God - International Standard Bible Encyclopediagod (אלהים, 'ĕlōhı̄m, אל, 'ēl, עליון, ‛elyōn, שׁדּי, shaddāy, יהוה, yahweh; Θεός, theós):
I. Introduction to the General Idea
1. The Idea in Experience and in Thought
2. Definition of the Idea
3. The Knowledge of God
4. Ethnic Ideas of God
(8) Semitic Monolatry
II. The Idea of God in the Old Testament
1. The Course of Its Development
2. Forms of Its Manifestation
(1) The Face or Countenance of God
(2) The Voice and Word of God
(3) The Glory of God
(4) The Angel of God
(5) The Spirit of God
(6) The Name of God
(7) Occasional Forms
3. The Names of God
(3) Yahweh (Jehovah)
4. Pre-prophetic Conceptions of God
(1) Yahweh Alone Is the God of Israel
(a) His Early Worship
(b) Popular Religion
(c) Polytheistic Tendencies
(d) No Hebrew Goddesses
(e) Human Sacrifices
(2) Nature and Character of Yahweh
(a) A God of War
(b) His Relation to Nature
(3) Most Distinctive Characteristics of Yahweh
(b) Law and Judgment
5. The Idea of God in the Prophetic Period
(5) Creator and Lord
(6) Compassion and Love
6. The Idea of God in Post-exilic Judaism
(1) New Conditions
(2) Divine Attributes
(3) Surviving Limitations
(a) Disappearing Anthropomorphism
(d) Ceremonial Legalism
(4) Tendencies to Abstractness
(5) Logos, Memra), and Angels
III. The Idea of God in the New Testament
1. Dependence on the Old Testament
2. Gentile Influence
3. Absence of Theistic Proofs
4. Fatherhood of God
(1) In the Teaching of Jesus Christ
(a) Its Relation to Himself
(b) To Believers
(c) To All Men
(2) In Apostolic Teaching
(a) Father of Jesus Christ
(b) Our Father
(c) Universal Father
5. God Is King
(1) The Kingdom of God
(2) Its King
(c) Their Relation
(3) Apostolic Teaching
6. Moral Attributes
(3) Righteousness and Holiness
7. Metaphysical Attributes
8. The Unity of God
(1) The Divinity of Christ
(2) The Holy Spirit
(3) The Church's Problem
I. Introduction to the General Idea
1. The Idea in Experience and in Thought
Religion gives the idea of God, theology construes and organizes its content, and philosophy establishes its relation to the whole of man's experience. The logical order of treating it might appear to be, first, to establish its truth by philosophical proofs; secondly, to develop its content into theological propositions; and finally, to observe its development and action in religion. Such has been the more usual order of treatment. But the actual history of the idea has been quite the reverse. Men had the idea of God, and it had proved a creative factor in history, long before reflection upon it issued in its systematic expression as a doctrine. Moreover, men had enunciated the doctrine before they attempted or even felt any need to define its relation to reality. And the logic of history is the truer philosophy. To arrive at the truth of any idea, man must begin with some portion of experience, define its content, relate it to the whole of experience, and so determine its degree of reality.
Religion is as universal as man, and every religion involves some idea of God. Of the various philosophical ideas of God, each has its counterpart and antecedent in some actual religion. Pantheism is the philosophy of the religious consciousness of India. Deism had prevailed for centuries as an actual attitude of men to God, in China, in Judaism and in Islam, before it found expression as a rational theory in the philosophy of the 18th century. Theism is but the attempt to define in general terms the Christian conception of God, and of His relation to the world. If pluralism claims a place among the systems of philosophy, it can appeal to the religious consciousness of that large portion of mankind that has hitherto adhered to polytheism.
But all religions do not issue in speculative reconstructions of their content. It is true in a sense that all religion is an unconscious philosophy, because it is the reaction of the whole mind, including the intellect, upon the world of its experience, and, therefore, every idea of God involves some kind of an explanation of the world. But conscious reflection upon their own content emerges only in a few of the more highly developed religions. Brahmanism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity are the only religions that have produced great systems of thought, exhibiting their content in a speculative and rational form. The religions of Greece and Rome were unable to survive the reflective period. They produced no theology which could ally itself to a philosophy, and Greek philosophy was from the beginning to a great extent the denial and supersession of Greek religion.
Biblical literature nearly all represents the spontaneous experience of religion, and contains comparatively little reflection upon that experience. In the Old Testament it is only in Second Isaiah, in the Wisdom literature and in a few Psalms that the human mind may be seen turning back upon itself to ask the meaning of its practical feelings and beliefs. Even here nothing appears of the nature of a philosophy of Theism or of religion, no theology, no organic definition and no ideal reconstruction of the idea of God. It never occurred to any Old Testament writer to offer a proof of the existence of God, or that anyone should need it. Their concern was to bring men to a right relation with God, and they propounded right views of God only in so far as it was necessary for their practical purpose. Even the fool who “hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psa 14:1; Psa 53:1), and the wicked nations “that forget God” (Psa 9:17) are no theoretical atheists, but wicked and corrupt men, who, in conduct and life, neglect or reject the presence of God.
The New Testament contains more theology, more reflection upon the inward content of the idea of God, and upon its cosmic significance; but here also, no system appears, no coherent and rounded-off doctrine, still less any philosophical construction of the idea on the basis of experience as a whole. The task of exhibiting the Biblical idea of God is, therefore, not that of setting together a number of texts, or of writing the history of a theology, but rather of interpreting the central factor in the life of the Hebrew and Christian communities.
2. Definition of the Idea
Logically and historically the Biblical idea stands related to a number of other ideas. Attempts have been made to find a definition of so general a nature as to comprehend them all. The older theologians assumed the Christian standpoint, and put into their definitions the conclusions of Christian doctrine and philosophy. Thus, Melanchthon: “God is a spiritual essence, intelligent, eternal, true, good, pure, just, merciful, most free and of infinite power and wisdom.” Thomasius more briefly defines God as “the absolute personality.” These definitions take no account of the existence of lower religions and ideas of God, nor do they convey much of the concreteness and nearness of God revealed in Christ. A similar recent definition, put forward, however, avowedly of the Christian conception, is that of Professor W. N. Clarke: “God is the personal Spirit, perfectly good, who in holy love creates, sustains and orders all” (Outline of Christian Theology, 66). The rise of comparative religion has shown that “while all religions involve a conscious relation to a being called God, the Divine Being is in different religions conceived in the most different ways; as one and as many, as natural and as spiritual, as like to and manifested in almost every object in the heavens above or earth beneath, in mountains and trees, in animals and men; or, on the contrary, as being incapable of being represented by any finite image whatsoever; and, again, as the God of a family, of a nation, or of humanity” (E. Caird, Evolution of Religion, I, 62). Attempts have therefore been made to find a new kind of definition, such as would include under one category all the ideas of God possessed by the human race. A typical instance of this kind of definition is that of Professor W. Adams Brown: “A god in the religious sense is an unseen being, real or supposed, to whom an individual or a social group is united by voluntary ties of reverence and service” (Christian Theology in Outline, 30). Many similar definitions are given: “A supersensible being or beings” (Lotze, Asia Minor Fairbairn); “a higher power” (Allan Menzies); “spiritual beings” (E.B. Tylor); “a power not ourselves making for righteousness” (Matthew Arnold). This class of definition suffers from a twofold defect. It says too much to include the ideas of the lower religions, and too little to suggest those of the higher. It is not all gods that are “unseen” or “supersensible,” or “making for righteousness,” but all these qualities may be shared by other beings than gods, and they do not connote that which is essential in the higher ideas of God. Dr. E. Caird, looking for a definition in a germinative principle of the genesis of religion, defines God “as the unity which is presupposed in the difference of the self and not-self, and within which they act and re-act on each other” (op. cit., I, 40, 64). This principle admittedly finds its full realization only in the highest religion, and it may be doubted whether it does justice to the transcendent personality and the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. In the lower religions it appears only in fragmentary forms, and it can only be detected in them at all after it has been revealed in the absolute religion. Although this definition may be neither adequate nor true, its method recognizes that there can be only one true idea and definition of God, and yet that all other ideas are more or less true elements of it and approximations to it. The Biblical idea does not stand alone like an island in mid-ocean, but is rather the center of light which radiates out in other religions with varying degrees of purity.
It is not the purpose of this article to deal with the problem of the philosophy of religion, but to give an account of the idea of God at certain stages of its development, and within a limited area of thought. The absence of a final definition will present no practical difficulty, because the denotation of the term God is clear enough; it includes everything that is or has been an object of worship; it is its connotation that remains a problem for speculation.
3. The Knowledge of God
A third class of definition demands some attention, because it raises a new question, that of the knowledge or truth of any idea whatsoever. Herbert Spencer's definition may be taken as representative: God is the unknown and unknowable cause of the universe, “an inscrutable power manifested to us through all phenomena” (First Principles, V, 31). This means that there can be no definition of the idea of God, because we can have no idea of Him, no knowledge “in the strict sense of knowing.” For the present purpose it might suffice for an answer that ideas of God actually exist; that they can be defined and are more definable, because fuller and more complex, the higher they rise in the scale of religions; that they can be gathered from the folklore and traditions of the lower races, and from the sacred books and creeds of the higher religions. But Spencer's view means that, in so far as the ideas are definable, they are not true. The more we define, the more fictitious becomes our subject-matter. While nothing is more certain than that God exists, His being is to human thought utterly mysterious and inscrutable. The variety of ideas might seem to support this view. But variety of ideas has been held of every subject that is known, as witness the progress of science. The variety proves nothing.
And the complete abstraction of thought from existence cannot be maintained. Spencer himself does not succeed in doing it. He says a great many things about the “unknowable” which implies an extensive knowledge of Him. The traditional proofs of the “existence” of God have misled the Agnostics. But existence is meaningless except for thought, and a noumenon or first cause that lies hidden in impenetrable mystery behind phenomena cannot be conceived even as a fiction. Spencer's idea of the Infinite and Absolute are contradictory and unthinkable. An Infinite that stood outside all that is known would not be infinite, and an Absolute out of all relation could not even be imagined. If there is any truth at all in the idea of the Absolute, it must be true to human experience and thought; and the true Infinite must include within itself every possible and actual perfection. In truth, every idea of God that has lived in religion refutes Agnosticism, because they all qualify and interpret experience, and the only question is as to the degree of their adequacy and truth.
A brief enumeration of the leading ideas of God that have lived in religion will serve to place the Biblical idea in its true perspective.
4. Ethnic Ideas of God
Animism is the name of a theory which explains the lowest (and perhaps the earliest) forms of religion, and also the principle of all religion, as the belief in the universal presence of spiritual beings which “are held to affect or control the events of the material world, and man's life here and hereafter; and, it being considered that they hold intercourse with men, and receive pleasure or displeasure from human actions, the belief in their existence leads naturally, and, it might almost be said, inevitably, sooner or later, to active reverence and propitiation” (E.B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, I, 426-27). According to this view, the world is full of disembodied spirits, regarded as similar to man's soul, and any or all of these may be treated as gods.
Fetishism is sometimes used in a general sense for “the view that the fruits of the earth and things in general are divine, or animated by powerful spirits” (J.G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, 234); or it may be used in a more particular sense of the belief that spirits “take up their abode, either temporarily or permanently, in some object.... and this object, as endowed with higher power, is then worshipped” (Tiele, Outlines of the History of Religion, 9).
Idolatry is a term of still more definite significance. It means that the object is at least selected, as being the permanent habitation or symbol of the deity; and, generally, it is marked by some degree of human workmanship, designed to enable it the more adequately to represent the deity. It is not to be supposed that men ever worship mere “stocks and stones,” but they address their worship to objects, whether fetishes or idols, as being the abodes or images of their god. It is a natural and common idea that the spirit has a form similar to the visible object in which it dwells. Paul reflected the heathen idea accurately when he said, “We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man” (Act 17:29).
