9. Abba, Father

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (39:35) |

God the Father stained glass window by Stanislaw Wyspianski
Stanislaw Wyspianski (Polish painter and playwright, 1869-1907), God the Father stained glass window (1897-1902), St Francis Basilica, Cracow, Poland. Larger image.
Perhaps the most familiar Christian concept of God is as Father, for God is addressed the Lord's Prayer as "Our Father, who art in heaven...." When we look at Jesus' own terminology, "Father" is by far his most frequent term for God. Let's take some time and examine this metaphor for God as Father. Along with Father and Abba, we'll look at other metaphors of relationship, such as Husband, God of our fathers, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Role of Father in Bible Times

If we are to understand the term "Father" in the Bible, we must be willing to explore a different culture than our own. Though twenty-first century America stresses gender equality and the rights of women, this is relatively new. A century ago women couldn't vote or inherit property in some states. For most of history and in most cultures of the world, fathers have been the primary figure in families. In this study I am not asking you to return to a patriarchal society. What I am asking you to do is to suspend your twenty-first century bias concerning the role of father, so that you can understand what "father" means in the Bible. Only when can we do that, can we appreciate and comprehend what it means to call God our Father. As Otfried Hofius puts it:

"In the patriarchal societies of antiquity, the father figure is endowed with two particular characteristics. On the one hand, the father rules as head of the household and the person to whom most respect is due, having absolute authority over his family. On the other hand, he has the responsibility of guarding, supporting, and helping the other members. Both these characteristics are also present when a deity is described or addressed as father."1

God as Father in the Old Testament

I spent several hours looking at all the references to Father in the Bible. I was startled to discover is that God is seldom referred to as Father in the Old Testament. I count only ten verses in all the Old Testament. This is striking, since "father" is a metaphor used to describe God by nearly all ancient peoples. Contrast that to the New Testament, where Jesus refers to God as Father hundreds of times in the Gospels and the Apostles refer to God as Father scores of times in the remainder of the New Testament.2

God is referred to as Father in the creative (not exactly biologically begetting) sense only twice:

"Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?" (Deuteronomy 32:6, NIV)
"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8, NIV)

A couple of times God describes himself as Father to the king who will be his son (1 Chronicles 17:13; 22:10). More often, God is referred to as Father in a defending, saving context:

"He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'" (Psalms 89:26)
"But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16)
"They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel's father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son." (Jeremiah 31:9)

In a single Messianic passage the Child is referred to in terms suitable to only God himself:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Twice in Jeremiah, God puts "Father" into the mouth of his people in the form of address, the vocative:

"Have you not just called to me: 'My Father, my friend from my youth...." (Jeremiah 3:4)
"I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me." (Jeremiah 3:19b)

Q1. What does the concept of "father" teach us about God, especially the formal way which the word is used in the Old Testament? According to the quote from Otfried Hofius above, which two aspects of a father underlie our understanding of Father in the Old Testament? How should they affect our behavior?




That's it, the sum total of the use of Father as a title or metaphor for God in the Old Testament. Notice the relative formality of these references. God is Father of the nation, of the people. I make this point to accentuate how new and different was Jesus' revelation of God as Father -- his Father, Abba, our Father, the Father we can pray to.

Our Heavenly Father

As we begin to examine the ways Jesus introduced us to God as Father, let's begin with Heavenly Father or Father in heaven:

"... That you may be sons of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:45)
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...." (Matthew 6:9, NIV, KJV: "Our Father, who art in heaven....")
"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11)
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven." (Matthew 10:32-33)
"In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18:14)
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 18:19)

Also Matthew 5:15; 5:48; 6:1, 14, 26, 32, 7:21; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:10, 35; 23:9. Interestingly, this phrase appears only in Matthew, with the exception of Luke 11:13 and Mark 11:25. Adding the modifier "heaven" or "heavenly" tends to describe the greatness and awesomeness of the One who is our Father, contrasting greatness with intimacy.

Intimacy with Abba Father

But intimacy is one of the hallmarks of the use of Father by Jesus and the early church. Let me explain a simply as I can.

