Tuesday, April 09, 2013

On Calling Priests "Father": Part 4

Here is Part 4 in my debate with Russell on calling priests "father." Also see Parts One, Two, and Three. His words will be indented and italicized.

Hi Nicholas,

Ok, concerning your argument that “King” is a spiritual title, this is still extremely weak and not convincing at all.
Care to explain why? The title of "King" takes on it's spiritual nature once you realize the importance of the covenant relationship between God and man and consider that the Davidic King was the mediator of this covenant.

The King is God's annointed one (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; 1 Ki 1:39). The security and prosperity of the people depended upon the fidelity of the King to God. When the King was a good and faithful servant of God, then this compelled the people to be good and faithful. King Solomon was the one who built God's holy temple and provided for the worship of His people. King David and his descendants are types of the coming Messiah! The Davidic King was a man of great spiritual influence. I don't see how there's any way around that.

You said that I didn’t address the fact that Jesus told a parable where servants refer to their owner as “Master” (Matthew 25:14-30). Again, this is not a SPIRITUAL title, but a worldly, secular one. It is about a physical slave and his physical master.
I stand corrected.

As for as the rich man referring to Abraham as ‘Father Abraham’ (Luke 16:24, 30), neither is this a spiritual title, but it is an “ancestral” or genealogical title. Abraham was the “father,” the ancestor, of all Jews.
According to Paul, Abraham was more than a mere ancestor:
"What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? [...] He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. [...] That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants--not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all" (Rom 4:1, 12-13, 16).
Abraham could not be "the father of us all" if by "Father" we mean only a geneological relationship. Abraham's is a spiritual fatherhood, just as Sarah's is a spiritual motherhood (cf. 1 Pet 3:5-6). This means that Lk 16:24, 30 very much applies to our debate and is very damaging to your position.

And as for as Paul addressing the crowd as “brethren and fathers” in Acts 7:2 (not 7:22), I don’t think you can prove that he’s using it as a personal spiritual title here, as it is used in Matthew 23.
Thank you for correcting my citation. I really don't see how Acts 7:2 would not apply. The members of the council are called "fathers" by Stephen. He didn't say, "You who hold a position of fatherhood among us," he said "fathers." "Brethren and fathers, hear me." He called them fathers, even though Jesus said, "Call no man father". There's no way around it, unless you would say that Paul is the biological son of a room full of people.

You just said:

“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.”

Then it appears that you’re not squaring with Catholic practice, because you also said:

1) “Instead, He is speaking out against those who seek the position of father for the honor that it brings and who, once having the position, DON'T LIVE IT HUMBLY AND AUTHENTICALLY."

2) “He is using hyperbole in order to emphasize the Fatherhood of God above the fatherhood of any man and TO HIGHLIGHT THE UNWORTHINESS OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES TO RECEIVE THE TITLES their position affords them.”

3) “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 interpretation is really the only way to reconcile Mt 23 with the biblical data.”

4) “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 THE THEM?”

5) “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.”

6) “1. The Pharisees DO NOT DESERVE THE HONOR THAT THEY RECEIVE. -- Consequently, respect their authority but do not abide by their example.”

7) “Jesus does not want to do away with this honor,HE WANTS THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES TO LIVE UP TO IT."

8) “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?”

9) “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.”

10) “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?” [All Emphasis mine]

These are all direct quotes from you. But in all of these things (these 10 examples) you are implying that IT IS INDEED ok to have these formal spiritual titles “as long as the person is deserving.” On the one hand, you denounced this idea, but on the other hand, you continue to use this concept in our dialogue, as though you actually accept it.
You are very thorough here. I appreciate that. I also think you have missed my point. Jesus' purpose with Mt 23:8-10, as with much of the chapter as a whole, is to denounce the Pharisees, not to denounce titles. That's all I'm trying to say with the words that you quoted.

The Pharisees didn't deserve the honor they received. That doesn't mean "do away with the honor." I specifically said, "But even when wretched men become priests, they still remain fathers through the exercise of their priestly ministry." I'm not contradicting myself. I know what my words mean. Let me be clear: I think the title is important and justified whether the person receiving it deserves the title or not. That's the whole reason why I bothered to explain the title's catechetical value. The implication you think is there is simply not there. I hope you will take my word for it and move on to some other line of argumentation.

As I said before, this “as-long-as-the-person-is-deserving” argument is faulty, since NO ONE is deserving of these titles, except Jesus / God. You have yet to show me that you agree with Jesus on this. In fact, I don’t think that you do.
Well, I did say, "God is the ultimate Father, Rabbi, and Master", and again, "In a sense, I agree with you. No one is a Father like God is a Father." I just don't think Jesus means what you think He means. If Abraham deserved to be called "Father" (Lk 16:24, 30), and John the Baptist deserved to be called "Rabbi" (Jn 3:36), then it follows from this that these titles are not exclusively the Lords, they are just preeminently His.

