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God the Father

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Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 001

An image of God the Father by Julius Schnorr, 1860.

God the Father is the title and attribution given to God in many monotheist religions. In the Israelite religion and its closest modern relative, Talmudic Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, law-giver, and protector.[1] In Christianity, God is called Father not only for the same reasons, but because of the mystery of the Father-Son relationship revealed by Jesus Christ.[2]

In general, the name Father signifies that he is the origin of what is subject to him, a supreme and powerful authority and protector. Moreover, God the Father is viewed as immense, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent with infinite power and charity that goes beyond human understanding.[3] For instance, after completing his monumental work Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas concluded that he had not yet begun to understand God the Father.[4]

Gender of God

Masculine characteristics are often ascribed to God, in the Scriptures and traditions of many monotheists. God is also usually defined as being a spirit, and thus having no biological gender. For instance, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that "God is neither man nor woman: he is God".[5][6] Yet, God is at times thought of as dominant, powerful, fatherly, passionate, whose ways are too high for his children to understand; feminine imagery is also found in the Bible [7]. God is traditionally referred to by the masculine pronoun he (often capitalized; He).


In modern monotheist religious traditions, such as Bahá'í, Christianity, Judaism, Krishnaism and Vaishnavism, God is addressed as the father, in part because of his active interest in human affairs, in the way that a father would take an interest in his children who are dependent on him and as a father, he will respond to humanity, his children, acting in their best interests.[8] Many monotheists believe they can communicate with him through prayer, and improve their relationship with him.[9]

At times, it is also expected that God may punish those who err like a father punishes his children, e.g. as stated in the Old Testament: "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." [Heb. 12:8]

Unlike Christianity, Islam does not have a separation between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and simply views God as the unique creator and ruler of the universe.[10]


In Christianity, God is called "Father" in a more literal sense, besides being the creator and nurturer of creation, and the provider for his children.[Heb 1:2-5] [Gal 4:1-7] The Father is said to have an eternal relation to his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, which implies an exclusive and intimate familiarity: "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."[Mt. 11:27] In Christian theology, this is the revelation of a sense in which fatherhood is inherent to God's nature, an eternal relationship.[cf. Jn 17]

In the third century, Tertullian claimed that God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the three personae of one and the same substance.[11] To trinitarian Christians (which include Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and most but not all Protestant denominations), 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 Hypostases of the Christian Godhead.[11]

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.

To Christians, God the Father's relationship with humanity is as a father to children. Thus, humans in general are sometimes called children of 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 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, born 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

Christ in Gethsemane

Christ praying to God the Father in Gethsemane, Heinrich Hofmann, 1890.

The Gospel of Mark records that Jesus used the term Abba when praying to God the Father during his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion, saying: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want."[Mk 14:36] Here is the fervent appeal of a son to a beloved father, followed quickly by an assurance that, in any event, he would remain obedient.

In Eastern Orthodox theology, God the Father is the "arche" or "principium" (beginning), the "source" or "origin" of both the Son and the Holy Spirit (which gives intuitive emphasis to the threeness of persons); by comparison, Catholic theology explains the "origin" of all three Hypostases or Persons as being in the divine nature (which gives intuitive emphasis to the oneness of God's being) while still maintaining God the Father as the Source of both the Son and the Spirit.[11]


In Judaism, God is called "Father" with a unique sense of familiarity. In addition to the sense in which God is "Father" to all men because he created the world (and in that sense "fathered" the world), the same God is also uniquely the patriarchal law-giver to the chosen people. He maintains a special, covenantal 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 "my son" because he delivered the descendants of Jacob out of slavery in Egypt[Hosea 11:1] according to his oath to their father, Abraham. To God, according to Judaism, is attributed the fatherly role of protector. He is called the Father of the poor, of the orphan and the widow, their guarantor of justice. He is also called the Father of the king, as the teacher and helper over the judge of Israel.


In many polytheistic religions, one or more gods is thought to be a leader and a father of other gods, or of humanity. The classical example from Indo-European mythology is Dyeus, with an epithet "father" e.g. in Roman religion as Iuppiter, and in Vedic religion, as Dyaus Pita. In Egyptian religion, jt-nṯr "god father" was an epithet of Thot.

God the Father in Western art


For about a thousand years, no attempt was made to portray God the Father in human form, because early Christians believed that the words of Exodus 33:20 "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see Me and live" and of the Gospel of John 1:18: "No man hath seen God at any time" were meant to apply not only to the Father, but to all attempts at the depiction of the Father. Yet, western art eventually required some way to illustrate the presence of the Father, so through successive representations a set of artistic styles for the depiction of the Father in human form gradually emerged around the tenth century AD.[12]

By the twelfth century depictions of the "hand of God" had started to appear in French manuscripts and in stained glass church windows in England. In the 14th century the illustrated Naples Bible, one of the earliest printed Bibles carried a depiction of God the Father in the Burning bush. By the 15th century, the Rohan Book of Hours included depictions of God the Father in human form. The trend in depicting God the Father continued thereafter.

Gallery of art

See also


  1. Gerald J. Blidstein, 2006 Honor thy father and mother: filial responsibility in Jewish law and ethics ISBN 0881258628 page 1
  2. Thomas Weinandy, Jesus the Christ OSV Press ISBN 1931709688 page 41
  3. Lawrence Kimbrough, 2006 Contemplating God the Father B&H Publishing ISBN 0805440836 page 3
  4. Thomas W. Petrisko, 2001 The Kingdom of Our Father St. Andrew's Press ISBN 1891903187 page 8
  5. David Bordwell, 2002, Catechism of the Catholic Church,Continuum International Publishing ISBN 9780860123248 page 84
  6. Vatican website
  7. Peck, Richard (May June), The Gender of God,, retrieved 14 August 2009 
  8. Diana L. Eck (2003) Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras. p. 98
  9. Floyd H. Barackman, 2002 Practical Christian Theology ISBN 0825423805 page 117
  10. Hans Köchler, 1982 The concept of monotheism in Islam and Christianity ISBN 3700303394 page 38
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998. Credo Reference. 27 July 2009
  12. James Cornwell, 2009 Saints, Signs, and Symbols: The Symbolic Language of Christian Art ISBN 081922345X page 2

External links

ar:الله الآب

arc:ܐܒܐ (ܐܠܗܐ) bg:Бог Отец cs:Bůh Otec da:Gud Faderko:성부 hr:Bog Otac id:Allah Bapaka:მამა ღმერთი la:Deus Pater lt:Dievas Tėvas mk:Господ-Отецот ml:പിതാവായ ദൈവംja:父なる神 no:Gud Fader nn:Gud Faderpt:Deus, o Pai ru:Бог Отец scn:Patraternu simple:God the Father sk:Boh Otec szl:Bůg Uojćec sr:Бог Отац sv:Fadern uk:Бог-Отець vi:Chúa Cha zh:聖父

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