How are fathers going to be treated by our pulpits this weekend? Via DALROCK, the answer is not well:
…most would be quite surprised to learn that Father’s Day is generally viewed very differently by conservative Christian culture than by secular culture. Secular culture generally accepts Father’s Day for what it is, a day to honor fathers. There is of course a recurring theme of a few single mothers arguing that like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day should be all about them, but this is greeted with a surprising degree of pushback from feminists. For the most part, in the secular world Father’s Day is about honoring fathers.
Unfortunately it isn’t so simple for conservative Christians. Instead of setting Father’s Day aside as a day to honor fathers, it has traditionally been used as a day to tear Christian fathers down in front of their families.
The first post of this series examines Scripture showing how the current Christian view of fathering is simply un-Biblical. Fatherhood must be taken seriously as a means of understanding spiritual formation. Particular focus areas are heritage, honor, spirituality and redemption, legal judgments, discipleship, leadership, and teaching, with a brief note on God’s own role as father.
The power of the paternal line within God’s people resonates throughout the Old and New Testament. “Adam knew Eve and had a son…” begins Genesis 4. The apocryphal Latin text Via Adae et Evae (Charles, 1913) substantiates the interpretation of Adam as human father of the human race, as does Paul, who clearly defines the practical effect of sin entering the world through Adam versus the redemptive power of God the second, obedient Adam – Jesus Christ (Rom 5:12-13). God through the prophet Isaiah alludes to the original heritage of Israel both to Jacob and to Adam in this way, “Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against me. So, I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn.” (Is 43:27).
Later, God changed Abram’s name (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of many”) as the means of permanently identifying His covenant relationship with him (Gen 11:26). God proclaimed by this promise that Abraham would indeed be father of many nations (Gen 17:5). God told Abraham’s son Ishmael he would be father of twelve rulers, eventually the tribal kingdoms of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah (Gen 17:20). Following the release from Egypt, the sons of Levi were specifically assigned responsibility for tending to the affairs of the tabernacle. This heritage was never rescinded, as the death of Uzzah (a son of Kohath) demonstrated when he touched the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chron 13).
Throughout scripture this is normally defined by paternity (Gen 24:7) as demonstrated by the discussion over Zelophehad’s daughters, whom Joshua granted an inheritance along with their brothers, even though they were not the eldest sons (Josh 17:4). Fathers were the source of not just birthrights but God-given blessings as highlighted in the specific case of Jacob and Esau (Gen 27:12). God famously told Abraham, “In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). It is worth mentioning here the important work of John Trent (2011) who investigated the biblical basis for the custom of paternal blessings along with the practical and spiritual impacts of them for fathers and children in present day.
Continuing the genealogical framework from Old Testament to new, the family lines of Jesus Christ through Joseph in Matthew and through Mary in Luke were tracked specifically via the patriarchy. The Davidic covenant family lines (aka The Promise) through David to Christ was specifically traced via Mary’s paternal lineage (Jer 33:17) to avoid the problem of Jeconiah (1 Chron 17). These paternal lineages effectively bind Old and New Testament into a cohesive whole. Fatherhood is vitally important as it defines heritage within God’s family in the Body of Christ.
Honoring God is unconditional and unconditional respect is as fully grounded in Scripture as the more popular acknowledgement of unconditional love (Lev 10:11). There are defined covenant relationships through which the Holy Spirit develops the power of unconditional love, including marriage and parenting. Love is the “first and greatest commandment” (Mar 12:30). Both love and honor are inherent in the nature of the Trinity.
Likewise, fathers are an earthly proxy by which God develops this proper posture of the heart of His children with regard to Him. Scripture is emphatic of the requirement to honor parents. “Honor your father and mother” is the first commandment with promise (Ex 20:1-3, also Duet 5:1-4). Anyone who dishonors parents are cursed (Deut 27:16) and brought a death sentence upon themselves (Ex 21:17). Honor and obedience is also the nature of the Trinity, and as the author of Hebrews declares, it is inherent in the nature of redemption itself: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).
