In many religions, the supreme God is given the title and attributions of Father. In many forms of polytheism, the highest god has been conceived as a "father of gods and of men". In the Israelite religion and modern Judaism, YHWH is called Father because he is the creator, law-giver, and protector. Likewise, in Christianity, God is called father for the same reasons, but especially because of the mystery of the Father-Son relationship revealed by Jesus Christ. In general, the name of Father applied to deity signifies that he is the origin of what is subject to him, a supreme and powerful authority, a patriarch, and protector.
God the Father in polytheistic religions
In many polytheistic religions, one or more gods is thought to be a leader and a father of other gods, or of humanity. In comparison to monotheistic religions, a Father God in polytheism is more likely to be attributed with both benevolent and malevolent fatherly qualities. For example, in the Ancient Greek religion, Zeus was a supreme Father God who had a number of patriarchal qualities, yet at the same time had numerous extramarital affairs and a temper.
God the Father in monotheism
In two of the three forms of monotheism, Judaism and Christianity, God is called the Father in part because he is thought to take an active interests in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children. Thus, many monotheists believe they can communicate with him through prayer, either to praise him or to affect his behavior. They expect that as a Father, he will respond to humanity, his children, acting in our best interests, even punishing those who misbehave like a father punishes his children, to restore those who trust in his love. "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons." (Hebrews 12:8)
Islam, however, does not see God (Allah) in a fatherhood role. For Muslims, such a relationship with God is condemned by the Quran. "(Both) the Jews and the Christians say, 'We are sons of Allah and His beloved'. Say: why then doth He punish you for your sins? Nay, you are but men of the men He has created". Surah 5:18
The Israelite Father God
In the monotheistic Israelite religion, God is called the "Father" with a unique sense of familiarity. God is considered "Father" because he created (and in a sense "fathered") the world. He also stands as the patriarchal law-giver, and the one who through covenant maintains a special father-child relationship with the people, giving them the Shabbat, stewardship of his oracles, and a unique heritage in the things of God, calling Israel "his first-born son". The Jewish God is also attributed the fatherly role of protector: he is called the Father of the poor, of the orphan and the widow, as their protector and guarantor of justice. He is also called the Father of the king, as a teacher and helper over the judge of Israel.
The gender of God in monotheism
Though the vast majority of monotheists consider the One God to be asexual, God the Father is predominantly ascribed masculine gender roles. He is thought of as dominant (not submissive), powerful (not weak), fatherly (not motherly), dispassionate (not emotional), whose ways are too high for his children to understand. God is generally referred to by the masculine pronoun He.
From the late twentieth century onwards, many Christians and Jews have become uncomfortable with the traditionally male representation of God and have sought to androgenize God by de-emphasising or eliminating gender-specific references to God, as well as his masculine traits. Some of these individuals and groups prefer the expression "God the Creator" in place of "God the Father".
Another approach has been to feminize God by emphasising God's feminine qualities such as submission, motherhood, emotions such as love and empathy, and closeness, or by referring to God as "she" or "God the Mother". (See, e.g., Isaiah 49:15 and places in the Bible where God is referred to by the feminine word Eloah). In some sects of Gnosticism and Mormonism, God the Father is thought to be physically male and masculine; however, a separate Goddess is postulated who is female and feminine.
See God and gender.
God the Father in Christianity
In Christianity, God is called "Father" in an unheard-of sense, besides being the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children, his people. The Father is said to have an eternal relation to his only Son, Jesus; which implies an exclusive and intimate familiarity that is of their very nature: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Matthew 11:27). In Christian theology, this is the revelation of a sense in which Fatherhood is inherent to God's nature, an eternal relationship. The dominant form of theology has held this relationship to be the Christian mystery called the Trinity.
To Christian pluralists, God the Father's relationship with humanity is as a father to children. Thus, humans in general are sometimes called children of God, possibly because they are all created by God. To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is that of Creator and created beings, and in that respect he is the father of all. The New Testament says, in this sense, that the very idea of family, wherever it appears, derives its name from God the Father (Eph 3:15), and thus God himself is the model of the Christian patriarchal family.
However, there is a deeper sense in which Christians believe that they are made participants in the eternal relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ. Christians call themselves adopted children of God: But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, burn under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:4-7)
Trinitarianism and other Christian conceptions
To trinitarian Christians (which for many centuries has represented the vast Christian majority), God the Father is not at all a separate god from the Son (of whom Jesus is the incarnation) and the Holy Spirit, the other members of the Christian Godhead. Trinitarian Christians describe these three persons as a Trinity. This means that they always exist as three distinct "persons" (Greek hypostases), but they are one God, each having full identity as God himself (a single "substance"), a single "divine nature" and power, and a single "divine will".
Other Christians, however, have held a very diverse variety of alternative ideas. A handful have described the Father, Jesus Christ and Spirit as each a distinct, eternally existent being (tritheism), or as a different "manifestation" of a single being (modalism). Some have theorized that the relationship of Father and Son began at some point probably outside of normal "history" (Arianism); and others have believed that God became a Father when he uttered his creating Λογος ("logos" or "word"), who is both a principle of order and a living being to whom God bears the relationship as Father (some gnostics). Others found strong affinity with traditional pagan ideas of a savior or hero who is begotten by deity, an idea of the Father similar to Mithraism or the cult of the Roman emperor.
For most Christians, the person of God the Father is the ultimate, and on occasion the exclusive addressee of prayer, often in the name of Jesus Christ. The Lord's Prayer, for example, begins, "Our Father who art in Heaven...."
In the New Testament, God the Father has a special role in his relationship with the person of the Son, where Jesus is believed to be his Son and his heir (Hebrews 1:2-5). According to the Nicene Creed, the Son (Jesus Christ) is "eternally begotten of the Father", indicating that their divine Father-Son relationship is not tied to an event within time or human history. See Christology.
In Eastern Orthodox theology, God the Father is the "source" or "origin" of both the Son and the Holy Spirit; in Western theology, all three hypostases or persons have their origin in the divine nature instead. The Cappadocian Fathers used this Eastern Orthodox monarchian understanding to explain why trinitarianism is not tritheism: "God is one because the Father is one," said Basil the Great in the fourth century. In the eighth century, John of Damascus wrote at greater length about the Father's role:
- Whatsoever the Son has from the Father, the Spirit also has, including His very being. And if the Father does not exist, then neither does the Son and the Spirit; and if the Father does not have something, then neither has the Son or the Spirit. Furthermore, because of the Father, that is, because of the fact that the Father is, the Son and the Spirit are; and because of the Father, the Son and the Spirit have everything that they have.
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