At the beginning of 2018 I wrote an essay on the Fatherhood of God in which I tended to equate God as Creator with God as Father, but on reflection I consider this somewhat misleading. More recently I was reading Russell Aldwinckle’s work on Christology entitled More Than Man where the author refers to the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father (p.167) and, perhaps needless to say, I have my doubts about the appropriateness and intelligibility of this. I therefore deem it necessary to clarify my own thinking and perhaps that of others at the same time.
God as Father in the OT
First, it is obvious to all readers that the Bible begins with reference to the eternal God as Creator of the visible physical creation, and one could be forgiven for thinking that only later does he become Father. Indeed, it is regularly pointed out that despite Acts 17:28, for example, where the Creator God is seen as the Father of all men on the natural level that he is normally regarded as the Father of Israel, his chosen nation, only collectively as is suggested by Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1. (1* On the fatherhood of God in the Old Testament, see e.g. Chris Wright.) It might also be pointed out that it was Jesus himself, the natural Son of God born of woman (Gal. 4:4), who taught his disciples to call God Father as in the Lord’s Prayer.
It is widely held in the churches that Jesus was the Eternal Son even in his pre-existence. For instance, the Nicene Creed refers to the Son as eternally begotten of the Father. But is this legitimate? After all, even Kevin Giles, who has written a full-length book, contending in the vein of Athanasius for the eternal generation of the Son, admits that in relevant passages like John 1 and Philippians 2 Jesus is not referred to as the Son. Rather in the former passage he is termed the Word of God and in the latter as being equal with God. In view of the fact that ‘Son’ implies subordination this is perhaps not surprising. And it would seem that to refer to the Word as the Son would surely send the wrong message. To say this, however, raises questions.
So far as we normal created human beings are concerned, reference to God as Father and to Jesus as eternal Son should immediately prompt us to ask who the wife of God is. To cite but one example, Aldwinckle (p.165) suggests that the parent-child relationship as applied to God includes the fullness of parental experience at its highest on the side of both father and mother and asserts that God transcends the sexual differentiation completely. He adds that God is neither father nor mother but (somewhat oddly) the perfect parent. This may be an interesting speculation, but is it intelligible? Without supporting evidence it is, in my view, totally unconvincing for reasons I will now explore.
First, the exclusively masculine thinking which characterises traditional Christian thought arguably requires a corrective, as Aldwinckle referring to Carl Jung concedes. After all, practically all Christians confess the role of the Virgin Mary in the birth of Jesus. But when considering God himself Aldwinckle and others like him ignore the basic significance of human relationships which are established by him as Creator. After all, he is not simply an anthropomorphic reflection of man (as I maintain in my essay on the Fatherhood of God). By definition, a father presupposes a mother, a husband a wife and a son a mother and a father (cf. Heb. 7:3). Does our God whom we describe as Creator fit the bill? As already implied above, not at the beginning, for a creator is not necessarily a father. Later, however, the picture changes. For our God not only created the earth but with the intention of ensuring that it was inhabited (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18). Now one of these inhabitants was man (Adam) made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28) and, according to Luke 3:38, God was his father. (2* Cf. the sons of God in Gen. 6:4 on which see my Who Are The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4?.) This, however, disposes us to ask who Adam’s mother was, especially in view of the fact that the second Adam had one!
Since man as flesh is regarded throughout Scripture as dust, clay, earthy (see e.g. 1 Cor. 15:47) and since, like all the animals, he derives from the earth (Gen. 1:24; 2:7,19, etc.), we are forced to the conclusion that the earth itself was Adam’s mother which, in the words of Isaiah, God himself ‘married’ (Isa. 62:4f.), hence man’s dual nature as body and soul, flesh and spirit. If it is then complained that this makes Adam different from the second Adam, that is hardly true. Apart from the fact that Paul sees Jesus as deriving from the earth in Ephesians 4:9 (cf. Ps. 139:15) we must remember that after God had finished creation (Gen. 2:1-3), procreation, which recapitulated creation (cf. Isa. 45:9f.), took over. How do we know this? The answer lies in the fact that woman (Eve) becomes the mother of all living (Gen. 3:20). This is clearly how Paul saw matters for, while presumably acknowledging the truth of Genesis 1:27, he nonetheless differentiates between the two sexes in 1 Corinthians 11. There he depicts man as the image of God and woman as the glory of man. In other words, just as God ‘married’ (mother) earth, which was his glory (cf. Dt.11:11f.; 8:7-10) or delight (Isa. 62:4) like Ezekiel’s wife (24:16,25), to produce inhabitants, so man marries woman who is his glory to produce children who are termed the fruit of the womb (Dt. 7:13; 28:4,11; 30:9). And in case we have any doubts about Jesus’ earthly origin at his incarnation, apart from Ephesians 4:9, he is referred to as the fruit of the womb in Luke 1:42. To be born of woman, of course, means, as David realized long before, that we are the offspring of Adam (cf. Gen. 5:1-3) from whom Eve stemmed (Gen. 2:21-23) (3* Adam’s rib is surely a metaphor, even a euphemism, cf. Prov. 23:22; Heb. 7:10.) and were therefore originally fashioned as seed in the earth (Ps. 139:15). It was as such that we are sown in our mother’s womb which symbolizes the Garden of Eden (Ps. 139:13, cf. Job 3; Jer. 20:18).
