When Joseph finally reveals himself to his brother in Genesis 45, he explains in verse 8:

"So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."

What is meant by the expression "father to Pharaoh"? Quite clearly he does not mean a biological father. But then the next two phrases "lord" and "ruler" would seem to suggest "father" implies some sort of authority over him, which clearly Joseph does not have. In what way then does Joseph mean he is a father to Pharaoh? Are there other biblical uses of this expression?

  • Cf. Isa 22:20-23; Mt 16:18-19. Mar 2, 2018 at 14:59

5 Answers 5


According to Gesenius,1 it means that Joseph was Pharaoh’s amicus (“friend”) and consiliarium (“adviser/counselor”). Gesenius cites other examples where “father” evidently expresses the same meaning (rather than biological parent).

In 1 Maccabees 11:32, it is written,

King Demetrius to father Lasthenes, greetings:

βασιλεὺς Δημήτριος Λασθένει τῷ πατρὶ χαίρειν

Lasthenes was not the actual father of King Demetrius (Demetrius II), whose actual father was Demetrius I.

On “Lasthenes”, the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature states,2

an officer who stood high in the favor of Demetrius II Nicator. He is described as “cousin” (συγγενής, 1 Macc. 11:31) and “father” (1 Macc. 11:32; Josephus, Ant. 13:3, 9) of the king. Both words may be taken as titles of high nobility (compare Grimm on 1 Macc. 10:89; Diod. 17:59; Gesenius, Thesaur. s.v. אָב, § 4). It appears from Josephus (Ant. 13:4, 3) that he was a Cretan, to whom Demetrils was indebted for a large body of mercenaries (compare 1 Macc. 10:67), when he asserted his claim to the Syrian throne against Alexander Balas, B.C. 148 or 147. It appears that Lasthenes himself accompanied the young prince; and when Demetrius was established on the throne, he appointed Lasthenes his chief minister, with unlimited power.

Another example occurs in the additional Greek text of Esther where Haman is called “our father” and “a second father” to the Jews.

In Esther 13:6, it is written,

6 We therefore have ordered that you utterly destroy those indicated to you in the letters written by Haman, who is in charge of the affairs of state and is our second Father—including women and children—by the daggers of their enemies, without any compassion and restraint, on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, of this present year,

6 προστετάχαμεν οὖν τοὺς σημαινομένους ὑμῖν ἐν τοῖς γεγραμμένοις ὑπὸ Αμαν τοῦ τεταγμένου ἐπὶ τῶν πραγμάτων καὶ δευτέρου πατρὸς ἡμῶν πάντας σὺν γυναιξὶ καὶ τέκνοις ἀπολέσαι ὁλοριζεὶ ταῖς τῶν ἐχθρῶν μαχαίραις ἄνευ παντὸς οἴκτου καὶ φειδοῦς τῇ τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτῃ τοῦ δωδεκάτου μηνὸς Αδαρ τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος ἔτους,

In Esther 16:10–11, it is written,

10 For whereas Haman son of Hamadathos (a Macedonian who was in truth a foreigner to the blood of the Persians and quite devoid of our kindness), when he was entertained by us as our guest, 11 obtained the goodwill that we have for every nation to such an extent that he was publicly proclaimed our Father and was continually done obeisance to by all as the person second to the royal throne,

10 ὡς γὰρ Αμαν Αμαδάθου Μακεδὼν ταῖς ἀληθείαις ἀλλότριος τοῦ τῶν Περσῶν αἵματος καὶ πολὺ διεστηκὼς τῆς ἡμετέρας χρηστότητος, ἐπιξενωθεὶς ἡμῖν 11 ἔτυχεν ἧς ἔχομεν πρὸς πᾶν ἔθνος φιλανθρωπίας ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον ὥστε ἀναγορεύεσθαι ἡμῶν πατέρα καὶ προσκυνούμενον ὑπὸ πάντων τὸ δεύτερον τοῦ βασιλικοῦ θρόνου πρόσωπον διατελεῖν,

In his Chronicon Syriacum, Gregory Bar Hebraeus relates the story of how the Fatimid princess Sitt al-Mulk conspired to have her brother Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah killed. He wrote,3

enter image description here

Therefore, if you can put him to death by means of some cunning scheme, behold, I will give you my hand and my trust, for you shall be to me a husband. And we will seat upon the throne my brother’s little boy so that the nobles and the people may not rebel, and you shall be a father, and a counselor, and a governor to him.

1 Gesenius, p. 7, אָב (av), 5.
2 p. 254, “Lasthenes”
3 Gregory Bar Hebraeus, p. 208
Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Ed. McClintock, John; Strong, James. Vol. V. New York: Harper, 1891.

Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Thesaurus Philologicus Criticus Linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testamenti. Vol. 1. Leipzig: Vogel, 1829.

Gregorii Barhebræi Chronicon Syriacum e Codd. Mss. Emendatum ac Punctis Vocalibus Adnotationibusque Locupletatum. Ed. Bedjan, Paul. Paris: Maisonneuve, 1890.

Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum auctoritate Academiae Scientiarum Gottingensis editum. Ed. Hanhart, Robert. 2nd ed. Vol. VIII, 3. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprech, 1983.

The term "father to Pharaoh" is used in the Egyptian sense of advisor, or teacher.

