Common Misunderstanding: This reference is often used to claim that Catholics are in direct opposition to the guidelines of Scripture when they call priests, "Father." ("And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven." (Matthew 23:9)
Response: This erroneous accusation is shown to be false by reading this passage in its context and by applying other relevant New Testament texts. This allows the informed Catholic to highlight a number of Scripture passages and to review valuable principles of Bible interpretation which show the superiority of Catholic Bible scholarship.
Sources: Radio Replies, Vol. 1 - #380, Vol. 3 - #303
1. First, in contrast to the Fundamentalist mentality, all Scripture is not literal. This passage from Matthew is hyperbole, exaggeration. How do we know this? Both through Scripture itself and secondly, by the witness of Christian Tradition.
2. The Witness of Scripture. If Jesus meant this literally, St. Paul could not have written I Cor 4:15 & Philemon 10. I Cor 4:15 - "For though you have countless guides in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Literally, "I you did beget." Philemon 10 - "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment..." Literally, "Whom I begot."
St. Paul is describing himself as the spiritual father of those whom he has "fathered" in Christ. If he describes himself as such, would he not expect them to call him, "Father?" If Jesus' words are to be taken literally, Scripture would be contradicting itself. These passages illustrate, rather than the error of Catholics, their Biblical accuracy. We call the leader of our local church, the priest, our father, specifically the same way these believers were guided to call St. Paul their father.
3. The witness of tradition. If this saying of Jesus is to be taken literally, then none of us should call our natural father, "Father." Yet there is no witness in any period of the church where children were not instructed to address their fathers as such. Indeed, such an instruction would violate the commandment, "Honor your father and your mother."
4. Further, in Scripture, St. Paul calls fathers, fathers. See Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 (pateras).
5. Note also that one of the Basic meanings of being justified by God is "sonship" which means gaining a Father, who is God. If we take into account what St. Paul says in the passages listed above in #2, then every passage that talks about us becoming sons and daughters of God means there has been someone like Paul who has been our spiritual father on earth.
6. Additional passages with a bearing on this include Roman 4:11,18 - reference to Father (patros) Abraham; Luke 19:9; Gen 17:5.
More scriptures on the priesthood