In light of the evidence, then, we are led to the view that in eternity the Creator God was not a father but chose to become one when he fertilized or sowed the earth (mother) to produce man (Adam), his son (Luke 3:38). Thus, once created, man the seed-bearer and image of God (Gen. 1:26-28; 5:1-3; 1 Cor. 11:7) procreated his own progeny by fertilizing woman who typified the earth. In this way, Jesus himself became flesh for he was born of woman (Gal. 4:4), though his Father was God himself. As the Son of God he was clearly God in person and identity and like Adam he was made in the image of God so that he could aspire to gain the generic image of God as man, which was the divine intention from the start (Gen. 1:26; 5:1-3; 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).
Of course, this brings to the fore associated doctrines. First, the Creator God, though immutable in character is not statically paralysed in essence (nature) and activity, but, like a young man who can rejoice over his bride (Isa. 62:5), he has the choice and capacity to become the Father which he was not before. Second, Jesus, who was God the Word in eternity, was able, willing and free to become the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary (Gal. 4:4; Heb. 10:5) and therefore a true human being. (4* By expressing myself this way I deny eternal subordinationism.) If this is so, the idea that he could have at one and the same time two natures a la Chalcedon is ruled out of court. It is clearly denied in the NT which states explicitly that the Word became flesh. In other words, the Word changed his nature without ceasing to be who he was in identity and person, that is, God the Word. (5* In view of the traditional claim that at his incarnation the Word could not divest himself of his divine nature without ceasing to be God, it perhaps needs to be explained here that if man, God’s creature, can change his nature without ceasing to be human as at his transformation, cf. 1 Cor. 15:48-53, so can the Creator change his nature without ceasing to be divine.) Expressed alternatively, like his Father the Son was immutably static or stable in character (Heb. 13:8) but dynamically active in purpose. Scripture makes it quite apparent that nothing is impossible with God and that he can do as he pleases (Mt. 19:26; Luke 1:37, cf. Dan. 4:35).
So what did he please to do? Scripture tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8,19), and love has its own reasons for spreading that love abroad as Israel had been informed at a comparatively early stage in salvation history (Dt. 7:7f.; Jer. 31:3). Thus it is that in the NT that love is demonstrated supremely in John 3:16 where we are told that God so loved the world that he gave us his Son to redeem us as foreshadowed in the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. Just as it is true that an ordinary married couple in normal life usually share their love with their children who are an expression of their love, so it is with God. But at this point we do well to remember that God is the initiator, the originator, the model, the pattern, the paradigm of love that we his creatures follow or imitate (cf. John 15:16). Little wonder that the marriage feast of the Lamb, which includes us his Bride, is the goal of creation (Rev. 19:7-9).
It is a sad fact that the church has often held defective views on sexual love despite the Song of Solomon and Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 4:3f. (cf. Heb. 13:4). According to Scripture it is said to be the creation, even the reflection, of God himself (Gen. 1:28; 2:24; Isa. 62:4f.) and the way of all the earth (Gen. 19:31, cf. Ezek. 16:8). It also receives the endorsement of Jesus himself, the ultimate bridegroom (e.g. Mt. 9:15; 25:1-13), even though he himself did not marry while he was in the flesh (Mt. 19:5). Yet we do well to bear in mind that Paul suggests in Ephesians 5 that the union between God and man is a profound mystery with the implication that it will only be properly appreciated when it is finally consummated in heaven (cf. Isa. 62:5).
Kevin Giles, The Eternal Generation of the Son, Downers Grove, 2012.
Christopher J.H.Wright, Knowing God the Father through the Old Testament, Oxford, 2007.
Just as creatorship should not be confused with fatherhood, so creation should not be confused with birth though the two seem to overlap in Genesis 2:7 and Jeremiah 1:5, for example. Between creation and birth (gestation) there is a great deal of evolution both in the Garden of Eden and in a woman’s womb (Ps. 139:13-16; Eccl. 11:5f.; Mark 4:26-28).