Difficult Bible Passages: Malachi 2:10

No, we are not all children of God:

On a surface reading this verse does not appear to be all that problematic. But as with many passages in this series, it is the way it is so readily misused and abused by many others that causes the problem. The verse in question says this: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?”

The misuse of this text comes about when cultists and heretics try to make the case that we are all not only God’s children by physical creation, but we are all also his children in a spiritual sense as well. Universalism is one of the names of this particular heresy – the idea that we are all saved, that there is no hell and final judgment, and that we are all doing just fine with God. See more on this theological error here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/03/12/against-universalism/

There are several challenges that we can bring to bear in dealing with such a faulty understanding of this verse in particular and the whole of Scripture in general. The first thing to say is this understanding is only partly right. And that is how cults and heresies usually flourish: by using part of the truth, and twisting it as well.

We ARE all God’s children in the obvious sense that God created every single one of us. We all exist because God made us. So in that sense, sure, everyone is a child of God. But Scripture also uses this notion of being a child of God in a different sense – a different spiritual and theological sense.

That is, only those who are in a right relationship with God are seen to be children of God. This is clear from all of Scripture. Ancient Israel as a whole was seen as being part of God’s family, but not the surrounding pagan nations. And in the New Testament only those who come to Christ in faith and repentance are regarded as being a child of God.

Jesus made this crystal clear when he rebuked the religious leaders of the day who were clearly NOT in right relationship with God. He called them children of the devil (see the whole exchange in Matthew 25:31-46). That is the condition of everyone unless they make a deliberate turn away from sin and turn to God. But all this I discuss in much more detail elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/01/13/no-we-are-not-all-gods-children/

The second obvious thing to say about this erroneous interpretation of this text is this: as always, context is king. Simply reading this verse in light of its immediate context makes it clear that there is no universalistic mush being promoted here. Here is what we find in verses 10-12:

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

These few verses make it quite clear that not everyone is in right relationship with God and all part of one big happy family. Here we read about the great sin of going after other gods. We even read about how such people will be “cut off”. So even the Israelites, who were seen as being God’s people, God’s children, had to abide by the covenant conditions, or they would be cut off. They would NOT be part of God’s family.

Let me appeal to a few commentators here. One thing that arises here is this: there has been some question as to who the ‘father’ is in this text. Some think it is Adam, or Abraham. But most see God as the referent here. Says John Mackay:

But it is more probable that ‘Father’ refers to God, who has already been likened to a father in 1:6. Such a description of God is found frequently in the Old Testament (Exod. 4:22-23; Deut. 32:6; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 2:27; 3:4, 19; 31:9). It is God’s covenant relation to Israel by which they were adopted as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:18) that is being presented, and not some universal fatherhood of God.

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Haggai, Malachi: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Volume 21) (The New American Commentary) by Taylor, Richard A. (Author), Clendenen, Ray (Editor) Amazon logo

Yes, both Israel of old and Christians today are those who were once afar from God, but then were adopted into his family by grace. As Taylor and Clendenen say:

The fatherhood of God in the Old Testament is an expression of the unique and exclusive relationship the Lord established with Israel by his sovereign grace in choosing them through Abraham, redeeming them from Egypt, and forming his covenant with them at Sinai (cf. Exod 4:22-23; Isa 44:1-2; 63:16; Hos 11:1; John 8:41). In the New Testament it is primarily those in Christ who are described as “sons” of God, who can call God their “Father” (cf. John 1:12-13; Rom 8:14-17; Gal 3:26-4:7; Eph 1:5; Heb 2:10-12; 1 John 3:1). . . . The Christian’s sonship is derived from our relationship with Christ as adopted sons.

And as Douglas Stuart further explains:

The question “Didn’t one God create us?” also emphasizes the principle of Yahweh’s exclusive ownership of the Israelites. Since bara (create) is used exclusively in the Old Testament for divine creation of the existing world and its contents (including people), some commentators have suggested that “create us” means “us humans,” that is, all people in general, and that this statement is further evidence (along with 1:11) of a supposed universalism in Malachi. However, this conclusion betrays ignorance of the important Old Testament doctrine that God’s people (Israel) are a special part of the creation of the world – its final stage or even pinnacle – and thus the verb bara and other verbs for divine creation are commonly associated with Israel in creation contexts (Deut. 32:6; Pss. 78; 121; 124; 135; 148; Isa. 43:1, 7, 15; 44:2; 63:16; 64:7; cf. Eph. 2:10). Accordingly, Malachi here addresses the fact that the people of Judah in the mid-fifth century B.C. represent God’s special people, and on that basis must not do anything that dishonors his special covenantal relationship with them.

The truth is, universalists, unitarians and other theological liberals will have to try to dig up other biblical texts than Malachi 2:10 to try to make this patently unbiblical case that all people simply by virtue of their physical birth are somehow children of God, united with Father God. Being created by God does not automatically make everyone his spiritual children.

Let me conclude with a great quote I have used before. It was said in the 19th century concerning the religious scene in America’s northeast, especially about the Unitarians congregated in and around Boston, that this liberal theology comprised three elements: ‘the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighbourhood of Boston’.

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