The belief in many gods, and the worship of them, is an attitude of soul compatible with Animism, Fetishism, and Idolatry, or it may be independent of them all. The term Polytheism is more usually employed to designate the worship of a limited number of well-defined deities, whether regarded as pure disembodied spirits, or as residing in the greater objects of Nature, such as planets or mountains, or as symbolized by images “graven by art and device of man.” In ancient Greece or modern India the great gods are well defined, named and numerable, and it is clearly understood that, though they may be symbolized by images, they dwell apart in a spiritual realm above the rest of the world.
There is, however, a tendency, both in individuals and in communities, even where many gods are believed to exist, to set one god above the others, and consequently to confine worship to that god alone. “The monotheistic tendency exists among all peoples, after they have reached a certain level of culture. There is a difference in the degree in which this tendency is emphasized, but whether we turn to Babylonia, Egypt, India, China, or Greece, there are distinct traces of a trend toward concentrating the varied manifestations of Divine powers in a single source” (Jastrow, The Study of Religion, 76). This attitude of mind has been called Henotheism or Monolatry - the worship of one God combined with the belief in the existence of many. This tendency may be governed by metaphysical, or by ethical and personal motives, either by the monistic demands of reason, or by personal attachment to one political or moral rule.
Where the former principle predominates, Polytheism merges into Pantheism, as is the case in India, where Brahma is not only the supreme, but the sole, being, and all other gods are but forms of his manifestation. But, in India, the vanquished gods have had a very complete revenge upon their vanquisher, for Brahma has become so abstract and remote that worship is mainly given to the other gods, who are forms of his manifestation. Monolatry has been reversed, and modern Hinduism were better described as the belief in one God accompanied by the worship of many.
The monistic tendency, by a less thorough application of it, may take the opposite turn toward Deism, and yet produce similar religious conditions. The Supreme Being, who is the ultimate reality and power of the universe, may be conceived in so vague and abstract a manner, may be so remote from the world, that it becomes a practical necessity to interpose between Him and men a number of subordinate and nearer beings as objects of worship. In ancient Greece, Necessity, in China, Tien or Heaven, were the Supreme Beings; but a multiplicity of lower gods were the actual objects of worship. The angels of Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Islam and the saints of Romanism illustrate the same tendency. Pantheism and Deism, though they have had considerable vogue as philosophical theories, have proved unstable and impossible as religions, for they have invariably reverted to some kind of polytheism and idolatry, which seems to indicate that they are false processes of the monistic tendency.
(8) Semitic Monolatry
The monistic tendency of reason may enlist in its aid many minor causes, such as tribal isolation or national aggrandizement. It is held that many Sere tribes were monolatrists for either or both of these reasons; but the exigencies of intertribal relations in war and commerce soon neutralized their effects, and merged the tribal gods into a territorial pantheon.
Monotheism, ethical and personal: One further principle may combine with Monism so as to bring about a stable Monotheism, that is the conception of God as standing in moral relations with man. Whenever man reflects upon conduct as moral, he recognizes that there can be only one moral standard and authority, and when God is identified with that moral authority, He inevitably comes to be recognized as supreme and unique. The belief in the existence of other beings called gods may survive for a while; but they are divested of all the attributes of deity when they are seen to be inferior or opposed to the God who rules in conscience. Not only are they not worshipped, but their worship by others comes to be regarded as immoral and wicked. The ethical factor in the monistic conception of God safeguards it from diverging into Pantheism or Deism and thus reverting into Polytheism. For the ethical idea of God necessarily involves His personality, His transcendence as distinct from the world and above it, and also His intimate and permanent relation with man. If He rules in conscience, He can neither be merged in dead nature or abstract being, nor be removed beyond the heavens and the angel host. A thoroughly moralized conception of God emerges first in the Old Testament where it is the prevailing type of thought.
II. The Idea of God in the Old Testament
1. Course of Its Development
Any attempt to write the whole history of the idea of God in the Old Testament would require a preliminary study of the literary and historical character of the documents, which lies beyond the scope of this article and the province of the writer. Yet the Old Testament contains no systematic statement of the doctrine of God, or even a series of statements that need only to be collected into a consistent conception. The Old Testament is the record of a rich and varied life, extending over more than a thousand years, and the ideas that ruled and inspired that life must be largely inferred from the deeds and institutions in which it was realized; nor was it stationary or all at one level. Nothing is more obvious than that revelation in the Old Testament has been progressive, and that the idea of God it conveys has undergone a development. Certain well-marked stages of the development can be easily recognized, without entering upon any detailed criticism. There can be no serious question that the age of the Exodus, as centering around the personality of Moses, witnessed an important new departure in Hebrew religion. The most ancient traditions declare (perhaps not unanimously) that God was then first known to Israel under the personal name Jehovah (Yahweh (YHWH) is the correct form of the word, Jehovah being a composite of the consonants of Yahweh and the vowels of 'ădhōnāy, or lord. Yahweh is retained here as the more familiar form). The Hebrew people came to regard Him as their Deliverer from Egypt, as their war god who assured them the conquest of Canaan, and He, therefore, became their king, who ruled over their destinies in their new heritage. But the settlement of Yahweh in Canaan, like that of His people, was challenged by the native gods and their peoples. In the 9th century we see the war against Yahweh carried into His own camp, and Baal-worship attempting to set itself up within Israel. His prophets therefore assert the sole right of Yahweh to the worship of His people, and the great prophets of the 8th century base that right upon His moral transcendence. Thus they at once reveal new depths of His moral nature, and set His uniqueness and supremacy on higher grounds. During the exile and afterward, Israel's outlook broadens by contact with the greater world, and it draws out the logical implications of ethical monotheism into a theology at once more universalistic and abstract. Three fairly well-defined periods thus emerge, corresponding to three stages in the development of the Old Testament idea of God: the pre-prophetic period governed by the Mosaic conception, the prophetic period during which ethical monotheism is firmly established, and the post-exilic period with the rise of abstract monotheism. But even in taking these large and obvious divisions, it is necessary to bear in mind the philosopher's maxim, that “things are not cut off with a hatchet.” The most characteristic ideas of each period may be described within their period; but it should not be assumed that they are altogether absent from other periods; and, in particular, it should not be supposed that ideas, and the life they represent, did not exist before they emerged in the clear witness of history. Mosaism had undoubtedly its antecedents in the life of Israel; but any attempt to define them leads straight into a very morass of conjectures and hypotheses, archaeological, critical and philosophical; and any results that are thus obtained are contributions to comparative religion rather than to theology.
2. Forms of the Manifestation of God
Religious experience must always have had an inward and subjective aspect, but it is a long and difficult process to translate the objective language of ordinary life for the uses of subjective experience. “Men look outward before they look inward.” Hence, we find that men express their consciousness of God in the earliest periods in language borrowed from the visible and objective world. It does not follow that they thought of God in a sensuous way, because they speak of Him in the language of the senses, which alone was available for them. On the other hand, thought is never entirely independent of language, and the degree in which men using sensuous language may think of spiritual facts varies with different persons.
(1) The Face or Countenance of God
The face or countenance (pānı̄m) of God is a natural expression for His presence. The place where God is seen is called Peniel, the face of God (Gen 32:30). The face of Yahweh is His people's blessing (Num 6:25). With His face (the Revised Version (British and American) “presence”) He brought Israel out of Egypt, and His face (the Revised Version (British and American) “presence”) goes with them to Canaan (Exo 33:14). To be alienated from God is to be hid from His face (Gen 4:14), or God hides His face (Deu 31:17, Deu 31:18; Deu 32:20). In contrast with this idea it is said elsewhere that man cannot see the face of God and live (Exo 33:20; compare Deu 5:24; Jdg 6:22; Jdg 13:22). In these later passages, “face” stands for the entire being of God, as distinguished from what man may know of Him. This phrase and its cognates enshrine also that fear of God, which shrinks from His majesty even while approaching Him, which enters into all worship.
(2) The Voice and Word of God
The voice (ḳōl) and word (dābhār) of God are forms under which His communion with man is conceived from the earliest days to the latest. The idea ranges from that of inarticulate utterance (1Ki 19:12) to the declaration of the entire law of conduct (Deu 5:22-24), to the message of the prophet (Isa 2:1; Jer 1:2), and the personification of the whole counsel and action of God (Psa 105:19; Psa 147:18, Psa 147:19; Hos 6:5; Isa 40:8).
(3) The Glory of God
The glory (kābhōdh) of God is both a peculiar physical phenomenon and the manifestation of God in His works and providence. In certain passages in Exodus, ascribed to the Priestly Code, the glory is a bright light, “like devouring fire” (Exo 24:17); it fills and consecrates the tabernacle (Exo 29:43; Exo 40:34, Exo 40:35); and it is reflected as beams of light in the face of Moses (Exo 34:29). In Ezekiel, it is a frequent term for the prophet's vision, a brightness like the appearance of a rainbow (Eze 1:28; Eze 10:4; Eze 43:2). In another place, it is identified with all the manifested goodness of God and is accompanied with the proclamation of His name (Exo 33:17-23). Two passages in Isa seem to combine under this term the idea of a physical manifestation with that of God's effectual presence in the world (Eze 3:8; Eze 6:3). God's presence in creation and history is often expressed in the Psalms as His glory (Psa 19:1; Psa 57:5, Psa 57:11; Psa 63:2; Psa 97:6). Many scholars hold that the idea is found in Isa in its earliest form, and that the physical meaning is quite late. It would, however, be contrary to all analogy, if such phenomena as rainbow and lightning had not first impressed-the primitive mind as manifestations of God. See GLORY.
(4) The Angel of God
The angel (mal'ākh) of God or of Yahweh is a frequent mode of God's manifestation of Himself in human form, and for occasional purposes. It is a primitive conception, and its exact relation to God, or its likeness to man, is nowhere fixed. In many passages, it is assumed that God and His angel are the same being, and the names are used synonymously (as in Gen 16:7; Gen 22:15, Gen 22:16; Exo 3:2, Exo 3:4; Jdg 2:4, Jdg 2:5); in other passages the idea blurs into varying degrees of differentiation (Gen 18; Gen 24:40; Exo 23:21; Exo 33:2, Exo 33:3; Jdg 13:8, Jdg 13:9). But everywhere, it fully represents God as speaking or acting for the time being; and it is to be distinguished from the subordinate and intermediate beings of later angelology. Its identification with the Messiah and the Logos is only true in the sense that these later terms are more definite expressions of the idea of revelation, which the angel represented for primitive thought.
(5) The Spirit of God
The spirit (rūaḥ) of God in the earlier period is a form of His activity, as it moves warrior and prophet to act and to speak (Jdg 6:34; Jdg 13:25; 1Sa 10:10), and it is in the prophetic period that it becomes the organ of the communication of God's thoughts to men. See HOLY SPIRIT.
(6) The Name of God
The name (shēm) of God is the most comprehensive and frequent expression in the Old Testament for His self-manifestation, for His person as it may be known to men. The name is something visible or audible which represents God to men, and which, therefore, may be said to do His deeds, and to stand in His place, in relation to men. God reveals Himself by making known or proclaiming His name (Exo 6:3; Exo 33:19; Exo 34:5, Exo 34:6). His servants derive their authority from His name (Exo 3:13, Exo 3:15; 1Sa 17:45). To worship God is to call upon His name (Gen 12:8; Gen 13:4; Gen 21:33; Gen 26:25; 1Ki 18:24-26), to fear it (Deu 28:58), to praise it (2Sa 22:50; Psa 7:17; Psa 54:6), to glorify it (Psa 86:9). It is wickedness to take God's name in vain (Exo 20:7), or to profane and blaspheme it (Lev 8:21; Lev 24:16). God's dwelling-place is the place where He chooses “to cause his name to dwell” (2Sa 7:13; 1Ki 3:2; 1Ki 5:3, 1Ki 5:5; 1Ki 8:16-19; 1Ki 18:32; Deu 12:11, Deu 12:21). God's name defends His people (Psa 20:1; Isa 30:27). For His name's sake He will not forsake them (1Sa 12:22), and if they perish, His name cannot remain (Jos 7:9). God is known by different names, as expressing various forms of His self-manifestation (Gen 16:13; Gen 17:1; Exo 3:6; Exo 34:6). The name even confers its revelation-value upon the angel (Exo 23:20-23). All God's names are, therefore, significant for the revelation of His being.
