Lecture 18: Fatherhood of God
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Jesus' teaching about the fatherhood of God reveals for us a tension between reverence and intimacy.
The Teachings of Jesus
II. The Message (part 2)
A. The Kingdom of God
LESSON BEGINS HERE
B. The Fatherhood of God
1. Personal Nature of God
2. Jesus' Favorite Title
3. The Use of the Term "Father"
a. Old Testament and Intertestamental
b. New Testament
b. Liberal Theology
5. The Lord's Prayer
6. Jesus' View of His Father
7. Reverence and Intimacy
8. Gender Issue
Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels
Lecture: Fatherhood of God
All right, well, let’s go on and look at the message of Jesus. The second aspect, the message on the fatherhood of God. There are a lot of titles Jesus uses in the Gospels to refer to God – I’ve listed them here. He sometimes just refers to God. Sometimes the God of Abraham. The God of Isaac. The God of Jacob. Sometimes the Lord. There are two titles in the Old Testament used for God, primarily Elohim, or God, and Yahweh, or which we translate Lord.
Sometimes he refers to the Lord your God or teaches disciples to refer to our God. He’s the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of the Harvest. The only God, the most high.
The King. And then the title we’re looking at, the title Father. Now one of the things that’s very important we have an awful lot of talk about God today, which God is some sort of impersonal force. Some sort of first cause of things. A world soul. A prime mover that got everything going and so forth. And now you have the Star Wars god who is the force. This abstract something out there that you can’t get your hands on. You don’t … can be sometimes evil, sometimes good, you don’t know what’s going on in there.
That’s not the God of Jesus. The God of Jesus is very personal. It’s a personal God. And the titles the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob indicates that’s not a force we’re talking about. Above all the title of Father indicates that this God knows when a sparrow falls.
He’s personal in a sense that the hairs of our head are numbered. Some of us it might not be a big deal. For others, it’s more significant, of course.
Now I think its … its gotten much more of an abstract kind of nebulous God out there. But one thing we have to maintain as Christians very strongly is our God is a personal God – he’s a person. Not some abstraction out there. Now the favorite title that Jesus uses for God is the title Father.
Some 65 times in the synoptic Gospel we find the term. In the Gospel John over 100 times. It’s a very, very frequent term on the lips of Jesus. It furthermore appears in all the Gospels, Chatham, Mark, Hugh and John. So therefore it fills the criterion for or of what? Multiple attestation.
In other words it’s found in not just one source but in these five that we’ve mentioned here, which gives it that much more emphasis on it being, ugh, authentic. In the ancient world, the term father was frequently used for God. In the second third millennia B.C. lots and lots of religions in the Middle East referred to God as a Father. In contrast, Judaism only referred to God 15 times as Father. Now think 165 times in our Gospels. Fifteen times in the Old Testament.
Now the size of the Old Testament is such that … I have no idea, maybe it’s ten times the size of our Gospels. Say it’s only five. Then you would expect if it was the same amount of time … amount of emphasis, you would find some 800 references to God as Father in the Old Testament. You only find 15. It tends to be avoided, quite consciously. In the Apocrypha you come across Father six times. In the Pseudepigrapha, eight times. Fourteen times in the intertestamental literature – the main intertestamental literature as we refer to it. There is one reference there in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Now with regard to the Old Testament passages, he may … he may be referred to God in these 14 or 15 times but he’s never addressed in prayer that way. That’s very significant. So he can be referred to God this way – as Father very, very rarely some 15 times as I said. Fourteen times in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, but he’s never addressed in prayer that way in the Old Testament. Only five times in the 14 instances in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha is he addressed this way.
So it’s very clear that the title Father was avoided in the Old Testament. Now why? Well, a very good reason. When pagan religions think of God as Father, they don’t think the way Christians think of God as Father. They think of God as Father in the sense of having created the world by some sexual relationship with a mother God. So you have a fertility religion kind of understanding of God as Father.
Needless to say Judaism wanted nothing to do with that. So it looks like they avoided the title totally to make sure there would not be a misunderstanding along paganism as to God being the cause of all things and the Earth being the result of some sort of a sexual union between a male and female deity – one called father and one mother.
So the Old Testament avoids Father as a title for God altogether. Now it’s rather interesting to note that some extreme feminists groups in their portrayal of God as mother and so forth have also accepted a kind of fertility religious significance to this. And it’s it’s very different than the Old Testament.