Ellicott's Commentary on Gen. 45:8 has,

"A father.—This was a not uncommon title of the chief minister or vizier of Oriental kings." Source: Biblehub

And the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges agrees:

According to some scholars, the word “father” was in use among Egyptians as a technical title of honour and position; cf. the use of the word in a more general sense, 2 Kings 2:12; 1Ma 11:32; and Add. Esth. 16:11. Observe the three phrases, “father,” “lord,” and “ruler,” corresponding to Joseph’s position, personal, social, and national, i.e. towards Pharaoh, towards the people, towards the kingdom." Source: Ibid

And, Benson Commentary has:

"He hath made me a father to Pharaoh — His principal counsellor of state, to guide his affairs with a fatherly care, and to have the authority, respect, and power of a father with him; Genesis 41:40-44; Jdg 17:10." Source: Ibid.

  • 1
    If it is "not uncommon" it ought to be possible to quote some examples.
    – fdb
    Mar 5, 2018 at 18:09

In Genesis 45:8 אב would be better translated in English as "chief counselor", "confidant" or "authority", rather than the somewhat misleading "father". Joseph is expressing the fact that he has both Pharaoh's trust and ear.

In this verse, Joseph speaks to his brothers in their own Hebrew idiom. He is not speaking to them as an Egyptian. His brothers are, after all, simple Hebrew herdsmen from Canaan who do not understand the Egyptian language or the Egyptian administrative structure, so there is no reason why Joseph would use a technical Egyptian term of rank that his brothers could hardly be expected to understand.

The word אב, "father" is the first of three expressions of authority in this verse, the other two being "lord of all his household" and "ruler of all the land of Egypt". If "father" were being used as a term of rank in this verse, then we would expect that "lord of all his household" and "ruler of all the land of Egypt" would also have to be terms of rank, but they are obviously not. The style of this verse, with it's triple emphatic parallelism is colloquial, not official or technical. Joseph is not boasting about the titles that he holds, which titles would likely mean nothing to his brothers, he is revealing the miracle that God has placed him in a position of authority.

Furthermore, in Genesis 41:39-45 where Pharaoh himself speaks and appoints Joseph, Pharaoh does not use either the word "father" or any other word that could vaguely be construed as an Egyptian term of rank. In Genesis 42:6, the text refers to Joseph as "the ruler" and "the provider", but not "the father".

The usage of אב, "father" and אם, "mother"" in Hebrew and other Semitic languages is much wider than "father" or "mother" in English, and is often used figuratively. The figurative usage in Genesis 45:8 is plain from other verses in the OT itself listed below.

Judges 17:10 (NIV):

Then Micah said to him, "Live with me and be my father and priest, and I'll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food."

Judges 18:19 (NIV):

They answered him, "Be quiet! Don't say a word. Come with us, and be our father and priest. Isn't it better that you serve a tribe and clan in Israel as priest rather than just one man's household?"

II Samuel 7:14 (NIV):

I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.

Isaiah 22:21 ():

I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah.

In Genesis 17:4 (NIV):

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

there is a double entendre which unfortunately does not translate into English. The word אב is used in both the figurative and the biological senses. The promise is that Abraham will both have a multitude of biological children and will also be the guide of many nations.


Strong's would give it as "head of household, family or clan: בֵּית אָבִי. You will find more or less the same information if you check up the very at hand Net Bible notes (see here, go to note 11).

Indeed, אב can be any man who occupies a position or receives recognition similar to that of a father. The title “Father” used:

  • for one in authority

And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest ... (Judges 18:19 / ESV)

And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” ... (2 Kings 2:12 / ESV)

  • for a protector:

I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know ... (Job 29:16 / ESV)

  • for a governor or a king

In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. (Isaiah 22:20-21 / ESV)

See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand ... (I Samuel 24:11 / ESV)

Yet in fact the whole topic becomes very intriguing if you take into account N.M. Sarna's observation, that in fact no such title is known to us from the ancient Egypt. Sarna would say that the closest to it in Egyptian seems to be it nṯr, “father of god,” in which “god” may refer to the king. (see The JPS Torah commentary, 1989, p. 309 ). Of course, the same idea, father = governor / protector / adviser. Yet if Sarna is right, there can be here a case o biblical anachronism, isn't it, and that explains it all. It is rendering an Egyptian reality/function, by using a Hebrew title from a different period of time - most probably the time when the text was written.

If this is so, the fact that this title implies some sort of authority over Pharaoh, well ... most likely not, indeed. Most probably, a limited authority over the land of Egypt, under the extend given by Pharaoh himself. See Genesis 41:41-44. I only quote Genesis 44:44:

Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 44:44 / ESV)


Joseph is a type/shadow of the return Jesus. He is betrayed by his brothers, exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh, and ultimately reveals himself to his brothers. Egypt is a gentile nation and repersents the world, Pharaoh the King. Joseph is making a profound statement of prophecy which could be easier to understand from 50,000 feet, or standing way back.

God has made me (Jesus) the father to the people, through out every kingdom, and ruler of the entire Earth.

  • I know what you're saying about types & shadows, but this isn't a satisfactory answer on this site — not because of the conclusion but because you haven't show how you got there. Around here we like to see answers show their work starting from the text itself and working step by step showing the process of interpretation up to your conclusion. You've jumped straight to the conclusion without a hint as to how you got there.
    – Caleb
    Mar 1, 2018 at 14:03

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