Biblical Support for the Terms Holy Father and Vicar of Christ, as Applied to Popes

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The inimitable anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist apologist James White wrote:

Have you considered what it means to proclaim a human being the Holy Father (that's a divine name, used by Jesus only of His Father) and the Vicar of Christ (that's the Holy Spirit)?

Is White serious? All one has to do here is note that there are such things as "holy men" referred to in the Bible. The writer of Hebrews calls the recipients of his epistle "holy brethren" (RSV; also the same in White's favorite: the NASB). Peter refers to a "holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5; same in NASB) and "holy women" such as Sarah (1 Peter 3:5; same in NASB) and "holy prophets" (2 Peter 3:2; same in NASB; cf. Acts 3:21 [also Peter]; Zechariah's prophecy in Luke 1:70). John the Baptist is referred to as a "righteous and holy man" in Mark 6:20 (same in NASB). Jesus refers to a "righteous man" in Matthew 10:41. Therefore, men can be called "holy" in Scripture. That solves half of this "pseudo-problem."

Can they also be called "father"? Of course!:

Acts 7:2: And Stephen said: "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, . . ."

Romans 4:12: . . . the father of the circumcised . . . our father Abraham . . .

Romans 4:16-17: . . . Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations . . ." (cf. 9:10; Phil. 2:22; Jas. 2:21)

1 Corinthians 4:15: For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

That solves the other half of White's "objection." If you can call a man "holy" and also (spiritual) "father", then you can call a person bothtogether, and the "problem" vanishes into thin air.

As for "Vicar of Christ" this is an equally ridiculous trifle. I don't believe "vicar" appears in the Bible (at least it doesn't in the KJV and RSV, that I searched), yet somehow Bishop White has this notion that this phrase can only denote the Holy Spirit. Where does he come up with this claptrap? Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster online:


Main Entry: vic·ar 

Pronunciation: \ˈvi-kər\

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin vicarius, from vicarius vicarious

Date: 14th century

1: one serving as a substitute or agent; specifically : an administrative deputy


Now, is this some blasphemous way of speaking about disciples of Jesus? Again, absolutely not, for it is the sort of language (substitutes, agents, ambassadors, etc.) that Jesus Himself used, in referring to His disciples (the word disciple itself is not far in meaning from vicar):

Matthew 10:40 He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.

Matthew 16:19 
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:18 . . . Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

John 13:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.

John 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

Jesus even goes further than that, extending this representation of Himself to children and virtually any human being:

Matthew 18:5 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.

Matthew 25:40 Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. (cf. 25:45)

Mark 9:37 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.

Luke 9:48 Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great.

Then we see instances of radical identification with Jesus, such as the term "Body of Christ" for the Church, or Paul partaking in Christ's afflictions (Col 2:8; cf. 2 Cor 1:5-7, 4:10, 11:23-30; Gal 6:17), or our "suffering with Christ" (Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 15:31; 2 Cor 6:9; Gal 2:20; Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 4:1,13)

Where's the beef, then? Jesus routinely refers to something highly akin to "vicar" in these statements (and the Apostle Paul picks up on the motif in a big way). So the pope represents Christ to the world, in a particularly visible, compelling fashion. Big wow. This is not outrageous blasphemy; it is straightforward biblical usage. Who is being more 'biblical" now?