1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2"The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 13 "But Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. 14 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves…27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.According to Jesus, the Scribes and Pharisees were actually given power, based on an unwritten tradition acknowledged by Jesus, that was to be respected, they sat on Moses’ seat, see verses 1 and 2. Since they were given this role, people were to do what they said. So, they were given a role that should be respected. In a sense they were supposed to be as a ‘father’ ‘master’, ‘teacher’. They were given a legitimate role. However, they used this exalted position to promote themselves only. They loved the honor, but they helped nobody. They exalted themselves. All of chapter 23 ends up being a screed against the Scribes and Pharisees because they were hypocritical, did not help those under them. In Matthew 23, Jesus says ‘woe’ to the Scribes and Pharisees 7 times (Here I only show 3 of them, but they are damning), because they hypocritical. They led people to damnation, and were inwardly unrighteous. So, they exalted themselves without actually guiding them by their example. Notice though, Jesus said one of the sins was that they preached but they did not practice what they taught. The whole chapter must be looked at in that context. So, with that background we can see that his condemnation of the titles Father, Master, and Teacher, is in the context of how the Scribes and Pharisees so abused those titles. That gives some more of the background, which is often overlooked. Jesus rightly condemned their use of these titles because they abused these titles and were not acting as real ‘Fathers’ or ‘Teachers.’ In order to do an analysis of Matthew 23:8-10, this context must be taken into account. It is best to look at the whole chapter. Remember as I proceed though, Jesus’ condemnation is that they preach but do not practice what they preach. Jesus wants them to lead by example, surely Jesus would never go against what he taught.
Now some Protestants posit that Catholics are disobeying Jesus by calling their pastors ‘Father’. This is only addressing those who are bothered by Catholics calling their priests ‘Father’ because of this passage. Some are not bothered by it, and think it is just fine, and find no contradiction because at least they understand it as hyperbole. Of course, for those who object to the Catholics referring to the priests ‘Father’, when they call their leader a ‘teacher’ they somehow don’t think they are disobeying Jesus. If it is good for the goose, it is good for the gander. The Catholic position is that he is only using hyperbole when saying don’t use the term ‘Father, Teacher, or Master’. Hyperbole is used by teachers, and even non-teachers when using expressions. Jesus himself we know for sure uses hyperbole, for example when he says the following, Matthew 5:29:
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Sin can separate you from God. Anything that causes you to sin, you must put away. If you take him literally, you will self-mutilate yourself if that part of your body is the occasion of sin. Of course no disciple who heard this teaching thought Jesus thought that that is what you are supposed to do. They just know that sin is very important, and can separate you from God. Stay away from sin is the main point, not self-mutilation, and if you do not practice self-mutilation, that does not mean you are against Jesus teaching.
Another example of hyperbole Jesus says in Mark 11:21-23:
21 And Peter remembered and said to him, "Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered." 22 And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Jesus thus says if you have faith, you can move a mountain. If you believe you can get the mountain to go into the sea. Again, he stresses the importance of faith. If you really have faith, does it actually mean you can throw the mountain in the sea? It is a figure of speech, it doesn’t mean you will actually move a mountain. Jesus is stressing the importance of faith, rather than if you really have faith, the mountain will really fall into the sea. You must believe that God will hear, respond to, and answer your prayers is the main point. (Of course it is always God’s prerogative on how exactly He answers our prayers).
In the same way, the Catholic will say that Jesus does not mean call no man teacher, master or father, but those who have such a role, should not abuse that role. The anti-Catholic Protestant generally ignores the other two terms, ‘teacher’ or ‘master’, and focus on the term ‘father’, and even then ignore that they call their own father, father. They focus that Jesus means you can’t use the term ‘Father’, spiritually for anyone. They are taking Matthew 23:9 literally in only one way. If Jesus means you can not have a spiritual ‘father’, in order for him to be consistent, then surely he will show that elsewhere. It must be said that if Jesus meant for the usage of the term ‘father’ is never to be done, outside of referring to God the Father, he must not do it himself. If he does, he himself will be a hypocrite.
One person I want to focus on is the person Abraham. Jesus will refer to Abraham regularly. He is termed as father of faith in many locations in the Old as well as New Testament. Just one example of Jesus referring to Abraham, is when he responded to Zaccheus and he came to salvation by believing in him. He made a pledge to return money that he had fleeced his victims from, as referred to in Luke 19:8-9:
8 And Zacchae'us stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." 9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.
He calls Zaccheus, after he had repented of his sin, a son of Abraham. In other words, Abraham is his Father. So we see Jesus himself referring to Abraham, when he comes to the faith, being the spiritual father of Zaccheus.
Besides that, it is best to look at Abraham’s name itself. Abram was his name originally. We know that from Genesis, he is first termed Abram in Genesis 11:29, all the way through chapter 16. But then something happened in chapter 17, where his name was changed. For the purposes of this analysis, I want to look at this passage in Genesis 17:1-7:
1: When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.
