This then is how you should pray –
But what does the word “Father” really mean?
It’s a common enough word. But does it have the “common” meaning in this context?
You may ask – why is this important? The words that Jesus spoke regarding how we are to pray start with “Our Father“. How could it be anything other than of utmost importance to understand who this “Father” is – and what is His relationship to Jesus and to us?
Christians think we know what this word “Father” means. But have we looked any deeper?
Muslims think they know what this word “Father” means. But have you looked any deeper?
The difference between the two is amazingly important.
And even without that difference –
just for us as Christians –
understanding what “Father” means in very, very important!
For Christians – the Father is a member of what we call the Holy Trinity – made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For Muslims, they hold that there is no Trinity. For them the concept of The Father having a Son is unthinkable. It goes against their beliefs.
So in Islam, there is no Father. In Islam there is no Son. In Islam there is no Holy Spirit.
So, you see – it is critical for all of us to understand what this means – before getting into the rest of the words that Jesus spoke.
As an example of what Muslims believe – let’s look at Sura 4 –
[4:171] O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about GOD except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was a messenger of GOD, and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. You shall not say, “Trinity.” You shall refrain from this for your own good. GOD is only one god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. GOD suffices as Lord and Master.
You can begin to see a problem here. That Jesus is The Messiah is not questioned in this verse. That Jesus is the son of Mary is also not questioned. The issue is whether GOD can have a son.
And that then begs the question of who exactly are the Father and the Son – and what are the relationships between them?
As we go through this, it’s important to notice the difference between when a word is capitalized and when it is not – as in “Father” versus “father”.
First, let’s talk about The Father.
In the Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon – looking at the word Jesus used for Father – we read –
3962 προπάτωρ, πατήρ [pater /pat·ayr/] n m. Apparently a root word; TDNT 5:945; TDNTA 805; GK 4635 and 4252; 419 occurrences; AV translates as “Father” 268 times, and “father” 150 times. 1 generator or male ancestor. 1A either the nearest ancestor: father of the corporeal nature, natural fathers, both parents. 1B a more remote ancestor, the founder of a race or tribe, progenitor of a people, forefather: so Abraham is called, Jacob and David. 1B1 fathers i.e. ancestors, forefathers, founders of a race. 1C one advanced in years, a senior. 2 metaph. 2A the originator and transmitter of anything. 2A1 the authors of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself. 2A2 one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds. 2B one who stands in a father’s place and looks after another in a paternal way. 2C a title of honour. 2C1 teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received. 2C2 the members of the Sanhedrin, whose prerogative it was by virtue of the wisdom and experience in which they excelled, to take charge of the interests of others. 3 God is called the Father. 3A of the stars, the heavenly luminaries, because he is their creator, upholder, ruler. 3B of all rational and intelligent beings, whether angels or men, because he is their creator, preserver, guardian and protector. 3B1 of spiritual beings and of all men. 3C of Christians, as those who through Christ have been exalted to a specially close and intimate relationship with God, and who no longer dread him as a stern judge of sinners, but revere him as their reconciled and loving Father. 3D the Father of Jesus Christ, as one whom God has united to himself in the closest bond of love and intimacy, made acquainted with his purposes, appointed to explain and carry out among men the plan of salvation, and made to share also in his own divine nature. 3D1 by Jesus Christ himself. 3D2 by the apostles. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Note that the translation is as Father – not father.
In the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, we read –
12.12 πατήρd, πατρός m; αββα (a Greek transliteration of an Aramaic word meaning ‘father’): (titles for God, literally ‘father’) one who combines aspects of supernatural authority and care for his people—‘Father.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 139). New York: United Bible Societies.
It continues –
In a number of languages it is necessary to distinguish clearly between ‘Father’ when referring to the heavenly Father and ‘father’ as a reference to a human father. The use of capitalization is quite satisfactory for the individual who is reading a text but not for one who is hearing it read, and since more people hear a text read than read it for themselves, it is essential that the reference of ‘Father’ be clear. In order to identify the use of ‘Father’ as a title for God, it is possible in many languages to use ‘Father in heaven’ or ‘Father above’ or ‘Father God.’
In some languages it may even be necessary to identify the ‘Father’ as the creator and therefore employ a phrase such as ‘our Father who created us.’
A particularly complicating factor involved in the use of ‘Father’ as a title for God is its occurrence without a pronominal reference as to whose father is involved. For example, in a number of languages one cannot speak of ‘father’ without indicating whose father, because a person does not become a father except by some relationship to another individual. Therefore, one must always speak of ‘my father’ or ‘his father’ and never simply ‘the father.’ In passages in which Jesus is speaking of ‘the Father’ in relationship to himself, it is necessary usually to employ a phrase such as ‘my Father.’ When, however, ‘Father’ is used as a title for ‘God’ in his relationship to people generally, then one may speak of ‘our Father’ (normally with an inclusive first person plural pronoun if the language in question makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronoun referents). Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 139). New York: United Bible Societies.
Let’s add one final piece to this apparent puzzle, and see what we have. When Jesus is speaking in Matthew, He starts with “Our Father“, as indicated. The entire phrase is actually –
Our Father in heaven,
Referring back to the text from the Greek-English Lexicon, remember –
In order to identify the use of ‘Father’ as a title for God, it is possible in many languages to use ‘Father in heaven’ or ‘Father above’ or ‘Father God.’