(7) Occasional Forms
In addition to these more or less fixed forms, God also appears in a variety of exceptional or occasional forms. In Num 12:6-8, it is said that Moses, unlike others, used to see the form (temūnāh) of Yahweh. Fire smoke and cloud are frequent forms or symbols of God's presence (e.g. Gen 15:17; Exo 3:2-4; Exo 19:18; Exo 24:17),and notably “the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night” (Exo 13:21 f). According to later ideas, the cloud rested upon the tabernacle (Exo 40:34), and in it God appeared upon the ark (Lev 16:2). Extraordinary occurrences or miracles are, in the early period, frequent signs of the power of God (Ex 7ff; 1 Ki 17ff).
The questions of the objectivity of any or all of these forms, and of their relation to the whole Divine essence raise large problems. Old Testament thought had advanced beyond the naïve identification of God with natural phenomena, but we should not read into its figurative language the metaphysical distinctions of a Greek-Christian theology.
3. The Names of God
All the names of God were originally significant of His character, but the derivations, and therefore the original meanings, of several have been lost, and new meanings have been sought for them.
One of the oldest and most widely distributed terms for Deity known to the human race is 'Ēl, with its derivations 'Ēlı̄m, 'Ĕlōhı̄m, and 'Ĕlōaȟ. Like theos, Deus and God, it is a generic term, including every member of the class deity. It may even denote a position of honor and authority among men. Moses was 'Ĕlōhı̄m to Pharaoh (Exo 7:1) and to Aaron (Exo 4:16; compare Jdg 5:8; 1Sa 2:25; Exo 21:5, Exo 21:6; Exo 22:7; Psa 58:11; Psa 82:1). It is, therefore, a general term expressing majesty and authority, and it only came to be used as a proper name for Israel's God in the later period of abstract monotheism when the old proper name Yahweh was held to be too sacred to be uttered. The meaning of the root 'Ēl, and the exact relation to it, and to one another, of 'Ĕlōhı̄m and 'Ĕlōah, lie in complete obscurity. By far the most frequent form used by Old Testament writers is the plural 'Ĕlōhı̄m, but they use it regularly with singular verbs and adjectives to denote a singular idea. Several explanations have been offered of this usage of a plural term to denote a singular idea - that it expresses the fullness and manifoldness of the Divine nature, or that it is a plural of majesty used in the manner of royal persons, or even that it is an early intimation of the Trinity; other cognate expressions are found in Gen 1:26; Gen 3:22; 1Ki 22:19 f; Isa 6:8. These theories are, perhaps, too ingenious to have occurred to the early Hebrew mind, and a more likely explanation is, that they are survivals in language of a polytheistic stage of thought. In the Old Testament they signify only the general notion of Deity.
To distinguish the God of Israel as supreme from others of the class 'Ĕlōhı̄m, certain qualifying appellations are often added. 'Ēl ‛Elyōn designates the God of Israel as the highest, the most high, among the 'Ĕlōhı̄m (Gen 14:18-20); so do Yahweh ‛Elyōn (Psa 7:17) and ‛Elyōn alone, often in Psalms and in Isa 14:14.
'Ēl Shaddāy, or Shaddāy alone, is a similar term which on the strength of some tradition is translated “God Almighty”; but its derivation and meaning are quite unknown. According to Exo 6:3 it was the usual name for God in patriarchal times, but other traditions in the Pentateuch seem to have no knowledge of this.
Another way of designating God was by His relation to His worshippers, as God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen 24:12; Exo 3:6), of Shem (Gen 9:26), of the Hebrews (Exo 3:18), and of Israel (Gen 33:20).
Other names used to express the power and majesty of God are cūr, “Rock” (Deu 32:18; Isa 30:29), 'ăbhı̄r (construct from 'ābhı̄r), “the Strong One” (Gen 49:24; Isa 1:24; Psa 132:2); melekh, “King”; 'ādhōn, “lord,” and 'ădhōnāy, “my lord” (Exo 23:17; Isa 10:16, Isa 10:33; Gen 18:27; Isa 6:1). Also ba‛al, “proprietor” or “master,” may be inferred as a designation once in use, from its appearance in such Hebrew proper names as Jerubbaal and Ishbaal. The last three names describe God as a Master to whom man stands in the relation of a servant, and they tended to fall into disuse as the necessity arose to differentiate the worship of Yahweh from that of the gods of surrounding nations.
A term of uncertain meaning is Yahweh or 'Ĕlōhı̄m cebhā'ōth, “Yahweh” or “God of hosts.” In Hebrew usage “host” might mean an army of men, or the stars and the angels - which, apart or in conjunction, made up the host of heaven. God of Hosts in early times meant the war god who led the armies of Israel (1Sa 4:4; 2Sa 7:8). In 1Sa 17:45 this title stands in parallelism with “the God of the armies of Israel.” So all Israel is called the host of Yahweh (Exo 12:41). In the Prophets, where the term has become a regular appellation, it stands in relation to every form of the power and majesty, physical and moral, of God (e.g. Isa 2:12; Isa 6:3, Isa 6:5; Isa 10:23, Isa 10:33). It stands in parallelism with Isaiah's peculiar title, the Holy One of Israel (Isa 5:16, Isa 5:24). It has, therefore, been thought that it refers to the host of heaven. In the Prophets it is practically a proper name. Its original meaning may well have been forgotten or dropped, but it does not follow that a new special significance was attached to the word “hosts.” The general meaning of the whole term is well expressed by the Septuagint translation, kúrios pantokrátōr, “Lord Omnipotent.”
(3) Yahweh (Jehovah)
This is the personal proper name par excellence of Israel's God, even as Chemosh was that of the god of Moab, and Dagon that of the god of the Philistines. The original meaning and derivation of the word are unknown. The variety of modern theories shows that, etymologically, several derivations are possible, but that the meanings attached to any one of them have to be imported and imposed upon the word. They add nothing to our knowledge. The Hebrews themselves connected the word with hāyāh, “to be.” In Exo 3:14 Yahweh is explained as equivalent to 'ehyeh, which is a short form of 'ehyeh 'ăsher 'ehyeh, translated in the Revised Version (British and American) “I am that I am.” This has been supposed to mean “self-existence,” and to represent God as the Absolute. Such an idea, however, would be a metaphysical abstraction, not only impossible to the time at which the name originated, but alien to the Hebrew mind at any time. And the imperfect 'ehyeh is more accurately translated “I will be what I will be,” a Semitic idiom meaning, “I will be all that is necessary as the occasion will arise,” a familiar Old Testament idea (compare Isa 7:4, Isa 7:9; Psa 23:1-6).
This name was in use from the earliest historical times till after the exile. It is found in the most ancient literature. According to Exo 3:13 f, and especially Exo 6:2, Exo 6:3, it was first introduced by Moses, and was the medium of a new revelation of the God of their fathers to the children of Israel. But in parts of Genesis it is represented as being in use from the earliest times. Theories that derive it from Egypt or Assyria, or that would connect it etymologically with Jove or Zeus, are supported by no evidence. We have to be content either to say that Yahweh was the tribal God of Israel from time immemorial, or to accept a theory that is practically identical with that of Exodus - that it was adopted through Moses from the Midianite tribe into which he married. The Kenites, the tribe of Midianites related to Moses, dwelt in the neighborhood of Sinai, and attached themselves to Israel (Jdg 1:16; Jdg 4:11). A few passages suggest that Sinai was the original home of Yahweh (Jdg 5:4, Jdg 5:5; Deu 33:2). But there is no direct evidence bearing upon the origin of the worship of Yahweh: to us He is known only as the God of Israel.
4. Pre-Prophetic Conceptions of Yahweh
(1) Yahweh Alone was the God of Israel
Hebrew theology consists essentially of the doctrine of Yahweh and its implications. The teachers and leaders of the people at all times worship and enjoin the worship of Yahweh alone. “It stands out as a prominent and incontrovertible fact, that down to the reign of Ahab ... no prominent man in Israel, with the doubtful exception of Solomon, known by name and held up for condemnation, worshipped any other god but Yahweh. In every national and tribal crisis, in all times of danger and of war, it is Yahweh and Yahweh alone who is invoked to give victory and deliverance” (Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures (3), 21). This is more evident in what is, without doubt, very early literature, even than in later writings (e.g. Jdg 5; Dt 33; 1 Sam 4 through 6). The isolation of the desert was more favorable to the integrity of Yahweh's sole worship than the neighborhood of powerful peoples who worshipped many other gods. Yet that early religion of Yahweh can be called monotheistic only in the light of the end it realized, for in the course of its development it had to overcome many limitations.
(A) His Early Worship
The early worship of Yahweh did not exclude belief in the existence of other gods. As other nations believed in the existence of Yahweh (1Sa 4:8; 2Ki 17:27), so Israel did not doubt the reality of other gods (Jdg 11:24; Num 21:29; Mic 4:5). This limitation involved two others: Yahweh is the God of Israel only; with them alone He makes a COVENANT (which see) (Gen 15:18; Exo 6:4, Exo 6:5; 2Ki 17:34, 2Ki 17:35), and their worship only He seeks (Deu 4:32-37; Deu 32:9; Amo 3:2). Therefore, He works, and can be worshipped only within a certain geographical area. He may have been associated with His original home in Sinai long after the settlement in Canaan (Jdg 5:4; Deu 33:2; 1Ki 19:8, 1Ki 19:9), but gradually His home and that of His people became identical (1Sa 26:19; Hos 9:3; Isa 14:2, Isa 14:25). Even after the deportation of the ten tribes, Canaan remains Yahweh's land (2Ki 17:24-28). Early Israelites are, therefore, more properly described as Monolatrists or Henotheists than as Monotheists. It is characteristic of the religion of Israel (in contrast with, e.g. Greek thought) that it arrived at absolute Monotheism along the line of moral and religious experience, rather than that of rational inference. Even while they shared the common Semitic belief in the reality of other gods, Yahweh alone had for them “the value of God.”
(B) Popular Religion
It is necessary to distinguish between the teaching of the religious leaders and the belief and practice of the people generally. The presence of a higher religion never wholly excludes superstitious practices. The use of Teraphim (Gen 31:30; 1Sa 19:13, 1Sa 19:16; Hos 3:4), Ephod (Jdg 18:17-20; 1Sa 23:6, 1Sa 23:9; 1Sa 30:7), Urim and Thummim (1Sa 28:6; 1Sa 14:40, Septuagint), for the purposes of magic and divination, to obtain oracles from Yahweh, was quite common in Israel. Necromancy was practiced early and late (1Sa 28:7; Isa 8:19; Deu 18:10. 11 ). Sorcery and witchcraft were not unknown, but were condemned by the religious leaders (1Sa 28:3). The burial places of ancestors were held in great veneration (Gen 35:20; Gen 50:13; Jos 24:30). But these facts do not prove that Hebrew religion was animistic and polytheistic, any more than similar phenomena in Christian lands would justify such an inference about Christianity.
(C) Polytheistic Tendencies
Yet the worship of Yahweh maintained and developed its monotheistic principle only by overcoming several hostile tendencies. The Baal-worship of the Canaanites and the cults of other neighboring tribes proved a strong attraction to the mass of Israelites (Jdg 2:13; Jdg 3:7; Jdg 8:33; Jdg 10:10; 1Sa 8:8; 1Sa 12:10; 1Ki 11:5, 1Ki 11:33; Hos 2:5, Hos 2:17; Ezek 20; Exo 20:5; Exo 22:20; Exo 34:16, Exo 34:17). Under the conditions of life in Canaan, the sole worship of Yahweh was in danger of modification by three tendencies, coördination, assimilation, and disintegration.
