Q&A: Is God the Only Father?

Is God the Only Father?

Question

Why do Roman Catholics call their priests "fathers"? Why do even Protestants refer to the early church leaders as "fathers"? Doesn't the Bible say that the term "father" is to be used only in reference to God?

Answer

The Bible does not teach that "father" should only be used to refer to God, or that it should not be used to refer to priests and/or pastors. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul referred to himself as the spiritual "father" of the Corinthians because they came to faith through him. Two verses later (1 Cor. 5:17; cf. Phil. 2:22), he referred to Timothy as his son because Timothy was his dedicated disciple. He spoke similarly in 1 Thessalonians 2:11 with reference to the way he and others disciplined the Thessalonian believers. Elsewhere in Scripture, "father" is used as a term of respect shown to elders, prophets, kings and others (e.g., 1 Sam. 24:11; 2 Kings 2:12; 5:13; 6:21; 13:14). It is according to these uses that the church honors early church leaders as "fathers" and that various denominations refer to their ministers as "fathers."

Answer by Larry Gwaltney

Larry Gwaltney is Vice President of New Production Initiatives at Third Millennium Ministries.