Jesus and his disciples read Hebrew in the synagogue, but in everyday speech and preaching used a closely related language, Aramaic. In Biblical Hebrew ´ab is "father." But in Aramaic ´abbā´ is a word derived from baby-language. As the Rabbis said, a small child "learns to say ´abbā´ (daddy) and ´immā´ (mummy)."3 In the pre-Christian era the usage of the word broadened so that

"... ´Abbā´ as a form of address to one's father was no longer restricted to children, but also used by adult sons and daughters. The childish character of the word ("daddy") thus receded, and ´abbā´ acquired the warm, familiar ring which we may feel in such an expression as "dear father."4

While nowhere in the entire devotional literature of ancient Judaism is ´abbā´ a way of addressing God,5 in Jesus' teaching and practice, such an expression was the norm. ´Abbā´ as a transliteration of the Aramaic word into the Greek, appears three times in the New Testament:

"'Abba, Father,' he said, 'everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'" (Mark 14:36)
"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:15)
"Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.'" (Galatians 4:6)

But just because it is transliterated only three times doesn't mean than ´abbā´ is only used three times. In Jesus' other prayers it is clear that the Aramaic ´abbā´ underlies the Greek of our New Testament, either directly or indirectly. It is very likely that in all Jesus' teaching about the Father -- "my Father," "your Father," etc. -- that the warm, intimate Aramaic word ´abbā´ was the word Jesus actually used. Jesus introduced us to God as our Father in a way unheard of in the Old Testament or in Judaism.

Reclaiming God as Your ´Abbā´

You may be struggling just now. Your relationship with your own father may have been distant, perhaps non-existent. Worse, your own father may have sinned against you through harshness, lovelessness, abandonment, or perhaps even physical or sexual abuse. For sons as well as daughters, coming to terms with our own fathers is essential to our psychological health and maturity, but is sometimes oh so hard, sometimes nearly impossible from a human standpoint. 

I would guess that father-child relationships were no less hard in Jesus' own time, when some fathers may have assumed it as their legal right to beat on their wives and children -- even more than in our own day. So why does Jesus teach so strongly, so incessantly, about his Father, about our Father? If this metaphor could be rendered useless by human sin, why would Jesus risk it?

I would suggest two reasons. First, theologically, the Father-Son metaphor, better than any other, describes the relationship of Jesus to God, and Jesus' own divine nature. Those in our generation who repudiate the Father-Son metaphor tend to drift from a belief in the Trinity towards a peculiar kind of unitarianism. But secondly, I believe that Jesus is trying to heal and bring wholeness to both men and women who have been wounded by their human fathers. Jesus is trying to help you and me know a Father who loves us and will not do us harm, a Father who will not slap us around, but will encircle us in his arms and let us feel his love, a Father who will not let you go. My dear friend, Jesus wants to reintroduce you to his Father, to your Father, so that you might be whole -- spiritually and emotionally. Reclaim your birthright to know and enjoy and love Abba as your Father. Perhaps that is why you are reading this today. Perhaps this will be the frontier of your quest for God over the next few weeks and months.

Q2. How was the intimate way that Jesus taught his disciples about God as "Abba" and "Father" different from the Jews' understanding of God as Father? How does God as Abba influence your relationship with him?




Jesus' Teaching about the Father

It is out of the scope of this study to try to summarize Jesus' teaching about his Father. Rather let me just give you a sprinkling of the scores of places where Jesus teaches his disciples about the Father. Occasionally Jesus uses "my Father." Often he tells the disciples of "your Father." There is no difference, of course, between the two. Observe the intimacy of the metaphor of Father.

"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:6)
"But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Matthew 10:19-20)
"At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.'" (Matthew 11:25-27)
"To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." (Matthew 20:23)
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)

The implications of Jesus' reference to his Father were abundantly clear to his opponents. Jesus' relationship to his Father as Son was unique.

"Because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.' For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:16-18)
"'My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him...." (John 10:29-31)

Jesus expressed his very close relationship to the Father, but it was difficult for them (and for us today) to understand it fully:

"Jesus answered, "'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.'
Philip said, 'Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'
Jesus answered: 'Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.'" (John 14:6-10)
"In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father." (John 16:26-28)

God the Father in the Epistles

Paul often uses Father in the salutation at the beginning of his letters:

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; cf. Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Titus 1:4; 2 John 3.)

Similar is the phrase "our God and Father" (Galatians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:11) and "our Lord and Father" (James 3:9, KJV "God, even the Father"). Paul sees unity in "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:6).