When the people had settled down in peaceful relations with their neighbors, and began to have commercial and diplomatic transactions with them, it was inevitable that they should render their neighbor's gods some degree of reverence and worship. Courtesy and friendship demanded as much (compare 2Ki 5:18). When Solomon had contracted many foreign alliances by marriage, he was also bound to admit foreign worship into Jerusalem (1Ki 11:5). But Ahab was the first king who tried to set up the worship of Baal, side by side with that of Yahweh, as the national religion (1Ki 18:19). Elijah's stand and Jehu's revolution gave its death blow to Baal-worship and vindicated the sole right of Yahweh to Israel's allegiance. The prophet was defending the old religion and Ahab was the innovator; but the conflict and its issue brought the monotheistic principle to a new and higher level. The supreme temptation and the choice transformed what had been a natural monolatry into a conscious and moral adherence to Yahweh alone (1Ki 18:21, 1Ki 18:39).
But to repudiate the name of Baal was not necessarily to be rid of the influence of Baal-worship. The ideas of the heathen religions survived in a more subtle way in the worship of Yahweh Himself. The change from the nomad life of the desert to the agricultural conditions of Canaan involved some change in religion. Yahweh, the God of flocks and wars, had to be recognized as the God of the vintage and the harvest. That this development occurred is manifest in the character of the great religious festivals. “Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep ... and the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labors, which thou sowest in the field: and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labors out of the field” (Exo 23:14-16). The second and the third obviously, and the first probably, were agricultural feasts, which could have no meaning in the desert. Israel and Yahweh together took possession of Canaan. To doubt that would be to admit the claims of the Baal-worship; but to assert it also involved some danger, because it was to assert certain similarities between Yahweh and the Baalim. When those similarities were embodied in the national festivals, they loomed very large in the eyes and minds of the mass of the people (W.R. Smith, Prophets of Israel, 49-57). The danger was that Israel should regard Yahweh, like the Baals of the country, as a Nature-god, and, by local necessity, a national god, who gave His people the produce of the land and, protected them from their enemies, and in return received frown them such gifts and sacrifices as corresponded to His nature. From the appearance in Israel, and among Yahweh worshippers, of such names as Jerub-baal, Esh-baal (son of Saul) and Beeliada (son of David, 1Ch 14:7), it has been inferred that Yahweh was called Baal, and there is ample evidence that His worship was assimilated to that of the Canaanite Baalim. The bulls raised by Jeroboam (1Ki 12:26) were symbols of Yahweh, and in Judah the Canaanite worship was imitated down to the time of Asa (1Ki 14:22-24; 1Ki 15:12, 1Ki 15:13). Against this tendency above all, the great prophets of the 8th century contended. Israel worshipped Yahweh as if He were one of the Baalim, and Hosea calls it Baal-worship (Hos 2:8, Hos 2:12, Hos 2:13; compare Amo 2:8; Isa 1:10-15).
And where Yahweh was conceived as one of the Baalim or Masters of the land, He became, like them, subject to disintegration into a number of local deities. This was probably the gravamen of Jeroboam's sin in the eyes of the “Deuteronomic” historian. In setting up separate sanctuaries, he divided the worship, and, in effect, the godhead of Yahweh. The localization and naturalization of Yahweh, as well as His assimilation to the Baals, all went together, so that we read that even in Judah the number of gods was according to its cities (Jer 2:28; Jer 11:13). The vindication of Yahweh's moral supremacy and spiritual unity demanded, among other things, the unification of His worship in Jerusalem (2 Ki 23).
(D) No Hebrew Goddesses
In one respect the religion of Yahweh successfully resisted the influence of the heathen cults. At no time was Yahweh associated with a goddess. Although the corrupt sensual practices that formed a large part of heathen worship also entered into Israel's worship (see ASHERAH), it never penetrated so far as to modify in this respect the idea of Yahweh.
(E) Human Sacrifices
It is a difficult question how far human sacrifices at any time found place in the worship of Yahweh. The outstanding instance is that of Jephthah's daughter, which, though not condemned, is certainly regarded as exceptional (Jdg 11:30-40). Perhaps it is rightly regarded as a unique survival. Then the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, while reminiscent of an older practice, represents a more advanced view. Human sacrifice though not demanded, is not abhorrent to Yahweh (Gen 22). A further stage is represented where Ahaz' sacrifice of his son is condemned as an “abomination of the nations” (2Ki 16:3). The sacrifice of children is emphatically condemned by the prophets as a late and foreign innovation which Yahweh had not commanded (Jer 7:31; Eze 16:20). Other cases, such as the execution of the chiefs of Shittim (Num 25:4), and of Saul's sons “before Yahweh” (2Sa 21:9), and the ḥērem or ban, by which whole communities were devoted to destruction (Jdg 21:10; 1 Sam 15), while they show a very inadequate idea of the sacredness of human life, are not sacrifices, nor were they demanded by Yahweh's worship. They were survivals of savage customs connected with tribal unity, which the higher morality of Yahweh's religion had not yet abolished.
(2) The Nature and Character of Yahweh
The nature and character of Yahweh are manifested in His activities. The Old Testament makes no statements about the essence of God; we are left to infer it from His action in Nature and history and from His dealing with man.
(A) A God of War
In this period, His activity is predominantly martial. As Israel's Deliverer from Egypt, “Yahweh is a man of war” (Exo 15:3). An ancient account of Israel's journey to Canaan is called “the book of the Wars of Yahweh” (Num 21:14). By conquest in war He gave His people their land (Jdg 5; 2Sa 5:24; Deu 33:27). He is, therefore, more concerned with men and nations, with the moral, than with the physical world.
(B) His Relation to Nature
Even His activity in Nature is first connected with His martial character. Earth, stars and rivers come to His battle (Jdg 5:4, Jdg 5:20, Jdg 5:21). The forces of Nature do the bidding of Israel's Deliverer from Egypt (Ex 8-10; Exo 14:21). He causes sun and moon to stand while He delivers up the Amorites (Jos 10:12). Later, He employs the forces of Nature to chastise His people for infidelity and sin (2Sa 24:15; 1Ki 17:1). Amos declares that His moral rule extends to other nations and that it determines their destinies. In harmony with this idea, great catastrophes like the Deluge (Gen 7) and the overthrow of the Cities of the Plain (Gen 19) are ascribed to His moral will. In the same pragmatic manner the oldest creation narrative describes Him creating man, and as much of the world as He needed (Gen 2), but as yet the idea of a universal cause had not emerged, because the idea of a universe had not been formed. He acts as one of great, but limited, power and knowledge (Gen 11:5-8; Gen 18:20). The more universal conception of Gen 1 belongs to the same stratum of thought as Second Isa. At every stage of the Old Testament the metaphysical perfections of Yahweh follow as an inference from His ethical preeminence.
(3) The Most Distinctive Characteristic of Yahweh
The most distinctive characteristic of Yahweh, which finally rendered Him and His religion absolutely unique, was the moral factor. In saying that Yahweh was a moral God, it is meant that He acted by free choice, in conformity with ends which He set to Himself, and which He also imposed upon His worshippers as their law of conduct.
The most essential condition of a moral nature is found in His vivid personality, which at every stage of His self-revelation shines forth with an intensity that might be called aggressive. Divine personality and spirituality are never expressly asserted or defined in the Old Testament; but nowhere in the history of religion are they more clearly asserted. The modes of their expression are, however, qualified by anthropomorphisms, by limitations, moral and physical. Yahweh's jealousy (Exo 20:5; Deu 5:9; Deu 6:15), His wrath and anger (Exo 32:10-12; Deu 7:4) and His inviolable holiness (Exo 19:21, Exo 19:22; 1Sa 6:19; 2Sa 6:7) appear sometimes to be irrational and immoral; but they are the assertion of His individual nature, of His self-consciousness as He distinguishes Himself from all else, in the moral language of the time, and are the conditions of His having any moral nature whatsoever. Likewise, He dwells in a place and moves from it (Jdg 5:5); men may see Him in visible form (Exo 24:10; Num 12:8); He is always represented as having organs like those of the human body, arms, hands, feet, mouth, eyes and ears. By such sensuous and figurative language alone was it possible for a personal God to make Himself known to men.
(B) Law and Judgment
The content of Yahweh's moral nature as revealed in the Old Testament developed with the growth of moral ideas. Though His activity is most prominently martial, it is most permanently judicial, and is exercised through judges, priests and prophets. Ṭōrāh and mishpāṭ, “law” and “judgment,” from the time of Moses onward, stand, the one for a body of customs that should determine men's relations to one another, and the other for the decision of individual cases in accordance with those customs, and both were regarded as issuing from Yahweh. The people came to Moses “to inquire of God” when they had a matter in dispute, and he “judged between a man and his neighbor, and made them know the statutes of God, and his laws” (Exo 18:15, Exo 18:16). The judges appear mostly as leaders in war; but it is clear, as their name indicates, that they also gave judgments as between the people (Jdg 3:10; Jdg 4:4; Jdg 10:2, Jdg 10:3; 1Sa 7:16). The earliest literary prophets assume the existence of a law which priest and prophet had neglected to administer rightly (Hos 4:6; Hos 8:1, Hos 8:12; Amo 2:4). This implied that Yahweh was thought of as actuated and acting by a consistent moral principle, which He also imposed on His people. Their morality may have varied much at different periods, but there is no reason to doubt that the Decalogue, and the moral teaching it involved, emanated substantially from Moses. “He taught them that Yahveh, if a stern, and often wrathful, Deity, was also a God of justice and purity. Linking the moral life to the religious idea, he may have taught them too that murder and theft, adultery and false witness, were abhorred and forbidden by their God” (Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures3, 49). The moral teaching of the Old Testament effected the transition from the national and collective to the individual and personal relation with Yahweh. The most fundamental defect of Hebrew morality was that its application was confined within Israel itself and did little to determine the relation of the Israelites to people of other nations; and this limitation was bound up with Henotheism, the idea that Yahweh was God of Israel alone. “The consequence of this national conception of Yahweh was that there was no religious and moral bond regulating the conduct of the Hebrews with men of other nations. Conduct which between fellow-Hebrews was offensive in Yahweh's eyes was inoffensive when practiced by a Hebrew toward one who was not a Hebrew (Deu 23:19 f) ..... In the latter case they were governed purely by considerations of expediency. This ethical limitation is the real explanation of the 'spoiling of the Egyptians'” (Exo 11:2, Exo 11:3) (G. Buchanan Gray, The Divine Discipline of Israel, 46, 48).
The first line of advance in the teaching of the prophets was to expand and deepen the moral demands of Yahweh. So they removed at once the ethical and theological limitations of the earlier view. But they were conscious that they were only developing elements already latent in the character and law of Yahweh.
5. The Idea of God in the Prophetic Period
Two conditions called forth and determined the message of the 8th-century prophets - the degradation of morality and religion at home and the growing danger to Israel and Judah from the all-victorious Assyrian. With one voice the prophets declare and condemn the moral and social iniquity of Israel and Judah (Hos 4:1; Amo 4:1; Isa 1:21-23). The worship of Yahweh had been assimilated to the heathen religions around (Amo 2:8; Hos 3:1; Isa 30:22). A time of prosperity had produced luxury, license and an easy security, depending upon the external bonds and ceremonies of religion. In the threatening attitude of Assyria, the prophets see the complement of Israel's unfaithfulness and sin, this the cause and that the instruments of Yahweh's anger (Isa 10:5, Isa 10:6).
