Can We Call Anyone "Father" Besides God? Ex 20:12, Matt 23:8-10

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether we should call anyone "father" besides God. Exodus 20:12 says to "honor your father," but Matthew 23:8-10 says that we should not call anyone on earth our father.
Bible "contradictions"

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Quick answer

We should not attribute to anyone authority that only belongs to God. There is a difference between calling our earthly parent "father" and giving excessive reverence to a spiritual leader.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether we should call anyone "father." Exodus 20:12 says that we should, yet Matthew 23:8-10 appears to say that we should not. Here are the relevant passages:

Call someone "father"

Exodus 20:12 - "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

Call no one "father"

Matthew 23:8-10 - 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

The answer

The use of the word "father" is different between Exodus 20:12 and Matthew 23:8-10. In Exodus 20:12, "father" is simply used to refer to a parent, whereas in Matthew 23:8-10, "father" is used to refer to a person who is being put in the place of God the Father.

We are not to view any person on earth as having the kind of authority that God has. This is what Matthew 23:8-10 is talking about, not that we cannot call anyone father.

Matthew 23:8-10 is saying that we only have one heavenly Father, so we should not treat any man on earth, whether parent or spiritual leader, as if he possessed the authority that should only belong to God.

Practically speaking, it can be tempting to give greater authority than is appropriate to an earthly father or to a spiritual leader. This is what Matthew 23:8-10 is warning against.

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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