Often we see the phrase "God the Father," sometimes to distinguish him from "Jesus Christ" and sometimes standing alone (Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 5:20; 6:23; Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Jude 1), while sometimes "Father" appears alone (2 Corinthians 6:18; Ephesians 3:14). While Paul and Peter tend to modify Father in some way, such as, "God the Father," in John's Letter, "the Father" usually stands alone (1 John 1:3, 2:1, 13, 15-16, 22-24; 3:1; 4:14; 5:1; 2 John 9). In Revelation, Father is used three times to distinguish between Jesus and the Father (Revelation 1:6; 3:5; 14:1).

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

A number of times we see in a fixed eulogy that begins an epistle the phrase, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; 4:6; Romans 15:6; 1 Peter 1:3; cf. Colossians 1:3). Paul expands this a bit in Ephesians: "... the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father..." (Ephesians 1:17, NIV; KJV "Father of glory"). In Revelation we see the phrase, "his God and Father" (Revelation 1:6).

Does this phrase somehow question the divinity of Christ? No. C. K. Barrett observes,

"Paul shows no interest in the personal religion of Jesus... It is more probable that we have here a Christian version of a Jewish blessing: Blessed is God. But the God of the Old Testament, the God of our fathers, is now known to us as also the Father of the Son whom he sent into the world, Jesus Christ... It signifies not the contradiction but the fulfillment of the faith of the Old Testament and of Judaism."6

The Old Testament knew him as God. We know him as both God and Father, revealed to us through Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives us access to the Father (John 14:6). Consider Paul's statement to counter belief in the many "gods" and "lords" in the Greco-Roman world:

"For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Corinthians 8:6).

These are in parallel, not in contrast. "Lord," as we have seen, is the Greek translation of Yahweh, and is used here as a divine title of Jesus the Messiah. Fee says, "Paul feels no tension between the affirmation of monotheism and the clear distinction between the two persons of the Father and Jesus Christ."7

Hendrick van Balen, Holy Trinity (1620s)
Hendrick van Balen, Holy Trinity (1620s), Saint Jacobskerk Antwerp. Son and Father co-reigning with dove above. Larger image.

The Trinity in the New Testament

Here and there we see a passage that touches on all three Persons of the Godhead. The Trinity is quite present in the New Testament, though the church's doctrine and understanding of the Trinity took a couple of hundred years to gel. There isn't room here to explore the Trinity, but just to note three passages in passing:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...." (Matthew 28:19)
"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Corinthians 13:14)
"... Who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." (1 Peter 1:2)

For more on the Trinity, see my article, "Four Reasons Why I Believe in the Trinity" (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/trinity.htm)

Q3. In what sense are Jesus and the Father one? In what way was Jesus distinct from the Father? Is Jesus God in the sense that the Father is God?




The Father and His Children

Often the New Testament focuses on God as Father of Jesus Christ his Son. But in several places we see God as the universal Father in the context of a parent and his children:

"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:18)
"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name." (Ephesians 3:14)
"We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!" (Hebrews 12:9)
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." (1 John 3:1)

Though we don't have time to develop it here, the New Testament is rich in explaining how we can become children of God, "begotten by God" (John 1:10-13), "born again" (John 3:1-8) through believing in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, we are adopted into God's family as sons and daughters.

Miscellaneous References to God as Father

There are a few other references to God as Father. The phrases "father of," "mother of," "son of," and "daughter of" all are used as a Hebrew idiom to ascribe traits to a person or a people. God is called "the Father of Compassion," (2 Corinthians 1:3), meaning that he is compassionate. He is "Father of glory" (NRSV, KJV, Ephesians 1:17), that is, the "glorious Father" (NIV). Finally, he is called the "Father of lights" (James 1:17, KJV, NRSV) or heavenly lights rather than shadows that change constantly. Finally, Jesus address him as "Holy Father" (John 17:11).

God our Husband

In our exploration of family relationships as a metaphor for God, consider another: God our Husband. In the Old Testament several times we see the analogy of God as the Husband and Israel as the wife, who strays and is unfaithful.