In other examples, David demonstrated honor and submission to “God’s elect” King Saul despite the latter’s seeking to kill him. While not his biological father (who was Jesse) David addressed Saul as father to convey respect and solicit compassion. “See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you.” (1 Sam 24:11). David’s son Solomon routinely reinforces the wisdom of honoring one’s father (Prov 6:20, 10:1, 13:1, 15:20, 17:26, 19:13, 19:26, 20:20, 23:22, 28:7, 29:3, 30:17). God reinforces such behavior through the prophets, including Malachi. “A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty (Mal 1:6).
Peter (1 Pet 2:13-16) defines the realm of authorities to which Christians should submit, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” The principle here is the establishment of foundations of honor in all civic authorities are in the home first, as represented by parents generally, and fathers specifically. He also reinforces conformity to God’s character, “But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives in reverent fear during your temporary stay on earth (1 Pet 1:16).
Spirituality and Redemption
Paternal succession was the primary means by which God established the framework of leadership and governance in Israel. This included the spiritual affairs of His people and the conduct of all worship in the tabernacle. After Levi was appointed by God to be responsible for the care and management of the tabernacle and the ordinances of atonement as his specific inheritance among the 12 Tribes of Israel, God established the succession of the royal priesthood within the Levites (Ex 40, Lev 16). Based solely on their lineage, the spiritual priority for his sons and grandsons became stewardship of the Holy of Holies and all that was associated with it. John the Baptist confronted the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought to appropriate their Levitical relationship to Abraham as a means to their own ends. “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt 3:9). Joshua declares his spiritual leadership before the assembly at a significant crossroads by reaffirming his God-given authority over his own home: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24).
When speaking about salvation, Jesus used the metaphor of fatherhood and adoption of the saints to convey the transformational relationship desired through salvation. John’s gospel records this comparison and contrast in several areas: “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus and Paul’s related thoughts will be expanded upon momentarily. It is worth noting tangentially here that idols were known as false fathers (Jer 2:27). Likewise, those not in relationship with God were sons of their father the devil (John 8:44).
Finally, Jesus describes a specific, significant preparatory event in the coming of His kingdom as “Returning hearts of father to children and children to their fathers” (Luke 1:17). This is the final substantial prophecy in the conclusion of the Old Testament (Mal 4:6) and directly appeals to the eschatology and supernatural quality of father-child relationships within the sovereign will of God.
In each household among God’s people fathers are principally accountable for all that occurs under their roof. Under Jewish law they enjoyed both the benefit and responsibility of specific authorities on behalf of their households, authority which largely carried over until the mid-20th century in both Common Law and Western society (Mason, 1996). A father’s responsibilities involved adjudicating over his daughter’s marriage (Deut 22:16) including accepting the new husband’s compensation should his daughter’s marriage be the product of rape. A father was accountable for conduct within the home. A father bore the shame for a promiscuous daughter’s evil (Deut 22:21) and a promiscuous wife’s resultant curse (Deut 27:20). A father was personally accountable to ensure any vows made by family members within the home, particularly daughters and his wife, were kept (Num 30). As a leader and spiritual father of Israel, Moses’ father-in-law advises him to bring disputes to God (Ex 18:19). In one exchange the LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back” (Num 12:14).
A key role of a father is demonstrating the love of God in the home and community, including defending the cause of the poor and needy (Jer 22:16). This example is expressed by Job, who declares his innocence by calling himself father to the needy (Job 29:16) and to the fatherless (v 12). Paul establishes the quality of a father’s discipleship within the home as specific criteria for selecting deacons (1 Tim 3:12) and elders (1 Tim 5:19) who would be responsible for the larger role of discipleship in their local Christian communities. The proper transition from single to married life and biblical mandate for men to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:5, and Eph 5:31) was established in part to precipitate the launching of a new and independent household where discipleship of one’s family could take place under his new authority as husband and father.
Negatively, Jacob’s favoritism was the main source of discontent among Joseph’s brothers (Gen 37:4). Perhaps this is the genesis of the Apostle Paul’s specific admonishment to fathers to raise children in a manner that leads without exasperating them (Eph 6:4).
Teaching in the home pre-dates the civic constructions of the Greco-Roman period, and even during this time parents were expected to set basic educational building blocks into place during their child’s formative years.