These circumstances forced into first prominence the righteousness of Yahweh. It was an original attribute that had appeared even in His most martial acts (Jdg 5:4; 1Sa 12:7). But the prophet's interpretation of Israel's history revealed its content on a larger scale. Yahweh was not like the gods of the heathen, bound to the purposes and fortunes of His people. Their relation was not a natural bond, but a covenant of grace which He freely bestowed upon them, and He demanded as its condition, loyalty to Himself and obedience to His law. Impending calamities were not, as the naturalistic conception implied, due to the impotence of Yahweh against the Assyrian gods (Isa 31:1), but the judgment of God, whereby He applied impartially to the conduct of His people a standard of righteousness, which He both had in Himself and declared in judgment upon them. The prophets did not at first so much transform the idea of righteousness, as assert its application as between the people and Yahweh. But in doing that they also rejected the external views of its realization. It consists not in unlimited gifts or in the costliest oblations. “What doth Yahweh require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic 6:8). And it tends to become of universal application. Yahweh will deal as a righteous judge with all nations, including Israel, and Israel as the covenant people bears the greater responsibility (Am 1 through 3). And a righteous judge that metes out even justice to all nations will deal similarly with individuals. The ministry of the prophets produced a vivid consciousness of the personal and individual relation of men to God. The prophets themselves were not members of a class, no order or school or profession, but men impelled by an inner and individual call of God, often against their inclination, to proclaim an unpopular message (Amo 7:14, Amo 7:15; Isa 6:1-13; Jer 1:6-9; Eze 3:14). Jeremiah and Ezekiel in terms denounced the old idea of collective responsibility (Jer 31:29; Ezek 18). Thus in the prophets' application of the idea of righteousness to their time, two of the limitations adhering to the idea of God, at least in popular religion hitherto, were transcended. Yahweh's rule is no longer limited to Israel, nor concerned only with the nation as a collective whole, but He deals impartially with every individual and nation alike. Other limitations also disappear. His anger and wrath, that once appeared irrational and unjust, now become the intensity of His righteousness. Nor is it merely forensic and retributive righteousness. It is rather a moral end, a chief good, which He may realize by loving-kindness and mercy and forgiveness as much as by punishment. Hebrew thought knows no opposition between God's righteousness and His goodness, between justice and mercy. The covenant of righteousness is like the relation of husband to wife, of father to child, one of loving-kindness and everlasting love (Hos 3:1; Hos 11:4; Isa 1:18; Isa 30:18; Mic 7:18; Isa 43:4; Isa 54:8; Jer 31:3, Jer 31:34; Jer 9:24). The stirring events which showed Yahweh's independence of Israel revealed the fullness of grace that was always latent in His relation to His people (Gen 33:11; 2Sa 24:14). It was enshrined in the Decalogue (Exo 20:6), and proclaimed with incomparable grandeur in what may be the most ancient Mosaic tradition: “Yah, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exo 34:6, Exo 34:7).
The holiness of Yahweh in the Prophets came to have a meaning closely akin to His righteousness. As an idea more distinctly religious and more exclusively applied to God, it was subject to greater changes of meaning with the development or degradation of religion. It was applied to anything withdrawn from common use to the service of religion - utensils, places, seasons, animals and men. Originally it was so far from the moral meaning it now has that it was used of the “sacred” prostitutes who ministered to the licentiousness of Canaanitish worship (Deu 23:18). Whether or not the root-idea of the word was “separateness,” there is no doubt that it is applied to Yahweh in the Old Testament to express his separateness from men and his sublimity above them. It was not always a moral quality in Yahweh; for He might be unapproachable because of His mere power and terror (1Sa 6:20; Isa 8:13). But in the Prophets, and especially in Isa, it acquires a distinctly moral meaning. In his vision Isaiah hears Yahweh proclaimed as “holy, holy, holy,” and he is filled with the sense of his own sin and of that of Israel (Isa 6:1-13; compare Isa 1:4; Amo 2:7). But even here the term conveys more than moral perfection. Yahweh is already “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa 57:15). It expresses the full Divinity of Yahweh in His uniqueness and self-existence (1Sa 2:2; Amo 4:2; Hos 11:9). It would therefore seem to stand in antithesis to righteousness, as expressing those qualities of God, metaphysical and moral, by which He is distinguished and separated from men, while righteousness involves those moral activities and relations which man may share with God. But in the Prophets, God's entire being is moral and His whole activity is righteous. The meanings of the terms, though not identical, coincide; God's holiness is realized in righteousness. “God the Holy One is sanctified in righteousness” (Isa 5:16). So Isaiah's peculiar phrase, “the Holy One of Israel,” brings God in His most exalted being into a relation of knowledge and moral reciprocity with Israel.
The moralizing of righteousness and holiness universalized Deity. - From Amos downward Yahweh's moral rule, and therefore His absolute power, were recognized as extending over all the nations surrounding Israel, and the great world-power of Assyria is but the rod of His anger and the instrument of His righteousness (Am 1 through 2; Isa 10:5; Isa 13:5; Isa 19:1). Idolatrous and polytheistic worship of all kinds are condemned. The full inference of Monotheism was only a gradual process, even with the prophets. It is not clear that the 8th-century prophets all denied the existence of other gods, though Isaiah's term for them, 'ĕlı̄lı̄m (“things of nought,” “no-gods”), points in that direction. At least the monotheistic process had set in. And Yahweh's control over other nations was not exercised merely from Israel's point of view. The issue of the judgment upon the two great powers of Egypt and Assyria was to be their conversion to the religion of Yahweh (Isa 19:24, Isa 19:25; compare Isa 2:2-4 = Mic 4:1-3). Yet Hebrew universalism never went beyond the idea that all nations should find their share in Yahweh through Israel (Zec 8:23). The nations from the ends of the earth shall come to Yahweh and declare that their fathers' gods were “lies, even vanity and things wherein there is no profit” (Jer 16:19). It is stated categorically that “Yahweh he is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else” (Deu 4:39).
The unity of God was the leading idea of Josiah's reformation. Jerusalem was cleansed of every accretion of Baal-worship and of other heathen religions that had established themselves by the side of the worship of Yahweh (2Ki 23:4-8, 2Ki 23:10-14). The semi-heathen worship of Yahweh in many local shrines, which tended to disintegrate His unity, was swept away (2Ki 23:8, 2Ki 23:9). The reform was extended to the Northern Kingdom (2Ki 23:15-20), so that Jerusalem should be the sole habitation of Yahweh on earth, and His worship there alone should be the symbol of unity to the whole Hebrew race.
But the monotheistic doctrine is first fully and consciously stated in Second Isa. There is no God but Yahweh: other gods are merely graven images, and their worshippers commit the absurdity of worshipping the work of their own hands (Isa 42:8; Isa 44:8-20). Yahweh manifests His deity in His absolute sovereignty of the world, both of Nature and history. The prophet had seen the rise and fall of Assyria, the coming of Cyrus, the deportation and return of Judah's exiles, as incidents in the training of Israel for her world-mission to be “a light of the Gentiles” and Yahweh's “salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isa 42:1-7; Isa 49:1-6). Israel's world-mission, and the ordering of historical movements to the grand final purpose of universal salvation (Isa 45:23), is the philosophy of history complementary to the doctrine of God's unity and universal sovereignty.
(5) Creator and Lord
A further inference is that He is Creator and Lord of the physical universe. Israel's call and mission is from Yahweh who “created the heavens, and stretched them forth; he that spread abroad the earth and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein” (Isa 42:5; compare Isa 40:12, Isa 40:26; Isa 44:24; Isa 45:18; Gen 1). All the essential factors of Monotheism are here at last exhibited, not in abstract metaphysical terms, but as practical motives of religious life. His counsel and action are His own (Isa 40:13) Nothing is hid from Him; and the future like the past is known to Him (Isa 40:27; Isa 42:9; Isa 44:8; Isa 48:6). Notwithstanding His special association with the temple in Jerusalem, He is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity”; the heaven is His throne, and no house or place can contain Him (Isa 57:15; Isa 66:1). No force of history or Nature can withstand His purpose (Isa 41:17-20; Isa 42:13; Isa 43:13). He is “the First and the Last,” an “Everlasting God” (Isa 40:28; Isa 41:4; Isa 48:12). Nothing can be likened to Him or compared with Him (Isa 46:5). As the heavens are higher than the earth, so His thoughts and ways transcend those of men (Isa 55:8, Isa 55:9). But anthropomorphic and anthropopathic expressions still abound. Eyes, mouth, ears, nostrils, hands, arms and face are His; He is a man of war (Isa 42:13; Isa 63:1); He cries like a travailing woman (Isa 42:14), and feeds His flock like a shepherd (Isa 40:11). Thus, alone could the prophet express His full concrete Divinity.
(6) His Compassion and Love
His compassion and love are expressed in a variety of ways that lead up directly to the new testament doctrine of divine fatherhood. He folds Israel in his arms as a shepherd his lambs (Isa 40:11). Her scattered children are his sons and daughters whom he redeems and restores (Isa 43:5-7). In wrath for a moment he hides his face, but his mercy and kindness are everlasting (Isa 54:8). Greater than a mother's tenderness is Yahweh's love for Israel (Isa 49:15; Isa 66:13). “It would be easy to find in the prophet proof-texts for everything which theology asserts regarding God, with the exception perhaps that he is a spirit, by which is meant that he is a particular kind of substance” (A.B. Davidson in Skinner, Isa, ii, xxix). But in truth the spirituality and personality of God are more adequately expressed in the living human language of the prophet than in the dead abstractions of metaphysics
6. Idea of God in Post-Exilic Judaism
Monotheism appears in this period as established beyond question, and in the double sense that Yahweh the God of Israel is one Being, and that beside Him there is no other God. He alone is God of all the earth, and all other beings stand at an infinite distance from Him (Psa 18:31; Psa 24:1; Psa 115:3). The generic name God is frequently applied to Him, and the tendency appears to avoid the particular and proper name Yahweh (see especially Psalms 73 through 89; Job; Ecclesiastes).
(1) New Conditions
Nothing essentially new appears, but the teaching of the prophets is developed under new influences. And what then was enforced by the few has now become the creed of the many. The teaching of the prophets had been enforced by the experiences of the exile. Israel had been punished for her sins of idolatry, and the faithful among the exiles had learned that Yahweh's rule extended over many lands and nations. The foreign influences had been more favorable to Monotheism. The gods of Canaan and even of Assyria and Babylonia had been overthrown, and their peoples had given place to the Persians, who, in the religion of Zarathushtra, had advanced nearer to a pure Monotheism than any Gentile race had done; for although they posited two principles of being, the Good and the Evil, they worshipped only Ahura-Mazda, the Good. When Persia gave way to Greece, the more cultured Greek, the Greek who had ideas to disseminate, and who established schools at Antioch or Alexandria, was a pure Monotheist.