"For your Maker is your husband...." (Isaiah 54:5a)
"'Return, faithless people,' declares the LORD, 'for I am your husband." (NIV, Jeremiah 3:14a. KJV "I am married to you.")
"'It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband8 to them,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 31:32, NIV)

"Husband" is the Hebrew noun bā`al, best known to Bible readers as the name of the false God Baal. It means, "lord, owner," and "husband," from the root bā`al, "possess, own, rule over, marry."9 While feminists might cast this in the worst possible light, simply stated, the relationship of husband to wife was not ownership, but of love. This relationship is expressed figuratively in Isaiah:

"No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah (passive participle of bā`al)
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a maiden,
so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:4-5)

This passage is filled with anticipation, joy and delight, and God is analogous with the bridegroom. This theme is picked up in the New Testament with the Church as the Bride of Christ, and finds its fulfillment at the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

The Jealous God

On the other hand, the wife is not free to leave her husband and take other lovers. She belongs to her husband. Worshipping idols and false gods is considered spiritual adultery in the Old Testament. In response God is revealed as a Jealous God. In the Ten Commandments, God says:

"You shall have no other gods before me... You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...." (Exodus 20:3, 5)

The noun is qannā´, from a root expressing "a very strong emotion whereby some quality or possession of the object is desired by the subject."10 This noun is used only of God concerning the parallel between adultery and idolatry. The idea occurs a number of times in the Old Testament, such as, "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14; also Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15). At his retirement from being a judge, Joshua said to the people,

"You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins." (Joshua 24:19)

But the jealousy can also work for his wife who is being oppressed by another. Against Nineveh, Nahum prophesies:

"The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath." (Nahum 1:2a)

Q4. In what sense was God the Husband of Israel? What is the New Testament extension of this metaphor? What causes God to be jealous?





Christian Feminism and God the Father

Since the 1970s there has been a strong current of Christian feminism in some denominations. I welcome some of the positive changes that have opened more ministry opportunities for women gifted by God. But in some denominations feminism has made a serious assault on calling God our Father. Consider, for example, the Doxology written by Thomas Ken (1674) that appears in modified form in the Chalice Hymnal (used by the Disciples of Christ). Below the traditional text appears the following:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God all creatures here below,
Praise God above, ye heavenly hosts:
Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost. Amen.11

Lines 2 and 3 substitute "God" for the traditional "Him." Awkward, maybe, but okay. However, line four completely replaces the warm, relational Father-Son metaphor with the much more formal and detached titles of Creator and Christ. Interestingly, the phrase "heavenly hosts," which is often incomprehensible to modern churchgoers is retained along with the archaic expression "Holy Ghost" for "Holy Spirit." Feminist author and United Church of Christ pastor Ruth C. Duck argues:

"Using the Father-Son metaphor in the [baptismal] formula is not adequate to the task of summarizing Christian faith. Speaking of God in masculine but not in feminine terms, it reinforces patriarchal patterns of valuing the male and devaluing the female. Moreover, 'Father' has unfortunate associations for many in North American society, in which patriarchal values condone the abuse of children by their fathers. Further, 'Father' has been used so incessantly as a metaphor for God that for many people it has lost its metaphoric power to evoke wonder and reflection; seeming to be a literal statement about God, it may also become an idol."12

I agree with Duck that Father and Son are metaphors of God and that they, as any name, title, metaphor, or descriptor, can lose their impact if used without reflection. But to gut modern Christianity of the Father-Son metaphor runs the serious danger of robbing future generations of the rich, relational understanding of God as Father and Jesus as Son. As mentioned above, father abuse of wives and children was doubtless present in Jesus' day also. Abuse of children by their fathers is a terrible thing, but is a bogus argument for discarding the metaphor of Father and Son.

What is really driving Christian feminists like Duck, I think, is a determined assault on what they perceive to be patriarchal social structures. We Christians need to stand against and rebuke male abuses of power, but the pendulum in some denominations has swung so far that it politically incorrect for clergy to address the Father in public prayer, it is politically correct to occasionally throw out the term "God our Mother" to watch traditionalists squirm, and, in a few isolated incidents, churches have sponsored the study and exercise of practices that amount to goddess worship.

Feminine Metaphors for God

In fairness, let's consider several feminine metaphors for God. Though they aren't used as descriptors of God in the Bible, they are clearly present. We know, of course, that Jesus was a male during his time in the flesh. Gender is part of the way God made most of his creatures. But God, who is Spirit (John 4:24), is himself genderless and created both genders in his own image:

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)

Jesus compared himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34 = Matthew 23:37). In the Parable of the Lost Coin, Jesus compared the searching God to a woman who swept her house looking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). God is compared to a woman giving birth (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14), a mother quieting her child on her lap (Psalm 131:2), a woman who can't forget her baby (Isaiah 49:15), and a mother comforting her son (Isaiah 66:13). Clearly, part of the image of God in us humans is the mothering role.