2: And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly." 3: Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4: "Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5: No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6: I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. 7: And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.
Notice God himself changes his name from Abram to Abraham, which is ‘father of a multitude.’ Here a covenant is being established, and when God establishes this covenant, he enters it by changing Abram’s name to Abraham, which means father of a multitude. Yes, there is a physical fatherhood, but since this is an establishment of a spiritual covenant, if any one uses the name Abraham, that in and of itself is using a name Father, without it applying to God the Father, and all of Israel used it. It is a spiritual fatherhood. Thus, any time the name Abraham is used, one refers to spiritual fatherhood, outside of God the Father. Does anybody really think when Jesus said the thing in Matthew 23:9, he really meant it literally? Then he would be denying the whole of salvation history as indeed Abraham is the father of faith. And we saw above he is not denying it, because he specifically calls this person a son of Abraham. Abraham is Zaccheus’ Father, as attested to by Jesus himself, and Abraham is not God the Father.
Because Scripture identifies Abraham as Father, in fact any time the term Abraham is used, he is referred to as a Father. So, if Jesus was meant to be taken literally in Matthew 23:9, not only would he be denying a covenant that God established, he would be a hypocrite just in using the name Abraham. He would be the very hypocrite that he was rightfully accusing the Pharisees and scribes of being.
Now, let us go to one other example Jesus uses in reference to Abraham. Jesus as God, of course was there, when that covenant was established with Abraham in Genesis 17. Let us just look prior to him claiming divinity in John 8. Jesus said before Abraham, I am in John 8:58 (referring to God revealing himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14). Look at the context of that passage in John 8:53-58, where the Jews were challenging him on being greater than Abraham, and they use the term ‘father Abraham’.
John 8:53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you claim to be?" 54 Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God. 55 But you have not known him; I know him. If I said, I do not know him, I should be a liar like you; but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day. 57 The Jews then said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" 58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am."
Now, earlier he had claimed that they were sons of the devil (Jn 8:41, which technically is giving somebody else a name father, who is not God the Father), but here when they assert that they say Father Abraham, it is redundant as Abraham’s name means Father, he does not dispute it but says your father Abraham. Again, somebody not named God the Father is called the Father by Jesus himself.
Since Jesus talked the same way about two other terms, call no one teacher, or master, I want to briefly look at that as well. In Matthew 25:20-28, in the second half of a parable, in reference to when one has to be available anytime for when Christ will come again, and how each of us is responsible for our own gifts:
20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?
Jesus himself refers to a parable with a master, who is not God the Father. Jesus refers to the Master as Master, and the servant himself calls him ‘Master’. So, Jesus had absolutely no compunction in terming the Master, who is not God, as Master, and the servants themselves, some good, others not, termed the Master as Master. If Jesus wanted to not call a person no to call a person Master, per Matthew 23:10, why’d he do so just two chapters later?
Next, we see Jesus talk to Nicodemus in John 3:
10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?
Notice that Jesus refers to Nicodemus as teacher. Though Jesus teaches him, he still recognizes him as a teacher, even though this teacher must still learn from the Master Teacher, Jesus himself. So, the thing that is important to show is that Jesus did not mean to say that no one can call somebody a Father, Teacher or Master. If he did, then he is a hypocrite. He calls people who were not God, Father, teacher or Master. If he did so, he is contradicting himself by doing just that. He ends up being a hypocrite, just like the Pharisees he is criticizing. Just calling Abram Abraham, gives a testament to the fact that there is a thing such as spiritual Fatherhood, outside the Father himself, despite his saying call no man Father in Matthew 23:9. If you say he meant to call no man Father, Master, and Teacher, you are saying it is a sin to do so, and Jesus himself becomes himself a hypocrite and a sinner, and no longer can be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Scripture says about Jesus in Hebrews 4:15:
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
He is indeed without sin. However, if he says one thing and does another, that is sin. The anti-Catholic position indeed makes him a hypocrite. I say that is wrong. On the other hand, if he is using the language of hyperbole in Matthew 23:8-10, he is not contradicting himself in all in these other places, and he remains the perfect Lamb of God. It is a much more reasonable explanation that the passage in Matthew 23 is that Jesus is indeed speaking hyperbole. Jesus didn’t hold himself to his own hyperbole. We must allow that he uses hyperbole. No one else held to that hyperbole. None of the disciples taught it or understood that. No disciple challenged Jesus on this, exactly because they understood it as hyperbole. Even his opponents didn’t challenge him on that specific thing.
A most prominent example reflecting this correct understanding, is the first martyr for the faith, Stephen in Acts 7. Let us look at parts of Stephen’s speech just before his death in Acts 7. We see him using the term father quite a bit in Acts 7, I just want to highlight a few of his citations of the term ‘father’, at the beginning, and at the end, where we see Jesus standing, welcoming him into his kingdom.
Acts 7:2, 52-53 2"Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered…, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." 54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."
