Thursday, October 13

Investigating God the Father

In Christianity, the doctrine of the Trinity is a vital one. There are denominations and cults which hold that the Bible does not support this doctrine, but many Bible-believing Christians strongly oppose this, and contend that the Trinity is taught in Scripture. The Trinity is essentially the teaching that God exists as one, but in three persons. Since this is hard to grasp, many claim that it is an illogical, irrational, and polytheistic claim. But simply because one does not understand it does not make it illogical or irrational, and certainly not polytheistic. The Bible is very clear in its monotheistic teaching throughout both Testaments, and anytime "gods" appear, it is evident that God's Word is speaking of authorities, such as the priests. Satan is called the "god of this world" (2nd Corinthians 4:4), but this does not mean that Satan is a god. Satan is a created being (Ezekiel 28:13, 15), and is called the "god of this world" solely because of his influence on this world. He turns the hearts of unbelievers away from God and toward other desires, and as such as influence, or "authority." In this article, we will be examining the role of God the Father in the Old and New Testament. (Photo credit: Cima da Conegliano in 1510-17; Wikimedia Commons)

Of special interest, "The word 'God' does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible. 'God' is an old English word which developed from an Indo-European word, meaning 'that which is invoked,' which is also the ancestor of the German word Gott and the Danish 'Gud,' both meaning 'God.' 'God' is the translation of... 1. the Hebrew: 'El, from a word meaning to be strong; 2. the Hebrew: 'Eloah, plural 'Elohim. The singular form, Eloah, is used only in poetry. The plural form is more commonly used in all parts of the Bible. The Hebrew word yehovah (Jehovah), another word often used to denote the Supreme Being, is usually translated in the King James Version as 'LORD,' printed in small capitals."[1] As for the Trinity, "The word 'trinity' is not found in Scripture. It is a word used by Christians to express the doctrine of the unity of God as consisting of three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Greek word trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168-183), or from the Latin trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine."[2] Both are certainly found in Scripture, but are merely words we now use to describe YHWH (God) and His nature as a Trinity.

As arguments for the Trinity and certain objections have been answered in past articles, there is little use of restating them here (to read these, see the recommended articles at the bottom). Recently, I paid a visit to a local book store, and was perusing through a book on the shelf in the religious section. The work concerned certain "interesting facts" about the Bible, and one of them caught my attention: it claimed that God the Father was essentially not present or mentioned in any form in the Hebrew Bible. This peaked my curiosity, and to be sure, even if no references were found to the Father in the Hebrew Bible, this would not undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, because God revealed His nature over the course of time, so that we may better understand Him. If He had appeared to Abraham or Moses and said, "I am three but I am one," this would have left said persons rather confused. Though the very concept still confuses us today and likely will continue to, yet God has provided us with sufficient information to understand a bit about His nature.

Oil painting attributed to Cima da Conegliano (c.1510-17)
During interfaith discussions, I have been asked more than once, "Do you not think it misleading to say that God cannot be fully understood? If God wanted us to have a relationship with Him, should we not be able to understand Him in every way?" Frankly, no. If we were to fully understand the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit, then we would also likely understand everything about the universe, which displays the triune nature of God (time, space, matter), and if we understood everything about God and everything about the universe, we would be "like God." In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Eve to disobey a direct command of God's and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, saying "when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). While this is partially true, the incentive was clear: to "be like God." This temptation, a prideful act, was committed by Satan in heaven (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28), which he in turn used to tempt Eve in Eden, and has been seen again throughout history. The Tower of Babel, in which we attempted to "make a name for ourselves" and ascend to heaven, the teaching of Mormonism wherein individuals can become gods, the New Age movement, which teaches that we all have a "Christ-consciousness," among other examples, demonstrate that we still repeat this mistake.

Candidly, we should not be able to fully understand God. This can be likened unto marriage. If a husband and wife fully knew one another, knew everything about them, down to every minute and intricate detail, they would no longer need to "get to know them." It would not be a relationship, but a tolerance. This can be argued, of course, but the analogy is simply that you can never truly understand your spouse 100%. You may believe that you know everything that there is to know about them - and in many cases, couples know one another very intimately, but if couples knew each other 100% - all of their memories, all of their "pet peeves," all of their behavior and thoughts, then there would be little need for a relationship, and if this were the case, there would be little to no arguments between two people. We can surely intimately know the person we marry or are dating, however, we can never fully know them. If we knew everything there was to know about God and the universe, we would be God, and it is difficult to imagine two separate infinite beings, for this would suggest that one of these infinite beings is anything less than perfect, and therefore would not be God.