But should we make the jump to calling God our Mother? The Bible doesn't do that, though parents have always shared many of the duties of parenting. What sets the father apart from shared parenting are the roles in Jesus' culture of (a) ruling and (b) protecting. Yes, God is our Divine Parent, but as Father, he is more than just a parent. He is our Ruler and Protector.

Q5. What do we miss in our understanding of God if we remove the metaphor of Father and Son from our church vocabulary? Which feminine metaphors of God especially help you understand God's nature?




God of Your Fathers

As we're examining metaphors and titles of relationships, let's look at "God of your Fathers"

"God also said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites, "The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob--has sent me to you." This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation. Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, "The LORD, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt."'" (Exodus 3:15-16, cf. verse 6).

 "God of our/your fathers," and often "the LORD, the God of our/your fathers." (Deuteronomy 1:11, 21; 4:1; 6:3; 12:1; 26:7; 27:3; Joshua 18:3 1 Chronicles 12:17; 29:8; 2 Chronicles 13:12; 20:6; 28:9; 29:5; Ezra 7:27; 8:28; 10:11; Acts 5:30; 22:14; 24:14).

He is also called the God of Abraham (Genesis 31:42; Psalm 47:9) and once the God of Nahor, in the mouth of Laban, though Laban worshipped the gods of Assyria, not Abraham's God (Genesis 31:53) Sometimes the patriarchs are named together -- the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6; 4:5; 1 Kings 18:36; 2 Chronicles 30:6; Matthew 22:32 = Mark 12:26 = Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; 7:32), and sometimes singly.

God of Israel

God is also known in relation to the nation that serves him. Most of these references are to "the LORD, the God of Israel," approximately 200 times in the Bible. The first example is the name of an altar built by Jacob (also known as Israel): "There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel" (Genesis 33:20), that is, "God, the God of Israel." Here are a couple of other examples.

"Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, 'This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: "Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert."'" (Exodus 5:1)
"May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge! (Ruth 2:12)

The Godhead, the Deity

Finally in the New Testament we see two additional Greek terms for God. Paul says to the Greeks in Athens: "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (Acts 17:29). "Godhead" (KJV), "deity," (NRSV), and "divine being" (NIV) translate Greek theios, "divine being, divinity."14 Incidentally, the KJV term "Godhead" is an English word used less frequently these days as a synonym for "God," referring often to "the nature of God, especially as existing in three persons."15

Finally, Paul writes, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form...." (Colossians 2:9, NIV). The Greek word theotĕs here is variously rendered "the Deity" (NIV, NRSV), "divinity" (New Jerusalem Bible), "Godhead" (KJV). It means "the state of being god, divine character/nature, deity, divinity," used as an abstract noun for the generic word for God, theos.16

Friends of God

Names and Titles of God, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

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Is God ever addressed as "Friend" in Scripture? I wondered when I recalled the line of the song "As the Deer" by Martin Nystrom that goes, "You're my Friend and you are my Brother, even though you are a King...." Several times Abraham is called "the friend of God" (2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). Jesus calls the disciples "friends" (John 15:14-15). In mutual human friendships, at least, each party is free to call the other "friend." It stands to reason, then, that God is our Friend, in the sense that a person might be said to be a "friend of the king" or a "friend of the president." Certainly the metaphor is used in Scripture, but only one way, of us being God's friends. No where is God addressed as "Friend" (except with heavy irony in Jeremiah 3:4). Perhaps that's just accidental. But perhaps it is this way so that we might not presume on God's friendship as a relationship between equals.

Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus taught us the friendship and love of God in a metaphor of a greater to a lesser, of a dear Father to a beloved son or daughter. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught us to call God "Abba."


Abba, Father. Just as it is sometimes hard for "adult children" to really know their fathers as they long to, there is something in our spirit that longs to know you more intimately. Come and heal us. Come and make us whole as only the knowledge and love of a father can. Abba, Father, we love you. Reveal yourself to each of us with the intensely individual and personal love that we long for. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Names of God

  • Abba
  • Bridegroom
  • El-Elohe Israel
  • Everlasting Father
  • Father
  • Father in Heaven
  • Father of Compassion
  • Father of Glory
  • Father of Lights
  • Father of Spirits
  • Glorious Father
  • God and Father
  • God and Father of All
  • God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • God of Abraham
  • God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
  • God of Israel
  • God of Our Fathers
  • God of Your Fathers
  • God our Father
  • God the Father
  • Godhead/Deity/Divine Being/Divinity
  • Heavenly Father
  • Holy Father
  • Husband
  • Jealous
  • Jealous and Avenging God
  • Jealous God
  • Lord and Father


Many, many praise and worship songs lift up our God our Father. These are just a few. If you have a song in this category to suggest, please let me know (www.joyfulheart.com/contact/).