Now, in the New Testament, the title that’s used for God is still found in the Aramaic form … turn to page 297. And we have Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane in which the term that he that Jesus used in the Aramaic language is still found. And uh we read details of disciples. My soul is very sorrowfully even to death remarry here and watch … then line 22 following Mark.
A going a little further he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass from him. And this was his prayer. He said, ‘Abba, Father. All things are possible through thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will but what thou wilt.’
Abba, Father. Now Abba is Aramaic. It’s still there. The Greek, which is the whole rest of the text asked that Abba to explain it to the Greek reader in case they didn’t know it. You have Pater … the Greek word for Father. So you really have here Father, Father.
But when you translate, you probably want to indicate that the first word is not the normal Greek. And you leave it in the Aramaic form, so you have Abba here. Otherwise you just have Father, Father here and no one would know you just think Pater, Pater. Here it’s Abba, Father, so they left Abba as to show that to you.
If we go to the New Testament Book of Galatians, in Galatians 4:6 Paul leaves that term there as well. He adds, ‘Because you were sons, God has sent the spirit of his son into our heart crying Abba, Father.’ Once again, Abba, Pater. Abba, Father and it’s translated to leave the Abba there.
So through God you were no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. Then in Romans chapter 8, you have Paul doing that again. Verse 14, of chapter 8 of Romans, ‘For all who are led by the spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you receive the spirit of son-ship.’ When we cry Abba, Father … Abba, Pater … it is the spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
And if children then heirs, heirs of God and followers with Christ provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Now the Romans pray Abba, Father. The Galatians pray Abba, Father. But the fact is Abba is not a word they know.
It’s not part of their language. It’s not part of the Greek language. It’s not part of Latin. It is an Aramaic term. Now why in the world would these gentile Christians be calling God Abba and then use the word Father after that? It could only be that Jesus taught the disciples that they could address God this way. And in the Lord’s prayer they were to address God as our Father who art in Heaven. So here even though this is a language they are not familiar with they pray and call God Abba, because that’s the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray – his followers.
So they retain that at this time in their history. Now in the other aspects of the New Testament gospels where we come across God being addressed by Jesus as Father it’s almost certain that what they’ve done now at this point is to translate the normal term Abba, which was Jesus turned into Greek to Pater. So, probably we had most if not all of these Father references to … by Jesus is the word Abba this Aramaic term.
Is it an unusual term the fact that you hardly find it anywhere. And it’s not so much that Jesus chose on occasion to refer to God this way. This is the most characteristic way in which Jesus addresses God. One that’s not common in Judaism. This would fit the criterion of dissimilarity. It couldn’t have risen out of a Jewish environment. They didn’t refer to God in this way.
And in one time we find Jesus praying to God or referring to God in a different way. In Mark 15:34 on the cross, turn with me to page 320, uh six hour had come. There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. Verse 34, line 6. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice ‘Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God. Why has thou forsaken me?’
Now at this point Jesus is not addressing God as Abba, but he uses a different term. Probably no author has written more on God as Father as a man by the name of Uruaki Mirameus [phonetic], a German scholar. And he did a lot of research in trying to find where is, where is Abba ever used with respect to God in the Old Testament or in Jewish religious thinking in Jesus’ day and so forth.
I have this quote from him: ‘With the help of my assistants I have examined the whole inter-Jewish leader of prayer and the result was that in no place in this immense literature is this invocation to God to be found … in other words he’s never prayed to by that title.
He later qualifies that by saying he found in a 14th century Jewish prayer, A.D. 1400, 14th century. That title was used once but it’s the only time you saw it in that way. It’s a very, very unusual form.
In my first edition of ‘The Method of Message of Jesus Teaching,’ I argued that Abba was a childlike term that children would use to address their father. Therefore the best equivalent for this would be the equivalent ‘daddy.’
If you, in the second edition you will not find that. In fact you’ll probably find a recantation of that, which may surprise you to realize I’m not infallible. Let me assure you it’s the only time I remember not being infallible in that regard. Uh, but James Barr wrote an article ‘Is God Really Abba?’ And no that’s not the exact name of it.
