God As Father: Two Popular Theories Reconsidered -- By: Allen Mawhinney

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:2 (Jun 1988)
Article: God As Father: Two Popular Theories Reconsidered
Author: Allen Mawhinney


God As Father: Two Popular Theories Reconsidered

Allen Mawhinney*

The prominence that the NT gives to the notion of God as Father and to the phrases “Son of God” and “children of God” has made it inevitable that these thoughts should receive considerable attention in theological formulations. Best known among those theories of the not-too-distant past was the conjecture of the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man that was popularized in the heyday of the old liberalism of the last century and the early years of this century.

More recently another theory has enjoyed great popularity in some circles, but now it also is being strongly challenged. It has been expressed in a variety of forms but generally includes the propositions (1) that there were many Hellenistic “sons of gods” and “divine men,” (2) that there is little or no evidence of the use of the phrase “son of God” in pre-Christian Judaism, and therefore (3) that the NT description of Jesus as the “Son of God” is best explained as a development of the Hellenistic parallels within the sphere of the Gentile Church.1 Today this theory is being rejected by more and more scholars. The Jewish antecedents of the title “Son of God” and the distinc-riveness of Jesus’ own person have been recognized more clearly and given a greater role in theory construction.2

The purpose of this paper is to direct attention to two other theories that continue to enjoy widespread acceptance. Their supporters come from both sides of the liberal/conservative debates, and there is much that is attractive in both of them. Nevertheless one theory must be rejected and the other significantly revised.

1.Jesus use of the word abba was unique.” Jesus’ use of the word abba has been regarded by many Christian scholars as a most important fact because it has been thought to have major implications for the understanding of Jesus’ self-consciousness. That is, Jesus’ use of abba has been seen by some as a key to his own perception of his relationship to the heavenly Father. In

*Allen Mawhinney is associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.

general, Christian scholarship of this century has concluded that Jesus’ usage was without parallel in the Judaism of his day. A. Lukyn Williams wrote: “Now what evidence is there in the Judaism of the first century or thereabouts of the individualistic apprehension of the fatherhood of God?… Frankly there is extraordinarily li...

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