Jesus says, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9, NKJV). In the context of Matthew 23 Jesus is rebuking the Jewish scribes (recognized scholars) and Pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy and prideful arrogance. Among other things they loved to be honored with lofty titles (vv. 5-10).
The English word “father” in this passage is rendered from Matthew’s Greek translation of the Aramaic term in Jesus’s verbal rebuke. The Lord is not denouncing this word as a reference to one’s male parent (see Matt. 15:4-6; 19:29; 21:31).
Paul later applies the basic meaning of the word metaphorically to himself (1 Cor. 4:15), not as a religious title but as a descriptive term, seeing that he had “begotten” these Christian converts through the gospel, comparable to other metaphors used in the same epistle (1 Cor. 3:5, 6, 10; etc.). Elsewhere Paul applies the honorific use of the designation only to God the Father (1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6; 15:24).
What Jesus condemns is the misappropriation of the word “father” as a religious title of veneration for prideful men, the application of which ought to be reserved for the heavenly Father.
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