Which is exactly what Jesus did. He referred to The Father as Our Father in heaven.
Given the difference between Father and father – looking at Jesus – we see that Jesus refers to His Father. Jesus also refers to Mary the same way as Muslims – as His mother.
This is where the Christian reference to The Trinity actually comes from. It’s not that Jesus “father” was God.
The Gospels (Injeel to Muslims) show that Jesus was both God and man. There are references to show He had a human body (He got tired and hungry) – He had human emotions (anger, love, sadness) and human experiences (temptation, learning, work and obedience). Plus – as both religions agree – He was the son of Mary.
The difference comes in whether Jesus was God. The Gospels claim He was God. The Qur’an says He was not. Interesting – considering that the Gospels record that Jesus Himself said He was God. And while Muslims are expected to read and to know the Gospels – they are also told to not believe that portion of those Gospels.
The Qur’anic statement comes from the belief in monotheism – that there is one and only one God. We see that in many places, including –
[4:125] Who is better guided in his religion than one who submits totally to GOD, leads a righteous life, according to the creed of Abraham: monotheism? GOD has chosen Abraham as a beloved friend.
It also says –
[20:98] Your only god is GOD; the One beside whom there is no other god. His knowledge encompasses all things.
In reality – from what we’ve seen above – there is no difference, at the highest level, between the Muslim GOD and the Christian God. He – God – is the same God that Abraham worshiped.
When we go back to the very beginning, in the Torah, in Genesis, we read –
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Note – God said “Let us…”. Not “Let me…” – although He is One God. He said “Let us…”.
That “us” indicates that God is in fact somehow multiple “persons” (although not persons as we typically define the word) in One God. Subsequent information revealed the Old and New Testaments (which include the Torah and the Injeel) show those persons to be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All are in fact of the same God – the One God – and make up what Christians call the Trinity. Who Muslims refer to as GOD. It gets more interesting – when one considers that besides just the Gospels – Muslims are also expected to read and to know the Torah – and also to not believe portions of it!
To make that a bit more clear – let’s look at a definition of the word Trinity –
TRINITY—a word not found in Scripture, but used to express the doctrine of the unity of God as subsisting in three distinct Persons. This word is derived from the Gr. trias, first used by Theophilus (A.D. 168–183), or from the Lat. trinitas, first used by Tertullian (A.D. 220), to express this doctrine. The propositions involved in the doctrine are these: 1. That God is one, and that there is but one God (Deut. 6:4; 1 Kings 8:60; Isa. 44:6; Mark 12:29, 32; John 10:30). 2. That the Father is a distinct divine Person (hypostasis, subsistentia, persona, suppositum intellectuale), distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. 3. That Jesus Christ was truly God, and yet was a Person distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit. 4. That the Holy Spirit is also a distinct divine Person. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.
We see that the basic belief – at it’s core – is the same.
That God is one, and that there is but one God.
Having said that, when reading the Bible, we see that God reveals more of Himself as time goes on. In the beginning – in that reference from Genesis – we learn that there is One God – but that He (somehow that we cannot understand) is in some way multiple “persons” (for lack of a better word) within that One God. In the Old Testament, we read of the Spirit of God being with some people – for instance with David. We also read of the coming of a Messiah. In the New testament – the Gospels specifically – we read of that Messiah, Jesus, coming to earth – as both God and man. We see for the first time the second person of God. Still God in every way – but also a man in every way. Truly a miracle of God that He can do this. Jesus talks of the coming of another person of God – the Holy Spirit. The same one who was with David – but now He will be present in everyone who believes in Him. And we have the third person of God. The Trinity is complete. We see all the persons of God. At least as much as we can understand what we see. But He is still One God!
So – when Jesus says
Mt 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
He is in fact talking about the God of Abraham. The One God. The only God. In the Person of the Father.
Spoken by God. In the person of the Son.
And understood only with the help of God. In the person of the Holy Spirit.
Yes. Three “persons”.
But also yes – One God.
Jesus Himself says, in Matthew 28:18-20 –
Mt 28:18 … “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Interesting, isn’t it?
The only way to truly understand God is to have faith. Faith that what He told us is true. Faith that – as He said in the very beginning –
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
— faith that –
– That He is “us”. –
– That He presents Himself to us in that –
– That He reveals portions of Himself to us over time –
– And for whatever reason He chose to do it that way – it’s up to us – made in His image and His likeness – to try to understand Him that way.
If He had wanted something different – He would have said so.
He made it clear from the very beginning –
before any human had been created –
that He was God – and that He was going to show Himself in multiple ways (“persons”) –
when He first said –
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
And so we see – that the “difference” between the Muslim understanding of the word “Father” and the Christian understanding of the word “Father” is very important. It’s also only one of perception. Other articles on Islam will get into why that perception is so important – and so wrong.
The God of Abraham is the same God that both Christians and Muslims worship.
The God who looked after Hagar and made a promise to her is the same God that both Christians and Muslims worship.
The God who saved Ishmael is the same God that both Christians and Muslims worship.
So what went wrong? Why are there so many conflicts now between Christians and Muslims?
How did some come to such a misunderstanding of the God of Abraham?
<As I said – those questions are answered in other articles.)
Why do we not all say “Our Father in Heaven” and refer to the same God that said in Genesis – “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
image from prayerlesson.blogspot.com
|↑1||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.|
|↑2, ↑3||Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 139). New York: United Bible Societies.|
|↑4||Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.|