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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
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Greek - fatherless
Hebrew - fatherless
Hebrew - fatherless
Hebrew - fatherless, fatherless child, fatherless children

A person without a male parent, often rendered orphan by modern translations. Orphans are often mentioned with widows as representatives of the most helpless members of society (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 146:9). In societies where the basic social unit was the clan headed by a father (the eldest male relative, perhaps a grandfather or uncle), those without a father or husband were social misfits without one to provide for their material needs and represent their interests in the court (Job 31:21). Life for the fatherless was harsh. Orphans were often forced to beg for food (Psalms 109:9-10). They suffered loss of their homes (Psalms 109:10), land rights (Proverbs 23:10), and livestock (Job 24:3). The fatherless were subject to acts of violence (Job 22:9), were treated as property to be gambled for (Job 6:27 TEV, NRSV, NAS, NIV), and were even murdered (Psalms 94:6).

God, however, has a special concern for orphans and widows (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 10:14-18; Psalms 146:9; Hosea 14:3) evidenced in the title “a father of the fatherless” (Psalms 68:5). Old Testament law provided for the material needs of orphans and widows who were to be fed from the third year's tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 26:12-13), from sheaves left forgotten in the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19), and from fruit God commanded to be left on the trees and vines (Deuteronomy 24:20-21). Orphans and widows were to be included in the celebrations of the worshiping community (Deuteronomy 16:11,Deuteronomy 16:14). God's people were repeatedly warned not to take advantage of orphans and widows (Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalms 82:3; Isaiah 1:17). In the New Testament, James defined worship acceptable to God as meeting the needs of orphans and widows (Isaiah 1:27).

God's exiled people were described as orphans without home or inheritance (Lamentations 5:2-3). The Old Testament image of the orphan without a helper at the court perhaps forms the background for Jesus' promise that His disciples would not be left orphans (John 14:18, NAS, NIV, NRSV; “comfortless”, KJV; “bereft”, REB). They would not be defenseless since the Holy Spirit would act as their advocate (John 14:16). Paul described his painful separation from the Thessalonian Christians as being orphaned (1 Thessalonians 2:17, NRSV).

Chris Church

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'FATHERLESS'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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