaven against men" (vs. 13)
  • make proselytes a child of hell (cf. vs. 15)
  • make false distinctions between oaths (cf. vs. 16-22)
  • "have neglected the weightier matters of the law" (vs. 23)
  • "are full of extortion and rapacity" (vs. 25)
  • "are like whitewashed tombs" (vs. 27), "full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (vs. 28)
  • fill up the measure of God's wrath against their fathers for murdering the prophets (vs. 29-36)

Jesus issues 7 woes against them in this chapter for being the "hypocrites" and "blind guides" that they are. You have to understand vs. 8-10 in light of this context. Jesus' whole point is that the scribes and Pharisees exhibit a dastardly conduct that should not be imitated and they do not live up to the honor that they receive. God alone is the great and perfect Father, Rabbi, and Master. We can only fulfill these positions in a derivative sense.

Finally, think about it, Jesus is pissed off and fed up. He is angry, filled with righteous indignation. It makes perfect sense that He would use hyperbolic language. "You have ONE teacher" (vs. 8), "you have ONE father" (vs. 9), "you have ONE master" (vs. 10) ... yet obviously we have all had more teachers and fathers and masters than simply God. Thus, Jesus is NOT speaking literally, He is using exaggerated language. Verse 24 from this same chapter ("You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!") is obviously hyperbolic. Verses 8-10 are said in the same vein.

Like I said before, the Catholic interpretation is the only one that squares with the context of the passage and the greater body of Scripture. I humbly submit that your bias against Catholicism is causing you to misinterpret this passage. If you will simply put that aside, even just for a moment, I think you will see that what I am saying about this passage is true.

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

PS: From here you may proceed to Part Three.

5 comments:

Thom said...

Re: John's title as 'Rabbi.' Even if neither John nor those calling him 'rabbi' thought it was wrong, the gospel writers certainly would have. As they included it in their writings without any sort of condemnation, it seems that the gospel writers understood that Jesus was using hyperbolic language in Mt 23

Nicholas Hardesty said...

Good point, Thom!

Russell said...

Hello Nicholas,

(Part 1 of 2)

I had said that “King” is not a spiritual title, and you said:

“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?

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.

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.

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).

Russell said...

(Part 2 of 2)

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:

“’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.

You said:

“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.

In His Name,
Russell

Nicholas Hardesty said...

Russell ... I responded to your recent comments. Go here:
http://phatcatholic.blogspot.com/2013/03/on-calling-priests-father-part-3.html

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