(2) Divine Attributes
Although we do not yet find anything like a dogmatic account of God's attributes, the larger outlook upon the universe and the deeper reflection upon man's individual experience have produced more comprehensive and far-reaching ideas of God's being and activity. (a) Faith rests upon His eternity and unchangeablehess (Psa 90:1, Psa 90:2; Psa 102:27). His omniscience and omnipresence are expressed with every possible fullness (Ps 139; Job 26:6). His almighty power is at once the confidence of piety, and the rebuke of blasphemy or frowardness (Psa 74:12-17; 104 et passim; Job 36; 37 et passim; Ecclesiasticus 16:17ff). (b) His most exalted and comprehensive attribute is His holiness; by it He swears as by Himself (Psa 89:35); it expresses His majesty (Psa 99:3, Psa 99:1.9) and His supreme power (Psa 60:6). (c) His righteousness marks all His acts in relation to Israel and the nations around her (Psa 119:137-144; Psa 129:4). (d) That both holiness and righteousness were conceived as moral qualities is reflected in the profound sense of sin which the pious knew (Ps 51) and revealed in the moral demands associated with them; truth, honesty and fidelity are the qualities of those who shall dwell in God's holy hill (Psa 15:1-5); purity, diligence, kindliness, honesty, humility and wisdom are the marks of the righteous man (Prov 10 through 11). (e) In Job and Proverbs wisdom stands forth as the preëminent quality of the ideal man, combining in itself all moral and intellectual excellences, and wisdom comes from God (Pro 2:6); it is a quality of His nature (Pro 8:22) and a mode of His activity (Pro 3:19; Psa 104:24). In the Hellenistic circles of Alexandria, wisdom was transformed into a philosophical conception, which is at once the principle of God's sell-revelation and of His creative activity. Philo identifies it with His master-conception, the Logos. “Both Logos and Wisdom mean for Him the reason and mind of God, His image impressed upon the universe, His agent of creation and providence, the mediator through which He communicates Himself to man and the world, and His law imposed upon both the moral and physical universe” (Mansfield Essays, 296). In the Book of Wisdom it is represented as proceeding from God, “a breath of the power of God, and a clear effulgence of the glory of the Almighty ... an unspotted mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Pro 7:25, Pro 7:26). In man, it is the author of knowledge, virtue and piety, and in the world it has been the guide and arbiter of its destiny from the beginning (chapters 10 through 12). (f) But in the more purely Hebrew literature of this period, the moral attribute of God that comes into greatest prominence is His beneficence. Goodness and mercy, faithfulness and loving-kindness, forgiveness and redemption are His willing gifts to Israel. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear him” (Psa 103:13; Psa 145:8; Psa 103:8; Ecclesiasticus 2:11 ). To say that God is loving and like a father goes far on the way to the doctrine that He is Love and Father, but not the whole way; for as yet His mercy and grace are manifested only in individual acts, and they are not the natural and necessary outflow of His nature. All these ideas of God meant less for the Jewish than for the Christian mind, because they were yet held subject to several limitations.
(3) Surviving Limitations
(A) Disappearing Anthropomorphism
We have evidence of a changed attitude toward anthropomorphisms. God no longer walks on earth, or works under human limitation. Where His eyes or ears or face or hands are spoken of, they are clearly figurative expressions. His activities are universal and invisible, and He dwells on high forevermore. Yet anthropomorphic limitations are not wholly overcome. The idea that He sleeps, though not to be taken literally, implies a defect of His power (Psa 44:23).
In the metaphysical attributes, the chief limitation was the idea that God's dwelling-place on earth was on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. He was no longer confined within Palestine; His throne is in heaven (Psa 11:4; Psa 103:19), and His glory above the heavens (Psa 113:4); but
“In Judah is God known:
His name is great in Israel.
In Salem also is his tabernacle,
And his dwelling-place in Zion” (Psa 76:1, Psa 76:2; Psa 110:2; compare Ecclesiasticus 24:8ff).
That these are no figures of speech is manifested in the yearning of the pious for the temple, and their despair in separation from it (Psa 42:1-11; Psa 43:1-5; compare 122).
This involved a moral limitation, the sense of God's favoritism toward Israel, which sometimes developed into an easy self-righteousness that had no moral basis. God's action in the world was determined by His favor toward Israel, and His loving acts were confined within the bounds of a narrow nationalism. Other nations are wicked and sinners, adversaries and oppressors, upon whom God is called to execute savage vengeance (Ps 109; Psa 137:7-9). Yet Israel did not wholly forget that it was the servant of Yahweh to proclaim His name among the nations (Psa 96:2, Psa 96:3; Psa 117:1-2). Yahweh is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works (Psa 145:9; Ecclesiasticus 18:13; compare Psa 104:14; Zec 14:16, and the Book of Jonah, which is a rebuke to Jewish particularism).
(D) Ceremonial Legalism
God's holiness in the hands of the priests tended to become a material and formal quality, which fulfilled itself in established ceremonial, and His righteousness in the hands of the scribes tended to become an external law whose demands were satisfied by a mechanical obedience of works. This external conception of righteousness reacted upon the conception of God's government of the world. From the earliest times the Hebrew mind had associated suffering with the punishment of sin, and blessedness with the reward of virtue. In the post-exilic age the relation came to be thought of as one of strict correspondence between righteousness and reward and between sin and punishment. Righteousness, both in man and God, was not so much a moral state as a measurable sum of acts, in the one case, of obedience, and in the other, of reward or retribution. Conversely, every calamity and evil that befell men came to be regarded as the direct and equivalent penalty of a sin they had committed. The Book of Job is a somewhat inconclusive protest against this prevalent view.
These were the tendencies that ultimately matured into the narrow externalism of the scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's time, which had substituted for the personal knowledge and service of God a system of mechanical acts of worship and conduct.
(4) Tendencies to Abstractness
Behind these defective ideas of God's attributes stood a more radical defect of the whole religious conception. The purification of the religion of Israel from Polytheism and idolatry, the affirmation of the unity of God and of His spirituality, required His complete separation from the manifoldness of visible existence. It was the only way, until the more adequate idea of a personal or spiritual unity, that embraced the manifold in itself, was developed. But it was an unstable conception, which tended on the one hand to empty the unity of all reality, and on the other to replace it by a new multiplicity which was not a unity. Both tendencies appear in post-exilic Judaism.
The first effect of distinguishing too sharply between God and all created being was to set Him above and apart from all the world. This tendency had already appeared in Ezekiel, whose visions were rather symbols of God's presence than actual experiences of God. In Daniel even the visions appear only in dreams. The growth of the Canon of sacred literature as the final record of the law of God, and the rise of the scribes as its professional interpreters, signified that God need not, and would not, speak face to face with man again; and the stricter organization of the priesthood and its sacrificial acts in Jerusalem tended to shut men generally out from access to God, and to reduce worship into a mechanical performance. A symptom of this fact was the disuse of the personal name Yahweh and the substitution for it of more general and abstract terms like God and Lord.
Not only an exaggerated awe, but also an element of skepticism, entered into the disuse of the proper name, a sense of the inadequacy of any name. In the Wisdom literature, God's incomprehensibility and remoteness appear for the first time as a conscious search after Him and a difficulty to find Him (Job 16:18-21; Job 23:3, Job 23:8, Job 23:9; Pro 30:2-4). Even the doctrine of immortality developed with the sense of God's present remoteness and the hope of His future nearness (Psa 17:15; Job 19:25). But Jewish theology was no cold Epicureanism or rationalistic Deism. Men's religious experiences apprehended God more intimately than their theology professed.
By a “happy inconsistency” (Montefiore) they affirmed His immanence both in Nature (Ps 104; The Wisdom of Solomon 8:1; 12:1, 2) and in man's inner experience (Pro 15:3, Pro 15:11; 1Ch 28:9; 1Ch 29:17, 1Ch 29:18). Yet that transcendence was the dominating thought is manifest, most of all, in the formulation of a number of mediating conceptions, which, while they connected God and the world, also revealed the gulf that separated them.
(5) Logos, Memra' (Mēmerā') and Angels
This process of abstraction had gone farthest in Alexandria, where Jewish thought had so far assimilated Platonic philosophy, that Philo and Wisdom conceive God as pure being who could not Himself come into any contact with the material and created world. His action and revelation are therefore mediated by His Powers, His Logos and His Wisdom, which, as personified or hypostatized attributes, become His vicegerents on earth. But in Palestine, too many mediating agencies grew up between God and man. The memra', or word of God, was not unlike Philo's Logos. The deified law partly corresponded to Alexandrian Wisdom. The Messiah had already appeared in the Prophets, and now in some circles He was expected as the mediator of God's special favor to Israel. The most important and significant innovation in this connection was the doctrine of angels. It was not entirely new, and Babylonian and Persian influences may have contributed to its development; but its chief cause lay in the general scheme of thought. Angels became intermediaries of revelation (Zec 1:9, Zec 1:12, Zec 1:19; Zec 3:1), the instruments of God's help (Dan 3:28; 2 Macc 11:6), and of His punishment (Apoc Baruch 21:23). The ancient gods of the nations became their patron angels (Dan 10:13-20); but Israel's hatred of their Gentile enemies often led to their transforming the latter's deities into demons. Incidentally a temporary solution of the problem of evil was thus found, by shifting all responsibility for evil from Yahweh to the demons. The unity and supremacy of God were maintained by the doubtful method of delegating His manifold, and especially His contradictory, activities to subordinate and partially to hostile spirits, which involved a new Polytheism. The problem of the One and the Many in ultimate reality cannot be solved by merely separating them. Hebrew Monotheism was unstable; it maintained its own truth even partially by affirming contradictories, and it contained in itself the demand for a further development. The few pluralistic phrases in the Old Testament (as Gen 1:26; Gen 3:22; Gen 11:7; Isa 6:8, and 'Ĕlōhı̄m) are not adumbrations of the Trinity, but only philological survivals. But the Messianic hope was an open confession of the incompleteness of the Old Testament revelation of God.
III. The Idea of God in the New Testament
1. Dependence on the Old Testament
The whole of the New Testament presupposes and rests upon the Old Testament. Jesus Christ and His disciples inherited the idea of God revealed in the Old Testament, as it survived in the purer strata of Jewish religion. So much was it to them and their contemporaries a matter of course, that it never occurred to them to proclaim or enforce the idea of God. Nor did they consciously feel the need of amending or changing it. They sought to correct some fallacious deductions made by later Judaism, and, unconsciously, they dropped the cruder anthropomorphisms and limitations of the Old Testament idea. But their point of departure was always the higher teaching of the prophets and Psalms, and their conscious endeavor in presenting God to men was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Mat 5:17). All the worthier ideas concerning God evolved in the Old Testament reappear in the New Testament. He is One, supreme, living, personal and spiritual, holy, righteous and merciful. His power and knowledge are all-sufficient, and He is not limited in time or place. Nor can it be said that any distinctly new attributes are ascribed to God in the New Testament. Yet there is a difference. The conception and all its factors are placed in a new relation to man and the universe, whereby their meaning is transformed, enhanced and enriched. The last trace of particularism, with its tendency to Polytheism, disappears. God can no longer bear a proper name to associate Him with Israel, or to distinguish Him from other gods, for He is the God of all the earth, who is no respecter of persons or nations. Two new elements entered men's religious thought and gradually lifted its whole content to a new plane - Jesus Christ's experience and manifestation of the Divine Fatherhood, and the growing conviction of the church that Christ Himself was God and the full and final revelation of God.
2. Gentile Influence
Gr thought may also have influenced New Testament thought, but in a comparatively insignificant and subordinate way. Its content was not taken over bodily as was that of Hebrew thought, and it did not influence the fountain head of New Testament ideas. It did not color the mind and teaching of Jesus Christ. It affected the form rather than matter of New Testament teaching. It appears in the clear-cut distinction between flesh and spirit, mind and body, which emerges in Paul's Epistles, and so it helped to define more accurately the spirituality of God. The idea of the Logos in John, and the kindred idea of Christ as the image of God in Paul and Hebrews, owe something to the influence of the Platonic and Stoic schools. As this is the constructive concept employed in the New Testament to define the religious significance of Christ and His essential relation to God, it modifies the idea of God itself, by introducing a distinction within the unity into its innermost meaning.
3. Absence of Theistic Proofs
Philosophy never appears in the New Testament on its own account, but only as subservient to Christian experience. In the New Testament as in the Old Testament, the existence of God is taken for granted as the universal basis of all life and thought. Only in three passages of Paul's, addressed to heathen audiences, do we find anything approaching a natural theology, and these are concerned rather with defining the nature of God, than with proving His existence. When the people of Lystra would have worshipped Paul and Barnabas as heathen gods, the apostle protests that God is not like men, and bases His majesty upon His creatorship of all things (Act 14:15). He urges the same argument at Athens, and appeals for its confirmation to the evidences of man's need of God which he had found in Athens itself (Act 17:23-31). The same natural witness of the soul, face to face with the universe, is again in Romans made the ground of universal responsibility to God (Act 1:18-21). No formal proof of God's existence is offered in the New Testament. Nor are the metaphysical attributes of God, His infinity, omnipotence and omniscience, as defined in systematic theology, at all set forth in the New Testament. The ground for these deductions is provided in the religious experience that finds God in Christ all-sufficient.
