‘Dad, are you my priest?’ The role of the father in the Christian home

They keep telling me that the Christian father is the priest of the family. On the other hand, I search the Scriptures and I can’t find any command for him to be a priest; any indication that the father performs the essential duties of a priest; any hint that Dad is a priest in some way that Mom is not. Preachers and bloggers have a few verses to back up the Father-as-Priest teaching, but when I look them up, the doctrine strikes me as imported into the Scripture.

Here are a few blogs, chosen at random:

The most important role of a husband or a father, one that predominated in ancient days and is neglected today, is that of family priest. In Ephesians 6:25-29 [sic; it’s Eph 5], we are told that the husband, is to the wife what Christ is to the Church. [One] important role is that of the priest. A husband becomes the priest of the home…There is no doubt about the priestly role of the wife in a family (specially for the children), but the husband becomes the ‘Chief Priest’ (or High Priest as Christ was).

Now, I’ve read Ephesians 5, and see no reference to any priest. While the husband in some ways is like Christ to his wife, the parallel is by no means absolute: he does not give her salvation, forgive her sins, fill her with the Spirit, or a host of other roles that belong to Jesus only – including, mediating between her and the Father.

Another blogger goes further:

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were “covenant heads”, who offered sacrifices as their family’s priest and also “…God places Abraham, and by implication all covenant heads, in the roll [sic] of a prophet.” Job is also another example: in Job 1:5 he offered animal sacrifices for his (adult) children.

Therefore, he concludes, Christian fathers too must be priests.

Here we come to an important point: in the times of the Patriarchs, the fathers indeed served as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers on behalf of their families. (Pagans also regarded the male head of the family as a priest, for example in the Roman religion of the first century AD; the Father as Priest is also a key Mormon teaching). Nevertheless, since Moses, this paradigm has been invalidated: those Israelites who tried to offer their own family sacrifices on the “high places” were condemned. Only in the place God had chosen could people take sacrifices, and only the descendants of Aaron served as priests. That is, the form of worship that Noah or Abel or the Patriarchs or Job performed became outmoded ages before Christ came, at the point when the Tabernacle was first constructed. This explains why, as the author above writes, the role “predominated in ancient days” – well, so did abstaining from swine’s flesh or not wearing blended fabrics.

I perceive a underlying misunderstanding of what a priest (or a prophet) did. Some bloggers generalize their task, saying that priests were to be “good examples”, “teachers” and

Jesus, our unique High Priest

“undefiled by sin.” Another says that, like a priest, the father should pray for his family. And to take it to its logical end, if a pastor is holy, prays for his people, teaches them, and gives them a good example, then shouldn’t we call him a priest?

While these elements of prayer and teaching are important, these do not capture the essential characteristic that is unique to a priest: the priest mediates between God and humanity. The people go to God only through the priest. And herein lies the tension: I hear people affirming that of course, in the New Covenant there is one priest, that is, Christ; but then, in addition, we need a House Priest. The truth is, if we require another priest, then Christ is not a sufficient mediator. But in fact, we need no priest to hear our confession; we need no priest to offer the sacrifice of the Mass; and we need no House Priest, since all believers can go directly to God through Jesus Christ.

One further blog:

Christ achieves this mission through his roles as priest, prophet and king

Thus, he writes, since the father imitates Christ, then like Christ he is the priest, prophet and, yes, king of his family! I challenge anyone to find biblical references to the father being uniquely or especially either the priest, the prophet or the king of his family. We do read that: “Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:21-22a). The one Great Priest: not Mom, not Dad, not the Pastor, but Jesus only is our mediator.

If we are interested in biblical priesthood in this age, it is to the New Covenant that we must look. Under the New Covenant, every single believer is a priest: “a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:5, 9). Again, Christ has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). Peter mentions the priestly duty of “prayer.” Another task is bringing the gospel to others; Paul has a “priestly duty” of evangelism according to Rom 15:16. That means that on some level every single believer represents God to the world in evangelism and edification, and represents the world before God in prayer. Now, of course, the more experienced priests should provide a model and instruction for the less experienced, whether that takes place in a nuclear family or not. But since the Day of Pentecost, not just the Dads, not just the clergy, but “we” = all men and women, boys and girls who are part of Christ’s people and possess the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in my case the Scripture informs me that that I, a priest, have a wife who is a priest, and together we raised four younger priests. Although my job is vital, and I must pray for them, I am not the Family Priest: they do not need to go through me in order to get to God.