‘Does Abba Mean Daddy?’ I think is the name of the article. But anyhow he argued that children couldn’t address God as Abba, daddy in that sense. But older children continued to address God that way. For instance, now, here’s where coming from the North makes a difference.
I would never address as an adult, my father, as daddy. It’s not it’s just not part of my culture. Many southerners, especially women, still address their fathers as daddy no matter how old they are, or how old he will be. So, it may be a little hard to identify in some way with this.
But Jewish males when they were older also address God as Abba. It didn’t simply mean daddy in the sense of a little child who is beginning to walk calling God daddy. It’s still a very intimate term. It’s so intimate that the Jewish world didn’t address their God that way. Jesus says you can address God this way, but it was not something that anyone of their own selves would take upon themselves as right to do. But it, it the best translation is simply father and not daddy. Of course if it’s on the lips of a little child, I might say daddy, but if it’s on the lips of an adult child it’d be father.
Now in the 19th century in the heyday of theological liberalism, one of the main tenants of theological liberalism was the Fatherhood of God. The infinite value, the infinite soul, the uh presence of the kingdom of God, the brotherhood of man, and so forth. But the fatherhood of God was one of the main tenants of theological liberalism.
That movement in the 19th century, which was very, very evolutionary and optimistic in its outlook. Now one of the reasons they give for supporting that God is the father of all people, the universal fatherhood of God, is this title Jesus uses and says God is to be addressed as Father.
I have a quotation here from Bruce Metzger, a former teacher of mine. It says, ‘One must beware, however, against reading into Jesus’ teachings more than the records warrant.’ So far from teaching the multitudes that God is the father of all, there is a general agreement so far there is a general agreement that from all sources Jesus spoke of the subject only to his disciples. When Jesus addressed the general public, he seemed almost never to have referred to God as Father. In fact, of all the passages where Jesus mentions the Fatherhood of God – 165, all right. Plus. One hundred sixty-five plus – in only one is he represented as speaking to the crowds as well as to his disciples. That’s less than one percent.
It’s hard to build theology on this is the normal thing. Unusual. You have one father who is in heaven is the passage in Matthew 23:9. From the mass of evidence therefore it appears that instead of teaching the universal fatherhood of God Jesus spoke of only God Father only one in terms of his own relation to God and two in terms in relation with his disciples to God.
Apparently therefore Jesus restricted the right to call God Father to those who had shown by their loyalty to himself to be entitled to regard themselves as children of God.
Now that I think becomes fairly clear in the Lord’s prayer. Turn with me to Luke 11:1. Page 171. Now this is the way Jesus teaches us to pray, and how he teaches us to pray. He was praying in a certain place and when he ceased one of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray now as John taught his disciples to pray.’ John taught his disciples a prayer, and when they prayed that prayer together that identified them. They belonged to John the … Oh, they belong to John the Baptist.
So the disciples were like give us a prayer, so that people can identify us as belonging to you. And Jesus said all right, then when you pray this is what you should say. When you pray say Father. Aramaic for Abba. So here this title in way of addressing God is specifically addressed to the disciples.
This is to identify them. For they through faith in Jesus Christ are sons of God and have this relationship with God, and when you … when I pray Father or our Father who art in heaven, we are saying we are those who through faith in Jesus Christ have been born into his kingdom. And we are part of his family. We are the sons of God through faith in Christ.
Therefore we have this privilege. This unique privilege of addressing God by this very intimate term Abba. All of that is applied when we pray Father. It’s clear then it can’t be a universal prayer for everybody to pray. When I was in public school number six, West New York/New Jersey, classes began in those days with devotions and a common prayer.
Now since there were Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews in the class, the school board said well what kind of a devotional can you have? Well, psalms. Everybody had psalms as there scripture, so you could read the psalms. What about atheists? There were no atheists in my day. Not in public school. You couldn’t be.
So you read from the psalms, and then everybody prayed a prayer. Well what prayer was it that everybody could pray? Well, the school board thought let’s have them all pray the Lord’s prayer. Everybody can pray that. It’s a universal prayer. Far from it in Jesus’ understanding. It is because through the spirit you’ve been born again you were sons of God that you cried Abba, Father.
How Paul words it. So we would pray the Lord’s prayer. We’d pray it in the Matthean edition our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name. And you might be aware … do any of you come from a Roman Catholic background? All right, in the Catholic version of the Lord’s prayer something ends differently, doesn’t it?