This is how it works with many of God's titles. God and Peter were both called "Rock" (Hab 1:12; Mt 16:18). In case you think Peter's new name means "Stone", God was called that too (cf. Gen 49:24, NASB). In 1 Cor. 3:11, Jesus is called the only foundation of the Church, and yet in Eph. 2:20, the apostles and prophets are called the foundation of the Church. In 1 Peter 2:25, Jesus is called the Shepherd of the flock, but in Acts 20:28 (NASB), the apostles are called the shepherds of the flock. In 1 Tim 6:15, Jesus is called the King of Kings, yet so was Ar-ta-xerx'es (cf. Ezra 7:12) and Nebuchadrez'zar (cf. Ezek 26:7). Even Jesus and the king of Babylon are both called the "morning star" (Isaiah 14:12; Rev 22:16, NASB).

My position has the advantage of being consistent with how titles for God are used throughout Scripture. Yours does not.

You summed up Matthew 23 in only two points: That the Pharisees don’t deserve the honor they were being given; and that God is the ultimate Father / Rabbi / Master. And you said that this was pretty much all that this chapter is teaching, and that we Protestants take it too far to suggest that Jesus wants us to avoid titles.

But I respectfully disagree. There are certainly OTHER points that Jesus was making, as well. I think that what Jesus said (concerning our topic) is very plain and simple (“…call no man ‘Father’”), and that the context supports this. But Jesus gave us several things that He wants us to do or not do in this chapter, for example ...

…observe the Law that they preached (v. 3)
…act toward each other as BROTHERS (v. 8)
…be a servant to others, no matter your role in the church (v. 11)
…be humble; let God exalt you (v. 12)

…do what the Pharisees (and scribes) did (v. 3)
…load heavy burdens on people (v. 4)
…do your works just to be seen of men (v. 5)
…love the special attention of men (v. 6)
…love the special greetings of men (v. 7)
…be called “Father” / “Teacher” / “Rabbi” / “Master” (v. 8, 9, 10)
…etc., etc.

So, your two points are valid, but they are not the only lessons to learn in this chapter.
Well, obviously. I wasn't trying to exhaust the meaning of the whole chapter. All I meant was, as far as Mt 23:8-10 is concerned, this is what the context tells us.

The “title command” should not be ignored. By the way, Jesus was not just denying personal spiritual titles to the undeserving Pharisees, but to all men (v. 8-10). All these “do’s and don’ts” are given to every believer. Nothing in here suggests hyperbole (exaggeration). These are all straightforward commands. So, we can’t just pick some of these commands to obey and ignore the others.
First of all, I'm not ignoring anything. You think Catholics have never read this chapter before? We have. We even heard it proclaimed during Mass on Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent. We don't hide from Scripture and we don't ignore it. We just don't think it means what you think it means.

Secondly, you said that vs. 8-10 are in no way hyperbolic. But, if, as you say, Jesus was only referring to spiritual fathers (not biological fathers or ancestors), then doesn't that mean He was speaking hyperbolically? The only way to derive your meaning for Jesus' words is to say that He was not speaking literally. After all, Jesus didn't say, "Don't call spiritual leaders 'father'". He said, "Call NO MAN father", as you have repeatedly emphasized. So, we either take Him literally, in which case he was referring to every instance in which someone is called "father", or we understand that he was using exaggerated language and really only intended to refer to spiritual leaders. See what I mean? You can't have it both ways. The only way to come to your conclusion is to affirm that He was speaking hyperbolically.

The difference between you and I is not in how we understand the nature of Jesus' words, it's in how we understand their meaning. We are both forced to declare that Jesus was using extreme language. You explain this language by saying, "But Jesus wasn't referring to all positions of fatherhood, just spiritual positions of fatherhood." I explain it by saying, "But Jesus wasn't getting rid of titles for persons in positions of fatherhood, spiritual or otherwise. He was simply speaking strongly against any position of fatherhood that would set itself in opposition to God's fatherhood.

When I said that it is not “disrespect” to avoid what the Ultimate Teacher said to avoid (i.e., calling someone “Father”), you responded:

“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.”

Nicholas, the burden of proof is not on me. I’m just taking what He said at face value and demonstrating that the context agrees with this simple interpretation. I would say that it is you who is begging the question, because you’re the one assuming that He really didn’t mean what He plainly said, so the burden is on you to prove that.
First of all, as I understand it, the burden of proof in a debate lies either with the instigator or with the person who challenges the status quo. In either scenario, the burden is on you. Since you came to my blog, where calling priests "father" is assumed to be true, and asserted a contrary belief, you are the instigator. Since the majority of Christians -- and from the earliest days of Christianity -- have been in the practice of calling bishops and priests "father", you are the one challenging the status quo.

Secondly, you don't seem to know what "begging the question" means. You said I was begging the question because I am the one "assuming that He really didn't mean what He plainly said." But, just because I disagree with you that doesn't mean I'm the one engaged in a logical fallacy. Begging the question is when an argument you use to defend your conclusion assumes that your conclusion is true. You are the one at fault here. Look at your line of reasoning:

1. Jesus told us to respect the role of teacher
2. Jesus spoke against using titles
3. Therefore, it is not disrespect to refrain from addressing them with titles

See what's wrong here? #3 rests on #2 being true, but you haven't proven #2 yet. That's the whole reason why we're engaged in this debate. For more on this, see "Fallacy: Begging the Question".

