By: Mr. Abiodun Jemilohun
WHY YOU MUST CALL NO MAN YOUR FATHER (Mat 23:7-10)
There seems to be a confusion in regard what Jesus meant by the statement “Call no man your father.”
Someone asked me to address the subject. I also believe it is appropriate to do so because of the controversy it is currently generating.
“7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.” (Mat 23:7-10)
A number of people have accused Paul of violating Jesus’ command for referring to himself as “father” in his relationship to the Corinthian Church. Some have gone as far as calling him heretic. Let me state clearly that I do not share such view.
“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1Co 4:15)
But Peter called Mark who was not his biological son “My son.” In other words, he called himself his father. So, we can say he also violated Jesus’ command.
“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus MY SON.” (1Peter 5:13)
John the beloved also called the brethren “Children” severally in his writings. In fact, he called them “Little children.” So, we can say he also referred to himself as “father” contrary to Jesus’ command.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3John 1:4)
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1John 2:1)
“I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” (1John 2:12
We have to start on the premise that whatever Jesus said in that statement is figurative. If not, we are all guilty of violating Jesus’s command for calling our earthly progenitors “fathers.”
We have to be careful how we interpret the Bible. There are many figurative expressions in the Bible that cannot be taken literally. Otherwise, we would fall into error.
Jesus spoke in the language of the common people of His day. Some of His statements cannot be taken literally in the modern sense.
For example, the statements of Jesus “Call no man your Father” or “do not be called Master” cannot be taken literally. The Jews understood Him perfectly because He spoke in their language. The Rabbis of that time were referred to as “fathers” and “masters.” They were considered as the final authority in matters of doctrine and scriptural knowledge. Their words were final as far as spiritual matters were concerned. They were considered as the Oracle of God. They usurped the position of the Scripture and God in the lives of the people. This was why Jesus reprimanded them for exalting their commandments and traditions above the commandments of God. They took the position of God in the lives of the people.
“3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. 5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; 6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Mat 15:2-6)
So, this is what Jesus meant when He said “Call no man your father” or “Do not be called master”. He was saying let no man be the final authority in your life except God. Let no man take the position of the Scripture in your life. Let no man take the position of God in your heart. Let God have the final say in your life. This is the context in which Jesus spoke and the people He spoke to understood Him. It is different from referring to people as “father” or “Chilren” out of familiarity or affection like the apostles did.
Now, the Nigerian situation is similar to the situation of the Jews of Jesus’ time. Many of the people being referred to as “fathers” and “daddies” have taken the position of the Scripture and Christ in the lives of their followers. They are the final authority as far as spiritual matters are concerned and not the explicit commands of the Scripture. They have waxed all kinds of denominational traditions and doctrines that clearly violate the scriptures like the Pharisees of old. They are not to be questioned or challenged even when they are wrong. They are master and lord.
As for the Apostle Paul, we know that he didn’t seek to take the place of God in the lives of the Churches he planted. He never sought to take the place of the Scripture. He made Christ the primary focus of the Church.
“1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2:1-5)
Paul used the word “father” in his relationship with the Corinthians to portray the affection he had for them and to remind them that he was the one God used to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. This is not the same as what Christ warned the disciples against.
A word of caution to those who call Paul heretic:
Let’s bear in mind that Paul was a well-read man who understood the cultures and philosophies of the Jews and the Greeks and had his peculiar style of writing. Unless we put this into consideration, we will inevitably misinterpret some of his writings to mean what he did not intend. Even Peter attested to this fact. He gave his writings the same level of authority the Old Testament scriptures have. So, we will be making a grave error if we start challenging them this way without due consideration for their context.
“15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also THE OTHER SCRIPTURES, unto their own destruction.” (2Pet 15-16)
We have to be careful how we interpret the Bible. Once we start challenging the scriptures, we are inadvertently elevating ourselves above the scriptures like the Rabbis of Jesus’ time. We are also inevitably saying there is no absolute truth. Such attitude won’t take us to the desired end. It is better to seek for more understanding in areas that are unclear in the scriptures rather than to outrightly take a position that goes contrary.
May the Lord bless our understanding.