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Dean L. Gossett wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • Who in the Catholic Church came up with the idea of calling priests Father?
  • Were any of the Apostles ever called Father?
  • What did Jesus say about calling someone, other than God, a spiritual Father?
  • Did any of the writers of the New Testament ever call a another leader in the Church Father with a capital F?

Thank you.


  { Can you answer some questions on the history and use of the Church calling priests, Father? }

Bob replied:

Dear Dean,

The idea of spiritual fatherhood is evident in the early church, most notably in the New Testament where Paul relies on it heavily. Go through his epistles to Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and elsewhere and observe the number of references where he calls them my child (for a simple example look at 1 Timothy 1:2), then note how Paul makes this concept of spiritual fatherhood more explicit when he declares to the Corinthians:

14 I am writing you in this way not to shame you but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 grant you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you have only one father. It was I who begot you in Christ Jesus through my preaching of the Gospel.

(1 Corinthians 4:14-15)

He is calling himself father to the Corinthians, as he does to all his spiritual children.

In full awareness that Jesus said call no man father or teacher (Matthew 23:9), we have to give Paul the benefit of the doubt, otherwise he would be committing a double duty sin, not only calling a man father, but making himself that man.

The context of error that Christ is referring to in Matthew is when someone makes someone, other that Christ, the way to God. In other words, that person becomes a Guru or enlightened figure who can substitute his own wisdom for that of God's. We see that happening all the time in eastern religions, which present real worship to these deified personas. Paul was in Christ and all who share in Christ's priestly ministry follow His Way, not some innovation. Their fatherhood belongs to God's Fatherhood, for they carry out His Ministry.

So we can call someone a spiritual father in the proper context without committing sin, just as Paul did of himself. It is the same when we call someone Doctor — (which means teacher).

Titles to persons who act in a certain capacity are not sinful, but worshiping someone as though he were God is. There is only one way to Heaven: Jesus Christ, and one Father in Heaven, to whom all fatherhood owes its glory.


Bob Kirby

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