4. Fatherhood of God
The fundamental and central idea about God in New Testament teaching is His Fatherhood, and it determines all that follows. In some sense the idea was not unknown to heathen religions. Greeks and Romans acknowledged Father Zeus or Jupiter as the creator and preserver of Nature, and as standing in some special relation to men. In the Old Testament the idea appears frequently, and has a richer content. Not only is God the creator and preserver of Israel, but He deals with her as a father with his child. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear Him” (Psa 103:13; compare Deu 1:31; 6; Jer 3:4, Jer 3:19; Jer 31:20; Isa 63:16; Hos 11:1; Mal 3:17). Even His chastisements are “as a man chasteneth his son” (Deu 8:5; Isa 64:8). The same idea is expressed under the figure of a mother's tender care (Isa 49:15; Isa 66:13; Psa 27:10), and it is embedded in the covenant relation. But in the Old Testament the idea does not occupy the central and determinative position it has in New Testament, and it is always limited to Israel.
(1) In the Teaching of Jesus Christ
God is preëminently the Father. It is his customary term for the Supreme Being, and it is noteworthy that Jesus' usage has never been quite naturalized. We still say “God” where Jesus would have said “the Father.” He meant that the essential nature of God, and His relation to men, is best expressed by the attitude and relation of a father to his children; but God is Father in an infinitely higher and more perfect degree than any man. He is “good” and “perfect,” the heavenly Father, in contrast with men, who, even as fathers, are evil (Mat 5:48; Mat 7:11). What in them is an ideal imperfectly and intermittently realized, is in Him completely fulfilled. Christ thought not of the physical relation of origin and derivation, but of the personal relation of love and care which a father bestows upon his children. The former relation is indeed implied, for the Father is ever working in the world (Joh 5:17), and all things lie in His power (Luk 22:42). By His preserving power, the least as well as the greatest creature lives (Mat 6:26; Mat 10:29). But it is not the fact of God's creative, preserving and governing power, so much as the manner of it, that Christ emphasizes. He is absolutely good in all His actions and relations (Mat 7:11; Mar 10:18). To Him men and beasts turn for all they need, and in Him they find safety, rest and peace (Mat 6:26, Mat 6:32; Mat 7:11). His goodness goes forth spontaneously and alights upon all living things, even upon the unjust and His enemies (Mat 5:45). He rewards the obedient (Mat 6:1; Mat 7:21), forgives the disobedient (Mat 6:14; compare Mat 18:35) and restores the prodigal (Luk 15:11). “Fatherhood is love, original and underived, anticipating and undeserved, forgiving and educating, communicating and drawing to his heart” (Beyschlag, New Testament Theology, I, 82). To the Father, therefore, should men pray for all good things (Mat 6:9), and He is the ideal of all perfection, to which they should seek to attain (Mat 5:48). Such is the general character of God as expressed in His Fatherhood, but it is realized in different ways by those who stand. to Him in different relations.
(A) Its Relation to Himself
Jesus Christ knows the Father as no one else does, and is related to Him in a unique manner. The idea is central in His teaching, because the fact is fundamental in His experience. On His first personal appearance in history He declares that He must be about His Father's business (Luk 2:49), and at the last He commends His spirit into His Father's hands. Throughout His life, His filial consciousness is perfect and unbroken. “I and the Father are one” (Joh 10:30). As He knows the Father, so the Father knows and acknowledges Him. At the opening of His ministry, and again at its climax in the transfiguration, the Father bears witness to His perfect sonship (Mar 1:11; Mar 9:7). It was a relation of mutual love and confidence, unalloyed and infinite. “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (Joh 3:35; Joh 5:20). The Father sent the Son into the world, and entrusted Him with his message and power (Mat 11:27). He gave Him those who believed in Him, to receive His word (Joh 6:37, Joh 6:44, Joh 6:45; Joh 17:6, Joh 17:8). He does the works and speaks the words of the Father who sent Him (Joh 5:36; Joh 8:18, Joh 8:29; Joh 14:24). His dependence upon the Father, and His trust in Him are equally complete (Joh 11:41; Joh 12:27 f; 17). In this perfect union of Christ. with God, unclouded by sin, unbroken by infidelity, God first became for a human life on earth all that He could and would become. Christ's filial consciousness was in fact and experience the full and final revelation of God. “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him” (Mat 11:27). Not only can we see in Christ what perfect sonship is, but in His filial consciousness the Father Himself is so completely reflected that we may know the perfect Father also. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Joh 14:9; compare Joh 8:19). Nay, it is more than a reflection: so completely is the mind and will of Christ identified with that of the Father, that they interpenetrate, and the words and works of the Father shine out through Christ. “The words that I say unto you I speak not from myself: but the Father abiding in me doeth his works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (Joh 14:10, Joh 14:11). As the Father, so is the Son, for men to honor or to hate (Joh 5:23; Joh 15:23). In the last day, when He comes to execute the judgment which the Father has entrusted to Him, He shall come in the glory of the Father (Mat 16:27; Mar 8:38; Luk 9:26). In all this Jesus is aware that His relation to the Father is unique. What in Him is original and realized, in others can only be an ideal to be gradually realized by His communication. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Joh 14:6). He is, therefore, rightly called the “only begotten son” (Joh 3:16), and His contemporaries believed that He made Himself equal to God (Joh 5:18).
(B) To Believers
Through Christ, His disciples and hearers, too, may know God as their Father. He speaks of “your Father,” “your heavenly Father.” To them as individuals, it means a personal relation; He is “thy Father” (Mat 6:4, Mat 6:18). Their whole conduct should be determined by the consciousness of the Father's intimate presence (Mat 6:1, Mat 6:4). To do His will is the ideal of life (Mat 7:21; Mat 12:50). More explicitly, it is to act as He does, to love and forgive as He loves and forgives (Mat 5:45); and, finally, to be perfect as He is perfect (Mat 5:48). Thus do men become sons of their Father who is in heaven. Their peace and safety lay in their knowledge of His constant and all-sufficient care (Mat 6:26, Mat 6:32). The ultimate goal of men's relation to Christ is that through Him they should come to a relation with the Father like His relation both to the Father and to them, wherein Father, Son, and believers form a social unity (Joh 14:21; Joh 17:23; compare Joh 17:21).
(C) To All Men
While God's fatherhood is thus realized and revealed, originally and fully in Christ, derivatively and partially in believers, it also has significance for all men. Every man is born a child of God and heir of His kingdom (Luk 18:16). During childhood, aIl men are objects of His fatherly love and care (Mat 18:10), and it is not His will that one of them should perish (Mat 18:14). Even if they become His enemies, He still bestows His beneficence upon the evil and the unjust (Mat 5:44, Mat 5:45; Luk 6:35). The prodigal son may become unworthy to be called a son, but the father always remains a father. Men may become so far unfaithful that in them the fatherhood is no longer manifest and that their inner spirits own not God, but the devil, as their father (Joh 8:42-44). So their filial relation to God may be broken, but His nature and attitude are not changed. He is the Father absolutely, and as Father is He perfect (Mat 5:48). The essential and universal Divine Fatherhood finds its eternal and continual object in the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. As a relation with men, it is qualified by their attitude to God; while some by faithlessness make it of no avail, others by obedience become in the reality of their experience sons of their Father in heaven. See CHILDREN OF GOD.
(2) In Apostolic Teaching
In the apostolic teaching , although the Fatherhood of God is not so prominently or so abundantly exhibited as it was by Jesus Christ, it lies at the root of the whole system of salvation there presented. Paul's central doctrine of justification by faith is but the scholastic form of the parable of the Prodigal Son. John's one idea, that God is love, is but an abstract statement of His fatherhood. In complete accord with Christ's teaching, that only through Himself men know the Father and come to Him, the whole apostolic system of grace is mediated through Christ the Son of God, sent because “God so loved the world” (Joh 3:16), that through His death men might be reconciled to God (Rom 5:10; Rom 8:3). He speaks to men through the Son who is the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance (Heb 1:2, Heb 1:3). The central position assigned to Christ involves the central position of the Fatherhood.
As in the teaching of Jesus, so in that of the apostles, we distinguish three different relationships in which the fatherhood is realized in varying degrees:
(A) Father of Jesus Christ
Primarily He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6; 2Co 1:3). As such He is the source of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph 1:3). Through Christ we have access unto the Father (Eph 2:18).
(B) Our Father
He is, therefore, God our Father (Rom 1:7; 1Co 1:3). Believers are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14). These receive the spirit of adoption whereby they cry, Abba, Father (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). The figure of adoption has sometimes been understood as implying the denial of man's natural sonship and God's essential Fatherhood, but that would be pressing the figure beyond Paul's purpose.
(C) Universal Father
The apostles' teaching, like Christ's, is that man in sin cannot possess the filial consciousness or know God as Father; but God, in His attitude to man, is always and essentially Father. In the sense of creaturehood and dependence, man in any condition is a son of God (Act 17:28). And to speak of any other natural sonship which is not also morally realized is meaningless. From God's standpoint, man even in his sin is a possible son, in the personal and moral sense; and the whole process and power of his awakening to the realization of his sonship issues from the fatherly love of God, who sent His Son and gave the Spirit (Rom 5:5, Rom 5:8). He is “the Father” absolutely, “one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:6, Eph 4:7).
5. God Is King
After the Divine Fatherhood, the kingdom of God (Mark and Luke) or of heaven (Matthew) is the next ruling conception in the teaching of Jesus. As the doctrine of the Fatherhood sets forth the individual relation of men to God, that of the kingdom defines their collective and social condition, as determined by the rule of the Father.
(1) The Kingdom of God
Christ adopted and transformed the Old Testament idea of Yahweh's rule into an inner and spiritual principle of His gospel, without, however, quite detaching it from the external and apocalyptic thought of His time. He adopts the Jewish idea in so far as it involves the enforcing of God's rule; and in the immediate future He anticipates such a reorganization of social conditions in the manifestation of God's reign over men and Nature, as will ultimately amount to a regeneration of all things in accordance with the will of God (Mar 9:1; Mar 13:30; Mat 16:28; Mat 19:28). But He eliminated the particularism and favoritism toward the Jews, as well as the non-moral, easy optimism as to their destiny in the kingdom, which obtained in contemporary thought. The blessings of the kingdom are moral and spiritual in their nature, and the conditions of entrance into it are moral too (Mat 8:11; Mat 21:31, Mat 21:43; Mat 23:37, Mat 23:38; Luk 13:29). They are humility, hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the love of mercy, purity and peace (Mat 5:3-10; Mat 18:1, Mat 18:3; compare Mat 20:26-28; Mat 25:34; Mat 7:21; Joh 3:3; Luk 17:20, Luk 17:21). The king of such a kingdom is, therefore, righteous, loving and gracious toward all men; He governs by the inner communion of spirit with spirit and by the loving coördination of the will of His subjects with his own will.
(2) Its King
But who is the king?
Generally in Mk and Lk, and sometimes in Matthew, it is called the kingdom of God. In several parables, the Father takes the place of king, and it is the Father that gives the kingdom (Luk 12:32). God the Father is therefore the King, and we are entitled to argue from Jesus' teaching concerning the kingdom to His idea of God. The will of God is the law of the kingdom, and the ideal of the kingdom is, therefore, the character of God.
But in some passages Christ reveals the consciousness of his own Kingship. He approves Peter's confession of his Messiahship, which involves Kingship (Mat 16:16). He speaks of a time in the immediate future when men shall see “the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Mat 16:28). As judge of all men, He designates Himself king (Mat 25:34; Luk 19:38). He accepts the title king from Pilate (Mat 27:11, Mat 27:12; Mar 15:2; Luk 23:3; Joh 18:37), and claims a kingdom which is not of this world (Joh 18:36). His disciples look to Him for the restoration of the kingdom (Act 1:6). His kingdom, like that of God, is inner, moral and spiritual.
