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god_father_guercinoOur resident representative of a certain strand of American evangelical thinking, Bosco, has, as regular readers will know, a number of themes. They are quite limited ones, and it is quite possible he is immune to reason on them, but since they are very common ones, and thus represent a deficiency in a certain line of thinking about Scripture, it might be worth running a short series on them.

This particular style of Protestant apologetics involves, at base, a problem which its adherents seem unable to address. It involves quoting the Bible, in this case Matthew 23:9, and assuming that the source from which the Bible comes was unable to read or understand it; arrogance is a sin. Let me explain. The Bible was not dictated by God to any one. The Bible does not tell us of its existence, nor yet of its contents. We know of it because the earliest followers of Christ were inspired to write and preserve the various books of the New Testament, and it was the early Church which tells us what is in it, not the Bible itself. Those early Christians who were willing to die for their Bible, called their priests ‘abba’ – or father. Now, either those early Christians understood less of the book they preserved than modern Western men – a premiss which only arrogance could support – or Western men have misunderstood something? Hard though it is to convince some modern men that they may not know everything, that seems the inescapable conclusion here.

It might, of course, be that Jesus intended us not to call our male parent, ‘father’, but again, we see no evidence of that throughout the centuries when Christianity was the settled religion, in both Protestant and Catholic countries; it was, and remains, the fashion to call one’s male parent ‘father’. Are we really to assume that everyone who calls their Dad ‘father’ is going against the words of Jesus? Were that actually the case, one might ask a question –  if no one called their male parent ‘father’, how would we understand why Jesus calls God ‘Father’? If we had no concept of what that word meant, how would we make sense of it?

Much of the problem disappears if one abandons the Bosco method, which takes one verse and pits it against the sense of the rest of Scripture. After all, read that way, a sect which worshipped Jesus as an actual door could quote Scripture and accuse those of refused to worship the door as heretics. If we do what Christians have always done, and read the text in context we see that Jesus is not forbidding anyone to call their father ‘father’, we see, instead, a lesson about how Christians should be, one which, if adopted by us all, would be a good practice.

Jesus begins by saying his followers are not to call any man ‘Rabbi’, or teacher. On the hermeneutic of Bosco, that would mean we couldn’t call those who teach in school ‘teachers’. Because ‘teacher’ is not an exclusively Catholic usage, the Boscos of this world ignore it. At least, I have never, in the years he’s been here, seen him rail against anyone being called ‘teacher’. That, of course, sadly, reveals the real motive, which is anti-Catholicism. We see that Jesus’ followers here, as with the words about ‘father’ understood what he meant in a way those who follow Him through their reading of the book fail to; texts needs interpreting, and, aware of that, we see the first Christian, appointed ‘teachers’. Paul tells us he was appointed as a ‘teacher’ by God, as he tells the Corinthians that God appointed ‘teachers’ in his Church.

Jesus is not, then, being literal here, any more than he is when he tells us to pluck out our right eye – and again, perhaps because there is no anti-Catholic mileage to be had from arguing the verses, Bosco and company do not harp on about it, but read it, as it is meant to be read, as an example of hyperbole – that is linguistic exaggeration to make a point. The point is clear to those whose vision is not occluded by their prejudice. God, alone is our master, father and teacher, and he operates not through our own personal authority, but through those appointed by the Church as ‘teachers’ and spiritual fathers and masters. Such a message cuts across the fundamental Protestant view that we are our own teacher and master, because we can, all alone, divine from the text what the Father is telling us. This is not a view supported by Scripture and Tradition, but it is one which appeals to the vanity of man.

A much more telling criticism could be made, if those making the wrong one could refrain, for a moment, from their prejudice, and indeed, since it would appeal to that prejudice, it surprises me it is not made. Jesus is upbraiding the Pharisees for having the letter of the Law but not its spirit, and for putting unnecessary burdens on the faithful whilst living in pretty high style themselves. There have certainly been times when the Church has done these things, and to criticise it for using the word ‘father’ instead, is to swallow camel whilst straining at a gnat.

But of course, if Bosco insists on the literal reading of one verse out of context, we shall commiserate with him when he rips out his right eye.