Who is God the Father?March 21, 2017
by Brandon Crowe
When we read of God as Father in Matthew, we are not encountering a new or previously unknown deity, but are reading about the same God of the Old Testament, the covenantal God of Israel. Therefore, we must understand the foundational self-revelation of God in the Old Testament to understand the context for God in Matthew. It will be helpful to delineate three overarching aspects of the theology of Matthew.
New Testament, Same God
First, God is the God of Old Testament Scripture. We can readily see Matthew’s indebtedness to the theological outlook of the Old Testament by observing the frequency with which he quotes from and alludes to the Old Testament throughout his Gospel. The number of quotations from the Old Testament is well over fifty (including ten notable fulfillment formula quotations), and allusions and other subtle references are too numerous to count. These quotations often point to the role of Jesus in relation to the Old Testament, but we should also not miss their role in underscoring the theological presuppositions established in the Old Testament.
To contextualize what we learn about God in Matthew, we must appreciate the continuity of God’s character with the Old Testament.
A brief survey of some of the Old Testament texts that Matthew references will give us a sense of his overall understanding of God. Jesus states that God is in control over the affairs of humanity, and even over the created realm (Matt. 6:25–33; 10:26–33), which echoes the descriptions of God we find in the Old Testament as one who cares for his people (Ps. 37:4, 25). God hears the prayers and knows the needs of his children (Matt. 6:5–13), which is consistent with his responsiveness to prayer in the Old Testament (Gen. 35:21; Exod. 3:7–8; 1 Kgs. 9:3; 2 Kgs. 19:20; 20:5; 2 Chr. 7:1, 12, 15; Pss. 6:9; 65:2; 66:19–20; Pro. 15:8, 29; Dan. 9:21). In Matthew we read that God is good to all, and sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45), which is consistent with the psalmist’s poetic reflections on the goodness of God towards all that he has made (Ps. 145:9). Jesus further declares that God resides in the power and holiness of the heavens (Matt. 6:9), which reflects the transcendence of God’s power in the Old Testament (Deut. 4:3; 10:14; 1 Kgs. 8:23; Ps. 115:3; Dan. 2:28, 44). In sum, to contextualize what we learn about God in Matthew, we must first of all appreciate the continuity of God’s character with the Old Testament.
Worship of the Only God
Second, building on the previous point, in Matthew’s theological outlook God alone is truly God: he has no rivals to his supremacy. God’s dwelling in his glorious, heavenly habitation is consistently explained as the unique prerogative of the God of the Bible. Thus Moses proclaims in Deuteronomy 4:39 that the Lord is God in heaven, and there is no other. Additionally, the heavenly God alone is to be worshipped. We see this explicitly affirmed in Jesus’s response to Satan’s third temptation (Matt. 4:10). When Satan promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he will worship him, Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and serve him only’ (my tr.). Thus we find in Deuteronomy two fundamental tenets of the New Testament’s understanding of God alone is the supreme Creator, therefore he alone is to be worshipped. We see this again at Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16. Here, in the ancient city that was the legendary home of the Greek god Pan, Peter affirms Jesus’s identity as the Son of the ‘living God’ (Matt. 16:16). The phrase ‘living God’ highlights the reality and the activity of the biblical God in distinction from idolatrous so-called gods who did not intervene because they were not the Creator. Therefore, they were not to be worshipped (Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10; 1 Sam. 17:26, 26; 2 Kgs. 19:4; Pss. 42:2; 84:2 [84:3 EVV]; Jer. 10:10; Hos. 1:10).
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of God’s uniqueness as the Creator who is to be worshipped in Jesus’s day; this was fundamental to the worldview of Jewish monotheism that emphasized the Creator-creature distinction: God alone is the Creator, and all else falls under the category of ‘creature’ that must not be worshipped. Jesus’s response to Satan in the wilderness is therefore consistent with core beliefs about God from the Old Testament. Indeed, in his temptation Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6 twice, which is the context for one of the most important monotheistic texts in the Bible known as the Shema (Deut. 6:4). The warnings against worshipping a created being in the Old Testament are numerous and clarion (e.g Deut. 5:6–10; 9:10–21; Num. 25:1–13; Isa. 50:18–23; 43:10–15; 44:6–20; 45:15–23; 46:1–11). What is remarkable in Matthew is the attribution of worship to Jesus in a way that does not in any way undermine the monotheism of the Bible.
The Father of Israel
God had always been a Father to Israel.
Third, and also deriving from the Old Testament, we find in Matthew that although God is the creator of all things, he is also known specifically as the covenantal God of Israel. This means that to understand the contours of God in Matthew we must consider the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Matthew 1:1 begins by invoking two leading figures from Israel’s history, as Jesus is identified as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham to the glories of David, to the nadir of the exile, and concludes with the glorious hope of the Messiah. God redeemed his people from Egypt and entered into covenant with them at Mount Sinai (Exod. 19). As the covenant God of Israel, God is known as Father to the nation (e.g. Exod. 4:33–23; Deut. 1:31; 8:5; 14:1–2; 32:4–6, 18–20, 43; Isa. 1:2; Jer. 3–4; 31:19, 20; Hos. 11:1). Therefore, it is not a completely new development when we find Jesus referring to God as Father throughout Matthew. We already find that the Davidic king was already known as God’s son in the Old Testament (Ps. 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14), which grew organically out of the sonship of the nation as a whole (and indeed, out of the sonship of Adam). God had always been a Father to Israel, though, to be sure, we find Jesus speaking of God as Father with unparalleled intimacy.
In sum, to understand God in Matthew we must look first of all to the Old Testament, where we find that God is the one true God who had entered into covenant with Israel. At the same time, we learn more about God in Matthew than was revealed in the Old Testament. In particular, we learn that God is pre-eminently the Father of Jesus, who is the Son of God in a unique sense.
This post was adapted from Brandon Crowe, The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2017), xx–xx. Used with permission of the publisher.
Help Me Teach the Bible: Jonathan Gibson on 2 PeterMarch 14, 2017
by Jonathan Gibson