Call No Man Father
By Abbot Tryphon, October 31, 2019
And do not be called teachers
“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:9).”
Recently someone called me “Brother Tryphon”. His having addressed me as “brother”, reminded me of a sheriff deputy, who for years addressed me as “Hieromonk Tryphon”, because he felt he could not be biblical if he addressed me as “father”. This deputy had no difficulty allowing his own boys to address him as dad (father), nor did he have any difficulty referring to anyone in his church who taught Sunday School, as teacher. Yet Christ did not say it was OK to call your own blood father, “father”, nor did He say you could call an instructor, “teacher”. He said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father…. And do not be called teachers”.
The protestant belief that calling priests, “father,” is a violation of Scripture, ignores the fact that Jesus referred to our “father Abraham” (John 8:56), and told the story of the prodigal son, using the term, “father” (Luke 15). Furthermore, Saint Paul said, “I have become your father in Christ”. From the beginning, the Church, from Old Testament times, called those anointed by God as “prophet”, “teacher” (rabbi), and “father.” Like the titles “reverend”, “pastor”, and “brother”, these personal titles have served to convey a certain warmth and honor to those who serve the Lord, and who serve us.
Just as love leads us to call our parent “father”, so too do we show honor and love for those who serve us by calling them “father”. That the Lord Jesus Christ warned against calling men “father” or “teacher”, was a reminder that the leaders of His people should remain pure and humble. His injunction that bishops, priests, deacons, and teachers, should maintain personal character, and godly humility, is obvious. Our Lord could have just as easily instructed his disciples to “call no one reverend, or pastor, or Mister”.
Finally, let us consider hyperbole (an extreme exaggeration) as used, especially in ancient Greek, to drive home a greater point. The Gospel stories are full of them. Jesus told us to cut off our hands and tear out our eyes if they cause us to sin (Matthew and Mark). Did he really mean that, or is he making a greater point? How many self-inflicted, blind, amputee Christians do you see walking around?
The point is to be wary of how these things can, and do, allow us to sin. The same thing applies to the “call no man on earth father.” Jesus made an analogy using hyperbolic language. Humans have fathers, whether they know or like them. No matter how good a human father is, God is a better, nicer, smarter, kinder, and so on, father. Otherwise, the analogy makes no sense and Jesus wasted his breath. In comparison, an earthly father cannot compete with God. Moreover, if it was a real prohibition, someone really should have chastised St. Paul for neglecting to take into account his references to himself as a father (in the spiritual sense), and remove his letters from the New Testament.
With love in Christ,
~Abbot Tryphon, The Morning Offering, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2019/10/call-no-man-father-3/