Now, regarding the claim that God the Father does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, I found this a rather curious statement (or rather that God is never called "Father"), and decided to investigate. Indeed, there are actually several references to God as a Father, both by an author calling God "Father," and God calling Himself "Father." Here are a few examples from the Hebrew Bible:
  1. "...Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6)
  2. "You are my son today I have become your Father." (Psalm 2:7)
  3. "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'" (Psalm 89:26)
  4. "...And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
  5. "But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16)
  6. "Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8)
  7. "...I am Israel's father..." (Jeremiah 31:9)
  8. "'A son honors his father, and slaves honor their master. If I am father, where is the honor due me? If I am master, where is the respect due me?' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:6)
  9. "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another." (Malachi 2:10)
The fact that there are more than two references to "the Father" ought to be sufficient enough. References to Jesus, who is called "the son," are found not only in Psalm 2, but also in Proverbs 30:4, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!" If there is a son, it certainly implies a Father. Luke 1:32 and Matthew 3:17 demonstrate that the Son who is being referred to is Christ, with other points of the passage further clarified by John 3:13, Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, and Ephesians 4:9-10. Another passage to consider is Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." This is quoted as a fulfillment of prophecy concerning the young Jesus in Matthew 2:13-15, which also implies that there is a Father. Other references include Exodus 4:22 and 2nd Samuel 7:14.

What of New Testament references to God the Father? Aside from the many time Jesus refers to God as His Father, we find several distinct references to God the Father: 
  • "Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41).
  • "He said to them, 'It is not for you know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority" (Acts 1:7)
  • "Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).
  • "...Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Christ Jesus" (Romans 1:7, 1st Corinthians 1:3, 2nd Corinthians 1:2). 
  • "yet for us there is but one God, the Father..." (1st Corinthians 8:6) .
  • "[Jesus,] who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father" (Galatians 1:4).
  • "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6).
  • "Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 6:23).
  • "and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11).
  • "the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" (Colossians 2:2)
  • "For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have become your Father'? Or again, 'I will be his Father,, and he will be my Son'?" (Hebrews 1:5).
The Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew name for God the Father
There are many other references to "God the Father," "God our Father," "our Father," etc. Jesus called Him "my Father," and claimed to be the one and only "Son of God" - not in the biological sense, but in the relational sense, so that we may understand the relationship between God the Son and God the Father easier. You see, Jesus had called "God his own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18). Several Hebrew Bible documents include God the Father, as do most of the New Testament documents. Due to the numerous references to the Father in the New Testament, all have not been aforementioned. Suffice to say, however, God the Father is certainly mentioned throughout both Testaments, as is the Holy Spirit, who is also called the "Spirit of God," the "Spirit of the Lord," God calls Him "my Spirit," others called Him "His Spirit," or even the "Holy Spirit," in both Testaments. God the Son, who is Jesus Christ, is also mentioned throughout both Testaments. Jesus, who appears as the physical manifestation of God (the angel, or rather, "messenger" of the Lord) in the Hebrew Bible, makes frequent appearances. 

In fact, this "angel of the Lord," also translated as "messenger of the Lord," claimed to be God (Exodus 3), and claimed to be the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt (Judges 2:1-4). In some early manuscripts, Jude 5 read, "Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that Jesus at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." Also, Jesus claimed more than once to be the "I AM" who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (see John 8:58). The "son" is referred to copious times throughout both Testaments, though obviously more so once God became flesh in the 1st century (John 1:14). Does "God the Father" appear in both the Old and the New Testament? Certainly. God's fatherhood is eternal, because He has been in an eternal father-son (not literal or biological) relationship with Jesus, who is God the Son. As such, this provides us with a way to relate to God, in that once we accept His Son as Lord and Savior, we become God's "children." If you have not accepted Christ, you are not "God's child" as some claim. Jesus made this clear: if you are not following God, you are following yourself, or a false being, and according to Christ, "you belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires" (John 8:44). 

Just as the Lord said, "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24). In this case, we cannot serve both God and man. We can help man, we can love one another, but we cannot - and should not - serve man as if we were a god. God makes it abundantly clear in His Word that, in terms of how we understand the Father, by accepting Christ, God gives us the right to become "children of God" (John 1:12). There are several concepts that have been presented in this article. Be aware that it is not the intention or purpose of the article to argue each point, but essentially to provide the information that there does exist some references to "God the Father" within the Hebrew Bible, and certainly in the New Testament. Some may claim that the Trinity is unreasonable, or not possible, because we should be able to relate to God. It is not unreasonable, and of course, if God was greater than man, we would expect Him to be a little different. This is not unreasonable. As for our relationship with God, this is why God has provided us with the image of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit - we can relate to the Father, we can relate to the Son, and the Spirit dwells within us. Truly this deals with theology, but the idea is this: by God putting Himself in a position as "Father," we are able to relate to Him better. 
Troy Hillman

Sources
[1] "God." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2011.
[2] "Trinity." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 12 Oct 2011.

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