That said, I would like to add that, since it was the common practice of the Jews to refer to the scribes and Pharisees as "fathers," to suddenly refuse to do so would indeed be disrespectful.

You seem to be saying that His words here fall under some type of “exception” in this context. I invite you to demonstrate how that follows.
On the contrary, I admit no exception here. Instead, I see Jesus' words in Mt 23 as being perfectly consistent with His typical use of hyperbolic language and with the way in which Scripture shows man sharing in the titles and roles (or functions) of God. As Paul says, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:14-15). It is because God is father that we have fathers on earth.

Finally, you appealed to a set of beliefs that was supposedly “ancient practice” which was always believed in the church throughout its history. But “being around for a long” time doesn’t prove that something is right. Many practices in the history of the church have certainly been questionable, including some long-time practices.
This is about more than a practice simply being around for a long time. This is about Jesus supposedly allowing all of Christendom to confuse and betray one of His explicit commands for over 1500 years. This is about every great defender of the faith against heresy somehow remaining silent about a supposedly rampant disregard for Jesus' teaching.

In the early Church, when someone came around with a novel doctrine, something different from what the Church had always said and done, they were labeled a heretic and dismissed from fellowship in the Church community. Yet you would have me accept your novelty, your aberration, and abandon 2000 years of Church history. I realize that, for you, the bible is the final authority, but you also acknowledge that "there are indeed other legitimate authorities, or rules of faith, in the church. For example, church leaders, theologians, the writings of the early church fathers, Bible commentaries, traditions, creeds, councils, catechisms, etc." (source). These are legitimate authorities, at least look at them.

There are only two possible reasons for why Christian tradition does not square with your interpretation of Mt 23:
  1. Jesus allowed error and false practice to creep into His Church, uncorrected and unabated, and infect all of Christendom for over 1500 years, or
  2. Your interpretation of Scripture is incorrect.
Seriously, which one do you think is more likely?

Nicholas, what would really make your case is if we could find in the New Testament some genuine cases of the faithful using the titles “Father Paul,” “Father John,” or “Holy Father Peter.” But we see none of these.
I look forward to your rebuttal of the examples I have provided in this post.

In fact, the honest reader will admit that we don’t even see a ministerial “priesthood” in the New Testament. (But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.) See here for more on that:
When I looked up my blog post from back in '09 on the ministerial priesthood in order to share the link with my readers, I was surprised to find some comments from you on that post too. It seems you've had your eye on me for a while now. We started a short exchange in the combox, but for whatever reason I never responded to your last comment. Maybe once we find some conclusion to our current debate, we can pick that one back up again.

Yes, I agree that it does all boil down to authority. Perhaps someday we can discuss that also.
I see you posted the first part in a series on Sola Scriptura on your blog. Will the next installment be arriving shortly? It is helpful for me in gaining insight on how you approach that debate. If you would like to see how I approach it, see my previous debates:
  • Is Scripture Self-Interpreting? Parts One -- Two -- Three
  • Debate with "eve" on Sola Scriptura: Parts One -- Two
  • Debate with "Ricky" on Sola Scriptura: Parts One -- Two -- Three -- Four
That should help both you and the reader a great deal.

Nicholas, I still stand by everything I said, and I will just say, let’s let the reader decide which side is more reasonable.

Thanks for the discussion.

Also, for anyone interested, here is an article that I did on calling a man “Father” about a year ago:


In His Name,
Like you, I am thus far unconvinced. This is how most debates on the internet turn out, I'm afraid. I pray that the silent reader, who is watching this debate unfold and still trying to make up his mind, will be convinced by the truth of the Catholic practice. If anyone has any questions or comments, you know where to leave them.

Pax Christi,

PS: This is the last installment in our debate.


  1. Hello again Nicholas,

    I think that any further comments would pretty much just be rehashing what we've already gone over. Once again, I stand by what I said, as I'm sure you do also. We can let the reader evaluate each side. So, once more, thanks for the dialogue.

    In His Name,

  2. Hi Nicholas,

    I'm not sure whether this was mentioned. I sort of scanned the four articles and it seems to me that Russel is ignoring a certain adjective which, to my mind, makes a great deal of difference.


    Matthew 23:8-10
    King James Version (KJV)
    8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
    9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
    10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

    With this in mind, does Russell call his father, dad, father or any other word which denotes that man as his sire?

    Does any Protestant for that matter? If so, then they are all violating Christ's admonition.

    What about his teachers? Master means teacher. Does he recognize that he has had teachers in this life?

    We can go on and on with this. Mister, for example, means "master". It is a derivative of the same word and means precisely the same thing. Does he call himself, Mr. Russell? Or permit others to address him so?

    As for Catholics, we rarely use the terminology, "He's my father", in reference to priests. We call them Father in the sense which St. Paul called himself the Spiritual Father of his congregation:

    1 Corinthians 4:15
    For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

    So, I might say, "This is Father Joe, my priest." Not, "This is my Father Joe." I would use that terminology if I were speaking about my genetic father.

    I hope that was relevant.


    De Maria


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