f The Wittenberg Door: Does “Abba” Mean Daddy?

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Does “Abba” Mean Daddy?


“God’s rad He’s my dad!” sums up an attitude that is all too common today: God’s my pal. Most wouldn’t put it that way but this belief shows itself when people come to church in shorts and flip-flops, turn worship into a rock concert, and address God flippantly. The Aramaic term abba is given as support for the later by translating it “daddy.” But is this justified? Professor Philip Graham Ryken, president of Wheaton College, explains the proper use of the term in his book, When You Pray.

To call God ‘Abba, Father’ is to speak to him with reverence as well as confidence. Abba does not mean ‘Daddy.’ To prove this point, the Oxford linguist James Barr wrote an article for the Journal of Theological Studies called ‘Abba isn’t “Daddy”.’ What Barr discovered was that abba was not merely a word used by young children. It was also the word that Jewish children used for their parents after they were fully grown. Abba was a mature, yet affectionate way for adults to speak to their fathers.

The New Testament is careful not to be too casual in the way it addresses God. The Aramaic word abba appears three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). In each case it is followed immediately by the Greek word pater. Pater is not the Greek word for ‘Daddy.’ The Greek language has a word for ‘Daddy’ – the word pappas – but that is not the word the New Testament uses to translate abba. Instead, in order to make sure that our intimacy with God does not become an excuse for immaturity, it says, ‘abba, pater.

The best way to translate abba is “Dear Father,” or even “Dearest Father.” That phrase captures both the warm confidence and the deep reverence that we have for our Father in heaven. It expresses our intimacy with God, while preserving his dignity. When we pray, therefore, we are to say, ‘Our dear Father in heaven.’

--The Catechizer

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