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Our Holy Father

In Jesus’ second petition in what is known as His “High Priestly Prayer”, He prefaces the first request by addressing the Father as “Holy Father” (John 17:11). We know that when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He teaches them to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:10). Yet here in John 17 we have the only instance in Scripture in which the first person of our Triune God is addressed with this combination of terms. For that reason, I wanted to contemplate on this reality of God as both Father and Holy.

Holiness is a fundamental characteristic of God. God’s holiness is His moral purity in which He is unstained by any matter of sin or evil. He is perfect in all His ways for He is the essence and definition of all that is good and true. The seraphim in Isaiah 6:3 proclaim His holiness repetitively. God is holy, also meaning that He is distinct from His creation. We, on the other hand, are not holy apart from the declarative and sanctifying work of God. Due to this reality, we should be full of fear in approaching God. Yet, there is a comforting aspect to God’s holiness. As the priestly tools, the priests themselves, and Israel were made holy, being set apart for a special use, so does God’s holiness set Him apart to distinctly be the God of His people. Herman Bavinck would state it in this way: “The holiness by which YHWH put himself in a special relation to Israel and which totally claims Israel for the service of YHWH is finally supremely manifest in that in Christ God gives himself to the church, which he redeems and cleanses from all its iniquities.”[1] The comprehension of God’s holiness ultimately leads to God as Father. God is not covenanted to His people in some mechanical way, rather He is Father to those who are His. As a Father, He loves and cares for His children, desiring their good.

The description of “Holy Father” can be applied in at least two ways: apologetically and personally. Apologetically, Holy Father pushes back against unfounded conceptions of God. Since God is Holy Father, it is impossible for Him to be confused with creation or aloof from creation. Modern (read old rehashed) understandings of God retreat to shallow forms of pantheism in which the creation is merged with God, therefore being no real distinction between the two. Nature or even the self is worshipped on par with God (or whatever concept of a god that one may hold). Adversely, modern understandings lead others to deism, in which God is nothing more than a powerful entity or being that sets the world in motion but has no real affection towards it. But God cannot be confined to such inadequate descriptions for He is “Holy Father”.

Personally, “Holy Father” guides us in how we approach our God in prayer. Because He is Holy, we come reverently before Him. Yet, because He is Father, we come as His children “with confidence… that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)


Bavinck, H. (2004). Reformed Dogmatics: God & Creation (Vol. II). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

[1] (Bavinck, 2004)

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