If God is the father, and Jesus is the son, who then is the mother?
This question is helpful as it enables us to clarify what it is that Christians do not believe. The way that the question is phrased suggests the idea that there is some kind of biological relationship between God and Jesus akin to that of a human father and son. This idea leads to the totally unacceptable notion that God had intercourse with woman to produce the child, Jesus. Such ideas are as unacceptable for Christians as they would be for Muslims. Far exalted is God above having a child or engaging in a sexual relationship.
Christians struggle to express in terms that come from our physical, corporeal world the things of heaven, which are transcendent and beyond our ability fully to grasp or express. Christians believe in the indivisible oneness of God and yet they see in the revelation of God through the person of Christ a glimpse into that oneness that is beyond the capacity of our earthly languages and concepts to explain. Christians understand God as dynamic, rather than static and inert. If the first generation of Christians had access to the language of modern scientists, they might have chosen abstract terms to try to express this, such as “the source of all that exists” and “the source manifested in word and action”. They might have chosen theological terms, such as “Creator” and “Revealer.” However, they were men and women steeped in the biblical tradition of Judaism and so they looked for terms that derived their meaning from the Hebrew Scriptures.
It is critical before we go any further to recall that it would have been unthinkable for Jews and also for the first Christians to speak of Jesus as, in some way, a god alongside the one and only God. Judaism, then as now, has an utter abhorrence of a polytheistic understanding of God. So whatever the terms in the question mean, they cannot be speaking of a biological relationship between God and Jesus, a sexual relationship between God and Mary or a polytheistic relationship within or alongside God. So what do Christians mean by these terms?
Traditional Christian belief throughout the centuries has held that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary without the involvement of any man, angel or God in a sexual way. Mary became pregnant as the direct result of the divine command “be”. This shows the mighty power of God at work as was evident at the time of creation when God first created life on earth. We cannot fully explain the biology concerning the conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother, Mary. Again, it is easier to say what we do not mean. Jesus did not carry the DNA of God in his cells; these are physical elements of physical creatures and God is far exalted above that. Whatever was necessary for the creation of the physical body of Jesus came from the physical world through the body of Mary. This is a mystery that we struggle to explain. Perhaps, like some other creatures who can reproduce without a sexual partner, God’s power made it possible in this exceptional case for Mary. Suffice it to say that Jesus had no biological father.
When the first generations of Christians sought for words in order to articulate their faith in what God had done by bringing Jesus into the world, they naturally returned to the language of the Hebrew Scriptures which were the bedrock of their faith. These were and still are the Scriptures used by the Jews and thus pre-date Jesus by many centuries. In these Scriptures, they found that one way of speaking about God was as the father of the Hebrew people (Deuteronomy 32:6), the father of the King (2 Samuel 7:14) and the father of the poor and the orphans (Psalm 68:5). This is obviously not a biological description any more than speaking of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the father of Pakistan. Both Jewish and Christian traditions use this personal language when speaking of God to reflect the intimacy of the relationship, which cannot be expressed in impersonal terms.
This personal, intimate language was used in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to the relationship of God, who is “like a father,” and to some of God’s creatures, who are “like a son.” Thus, the term “son of God” is used of four categories of people in the Hebrew Scriptures.
1. The whole of the Hebrew people as long as they lived in obedience to God (Exodus 4:21-23).
2. The King of Israel, when he ruled according to God’s commands, took care of the people and represented them before God (Psalm 2:7).
3. The angels, who are the obedient messengers of God (Genesis 6:2-4).
4. The righteous ones, whose lives reflect the light of God in such as way as to manifest God’s glory (Sirach 4:10).
It is crucial to note here that the term “Son of God” is not a biological description but rather more a “job description.” It was this usage of the term in the Hebrew Scriptures, which gave initial content to the title as it was developed and applied to Jesus with a uniqueness conveyed by the use of capital letters: the “Son of God”. This title is not a biological description as is implied by the wording of our initial question, but rather a title that connotes a unique relationship between God and Jesus. For further explanations of this topic, please see question number 1 and the references there.