…The HARD TRUTH with Dr. Kennedy Musonda, Ph.D.
THE controversy concerning Jesus’ prohibition in Mathew 23:9 not to call anyone on earth father because there is only one Father who is in heaven” continues to rage unabated.
Some people argue that this is not literal because Jesus was speaking against the hypocritical behavior of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
To this effect, the title father or papa is officially used in some churches, while in others, it is unofficially used in different forms (father, dada, papa, mwebafyashi, etc.)
My position on this matter is that Mathew 23:9 must be taken literally and that you should not call a religious leader father. I will provide biblical evidence for my position in the next series of articles.
In this article, however, I will discuss the categories of religious leaders during the New Testament time, which gave rise to this prohibition. Although other sects opposed Jesus, such as the Herodians and Sadducees (Matthew 22:16, 23), Jesus directed his rebukes to the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Let me begin with Scribes, who were also called teachers of the Law. The online Britannica Encyclopedia states that these were highly knowledgeable of the Law of Moses and were the drafters of legal documents like marriage and business contracts.
They were able to scrutinize Jesus’ teaching and behavior because of their high legal knowledge. Although some Pharisees were also Scribes, these two groups were distinct.
Pharisees belonged to a popular party or sect and were were considered populist leaders (by ordinary Jewish people), and the people loved them for that. They were also scholars of the Law of Moses, hence the overlap between them and Scribes. On the outside, Pharisees exhibited the highest moral standards to the people (Philippian 3:5-6).
The best way of understanding the Pharisees is by contrasting them with the Sadducees. Sadducees were an elite group in the Jewish society who belonged to the upper class of the population. That is why they were not the people’s favorites.
The Jewish priests belonged to this party or sect. Josephus, the first-century historian, describes the Sadducees as boorish and rude. They controlled the temple business, and were very wealthy in a society that had many poor people, a reason for their disdain.
The Pharisees and Sadducees fundamentally differed on three critical issues, which set them apart. First, the two differed on the institutional setup.
Pharisees were organized around the synagogues because they were formed after the temple’s destruction, while the Sadducees were organized around the temple and controlled the temple business. For this reason, the Sadducees became extinct after the final destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Titus.
Second, the two had a doctrinal difference on the supernatural. The Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural, they neither believed in resurrection nor in angels or spirits, but the Pharisees believed in both (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8).
The third and most fundamental difference was legal in nature: how they looked at the Torah. The Torah is the Law of God, as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament.
The Pharisees believed in both the oral Toral and the written Toral as authoritative and binding. Therefore, the unwritten Law, which Jesus called the tradition of men (Matthew 15:3), is what defined Phariseeism.
The Sadducees considered only the written Toral as obligatory and binding. They did, therefore, not recognize the oral Law as being on the same level as the written Law.
Going back to the beginning of this article, the confrontation that Jesus had with the Scribes and Pharisees starts in chapter 21 of Matthews on a Sunday (now called the Palm Sunday) during his last week in which he was crucified.
Jesus had made a grand entrance in Jerusalem and later entered the temple and overthrew tables of money changers and seats of those who sold doves. After which, he healed the sick and the lame (Matthew 21:1-13).
Because of these events, the Scribes and Pharisees began to challenge Jesus, questioning his authority and wanting to trap him in his words that he began to rebuke them in chapter 23 after teaching the multitudes in parables in chapter 22. In the following article, I look at why the Scribes and Pharisees were called fathers.
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Author: Dr. Kennedy Musonda an international development consultant holds a Bachelor and Master of Social Work, a Bachelor of Arts in Theology, a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Ph.D. in Business Administration.
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