Interpreting Matthew 23:9—"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."

Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

What’s the deal with this passage? How is the term father being used here exactly? It almost seems like the Catholic use of the term “father” for the pastor is what is being meant but I could be wrong. Any insight?



@Parkeri1313 Great question :slight_smile: Jesus spoke these words long before the Catholic Church even existed, so Jesus is not referring to calling a priest ‘father’. In fact, Paul the Apostle himself indicated that he was the spiritual father of those with whom he shared the Gospel and that they should imitate him. I am not saying I agree with calling a priest ‘father’, but I think this point is worth noting.

1 Cor 4:15-17 - Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord.

To understand Matthew 23, we need to understand that in this chapter Jesus is rebuking the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees while also initiating a new kind of discipleship. In the past students trained to become the teacher, which gave them power and social status. But Jesus was calling His disciples to be disciples forever, taking up their crosses and following Him in making disciples among the nations.

Jesus was not specifically rebuking the Pharisees for the idea of having a human spiritual father, but rather for their hypocrisy and unwillingness to submit to the true Father and Teacher, God Himself.

The ultimate goal of a disciple of a rabbi was to become a rabbi himself at the end of his course of study and initiation…a master of Torah with disciples studying under him. With Jesus a new form of discipleship emerged. A disciple of his would always and forever be only a disciple because Jesus alone is Teacher. Zonderval Background Commentary

‘father’ was a term used for esteemed patriarchs…and in rabbinic sources as a title for esteemed scholars and rabbis. ZBC

Matthew 23:5-12 - They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Hope that helps :slight_smile: