Children of the Father

Jesus' call for repentance corresponded to his kingdom preaching: to repent was to acknowledge previous failure to obey as a subject of the King should. In a similar way Jesus' teaching on God as Father corresponded to his call for belief and trust. This brings us to one of the most striking features of Jesus' teaching. For whereas Jesus is remembered as saying little or nothing explicitly about God as King, the memory of Jesus' teaching on God as Father is deeply embedded in the Jesus tradition.

The subject has been needlessly slanted in the history of its treatment, principally because successive scholars thought that they could find in it the most distinctive and most enduring (universal) element in Jesus' teaching, easily distinguished from the particularities of his native Judaism. The nineteenth-century Liberal treatments of Renan and Harnack were right to bring it to centre stage in their characterisations of Jesus' teaching, but they idealized and sentimentalized the theme (§4.3). Bultmann's recognition of the place of the emphasis was overshadowed by his stronger emphasis on Jesus' teaching on God as 'near' in contrast to the remoteness of God assumed to characterize Jewish thought of the time.28 And Jeremias's characteristic treatment was too much dominated by his understanding of the term abba ('Father', as personal address) as a feature of Jesus' prayer life and teaching which marked an unprecedented intimacy with God in the Judaism of his time.29

We will return to the particular issue of Jesus' sonship below (§16.2). Here it needs to be stressed that the understanding of God as Father was nothing new to the Judaism of Jesus' time. The thought of God as Father of Israel, or of the king in particular, was long familiar in Jewish thought.30 More recent in expression was the thought of individual Israelites, particularly the righteous, as sons of God.31 Jeremias's claims need to be qualified by the recognition that the same 'righteous man' tradition was not unaccustomed to addressing God with a in however radical a form, must be explained on the basis of Israel's covenant ethics, that is, on the basis of God's holiness' (New Vision 33).

28. Bultmann, Jesus and the Wordch. 4, particularly 137-41, 151.

29. Jeremias, Prayers ch. 1; Proclamation 178-84.

30. Israel in Exod. 4.22; Deut. 14.1; 32.6; Ps. 73.15; Isa. 1.2-3; 43.6; 45.11; 63.16; 64.8; Jer. 3.4, 19, 22; 31.9, 20; Hos. 1.10; 11.1; Mai. 2.10; Jub. 1.24-25; 19.29; Pss. Sol 17.27. The king in 2 Sam. 7.14; 1 Chron. 17.13; 22.10; 28.6; Pss. 2.7; 89.26-27. See also R. Hamerton-Kelly, God the Father: Theology and Patriarchy in the Teaching of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 20-51; Vermes, Religion 173-80; M. M. Thompson, ThePromiseoftheFather: Jesus and God in the New Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000) 35-55.

31. Pss. 68.5 ('father of the fatherless and protector of'widows'); Ps. 103.13; Prov. 3.12; Sir. 4.10; 23.1; 51.10; Wis. 2.13, 16, 18; 5.5; 14.3; Pss. Sol. 13.9; 1QH 17[= 9].35-36 (see further G. Quell, pater, TDNT5.970-74; Jeremias, Prayers 11-29).

similar-sounding degree of intimacy.32 And the suggestion that God was thought of as remote in the Judaism of Jesus' time speaks more of an earlier generation's tendency to denigrate 'late Judaism' as well as being contradicted by such evi-dence.33 Nevertheless the fact that Jesus did encourage his disciples to trust in God as Father, while hardly unique within the Judaism of his day, may be said to be distinctive in its consistency and in the degree of childlike persistence which he encouraged his disciples to express in their prayers.

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