You have ‘Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen.’ It’s not in the Roman Catholic version of the prayer. And by the way, in most modern Protestant versions there’s a footnote, which ends at that point. So later manuscripts include the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen.
I have no problem with it. It’s part of the Old Testament. It comes, actually an Old Testament passage somewhere. But in practice it kind of worked out this way. We would pray all together for our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not … and Roman Catholics students would go, ‘And lead us not into temptation’ That would be the loudest part of the prayer for them and then you’d quit because they weren’t going to say the rest, which was kind of like a loud silence.
We protestants weren’t completely dumb. We knew this was coming. So when we got to that point, we would sort of whisper. ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ And then we’d come in with a booming ‘For thine is the kingdom, the power, and glory forever. Amen.’
A religious highlight of my my young life. All right. But the Lord’s prayer teaches us as identifying with Jesus to pray Abba, or our Father who art in heaven. The Lord’s prayer can essentially be divided into two parts. And the first part has been called the ‘we’ petitions. W-E. Because you have our Father who art in heaven hallowed be … excuse me it’s the ‘thy’ petitions. The ‘thy’ petitions.
I can’t even think. First you have three ‘thy’ petitions. Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Then it’s followed by the ‘we’ petitions.
And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven out debtors. Lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. So you have ‘thou’ petitions followed by ‘we’ petitions. And you have the address of Abba, Father or our Father who art in heaven. The hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done is probably an example of synonymous parallelism where the same thought it being repeated.
Because when … and and on Earth as it is in heaven … if you look in the in your text it’s moved in a little because it’s uncertain whether on Earth as it is in heaven goes with thy will be done only, or whether it’s to be understood as all three of those petitions having hallowed be thy name, on Earth as it is in heaven. Thy kingdom come, on Earth as it in heaven. Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.
So on Earth as it is in heaven is generally understood as being associated with all three of those petitions. Now if this is synonymous parallelism, then to know what hallowed be thy name is and refers to it’s helpful to look at the other ones.
Well, thy will be done. What does that mean? Well, that may not be so clear either. I’ve heard people say, ‘Well, your will be done in my life on Earth as it is in heaven.’ But thy kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven is something far bigger than any of those things. So this is a repeating of the same thought that at the end of history when God’s name is hallowed on Earth as it is in heaven, when his kingdom comes on Earth as it is in heaven. His will is done, on Earth as it is in heaven. That’s ultimately what the Lord’s prayer is praying for.
We’re looking for something far beyond anything God can do in our individual lives. Far beyond what he can do in our church. In our denomination. In all Christian churches in the world. We’re looking for that glorious day when Jesus comes again. And the will of God, his kingdom, and his name will be hallowed on Earth as it is in heaven.
In that sense, there’s another prayer also left in Aramaic, which has a similar request. In Revelation, it’s translated. At the end of second Corinthians it’s not. Well, now it’s translated but it’s in Aramaic. Yes, Maranatha or Maranatha … I’m not sure exactly how it’s pronounced …many of the translations have now translated that, but my suggestion would be that you should leave it in Aramaic to indicate here is a community who doesn’t know a lick of Aramaic.
A Greek, gentile church that prays this Aramaic prayer. Now it must be really an integral part of the earliest Christian community. Even so come quickly Lord Jesus. Revelation. Maranatha, come quickly Lord Jesus. Also that same kind of an eschatological prayer praying for the coming of Jesus.
In the Lord’s prayer, hallowed be thy name thy kingdom come thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven is requesting the same kind of thing. In light of that that it might be interesting to just reflect as to where in your prayer life and mine, the prayer for Jesus’ return fits.
How central is it in prayer for you and for me? If not, does it perhaps suggest we’re more in love with this world than the early church was? Okay. Turn with me to John 20, verse 17. That would be page 328.
Now, in the Gospels, Jesus never refers to God as our God with the disciples. But we just prayed the Lord’s prayer. Well the Lord’s prayer is not Jesus’ prayer. It’s the disciples’ prayer. When you guys pray, you all pray our Father who art in heaven. But Jesus doesn’t refer to God in that sense. He seems to always make a distinction, which becomes most clear in John 20:17, page 328.
