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Answering The Atheist
December 31, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 53

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Is it OK to call your father (or anyone else) father? Matthew 23:9 says that we should "call no man father", but other texts (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2; 2 Kings 2:12; 6:21; 1 John 2:13-14) show people referring to others as "father". Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
First, it should be noted that when Jesus says "Do not call anyone on earth your father", the context reveals that He is referring to the use of this term as a religious title. Notice, in Matthew 23, Jesus is speaking about the "...scribes and the Pharisees..." who "...sit in Moses' seat...", who "...make their phylacteries broad..." and "...love the best places at feasts..." and "...the best seats in the synagogues." These hypocritical religious leaders loved to be called, "Rabbi", and "father", and "teacher" (see context of Matthew 23).

The Bible does not condemn the use of the word "father" in regard to one's biological father. It is used that way several times in Scripture, including some of the texts mentioned above (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2).

In the other texts mentioned, Elisha calls Elijah father (2 Kings 2:12), the king of Israel calls Elisha father (2 Kings 6:21), and John refers to the older men in the church he addresses his letter to as fathers (1 John 2:13-14). In none of these texts is the word "father" being used as an exalting religious title, demanded by those seeking to be called such, but rather is used as a term of respect. In the first case, Elisha, the pupil of the great prophet Elijah, honouring his mentor, who no doubt was like a father to him. In the second case, the king of Israel calls Elisha "father", but there is no indication that he does so, except to convey respect for the prophet. And in the third case, John uses the word "fathers" to simply express the maturity of those men whom he wrote to in the church, as contrasted with those who are called "little children" and "young men".

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible