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The meaning of Father in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

fa'-ther (Anglo-Saxon, Foeder; German, Vater; Hebrew 'abh, etymology uncertain, found in many cognate languages; Greek pater, from root pa, "nourisher," "protector," "upholder"):

1. Immediate Male Ancestor:

Immediate male ancestor. The father in the Hebrew family, as in the Roman, had supreme rights over his children, could dispose of his daughter in marriage (Gen. 29), arrange his son's marriage (Gen. 24), sell his children (Exodus 21:7), but not his daughter to a stranger (Nehemiah 5:5), had power of life and death, as in the case of Isaac (Gen. 22), Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11:34 ff.), the sacrificing of his children to Molech (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:3-5), etc. Respect, reverence and affection for fathers (and equally for mothers) is most tenderly, explicitly and sternly prescribed from the earliest times (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16; Micah 7:6; Ezekiel 22:7, etc.). A symmetrical and beautiful picture of the duties and character of the ideal human father may be built up from the Old Testament, with added and enlarged touches from the New Testament. He loves (Genesis 37:4); commands (Genesis 50:16; Proverbs 6:20); instructs (Proverbs 1:8, etc.); guides, encourages, warns (Jeremiah 3:4; I Thessalonians 2:11); trains (Hosea 11:3); rebukes (Genesis 34:30); restrains (Eli, by contrast, I Samuel 3:13); punishes (Deuteronomy 21:18); chastens (Proverbs 3:12; Deuteronomy 8:5); nourishes (Isaiah 1:2); delights in his son (Proverbs 3:12), and in his son's wisdom (Proverbs 10:1); is deeply pained by his folly (Proverbs 17:25); he is considerate of his children's needs and requests (Matthew 7:10); considerate of their burdens, or sins (Malachi 3:17, "As a man spareth his own son"); tenderly familiar (Luke 11:7, "with me in bed"); considerately self-restrained (Ephesians 6:4, "Provoke not your children to wrath"); having in view the highest ends (ibid., "Nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord"); pitiful (Psalms 103:13, "as a father pitieth his children"); the last human friend (but one) to desert the child (Psalms 27:10 : "When (a thing to the psalmist incredible) my father and my mother forsake me, then Yahweh will take me up").

2. Ancestors, Immediate or Remote:

(a) Ancestor, immediate or remote: Genesis 28:13, "Abraham thy father" (grandfather); I Kings 22:50, "Jehoshaphat .... David his father"; Jeremiah 35:6, "Jonadab, the son of Rechab, our father"; Daniel 5:11, "Nebuchadnezzar thy father" (personal or official ancestor); Genesis 15:15, "Go to thy fathers in peace" (and so (in the plural) in over 500 passages). The expressions "slept with his fathers," "go down to his fathers," "buried with his fathers," "gathered to his fathers," are self-explanatory euphemisms. (b) The founders of the (Hebrew) race, specifically the patriarchs:' Romans 9:5, "whose are the fathers," considered here also as in a sense the religious ancestors of all believers. (c) Progenitors of clans, i.e. (Revised Version (British and American)) "fathers' houses": Exodus 6:14; I Chronicles 27:1, etc. (d) Gods as progenitors of men: Jeremiah 2:27, "Who say to a stock, thou art my father."

3. Figurative and Derived Uses:

(a) A spiritual ancestor, one who has infused his own spirit into others, whether good, as Abraham, the father of the faithful, Romans 4:11; or bad, as John 8:44, "Ye are of your father the devil." (b) Indicating closest resemblance, kinship, affinity: Job 17:14, "If I have said to corruption, Thou art my father." (c) A source: Ephesians 1:17, "Father of glory"; Job 38:28, "Hath the rain a father?" (d) Creator: James 1:17, "the Father of lights." (e) The inventor or originator of an art or mode of life: Genesis 4:20, "father of such as dwell in tents" (a hint here of hereditary occupations? Probably not). (f.) One who exhibits the fatherly characteristics: Psalms 68:5, "a father of the fatherless." (g) One who occupies a position of counsel, care, or control (frequently applied by sultans to their prime ministers): Genesis 45:8, "a father to Pharaoh"; Judges 17:10, "Be unto me a father and a priest." (h) A revered or honored superior: II Kings 5:13, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee"; but especially applied to prophets: II Kings 2:12, "My father, my father!" also to elderly and venerable men: I John 2:13, "I write unto you, fathers"; hence also, with perhaps an outlook on (2) (a), deceased early Christians: II Peter 3:4, "from the day that the fathers fell asleep." An ecclesiastical title, condemned (in principle) by our Lord: Matthew 23:9, "Call no man your father on the earth"; but applied, under the power of the Spirit, to members of the Sanhedrin (probably) by Stephen: Acts 7:2; and by Paul: Acts 22:1, but the latter, perhaps also the former, may simply refer to the elderly among his hearers. Christ's condemnation is clearly of the praise-seeking or obsequious spirit, rather than of a particular custom.

"Father," used by Mary of Joseph, in relation to Jesus, equals "putative father," a necessary reserve at a time when the virgin birth could not yet be proclaimed (Luke 2:49). But note Jesus' answer: "my Father's house."

Philip Wendell Crannell


See more on the meaning of Father in the Bible:
Father {Easton's Bible Dictionary}

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