Ask Your Preacher

Ask Your Preacher

“Parental Paradox”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says not to call any man "father".  Then later, Jesus Himself refers to Abraham as "father" in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16).  Also, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God Himself commands us to honor "father" and mother. Even if Jesus means "father" in a spiritual sense and not a strict literal or biological sense, then why does Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit refer to himself as a spiritual "father" to the Corinthians? (1Cor 4:14-15)  There are many more New Testament passages where the term "father" is used in both physical and spiritual senses.  Is this an example of a biblical contradiction?

Taking Titles

Dear Taking Titles,

There are three basic senses in which the word ‘father’ is used in the New Testament – and as you mentioned, context is very important in understanding which definition is being used.

  1. ‘Father’ can mean ‘biological founder’.  This is the most literal sense of the word ‘father’.
  2. ‘Father’ can refer to a ‘spiritual founder’.  This is what Paul meant when he talked about being the Corinthians’ father (1 Cor 4:14-15).  However, it is worth noting that even when Paul says this, he clauses the statement by saying that he “begat them through the gospel”.  Paul recognized that he was only their father inasmuch as he led them to the true Father of their souls.
  3. ‘Father’ can also refer to ‘him who guides and rules’.  This is what Jesus was referring to in Matt 23:8-10, and it is the same in Heb 12:9.  It is wrong for a christian to place their total faith in any man.  We must always turn to God and trust His will above man’s.  Paul may have started the Corinthian congregation, but he wasn’t their leader.  In fact, Paul made it very clear that no christian should ever revere a person above God (Gal 1:8).

When we keep in mind the context of the various passages, each verse is using the word ‘father’ in a way that matches perfectly.  It isn’t a contradiction but simply a matter of multiple uses for the same word… something we see in normal speech all the time.