Actually, I did a count in Acts 7, Stephen used the term ‘father’ or ‘fathers’ 20 times just in his recounting of history. Jesus recognizes Stephen as coming to heaven, when he uses that term that much. If it was so sinful, Jesus would not recognize him. Of course, this is quite plausible for a Catholic who sees no problem in a person using the term ‘father.’ If it is sinful to say ‘father’, Jesus would not be standing there, welcoming Stephen into heaven. But he does, exactly because it is not wrong or sinful to use the term ‘father’.
The apostle Paul writes the following, in Romans 4:16:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants--not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all,
Abraham, not Father God, is termed as the father of faith. Abraham is the father of us all, spiritually.
Next Paul writes of his own Fatherhood, spiritual fatherhood, 1 Cor. 4:14-15:
14 I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Paul knows either by tradition passed on by the apostles themselves who were at the feet of Jesus, or perhaps from Jesus himself, or just from the Scripture, which talks of the family nature of the kingdom, that he would be a father to them. However, he got this teaching, from his reading of the Old Testament, from the apostles, or from Jesus himself, he learned and teaches that he is a spiritual father to his readers in Corinth.
The apostle James, who heard Jesus call no man teacher in Matthew 23:8 writes the following, James 3:1:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.
So, James understands it is okay to become a teacher, and be called a teacher. He himself is a teacher and does not shy away from being called a teacher. It is just that only some are to become so.
James is either disobeying Jesus in writing Scripture by calling himself a teacher of spiritual things, when he writes inspired Scripture, or he understands Jesus’ statement back then was hyperbole. You can still be a teacher, just as you can be a spiritual father. Just don’t laud yourself .and be hypocrites like the Pharisees. He learned from Jesus, that as a leader they must serve others (Luke 22:26-27).
The author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 5:12:
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God's word.
If they were progressing they would be teachers, but they have not progressed to get to that point. Because they have been lax, they have not been teachers. But it is a goal they should be able to meet. So, Jesus’ teaching did not mean to cancel out people from being teachers.
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:28-29:
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
The apostle Paul calls people teachers as one of the important ministries to serve the Church, despite Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 23.
Peter, who heard from Jesus himself to call no one ‘master’ in Matthew 23:10 writes in 1 Peter 2:18:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.
Peter has no reticence in using the term Master.
Paul writes in Ephesians 6:9
Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
Here Paul writes the Masters are to be good with their servants. Paul acknowledges the person as master, but he must treat them right because there is a Master above them in heaven. So, Paul does not think he is violating Jesus’ teaching by calling them Masters.
Sure, Jesus says one time, call no man Father, Teacher, Master, etc. but we know that this is the only place in Scripture he says it. He is not so dumb as to say something so contradictory to Scripture, unless he is only using it as hyperbole. The disciples understood it as hyperbole because they had no compunction in calling people Teacher, Father, Master.
Now, you may say it is contradictory, but he would be incredibly stupid to say such contradictory things and people would have called him out on it. Most of Jesus’ teaching is affirmed in the rest of the New Testament. This thing about calling no man teacher or father is not affirmed elsewhere. Of course, if Jesus says it once, that is enough to even establish a doctrine. However, he taught differently from that literal understanding, elsewhere, as we have seen. Now, if this was a teaching, surely that teaching would be affirmed by his apostles. Nowhere does Paul, or any of the apostles who actually heard him, refer to this teaching of calling no man Father, Master, or Teacher.
Now, you ask, how would Jesus have explained it if he meant no one to call anybody Father, teacher or master. So, if Jesus actually had meant call no man Father, teacher or Master, a way that was a totally alien idea that went against the tradition of Abraham as a father of the faith, is for Jesus to change his name back to Abram. He would have to say why it was okay in the past to call him Abraham, but now changes his name back to Abram because of the following reasons. He would also make the distinctions that anti-Catholics make, that he is only talking about spiritual fathers, not father by blood. And he would not make a reference to masters, fathers or teachers, who were not God, like he actually did. By the way, this objection for some strange reason seems to only apply to Catholics, because of the word ‘father’ ignoring the other terms Jesus used.
So, in summary it requires one to understand him using as hyperbole. The Pharisees, who should be acting as spiritual fathers to the Jews, rejected Jesus and abused their privilege, denying themselves any fatherhood, or teaching to the people. He is castigating them, because they are being horrible teachers, and are hypocrites. He’s calling them blind guides, and are surely not acting as teachers, fathers, or masters. Of course, in actuality, the kingdom of God is a family, as we are adopted sons and daughters. In the family of God, there are to be spiritual Fathers, as mentioned by Jesus, and his disciples. Jesus condemnation of Scribes and Pharisees hypocrisy, was never meant to say otherwise.
Jesus and ‘Call No Man Father, Teacher, Master’, Matthew 23:8-10: and Abraham and Stephen: Hyperbolic or Hypocritical?...by Matt1618
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