One of the authors above teaches an odd, not to mention dangerous, doctrine:

As head [of their families] men are in a unique prayer position. They, and only they, can offer prayer protection [against Satan] and covering to their wives and children. Nobody else is in the unique position to offer that protection (emphasis added).

Nobody else can offer that protection? Not even Jesus Christ our great Mediator, who has entered behind the veil? And cannot a single mother’s prayers avail for her children, in the absence of a man? What makes the devil tremble: is it the XY chromosome, or is it the prayer of faith? (And I really must emphasize: I googled the topic, and interacted with the first 5 or so blogs that popped up, not the ones which would make my case easier to prove).

One of the above bloggers repeats an idea that I hear too often:

In our families, it isn’t the woman’s responsibility to teach the children about God’s ways, it’s the man’s.

I have to call “Horsefeathers” on that one: it is the parent’s role to teach his or her children. If the man shirks on his responsibility, then that is a sin on his account. Nor is the faithful mother to blame, when she gives spiritual instruction to her children despite her husband’s lack of action. I have heard few notions as baffling, unbiblical and inexcusable as the one that goes, “If the woman is managing her children’s spiritual instruction, then she is usurping her husband’s authority and blocking him from his role. She must stop until he is shamed into doing the right thing.” I say, we should give that sister a medal, not tell her to cool it. (Study the story of Susanna Wesley, if you want to see a female believer-priest fully geared up for action; also, the ministry of Monica, mother of Augustine of Hippo, who led her whole family to Christ; and the work of Lois and Eunice in teaching young Timothy, whose dad was not a believer; 2 Tim 1:5).

I work in a culture where some neo-Pentecostal preachers no longer wish to be addressed as “pastor.” For a while they demanded to be called “apostles” and, not surprisingly, obeyed absolutely. Now one man down the street from us has anointed himself a “patriarch,” that is, a chief over the apostles. This “job title inflation” goes against Scripture, and it leads to abuse and power trips.

Fathers have a remarkable call to service and we need not inflate their title to Household Priest. Listen, if you want to complain about how today’s fathers don’t take enough responsibility for their children’s upbringing, you’ll get no argument from me and every support. But should we distort the Word, inventing a role for fathers that the Bible knows nothing of, in order to spur the Dads on? Never. We should emphasize their biblical duties, no more and no less.

Related Posts:

The sequel where we explore the positive side: I’m a Dad – what does God want me to do?

Also: Can stay-at-home Dads be “real men”?

“‘Dad, are you my priest?’ The role of the father in the Christian home,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

14 thoughts on “‘Dad, are you my priest?’ The role of the father in the Christian home

  1. I am praying for sons, sons-in-law to be the priests of the households and pray for their families and read the Bible with their children. I am praying for spiritual renewal.

  2. I enjoyed this selection. You’re line of thinking is spot on. All this title-grabbing needs to stop.
    (…here it comes) However, Paul equates the relationship between a husband and wife with the relationship between Christ and the church, not the relationship between Christ and the wife. Yes, we have to work out our own salvation as individuals (Philippians 2:12), which is the relationship between Christ and that individual. But the metaphor of a husband-wife relationship is used throughout the Bible to describe the Christ-church relationship and is clearly distinct from the Christ-individual relationship (salvation).
    I hope this helps us to better understand what the apostle Paul was explaining about ideal family structure. You’re right; it really has nothing to do with titles at all.
    God bless

    …finding the logical truth in God’s Word…

  3. Amen and thank you! I stumbled onto the “men step up and reclaim your rightful place as prophet, priest & king” movement and was floored to see it creeping into “mainstream” para-church ministries, church planting/leadership networks, and even counseling. It is so shocking and way more authoritarian rhetoric than I have ever heard in evangelical settings so I feel this foreboding feeling: are things moving backwards? Why are evangelical, hipster young church planters into fashioning themselves as the “high priest” of the church and the family?

  4. Thank you so much for this refreshing article! Some men actually do not want such a burdensome responsibility. I believe this false doctrine creates division in the home in a number of ways, whether its a wife pressuring her husband to be the spiritual head of the family, or a husband abusing his elevated position.

    1. Chris, excellent to see you! You might enjoy my essay on how I have my devotions.

  5. Gary, I enjoy your writing. Thanks for this help in thinking through my role as dad and Daryl’s role as mom, and both or our roles as priests, and our kids as priests. What does the Bible say about dad as King (protector, leader, head)? Maybe I can just have a dad sword to carry around and feel important 🙂

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