In the last few blogs, I have been arguing that the faultiness of the ‘abba’ narrative in prayer and worship has put us on a slippery slope that fails to reckon with God as ‘utterly other.’ But what does the Bible say? In the New Testament, there are three occurrences of the Arabic abba along with the Greek, o pater, meaning ‘the father’ (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). The juxtaposition of the two languages, the Arabic followed by the Greek translation, indicates that what is offered is a literal translation of the two terms offered as equivalents, both meaning – “father.” Abba is not a diminutive of father in “baby-talk” form. If that were intended, there are Greek diminutives of the term father, but they were not used. There are also distinct terms for ‘daddy’ in Aramaic – papi, baba, abbi, as opposed to abba. The Greek term in the New Testament for father is always pater and never a diminutive – such as papas, pappas, or pappias, any of which could have been used, but were not in the minds of the Biblical writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit, considered suitable.
Today, the assertions of Jeremias have been completely discounted by scholars, but the idea persists in popular usage. ‘Abba’ is clearly cognate with the Hebrew word ’ab (pronounced ’ahv), meaning ‘Father.’ Specifically, it would appear with the definite article, ha’ab – the Father. The ending -a’ on the Aramaic makes it a determined or definite noun. So a translation would be ‘the Father’ or ‘my Father’ of simply ‘Father.’ First century folks would not have confused the term with ‘daddy.’ Nor should we.
The use of the term ‘daddy God’ has served to promote the idea of an approachable God, one with whom we can find warmth and intimacy, and though such concepts are, on balance, appropriate, they rise here from the wrong premise and they have failed to be appropriately balanced with a call to retain an awe for God. Overall, sadly, we now are too familiar with God. We have lost awe and reverence. We no longer fear Him – and that is a dangerous position.