As spiritual father figure of Israel, Moses’ father-in-law advises him to teach the people God’s decrees and instructions and show them how to live and behave (Ex 18:20). Moses’ Father-in-Law is honored in his own right as personal chief counsel to him (Ex 18, Num 10:29-12:14). The prophet Malachi encourages God’s people in righteousness by saying, “Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by being unfaithful to one another? (Mal 2:10). Ahisamak’s son Oholiab, a Dannite, was singled out as a father having particular gifts for teaching (Ex 35:34). Following the death of Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s Levitical priesthood included abstaining from alcohol during their priestly office duties as a “lasting ordinance” to teach the people of Israel the difference between what was holy and common (Lev 10:1-12). The fathers of the family of Levi including those who carried the Ark and other Elders of Israel were commanded to publicly read the law. “Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deut 31:9-13). Manoah, father of Samson, sought the Angel of the Lord specifically to be taught how to train up his son, and what rules were to govern his life (Jud 13:8-12). Job is rebuked by Elihu, son of Barakel the Buzite, regarding his position among the elders present, “I believed that age should speak and advanced years should teach wisdom.’” (Job 32:7).
Later, David declares in Psalm 34, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” The maskil of the Psalmist Asaph (Ps 78) begins “My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old — things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” Psalm 105 describes the role of the patriarch Joseph as “master of his household” including instructing his princes and teaching his elders wisdom (v 20-22).
Father as God and God as Father
The Bible uses father as a title for God on hundreds of occasions. On this account alone, a Christian’s understanding of the divine concept of fathering should be considered foundational. Israel in the wilderness: “There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place” (Deut 1:31). Malachi: “On the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.” (Mal 3:17). Micah also invites a young Levite to be his “father and priest” as God’s proxy (Judg 17:10-11). God is declared to be Father to His children and chosen people. “Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator Who made you and formed you” (Deut 32:6)? And, “I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father (Ps 2:7; also Ps 68:6, Ps 89:26, Ps 103:13). God disciplines those He loves, “as a father disciplines a son” (Prov 3:12). Isaiah declares, “You are our Father; you Lord are our Father, our Redeemer from of old” (Is 63:16) and “You are our Father; we are clay, you are the potter” (Is 64:8). Jeremiah declares, “Have you not called my ‘My Father, my friend from my youth’” (Jer 3:4) and “I though you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me” (Jer 3:19), and “I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn” (Jer 31:9).
In the New Testament, Father is also the single most common form of address for God. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). Christ addresses God as “our” or “the” or “my” Father in John’s gospel 108 times, Matthew 71 times, and Mark 17 times. He specifically refers to “Your Father in Heaven” repeatedly in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:16, 5:45, 5:48, 6:1, 6:4, 6:6, 6:8, 6:14, 6:15, 6:18). When the disciples ask how to pray, Jesus directs them to pray to “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt 6:9). As is commonly understood, the form of address Jesus chooses for God is Abba (αβάς or Αββα), an intimate and personal form of father transliterated from Aramaic into our present day “Papa” and generally reserved for family members (as opposed to the more formal Greek word pater). Paul would later adopt this as part of his teachings on spiritual maturity.
Importantly, Christ declares that His own power comes through the Father, and in submission to Him. For example, John’s gospel records Jesus healing the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. After being rebuked for healing him on the Sabbath, Jesus is deliberate in His defense, saying to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:16-17). John makes it clear that the Jewish leadership were ready to kill Jesus not for breaking the Sabbath, but for calling God his own Father, thus “making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Jesus continued, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (v 21-23). The Jewish leaders understood that Christ assuming the authority of God as Father onto himself was no idle thing, and tantamount to blasphemy were Christ not who he said he was in actuality.
Finally, Christ declares Himself as the father, and “One with the Father” (John 10:30), fulfilling this prophecy: “For unto us a Child is born…and he shall be called Everlasting Father” (Is 9:6). He (i.e. the Christ) will be a father to those in Jerusalem and the People of Judah (Is 22:21).
Charles, R. (1913). The apocrypha and pseudepigrapha of the old testament in english. Internet archive retrieved from https://onthewaytoithaca.wordpress.com/
Mason, M. (1996). From father’s property to child custody in the united states. New York NY: Columbia University Press
Trent, J. (2011). The blessing giving the gift of unconditional acceptance. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Scriptural references retrieved from gospelcom.net (New International Version)
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