No One Knows the Father Except the Son: H.R. Mackintosh on the Radical Exclusivity of Revelation in Christ

In my efforts to better understand the theology of T.F. Torrance, I have turned also to one of his most significant influences: Hugh Ross Mackintosh. Mackintosh, a professor of dogmatics at New College in Edinburgh, played a particularly formative role on the development of the young Torrance’s thought, and the indelible marks that he left there would manifest themselves throughout the rest of Torrance’s life. Reading Mackintosh’s study on The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ, it is15-2 not difficult to find the seeds of Torrance’s distinctively Christological approach to all Christian knowledge. Commenting on Matthew 11:27, a verse that was just as meaningful for Torrance as it was for the early church fathers, Mackintosh wrote:

…the study of our Lord’s filial consciousness must always centre in the great words of Mt 11.27: “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father; and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal Him.” These words, the most important for Christology in the New Testament, were apparently spoken on the return of the disciples from their first preaching mission. They are instinct with a high and solemn joy. As commentators have remarked, the whole passage has a Johannine quality which is unique, or all but unique, in the first three Gospels. The words come home to us not so much as the sudden flash of a transient emotion as rather the overflow of an habitual mood of feeling. To question their authenticity is a desperate expedient, and it is difficult to take seriously the insipid suggestion that they are more than half a quotation from the Son of Sirach.

What it is of supreme moment for us to note is “the unqualified correlation of the Father and the Son” these words proclaim. We are brought face to face with a relationship of absolute intimacy and perfect mutual correspondence, which is intransferable by its nature. Not merely is the Father’s being, to its inmost secret, open to the soul of Jesus, without that sense of mystery and inscrutable remoteness of which the greatest prophets had been conscious; not merely is the Son’s knowledge of the Father complete, final, and inaccessible to every other save those to whom the Son is mediator: along with this goes the fact that Jesus’ inmost being is known to the Father, and to none else…

This is not to repudiate Old Testament revelation as worthless; it is to declare that nothing which can be called revelation of the Father is worthy to compare with the knowledge given in and through the Son. The revealing medium has an absolute and exclusive harmony with that which is revealed. All others become children of God by way of debt to Jesus; in His case alone Sonship is the constitutive factor of His being. The life of the Father and the Son is one life, and either can be known only in the other. In these inexhaustible words, accordingly, there is presented something far greater than a new conception; the conception is expressive of a new fact beyond which religion cannot go, for “the sentence as a whole tells us plainly that Jesus is both to God and to man what no other can be.” It was a final intimation of truth which the apostles kept ever after in their heart. Never again could they attempt to realise the Divine Fatherhood but there rose before them the person of the Son, as life and death had revealed Him; in like manner, to possess the Son was literally to possess the Father also.[1]

Mackintosh’s meditation on Matthew 11:27 help us not only to trace the roots of his eminent student’s Christo-intensive approach to all Christian thought and speech (sometimes called a principial Christocentrism) but also to realize why such Christo-intensity should not be viewed as a mere idiosyncrasy of Torrancean (or even Barthian) theology. We are obligated to submit all of our thinking about God to the revelation that has come exclusively in and through Jesus Christ. Unlike the words spoken by the prophets, Christ is himself the Word spoken once and for all to humanity. Christ does not bring revelation about God; he is revelation embodied in human form. He does not merely give us bits of new information about God; he is God whose revelation is his self-giving and reconciling presence among us. As Torrance often said, in Christ the Revelation and the Revealer are absolutely identical. This is, in short, is why the revelation of God in Christ is utterly exclusive: Christ alone can claim to know and reveal the Father on the basis of the fact that he is one in being and essence with the Father such that to know him is to come into an immediate, direct, and personal knowledge of God as he has always been eternally in himself.

But does this in any way negate the revelation that we have in Scripture? Not at all, rather (as Paul might put it) a Christo-intensive approach actually fulfills the purpose of Scripture: to prepare us for (Old Testament) and witness to (New Testament) the revelation of God that comes exclusively in and through Jesus Christ. To seek to know God in any other way, to treat Scripture as though it could be understood apart from Christ, would actually be to nullify for the reason for which God inspired Scripture in the first place. No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son reveals him; thus we are compelled to know the Father in no other way except in Christ alone.


[1] H.R. Mackintosh, The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), pp.27-28.