Where Jesus says to Mary beginning at line 11 -- Mary she turned and said to him – and he wrote Rabonni, which means teacher. He said to her, ‘Do not hold me. Or do not continue to hold onto me in this way. For I had not he ascended to my father through the father, but go to the brethren and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father. To my God, and your God.’
That would save a lot of work if you just wrote I am ascending to our Father and our God. You can save a lot of words. The fact that he doesn’t do that indicates that when we talk about Jesus being the son of God, and our being the sons and daughters of God, there’s a difference in that. That he is the son of God in his essence and being has a unique relationship with God that even his disciples don’t share.
We are the sons of God by adoption. So he can talk about his Father and our Father. But it’s confusing if you try to say our Father. Because his relationship with the Father is different than ours. So here is a rather interesting, unique emphasis on his son-ship, which shows he has a different understanding of the Fatherhood of God for himself, and for the Fatherhood of God for us.
And, this uh, shows up in other places. If you look up in the text later on, you’ll find that in some of the passages in the synoptic Gospels he has a very awkward way of wording things where he talks about his, that they should pray to their father. Or something like that. Or refers to your father and my father in places where it would have been much more simple to say our Father then.
So even in the synoptic Gospel. You have that distinction between God as Father for his disciples and God as Father for himself.
All right, let me just comment that we look at last Thursday: Jesus’ reverence for the name of God. And that he avoided, like any devout Jew, using the name of God lest he would not be using it with the reverence and dignity that it deserved. So he avoided this a couple of ways. How does he avoid using the name of God?
Kingdom of heaven – substitution. You substitute heaven for God. And there was another way – passive. He put in the passive. Blessed are they that mourn, for God shall comfort them. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Here you have this great reverence for the name of God. So much so that it’s avoided. Yet when he talks to his disciples and tells them how they should address God, he uses a very, very intimate term that for many people would think, would think would be quite disrespectful.
Because it is a childlike term. Now how in the world do you make sense of that? This deep reverence for the name of God so that you won’t even utter it, but when you talk to God you use the term Abba, which devout Jews wouldn’t use. There’s a kind of paradox on that. We have this great intimacy with God, that we can address him in a way that for many people would look disrespectful.
So intimate is our relationship with God, and yet we should still practice like Jesus with reverence for the name of God and to avoid using it. Now I think the one thing I know you don’t do is you add them up, the reverence for God you don’t use his name, and you add Abba to that, and you divide by two.
And get something that’s neither reverent nor intimate. I think you have to keep both the extremes. And I’ve gotten more and more concerned about our use of God’s name. I hear so much on, on radio, TV, somebody talking, and the expression when you are surprised, ‘Oh my God.’
Oh, God. I hear Christians doing that too. I don’t do that anymore. I tend to be very, very careful now in how I use God’s name. Jesus was. You think if anyone could be free to use God’s name at any time it would be the son of God.
But he tended to avoid it. So reverent was he towards that name. Yet he teaches us Abba.
So you had intimacy, but maybe we as Christians of all people should be real careful on how we refer to God. Never understand the kind of joshing joke that, ‘God’s going to get you for that.’ Or something like that. Don’t do that anymore. Don’t do that anymore. I think the name of God is so, so to be reverenced that we should be careful. If anything, better to not use it at all.
But don’t forget through the death of Jesus we can come into his presence and call him by the most intimate of names, Abba, Father.
Now, let me just get into … I don’t want to go to a great length, but there are some people who argue and I tend to be pretty careful in my writing to try to be egalitarian in writing and refer to, for instance, illustrations where [inaudible] text if he or she does something. Because I’m really addressing the men and women. I don’t think in our present day the male pronouns are as neutral and understood generically as much as in the past.
But there have been tendencies among various feminists groups to refer to God not in male terms, and try to remove that. I think you have to draw a line at this point. The way Jesus taught us to pray is to call God Father.
I’m not willing to break with 1,900 plus years in which the church of Jesus Christ has called God Abba. I think that’s the way he taught us. If he were here today maybe he would have taught something else. I don’t know. But I do know that that’s the way he told us to pray. That’s the way we are to identify our relationship with God.
That is the prayer he taught us in the Lord’s prayer. So at this point I don’t think I can give at that point. God is our Father. That’s the way Jesus taught us, and I want to stay in the context of the church for the last almost 2,000 years.
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