Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

father. The person having authority over members of a family. Deut. 5:16; Matt. 23:9. Also used for an ancestor, Gen. 28:13, or an originator, Gen. 4:20; Rom. 4:16-18. Sometimes a title given to another person in recognition of his authority. 1 Sam. 24:8-11; 2 Kings 2:11-12; Job 29:16.

In the N.T., used by Jesus in speaking of God. Matt. 6:32; Luke 6:36; John 16:28. Also so used by Paul and other writers of N.T. letters. Eph.5:20; 2 Thess. 1:11; 1 John 3:1.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

father, in the ot the immediate male progenitor, the head of a people or tribe (Gen. 19:37), the grandfather (32:9), or the founder of a town (1 Chron. 2:41-52) or a profession (Gen. 4:20, 21). The plural ‘fathers’ refers to previous generations (Jer. 31:32; Ps. 22:4; Lam. 5:7). ‘Father’ can be an appellation for advisors to the king or high governmental officials (Gen. 45:8; Isa. 22:21) or an honorary title given to prophets and priests (Judg. 17:10; 2 Kings 2:11; 6:21; 13:14).

A father was permitted to arrange his daughter’s marriage and receive her bride-price (Gen. 34:12; 1 Sam. 18:25), the fine of the seducer (Exod. 22:17; Deut. 22:19, 29), and the compensation of a gored child (Exod. 21:31). However, the patriarchal narratives indicate that it was the custom to ask the daughter if she agreed to a marriage (Gen. 24:57-58). The father also had the right to cancel his daughter’s vows (Num. 30:4-6). Although the Torah forbade selling one’s daughter into prostitution (Lev. 19:29), it did permit the selling of a daughter into servitude on the condition that she become the wife of her master or his son; if the condition was not met, she would be freed (Exod. 21:7-9). As in the ancient Near East, the father apparently could sell his sons into servitude for his debts (Isa. 50:1; cf. 2 Kings 4:1). But this practice was condemned by Nehemiah (Neh. 5:1-9).

Deut. 24:16 decrees that children may not be punished for the sins of the parents (cf. 2 Kings 14:6) and vice versa, which was upheld by the prophets (Jer. 31:29-30; Ezek. 18:20). Whether or not Exod. 20:5-6 (Deut. 5:9-10) acknowledges such vicarious punishment by God is problematic; the text may refer to successive generations that continue to sin (but see Josh. 7:15, 24-25; 2 Sam. 21:6-9).

The father was obligated to circumcise his sons (Gen. 17:12, 23; 21:4; Lev. 12:3), to redeem his firstborn son (Exod. 13:13), and to educate the children in the Torah (Exod. 13:8; Deut. 4:9; 6:7, 20-25; also Prov. 3:12; 4:1). The children were to revere and obey the father equally with the mother (Exod. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Deut. 21:18, 20; cf. Exod. 21:15; Lev. 20:9). The father’s love and blessing (Gen. 27:27-40; 49) is the basis for the image of God the Father of Israel (Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; 32:6; Hos. 11:1; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Ps. 103:13) and David (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:7; 89:27-28).

In the nt, ‘father’ can refer to the male progenitor (e.g., Matt. 1:1-16; Mark 1:20; Acts 28:8), but in most instances it is used to refer to God. This Christian practice probably derives from the intimate term for father that Jesus used to address God (Heb. and Aram. abba; Mark 14:36; cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). ‘Father’ is also the term for God Jesus used in the prayer he taught his followers (Luke 11:2). Rather than being derived from a human analogy, the term ‘Father’ for God represents the ideal by whom every human father is to be judged (Eph. 3:14-15).

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