Q&A: What to Call My Earthly Father

What to Call My Earthly Father

Question

Can I call my father, "father"? (Matt. 23:8-10)

Answer

Matthew 23:8-10 But you are not to be called "Rabbi," for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "father," for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "teacher," for you have one Teacher, the Christ.

As with any text, it is important to look at the full context of this passage to understand what is being said. In the prior seven verses (Matthew 23:1-7) Jesus is telling us that some teachers do not really follow and teach God's ways:

Matthew 23:1-7 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called 'Rabbi' by others."

So, Jesus is not referring to a son or daughter merely calling their father, "father" (Eph. 6:2, 4). In forbidding the use of the titles ("rabbi" - 23:8; "father" - 23:9; and "teachers/leaders," 23:10), Jesus is not prohibiting the use of these titles in all instances (Ex.20:12; 2 Kings 2:12 Acts 20:17; 1 Cor. 9:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; Tit. 1:5-7). Even Paul referred to Timothy as "my true son" and "his beloved son," implying he was his father - little "f". In the same breath he referred to God the Father - capital "F" (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim.1:2; cf. 1 Cor. 4:15; Tit. 1:4). However, while we should follow and show proper respect to our teachers here upon earth, we should not give mere men unquestioned obedience and reverence (1 John 4:1) that is due only to God. There is only one Father that we are to follow without question (1 Cor. 8:6). We should follow others here upon earth and show them proper respect, but only as far as they properly follow Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 5:17).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).