“Your Word Is Truth”
How Many Fathers Do You Have?
HOW many father’s do you have? “Why, I have only one!” you may reply. And true, every man that has ever lived has had at least one father; even Adam, for we read, “Adam, the son of God.”—Luke 3:38.
But if you are a Roman Catholic you would have well over 425,000 “fathers”; since that is the number of Roman Catholic priests in the world and your religion requires that you address them all as “Father.” At least that is the requirement in English-speaking lands. But many other religions refuse to recognize this title for priests, ministers or pastors. What does the Bible say? It is God’s Word, concerning which Jesus said to his heavenly Father, “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17.
The term “father” occurs some 1,750 times in the Scriptures, in singular, plural and possessive forms. Primarily it is used to refer to literal fathers and to male ancestors. At times it is also used to refer to the older men of one’s people, in which sense both Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and the apostle Paul used it.—Acts 7:2; 22:1, RS.
All who are true Christians also have another Father. Do they not pray, “Our Father in the heavens”? (Matt. 6:9) In fact, as far back as the time of Moses, God was spoken of as the Father of his people. (Deut. 32:6; Ps. 89:26; Isa. 63:16; 64:8) The apostle Paul makes one or more references to Jehovah God as Father in every one of his letters. He also refers to God as “the Father of glory,” even as the disciple James speaks of God as “the Father of the celestial lights.”—Eph. 1:17; Jas. 1:17.
Jesus Christ is also termed “Father” in the Scriptures. Thus at Isaiah 9:6 he is termed the “Eternal Father.” This he is in two senses: In that he himself lives eternally and in that he gives eternal life to his children. Especially is he the Father of the “great crowd” of “other sheep”; his anointed footstep followers being often referred to as his brothers.—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9.
The term “father” is also used in the sense of chief, founder or first one. Thus Abraham is called the “father of all those having faith.” (Rom. 4:11) At Genesis 4:21 we find Jubal termed the “father” or founder of musicians. (RS) And Jesus termed Satan the Devil “the father of the lie.”—John 8:44.
Then, again, the Bible uses “father” merely as a term of respect. The prophet Elisha addressed the prophet Elijah as “my father.” Two kings of Israel, in turn, addressed Elisha as “my father.” The servants of the Syrian general Naaman addressed their master as “my father.”—2 Ki. 2:12; 6:21; 13:14; 5:13.
The apostle Paul stated that he was a father in a spiritual sense in that he brought the hope of everlasting life to others. Thus he wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “Though you may have ten thousand tutors in Christ, you certainly do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have become your father through the good news.” He spoke of Onesimus as “my child, to whom I became a father,” and also referred to Timothy as “my beloved child.” Not only did Paul liken himself to a father, but he also said that he was like a mother to those whom he taught the good news.—1 Cor. 4:15; Philem. 10; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2, RS; 1 Thess. 2:7, 11.
Concerning the use of the term “Father” in Christendom today The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church states: “In England . . . all Roman Catholic priests . . . are now called ‘Father,’ a custom introduced apparently from Ireland in the latter half of the nineteenth century. It has also come into wide currency among Anglo-Catholics. On the continent other terms are used for the secular clergy.” The New Catholic Encyclopedia tells of the use of the term in the United States. Thus the Jesuit weekly, America, September 20, 1969, had an article entitled “In Memoriam: Father Gardiner,” and in another article mentioned upward of twenty different priests, the names of all of whom began with the initials “Fr.”, an abbreviation of the title “Father.”
What about this use of the term “Father” as a title for the clergy? Does the fact that the term “father” is so often used in the Scriptures, and that in various ways, justify such use? Well, what does Jesus Christ say about the matter? He specifically commanded his followers: “Do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One.” Clearly he meant that “Father” as a religious title should be used only in referring to Jehovah God, the heavenly Father. That Jesus did not mean to preclude referring to one’s literal father as “father” is clear from his own frequent use of the term father in this sense.—Matt. 23:9; 10:37; Mark 10:29; Luke 15:20.
But what about the apostle Paul’s referring to himself as “father”? There was good reason for his referring to himself as the spiritual “father” of certain ones, for he brought spiritual life to them. It was only to such ones that he spoke of himself as their father. But did any of these address Paul as “Father Paul”? Absolutely not! Nowhere in the Scriptures do we ever read of him or of Peter or any of the other apostles being addressed as “Father.”
There is also the term “Holy Father” as given to the popes of Rome. What about it? If no one on earth is to be given the religious title “Father,” then still less should any man be called “Holy Father.” Jesus in prayer addressed God in heaven as “Holy Father.” (John 17:11) Now, would it be proper to take that title that the Bible applies only to God and apply it to a man? For those who truly desire to please God, the answer is obvious.
So, how many fathers do you have? You have your literal father who begot you. Jehovah God and Jesus Christ may also be your Fathers, depending upon your faith and works. And so also can the Christian minister who brought you the life-giving truth from God speak of himself as your father through the good news. But there is no man on earth, not even the one who taught you God’s Word, whom you should address with the religious title “Father.”