Posted by: mattcolvin | May 3, 2013

Eschatology and the Fatherhood of God


Above: the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer from folio 45 recto of the Book of Kells.

Jesus teaches his disciples “pray thus” (οὕτως), that is, “in the following way”. This means that you are actually to say the following words. Some have tried to argue that the Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be recited, but only to be a model for other prayers. Such a position does not reckon with the way ancient cultures learned things: to say that it was to be a model meant that it was certainly, eo ipso, meant to be recited. That is just how things were learned in the ancient world. In some ways, it is still how things are really learned. And besides, Judaism has never had a problem with recited prayers. They were in use in Jesus’ day, and still are.

Jesus begins with Πατερ ἡμῶν, and it is interesting that he never elsewhere uses the ἡμῶν. He frequently calls God “the Father” or “my Father”, but not “our Father.” Clearly this is because He is the Son of the God uniquely, but also because He had not yet been raised. In John 20:17, after He has been raised, he tells the disciples that he is going “to my Father and your Father, my God and your God”.

The Fatherhood of God is a concept loaded with eschatological meaning. It is prominent in the Exodus: “Israel is My son, even My firstborn; let My son go, that he may serve Me.” (Exodus 4:22-23) But more important for our purposes is the role that this Fatherhood plays in Jesus’ and Paul’s eschatology. That eschatology is derived from the prophets. Isaiah 63:16 speaks of the redemption of Israel from exile:

Doubtless you are our Father. Though Abraham was ignorant of us and Israel does not acknowledge us, You, O Lord, are our Father.

When we turn to Paul, we find that he has very specific ideas about when it is possible to call God “Father”. Galatians 4:6 says

“because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying out “Abba, ὁ πατήρ.”

This address of God as Father is thus something we do if the Spirit of His Son is in our hearts – a post-Pentecostal condition. And this condition was not always the case:

As a result you are no longer (οὐκέτι) a slave, but a son; and if a son, then also an heir through God. But at that time (τότε), not knowing God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods…

Paul clearly believes that calling God “Father” is a thing that is only appropriate to those who have received the υἱοθεσία, the placing as sons. This sequence is found also in Romans 8:15 contrasts the spirit of bondage to fear with the Spirit of Son-placing (υἱοθεσία). (I do not translate υἱοθεσία as “adoption” because Paul is clear that it is something that happens also to an heir who starts out as a baby (νηπιος) under stewards and guardians (Galatians 4:1-2). This state of minority ended after Christ redeemed “those who were under the Law, that they might receive the Son-placing (υἱοθεσίαν). Paul certainly has metaphors for transfer of Gentiles or unbelievers into the body of Christ: grafting into an olive tree, for instance. But υἱοθεσία is not “adoption” in the sense that we use that word in English, nor in the sense that obtained in the Roman world, e.g. Julius Caesar’s adoption of Octavius in his will, to make him his heir. Sorry to take this word away from the many Christians who adopt orphans from other parts of the world, but υἱοθεσία really means the acknowledgement of a son, the entry of the child into the public eye as the heir of his Father.

I see that George MacDonald put his finger on this issue of how to translate υἱοθεσία in the last chapter of The Hope of the Gospel:

I have omitted in my quotations the word “adoption” used in both English versions: it is no translation of the Greek word for which it stands. It is used by St Paul as meaning the same thing with the phrase, ‘the redemption of the body’–a fact to bring the interpretation given it at once into question. Falser translation, if we look at the importance of the thing signified, and its utter loss in the word used to represent it, not to mention the substitution for that of the apostle, of an idea not only untrue but actively mischievous, was never made. The thing St Paul means in the word he uses, has simply nothing to do with adoption–nothing whatever. In the beginning of the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Galatians, he makes perfectly clear what he intends by it. His unusual word means the father’s recognition, when he comes of age, of the child’s relation to him, by giving him his fitting place of dignity in the house; and here the deliverance of the body is the act of this recognition by the great Father, completing and crowning and declaring the freedom of the man, the perfecting of the last lingering remnant of his deliverance. St Paul’s word, I repeat, has nothing to do with adoption; it means the manifestation of the grown-up sons of God; the showing of those as sons, who have always been his children; the bringing of them out before the universe in such suitable attire and with such fit attendance, that to look at them is to see what they are, the sons of the house–such to whom their elder brother applied the words: ‘I said ye are Gods.’

Being sons of God is another way of saying that we are the sons of the New Creation. Romans 8:19 speaks of “the creation’s eager expectation of the revelation (ἀποκάλυψιν) of the sons of God.” The sonship of Christians is thus an eschatological reality, a long-awaited fact of the new creation.

Hebrews 2 confirms this view: “God did not put the age to come in subjection to angels,” but rather,

it was fitting for Him, for Whom are all things and through Whom are all things, in leading many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)

Thus, to call God our Father is to claim that Christ has suffered and been perfected; that we have acceded to full Sonship; that the Father has acknowledged us, and thus that the age to come has begun. We are no longer in subjection to the guardians and stewards, but

when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son…that we might receive the placing as sons (υἱοθεσία) (Gal. 4:4-7)

The reason I have dwelt so strongly on this Pauline view of Jewish eschatology is because I believe that the entire Lord’s Prayer hinges on this two-age eschatology. The hallowing of God’s name is an eschatological hope (Isaiah 29:23). The doing of His Will on earth as in heaven is an eschatological hope. The “coming bread” that I discussed earlier is an eschatological hope. The forgiveness of sins is an eschatological hope. The time of trial and the threat of the evil one from whom we ask God to rescue us – these are eschatological expectations.

Jesus wants His disciples to live in the new age already. The logic is that of His words to Martha in Bethany when He had come to raise Lazarus from the dead. “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23) Martha, knowing her Jewish eschatology very well, replies, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus replies, shockingly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The new creation is here in Him, and if we are in Him, then we live in that new creation as a present reality.

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