Jesus had two dads

Just playing around a little.

This picture was sent to me along with a rash of other church signs. Some of them were quite witty, but this was my favorite. This is exactly the kind of prompt I was anticipating when I chose the word “dilettante” as the basis of this blog’s title. So let’s have some fun.

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I am a Presbyterian, myself. [1] I attend “the First Presbyterian Church of Portland, Oregon.” Notice the difference. If you look at the sign above the display, you will see “the First Baptist Church in America.” That is not said casually. If you go to the church’s website, you find this.

The First Baptist Church in America has been on College Hill in downtown Providence since 1638, sharing the good news, with Christ-centered enthusiasm, biblical preaching, dynamic caring ministries, advocating the separate and complementary relationship between church and state, and the vitality of traditional worship. What Roger Williams established is still worth standing for.

When I began to take the title seriously, my mind went immediately to Roger Williams, that noted un-Puritan, who was chased out of Massachusetts Bay and went down to Rhode Island (often called Rogue’s Island at the time) and founded an un-Puritan church. 1638, it says. Nineteen years after the first boatload of slaves docked here. Two years later than the founding of little Harvard College.

Early.

Theologically, the idea that Jesus had “two dads” is preposterous. That’s part of the fun of it. Anyone who has prayed the Lord’s Prayer has begun, “Our Father—not the earthly one, I mean the Heavenly one—hallowed be your name. Why the need for the distinction?

Very often, Hebrew usage referred to Abraham, from whom all the children of Israel (Jacob) derive, as “our father, Abraham. (John 8) Jacob is also referred to as “our father” (John 4). So it may be that the principal reason for “heavenly Father” was distinguishing that relationship from “ancestral father.”

But that wouldn’t be enough to give this sign the pop it has. [2] To get there, you have to introduce two entirely modern contexts. The first asks in what sense Joseph, Mary’s husband, was Jesus’ “father.” First, it is important that Joseph be Jesus’ father because Joseph is descended from David and Jesus needs to be descended from David. Nothing we are considering here has anything to do with DNA.

Luke has Mary refer to Joseph as Jesus’ father in the famous abandoned at the Temple incident, but that would have been true whatever Jesus’ parentage provided that Joseph named him and counted him as part of the family. And if Jesus was a carpenter (Mark’s language) or just the son of a carpenter (Matthew’s language), he would have been raised under Joseph’s tutelage.

So Jesus could be said to have one Father (John’s emphasis) or two,(Matthew’s emphasis) or three, counting all the references to Abraham, our father. You can count up the fathers as far as you like and never get anywhere near the adoption of a child by a gay couple, which is the discrepancy that the sign board is playing with.

And I think that is why I like it so much. The desert between Jesus as “the son” of Abraham and Joseph and God, on the one hand, and as “having two fathers” in the current usage, is vast. The two references have nothing at all to do with each other. That’s the discrepancy. And, following Max Eastman [3] that is why it is funny.

Of course, it isn’t funny to everyone, which is also part of why it is funny to me. People who allow themselves to get their undies in a bunch [4] over a joke that pairs Jesus with gay dads are marching right past a joke they really could have afforded to enjoy. Which seems a shame.

[1] Although I have been a Baptist myself. The church I attended near Dayton, Ohio descended from this experiment by Roger Williams . Churches descended from his shoot are known as the American Baptist Church, a very un-Southern Baptist kind of place.
[2] No pun intended. I didn’t see it before you did.
[3] Eastman defines humor as a discrepancy taken playfully.
[4] Thank you, Garrison Keillor.

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About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. My wife, Bette, is the First Reader (FR) of the posts. I have arranged that partly because she helps me write better posts than I would otherwise and partly because I can hold her responsible for the mistakes that I would, otherwise, have to own up to myself.. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsey. I'm a dilettante.
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