"Behold, What Manner of Love the Father Has Given unto Us," Patricia Van Tine (©1978, Maranatha! Music (Admin. by Music Services)

"Be Thou My Vision" ("Thou my great Father, I Thy true son....")words are attributed to Dallan Forgaill, 8th Century, translated by Mary E. Byrne(1905), and versed by Eleanor H. Hull (1912). The tune is of Irish folk origin.

"Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty," words and music by Bob Fitts (©1984, Scripture in Song, a division of Integrity Music, Inc.)

"Come and Go with Me to My Father's House," African American spiritual

"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," words by John G. Whittier (1872), music by Frederick C. Maker (1887)

"El Shaddai," John W. Thompson and Michael Card (©1981, 1982 Mole End Music, Admin. by Word Music Group, Inc.)

"Father God," Jack Hayford (©1973 Rocksmith Music, Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

"Father, I Adore You," Terrye Coelho (©1972 Maranatha! Music, Admin. by Music Services)

"Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God my Father," words by Thomas O. Chisholm (1923), music by William M. Runyan (1923), (© 1923, 1951, Hope Publishing Co.)

"Heavenly Father, I Appreciate You," by Darrell Rodman and Fred Bock (©1982 Fred Bock Music Company )

"He Knows My Name," by Tommy Walker (©1996 Doulos Publishing, Maranatha! Music, Admin. by Music Services)

"Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," words: Walter Chalmers Smith (1867), music: Welsh hymn tune

"Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," words by Henry van Dyke (1907), music by Ludwig van Beethoven (1824) (©1911, 1939, Charles Scribner's Sons, Tertius van Dyke)

"The Lord's Prayer," words and music by Albert Hay Mallotte (©1935, G. Shirmer, Inc.). This is the best known version of the Lord's Prayer.

"This Is My Father's World," words by Maltbie D. Babcock (1901), music by Franklin L. Sheppard (1915)


Standard Abbreviations https://www.jesuswalk.com/names-god/refs.htm

  1. Otfried Hofius, "Father," NIDNTT 1:614-621, especially p. 614. A much more detailed source, more given to a comparative religions approach, is Gottfried Quell and Gottlob Schrenk, patēr, ktl, TDNT 5:945-1022.
  2. In Palestinian Judaism of the pre-Christian era, the description of God as Father is also rare, as it is in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. In Rabbinical Judaism of the first century AD, the name of Father was more widespread, but still far less frequent than other descriptions of God (Hofius, NIDNTT 1:618).
  3. Ber. 40a; Sanh. 70b; cf Tg. Isaiah 8:4, as cited by Hofius, NIDNTT 1:614.
  4. Hofius, NIDNTT 1:614.
  5. Hofius (NIDNTT 1:164) cites one cute and quaint reference, not really an exception, from Strack and Billerback I 375, 520.
  6. C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper's New Testament Commentaries; Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 58-59. The "and" (kai) in "God and Father" probably has an expository or epexegetical sense, corresponding to the English "namely," or "that is." (Marcus Barth, Ephesians 1-3 (Anchor Bible; Doubleday, 1974), pp. 72-23).
  7. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1987), p. 375. He says, "Although Paul does not here call Christ God, the formula is so constructed that only the most obdurate would deny its Trinitarian implications."
  8. The NIV margin notes that "I was husband to" is the Hebrew text. The Septuagint and Syriac texts put it "and I turned away from."
  9. Elmer A. Martens, bā`al, TWOT 262a. "The name of the land, Beulah (passive participle of), signifies both the intimacy and the joy of YHWH in conjunction with the land."
  10. Leonard J. Coppes, "qānā´," TWOT #2038b.
  11. Chalice Hymnal (Chalice Press, 1995), #47.
  12. Ruth C. Duck, Gender and the Name of God: The Trinitarian Baptismal Formula (Pilgrim Press, 1991), p. 4.
  13. In heaven, where there is no marriage or giving in marriage (Matthew 22:30), gender apparently loses it function and meaning.
  14. Theios, BDAG 446.
  15. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition; Merriam Webster, 2004).
  16. Theotēs, BDAG 452.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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