Is "Father" a Name or a Title?

Jason Dulle


Would you, as a Oneness believer, supply me with good evidence that Father is not a name, when the Bible continually calls God "Father." For instance, when the Son was on the cross He addressed God as "Father" (Luke 23:46). He did not cry out, "Jesus into thy hands I commend my spirit," did he, as if "Father" were not a real name, and the one whom he was addressing was really Jesus in another mode? This verse seems to destroy the Oneness theory that the name "Father" is not in fact a real name (but only a title), the real name of God being "Jesus."




I would contend that "Father" was not the revealed name for God in the OT. God never said, "My name is Father." "Father" was a mere appellation describing the way in which God related to man. God is Father, just as He is also our provider, our righteousness, our victory, and our peace.

God's revealed name in the OT was YHWH, to which He is referred to over 6800 times. He is also referred to as elohim (God) over 2600 times, which is a generic term for YHWH. In comparison, God is only likened to a father, or calls Himself "Father" approximately thirteen times in the OT (Numbers 11:12; II Samuel 7:14; I Chronicles 29:10; Psalm 68:4-5; 89:24-27; 103:13; Isaiah 9:6; 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4, 19; 31:9; Malachi 2:10). God's role as a father is portrayed when the Bible speaks about Israel as being His children in a covenantal sense (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 1:31; 8:5; 14:1; Isaiah 64:8; Malachi 2:10), and of David and Solomon as being His sons like a suzerain to a vassal (Psalm 2:7; II Samuel 7:14).

These OT uses of "Father" pertain to God's relationship with the created realm, not the name or nature of God. This is why I believe it is invalid for Trinitarians to claim that "since" God is eternally Father, He must have an eternal Son. This argument reads NT designations for God back into the OT as though God has been "Father" eternally. The OT never speaks of "God the Father." This was not a name for God. We only see the prevalent usage of this appellation for God in the NT with the advent of the incarnation.

All of this is not to say that God is not identified as Father in the OT, but that "Father" was never a proper name for God in the OT, and neither was it commonly used of God as it is in the NT. The fact that "Father" is virtually absent from the OT, but fills the pages of the NT ought to occasion our curiosity concerning the reason for its abundant usage in the NT.

The NT continues to use "Father" to designate God as the Creator and/or covenant-maker, but there is an additional (and most prevalent ) use of "Father" used by Jesus in the gospels when was speaking about His relationship to God. Jesus continually spoke of God and to God as Father. In the Gospel of John alone, Jesus used the term "God" twenty-three times, while He called God His "Father" 109 times. To my knowledge, Jesus only called the Father, "God," in direct address a mere three times (Matthew 27:46; John 17:3; 20:17). He consistently spoke of God as Father. The numerical frequency in which God is identified as "Father" in the NT as compared to the OT is astounding. The reason for this has much to do with the debate over whether or not Father is a name or a title.

Why is God so frequently identified as Father in the NT?--the incarnation. YHWH (God's revealed name in the OT) became a man, and then related to the genuine human being (Son) whom He fathered. The appellations "Father" and "Son" are relational terms arising from the incarnation. It was only after the incarnation, when the one God of the OT became a man by begetting a human child through Mary that God became consistently identified as "Father," in contradistinction to God's human existence in the person of Jesus Christ (His Son). God is "Father" because He fathered a human child through the miraculous conception. Now, in the NT, "Father" is used for God's existence beyond the flesh, while "Son" or "Jesus" is used of God's existence in the flesh. "Father" refers to God as He exists as unmitigated deity, Spirit alone, while "Son" is used of God as He exists in a genuine human existence.

Although we believe that Jesus' deity was the deity of the one called "Father" incarnated, I do not agree with some Oneness believers' tendency to juxtapose the term "Son" with "Father," because Father is consistently used of the Spirit alone, while Son is used of that Spirit made flesh. The Father is God beyond flesh, and the Son is that same God in flesh. "Father" is the appellation used by Jesus for God, because it was God who fathered Jesus' human existence. Jesus did not beget Himself, but was begotten of the Father, and therefore He is spoken of as being distinct from the Father; not in deity, but as it pertains to His assumption of humanity. It is because of the addition of humanity to God's existence as Spirit, that we cannot say the Father and the Son are the same. The deity of the Father is in the Son, but the Son is a human being, and the Father, who is Spirit only, is not.

I agree with you that Jesus used "Father" as the name for God, but I qualify this by pointing out that "Father" is never said to be God's name. YHWH was God's revealed name. I call my dad "father," but "father" is not the name appearing on his birth certificate. Likewise, "Father" was not, and is not God's name. It is a relational term used by Christ as a Son to His Father, just as we call our earthly parents by the name "father" or "mother." The frequent use of "Father" in the NT by Jesus (and subsequently by the apostles) only arose because of the incarnation, describing Christ's relationship to the transcendent Spirit of God. Although Jesus used "Father" as a name for YHWH, it is never said that God's name is Father. The fact that Jesus used "Father" as a name, however, needs to be taken more seriously among many Oneness believers as you have pointed out.

In conclusion, "Father" is a relational term that had a specialized use by Jesus because of the incarnation, which use it did not have before the incarnation. "Father" became attributed to the Spirit of God in a different way in the NT because of the paternal relationship between God and Jesus, and to distinguish between God's existence as a man, and His existence as the omnipresent Spirit. The deity of the Son of God is that of YHWH, but His name is "Jesus." YHWH's existence beyond humanity, as the Father of Jesus' human existence, is referred to as "Father." Seeing that "Father" is a relational term, it should not be viewed as God's name, but Oneness believers would do well to recognize that Jesus and the apostles used "Father" to identify God's existence beyond the incarnation, much like a name.

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