Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 8, 1951

Call No Man "Father"

Eldred Stevens, Stillwater, Oklahoma

Our regular listeners doubtless noticed the change in our theme song. Since the beginning of our broadcast, we have used the old favorite, "Faith of Our Fathers." However, due to some question that has arisen concerning the expediency of using the song, we have decided to use another. It occurred to me in making the change that an explanation of our reasons for doing so would furnish some of the most practical and valuable lessons that we have ever had in this series. I call your attention to these lessons at this time.

In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said, "And call no man your father on earth: for one is your Father, even He who is in Heaven." That is in your Bible, regardless of the translation that you may have, just as it is in mine—Call no man on earth your father! And please bear in mind the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, said it. However, this passage is no more "of private interpretation" than any others in God's word. In all fairness, we must understand this passage of scripture in such manner as to make it harmonize with everything else in the Bible. The failure of many to apply this simple rule of Bible interpretation accounts for the impression that some have that the Bible is a hodge-podge of contradictions. Do you think that Jesus meant that the word, "father," should be deleted from the vocabulary of his disciples when he said, "Call no man your father?" Certainly not! The word "father" has many different meanings and may be used in many different ways. The Bible itself contains the word literally hundreds of times. Let us look quickly at several ways that we may think of people on earth as "fathers" without violating the prohibition of the Christ in Matthew 23.

First, one may think of his male parent as his father. Jesus used the word in this sense many, many times. He said that one who loves his father or mother more than him is not worthy of him. He talked of the father who sent his two sons into his vineyard to work. He told of the prodigal son who said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight." Paul said in Eph. 6:4, "Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath" and to children he said, "Honour thy father." In the face of these references, it is easy to see that Jesus did not mean to say that children should not call their parent, "father."

Second, one may think of and refer to his ancestry as his "fathers." I hesitate to guess at the number of times that the early disciples referred to their Old Testament forbears as "fathers." In Acts 3:13 and 5:30 Peter spoke of "the God of our fathers;" Stephen spoke of "our fathers" no less than nine times during the short speech he made before the Jewish council, record of which is to be found in Acts 7. The Apostle Paul mentioned in Acts 26:6 the promises which had been made to "our fathers," and in I Cor. 10:1, he said that "our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea." So we conclude that it is scriptural to call one's ancestor his father.

Third, as strange as it may sound to some, there is a sense in which the word "father" may be used quite properly to signify or set forth figuratively spiritual and religious relationships. First, I call your attention to the fact that I am a child of Abraham and he is my father. It is just as scriptural for me to refer to him as my father as it was for Paul to do so. Gal. 3:7 says to Gentiles that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham. Gal. 3:29 teaches that if we Gentiles are Christians, then we are Abraham's seed. In Rom. 4:16, Paul said to Gentile Christians that Abraham is the father of us all, and in the 2nd verse, that he is the father of all them that believe. So it is right for me to speak of him as "my father Abraham" even though there is no physical relationship. It is altogether a spiritual relationship. In I Cor. 4:15, Paul said to the Christians at Corinth, "For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus, I have begotten you through the gospel." Paul said then that his relationship to the church at Corinth was well described through the father-child figure. He said he was their father. Did he violate the teaching of Christ? Certainly not. Paul called Titus "his beloved son" and addressed Timothy as "my own son," repeatedly referring to him as "my child" and "my son." So Titus and Timothy were children of Paul although there was no physical tie. From a religious or spiritual viewpoint, Paul symbolically was a father, in that he was an agent in planting the seed of life in the hearts of men.

Well, if it is scriptural to use the term, "father," in the three ways mentioned—I ask, "What is the usage that Jesus condemned?" The answer is obvious if we but examine the context. Let me begin reading with the 6th verse in which Jesus said of the scribes and Pharisees, ". . . and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on earth: for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called Masters . . ." Jesus was condemning the use of religious titles! Jesus was talking about improper salutations. He was talking about the use of proud titles that minister to the vanity of religious leaders and exalt them to a plane higher than that of brethren. Mark it, beloved, the use of such titles is sinful. The Romish church refers to her priest as "Father So-and So." That is a direct violation of Mt. 23:9. Jewish people refer to their religious leader as "rabbi." That is a violation of Mt. 23:9. Most Protestants call their preachers, "Reverend." It is of exactly the same character, and is just as wrong as the other two. We must not use "rabbi," "father," "master," "reverend," or any other such word as a religious title in addressing religious leaders.

In the song, "Faith of Our Fathers," the word "father" is not used as a religious title and therefore is not wrong. However, due to the fact that many who hear our program later may not understand these principles that we have covered today, and might mis-interpret our use of the term "father," we have changed the theme. All things are lawful but not all things are expedient, Paul taught. He also taught us not to offend the conscience of them that are weak. Hence, we are making this change because of I Cor. 8:11-12, but not because of Mt. 23:9.