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Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible

Pastors get some of the darnedest, most interesting questions from people in their churches and people they meet. Here are a few I’ve gotten over the years and recently via email since this column started.

Father Paul: Why do people call you “Father Paul?” Didn’t Jesus say, “Call no man Father?”

— Glen

Great question! Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and other ministers have been called “Father” for many centuries. Is this right or wrong according to the Bible?

The exact quote you give is found in Matthew 23: 7-12. Earlier in this chapter, (there isn’t room here to quote it all) Jesus warns his own followers not to be like the religious leaders of the day who loved nothing more than to be seen publicly doing religious things and loved fancy titles like Rabbi and Father. Basically, they cared more about themselves and their own egos than they did about the people under their care. I mention this because the “context” of a passage in the Bible is always an important key to its understanding. What Jesus was really talking about was the sin of pride, not prohibiting titles.

With this in mind, starting with verse 7 of Chapter 23, the passage you note reads, (Jesus) “They (the religious leaders) love to be greeted in the marketplace and to have men call them ‘Rabbi,’ but you are not to be called Rabbi for you have only one master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘Father’ for you have one father and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘Teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus did not mean (literally) that there should never be rabbis, fathers or teachers or that we should never use these words as titles, but that these titles shouldn’t be wrongly used to glorify ourselves or to puff ourselves up with pride. Indeed, Jesus himself had an earthly father, Joseph and I am sure that he often addressed Joseph as father. He himself also used the words, “Father Abraham” in the Bible referring to the Jewish patriarch.

The Apostle Paul, I Corinthians 4: 15 - 16 told the Christians in the church at Corinth, “Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your (spiritual) father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.”

Paul became a “spiritual father” to many hundreds, perhaps thousands of believers in his lifetime. He starts his letters to Timothy and Titus with the words, “To Timothy, my true son in the faith; To Timothy, my dear son; and, To Titus, my true son in our common faith.” In the present day, and from the earliest days of the faith, there have been spiritual fathers and sons as well as daughters. This is how the term (spiritual) “Father” came into use.

You will note that Jesus also said in the Matthew passage, “ ... nor are you to be called ‘Teacher,’” but we know that teacher is one of the Biblical offices of the church, (along with apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors) mentioned in Ephesians 4 and I Corinthians 12. This further underlines the fact that Jesus, in the Matthew passage, was talking about the misuse and abuse of these titles. As I said earlier, the term “Father” (often “elder”) has been in use since the earliest days of the church. Today, more than three quarters of Christians refer to their pastors as “Father.”

Have spiritual “Fathers” ever abused the title and their sons and daughters? Sadly, Yes! Shame ... shame on them. They will have their reward. But somewhere around 99 percent are loving shepherds who would (and do) give their lives for the sheep. My prayer is that God will give his church (and the sheep) more true “spiritual fathers.”

Father Paul: Is suicide a sin? Will a person who commits suicide go to Hell?

— Doug

I’ll answer your second question first. I honestly do not know. I am not God! But having said that, I would not want to take the chance to find out. Seriously, eternity is a long ... long time! The Bible does say in Revelation 21: 8 that “murderers (does this include those who murder themselves?) will take their place in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” (Hell). Again, I would not want to take the chance, the stakes are too high.

There is no question, however, that suicide is a sin. The person who commits suicide is taking unto themselves something that God reserves for himself alone ... namely the beginning and ending of human life.

Some would argue that a person who commits suicide is not of sound mind and consequently is not responsible for his or her actions. This is an argument that makes some sense, but again, I would not want to take the chance.

Having had some experience with suicide in ministry over the years I have come to believe that suicide is basically an act of cowardice that is utterly devastating and hurtful to those left behind, especially spouses and children. The resulting wounds can last a lifetime.

If, even by the slightest chance, anyone reading this is seriously thinking about suicide, I beg you ... DON’T DO IT! Email me at the address at the end of this article. We need to talk. You do not have to give your name.

Have a question? Email Father Paul at

Paul Massey is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. Looking for a church? Information on the church is available at

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