(C) Their Relation
But there can be only one moral kingdom, and only one supreme authority in the spiritual realm. The coördination of the two kingships must be found in their relation to the Fatherhood. The two ideas are not antithetical or even independent. They may have been separate and even opposed as Christ found them, but He used them as two points of apperception in the minds of His hearers, by which He communicated to them His one idea of God, as the Father who ruled a spiritual kingdom by love and righteousness, and ordered Nature and history to fulfill His purpose of grace. Men's prayer should be that the Father's kingdom may come (Mat 6:9, Mat 6:10). They enter the kingdom by doing the Father's will (Mat 7:21). It is their Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom (Luk 12:32). The Fatherhood is primary, but it carries with it authority, government, law and order, care and provision, to set up and organize a kingdom reflecting a Father's love and expressing His will.
And as Christ is the revealer and mediator of the Fatherhood, He also is the messenger and bearer of the kingdom. In his person, preaching and works, the kingdom is present to men (Mat 4:17, Mat 4:23; Mat 12:28), and as its king He claims men's allegiance and obedience (Mat 11:28, Mat 11:29). His sonship constitutes His relation to the kingdom. As son He obeys the Father, depends upon Him, represents Him to men, and is one with Him. And in virtue of this relation, He is the messenger of the kingdom and its principle, and at the same time He shares with the Father its authority and Kingship.
(3) Apostolic Teaching
In the apostolic writings, the emphasis upon the elements of kingship, authority, law and righteousness is greater than in the gospels. The kingdom is related to God (Gal 21; Col 4:11; 1Th 2:12; 2Th 1:5), and to Christ (Col 1:13; 2Ti 4:1, 2Ti 4:18; 2Pe 1:11), and to both together (Eph 5:5; compare 1Co 15:24). The phrase “the kingdom of the Son of his love” sums up the idea of the joint kingship, based upon the relation of Father and Son.
6. Moral Attributes
The nature and character of God are summed up in the twofold relation of Father and King in which He stands to men, and any abstract statements that may be made about Him, any attributes that may be ascribed to Him, are deductions from His royal Fatherhood.
That a father and king is a person needs not to be argued, and it is almost tautology to say that a person is a spirit. Christ relates directly the spirituality of God to His Fatherhood. “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. God is Spirit” (Joh 4:23, Joh 4:14 margin). Figurative expressions denoting the same truth are the Johannine phrases, 'God is life' (1Jo 5:20), and “God is light” (1Jo 1:5).
Love is the most characteristic attribute of Fatherhood. It is the abstract term that most fully expresses the concrete character of God as Father. In John's theology, it is used to sum up all God's perfections in one general formula. God is love, and where no love is, there can be no knowledge of God and no realization of Him (1Jo 4:8, 1Jo 4:16). With one exception (Luk 11:42), the phrase “the love of God” appears in the teaching of Jesus only as it is represented in the Fourth Gospel. There it expresses the bond of union and communion, issuing from God, that holds together the whole spiritual society, God, Christ and believers (Jn 10; Joh 14:21). Christ's mission was that of revelation, rather than of interpretation, and what in person and act He represents before men as the living Father, the apostles describe as almighty and universal love. They saw and realized this love first in the Son, and especially in His sacrificial death. It is “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39). “God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8; compare Eph 2:4). Love was fully made known in Christ's death (1Jo 3:16). The whole process of the incarnation and death of Christ was also a sacrifice of God's and the one supreme manifestation of His nature as love (1Jo 4:9, 1Jo 4:10; compare Joh 3:16). The love of God is His fatherly relation to Christ extended to men through Christ. By the Father's love bestowed upon us, we are called children of God (1Jo 3:1). Love is not only an emotion of tenderness and beneficence which bestows on men the greatest gifts, but a relation to God which constitutes their entire law of life. It imposes upon men the highest moral demands, and communicates to them the moral energy by which alone they can be met. It is law and grace combined. The love of God is perfected only in those who keep the word of Jesus Christ the Righteous (1Jo 2:5). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1Jo 5:3). It is manifested especially in brotherly love (1Jo 4:12, 1Jo 4:20). It cannot dwell with worldliness (1Jo 2:15) or callous selfishness (1Jo 3:17). Man derives it from God as he is made the son of God, begotten of Him (1Jo 4:7).
(3) Righteousness and Holiness
Righteousness and holiness were familiar ideas to Jesus and His disciples, as elements in the Divine character. They were current in the thought of their time, and they stood foremost in the Old Testament conception. They were therefore adopted in their entirety in the New Testament, but they stand in a different context. They are coördinated with and even subordinated to, the idea of love. As kingship stands to fatherhood, so righteousness and holiness stand to love.
(a) Once we find the phrase “Holy Father” spoken by Jesus (Joh 17:11; compare 1Pe 1:15, 1Pe 1:16). But generally the idea of holiness is associated with God in His activity through the Holy Spirit, which renews, enlightens, purifies and cleanses the lives of men. Every vestige of artificial, ceremonial, non-moral meaning disappears from the idea of holiness in the New Testament. The sense of separation remains only as separation from sin. So Christ as high priest is “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners” (Heb 7:26). Where it dwells, no uncleanness must be (1Co 6:19). Holiness is not a legal or abstract morality, but a life made pure and noble by the love of God shed abroad in men's hearts (Rom 5:5). “The kingdom of God is ... righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).
(b) Righteousness as a quality of character is practically identical with holiness in the New Testament. It is opposed to sin (Rom 6:13, Rom 6:10) and iniquity (2Co 6:14). It is coupled with goodness and truth as the fruit of the light (Eph 5:9; compare 1Ti 6:11; 2Ti 2:22). It implies a rule or standard of conduct, which in effect is one with the life of love and holiness. It is brought home to men by the conviction of the Holy Spirit (Joh 16:8). In its origin it is the righteousness of God (Mat 6:33; compare Joh 17:25). In Paul's theology, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all them that believe” (Rom 3:22) is the act of God, out of free grace, declaring and treating the sinner as righteous, that he thereby may become righteous, even as “we love, because he first loved us” (1Jo 4:19). The whole character of God, then, whether we call it love, holiness or righteousness, is revealed in His work of salvation, wherein He goes forth to men in love and mercy, that they may be made citizens of His kingdom, heirs of His righteousness, and participators in His love.
7. Metaphysical Attributes
The abstract being of God and His metaphysical attributes are implied, but not defined, in the New Testament. His infinity, omnipotence and omniscience are not enunciated in terms, but they are postulated in the whole scheme of salvation which He is carrying to completion. He is Lord of heaven and earth (Mat 11:25). The forces of Nature are at His command (Mat 5:45; Mat 6:30). He can answer every prayer and satisfy every need (Mat 7:7-12). All things are possible to Him (Mar 10:27; Mar 14:36). He created all things (Eph 3:9). All earthly powers are derived from Him (Rom 13:1). By His power, He raised Christ from the dead and subjected to Him “all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion” in heaven and on earth (Eph 1:20, Eph 1:21; compare Mat 28:18). Every power and condition of existence are subordinated to the might of His love unto His saints (Rom 8:38, Rom 8:39). Neither time nor place can limit Him: He is the eternal God (Rom 16:26). His knowledge is as infinite as His power; He knows what the Son and the angels know not (Mar 13:32). He knows the hearts of men (Luk 16:15) and all their needs (Mat 6:8, Mat 6:32). His knowledge is especially manifested in His wisdom by which He works out His purpose of salvation, “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:10, Eph 3:11). The teaching of the New Testament implies that all perfections of power, condition and being cohere in God, and are revealed in His love. They are not developed or established on metaphysical grounds, but they flow out of His perfect fatherhood. Earthly fathers do what good they can for their children, but the Heavenly Father does all things for the best for His children - “to them that love God all things work together for good” - because He is restricted by no limits of power, will or wisdom (Mat 7:11; Rom 8:28).
8. The Unity of God
It is both assumed through the New Testament and stated categorically that God is one (Mar 12:29; Rom 3:30; Eph 4:6). No truth had sunk more deeply into the Hebrew mind by this time than the unity of God.
(1) The Divinity of Christ
Yet it is obvious from what has been written, that Jesus Christ claimed a power, authority and position so unique that they can only be adequately described by calling Him God; and the apostolic church both in worship and in doctrine accorded Him that honor. All that they knew of God as now fully and finally revealed was summed up in His person, “for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9). If they did not call Him God, they recognized and named Him everything that God meant for them.
(2) The Holy Spirit
Moreover, the Holy Spirit is a third term that represents a Divine person in the experience, thought and language of Christ and His disciples. In the Johannine account of Christ's teaching, it is probable that the Holy Spirit is identified with the risen Lord Himself (Joh 14:16, Joh 14:17; compare Joh 14:18), and Paul seems also to identify them in at least one passage: “the Lord is the Spirit” (2Co 3:17). But in other places the three names are ranged side by side as representing three distinct persons (Mat 28:19; 2Co 13:14; Eph 4:4-6).
(3) The Church's Problem
But how does the unity of God cohere with the Divine status of the Son and the distinct subsistence of the Holy Spirit? Jesus Christ affirmed a unity between Himself and the Father (Joh 10:30), a unity, too, which might be realized in a wider sphere, where the Father, the Son and believers should form one society (Joh 17:21, Joh 17:23), but He reveals no category which would construe the unity of the Godhead in a manifoldness of manifestation. The experience of the first Christians as a rule found Christ so entirely sufficient to all their religious needs, so filled with all the fullness of God, that the tremendous problem which had arisen for thought did not trouble them. Paul expresses his conception of the relation of Christ to God under the figure of the image. Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15; 2Co 4:4). Another writer employs a similar metaphor. Christ is “the effulgence of (God's) glory, and the very image of his substance” (Heb 1:3). But these figures do not carry us beyond the fact, abundantly evident elsewhere, that Christ in all things represented God because He participated in His being. In the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, the doctrine of the Word is developed for the same purpose. The eternal Reason of God who was ever with Him, and of Him, issues forth as revealed thought, or spoken word, in the person of Jesus Christ, who therefore is the eternal Word of God incarnate. So far and no farther the New Testament goes. Jesus Christ is God revealed; we know nothing of God, but that which is manifest in Him. His love, holiness, righteousness and purpose of grace, ordering and guiding all things to realize the ends of His fatherly love, all this we know in and through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit takes of Christ's and declares it to men (Joh 16:14). The problems of the coördination of the One with the three, of personality with the plurality of consciousness, of the Infinite with the finite, and of the Eternal God with the Word made flesh, were left over for the church to solve. The Holy Spirit was given to teach it all things and guide it into all the truth (Joh 16:13). “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mat 28:20). See JESUS CHRIST; HOLY SPIRIT; TRINITY.
Harris, The Philosophical Basis of Theism; God the Creator and Lord of All; Flint, Theism; Orr, The Christian View of God and the World; E. Caird, The Evolution of Religion; James Ward, The Realm of Ends; Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion; W.N. Clarke, The Christian Doctrine of God; Adeney, The Christian Conception of God; Rocholl, Der Christliche Gottesbegriff ; O. Holtzmann, Der Christliche Gottesglaube, seine Vorgeschichte und Urgeschichte; G. Wobbernim, Der Christliche Gottesglaube in seinem Verhältnis zur heutigen Philosophie und Naturwissenschaft; Köstlin, article “Gott” in Hauck-Herzog, Realencyklopadie fur protestantische Theologie und Kirche; R. S. Candlish, Crawford and Scott-Lidgett, books on The Fatherhood of God: Old Testament Theologies by Oehler, Schultz and Davidson; New Testament Theologies by Schmid, B. Weiss, Beyschlag, Holtzmann and Stevens; Wendt, The Teaching of Jesus; sections in systems of Christian Doctrine by Schleiermacher, Darner, Nitzsch, Martensen, Thomasius, Hodge, etc.
Consult other dictionaries:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE) was edited by James Orr, John Nuelsen, Edgar Mullins, Morris Evans, and Melvin Grove Kyle and was published complete in 1939.