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“But you are not to be called ‘rabbi,’ for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called ‘masters,’ for you have one master, the Christ” (Matt. 23:8–10).
In the Old Testament it was proper but this usage changed with the New Testament that while it may have been permissible to call certain men “father” in the Old Testament, since the time of Christ, it’s no longer allowed.
Jesus criticized Jewish leaders who love “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called ‘rabbi’ by men” (Matt. 23:6–7).
He said this to show the scribes and Pharisees how sinful and proud they were for not looking humbly to God as the source of all authority and fatherhood and teaching, and instead setting themselves up as the ultimate authorities, father figures, and teachers.
Jesus is not forbidding us to call men “fathers” who actually are such, either literally or spiritually. To refer to such people as fathers is only to acknowledge the truth, and Jesus is not against that. He is warning people against inaccurately attributing fatherhood or a particular kind or degree of fatherhood to those who do not have it.
As the apostolic example shows, some individuals genuinely do have a spiritual fatherhood, meaning that they can be referred to as spiritual fathers. What must not be done is to confuse their form of spiritual paternity with that of God. Ultimately, God is our supreme protector, provider, and instructor. Correspondingly, it is wrong to view any individual other than God as having these roles.
Throughout the world, some people have been tempted to look upon religious leaders who are mere mortals as if they were an individual’s supreme source of spiritual instruction, nourishment, and protection. The tendency to turn mere men into “gurus” is worldwide, even in Zimbabwe where they’re looking east and west for spiritual fatherhood. It is this elevation of an individual man – the formation of a “cult of personality” around him of which Jesus is speaking when he warns against attributing to someone an undue role as master, father, or teacher.
Many passages of scripture in the New Testament were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and they express the infallibly recorded truth that Christ’s ministers do have a role as spiritual fathers. Jesus is not against acknowledging that. It is he who gave these men their role as spiritual fathers, and it is his Holy Spirit who recorded this role for us in the pages of Scripture. To acknowledge spiritual fatherhood is to acknowledge the truth.