In my sermon Sunday night on the Lord’s Prayer, I mentioned Romans 8:15 as a reference to show the unique relationship we have with the Father as His children.
Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
This is a wonderful passages that stresses we have changed realms when we believe in Christ for our salvation. We have gone from being “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1ff), to children of God. This means that the terms we use for God change because our relationship has changed.
Now the dispute comes over the meaning of Abba. What has bothered me is that in certain evangelical circles, those circles which are given over to touch-feely theology, has started this idea that the term “Abba” means “Daddy.” Yet, no where in any of my studies have I ever been able to confirm this translation. I know that for some, it may bring up the liver quiver of all liver quivers, yet this is no reason to use it.
(Satan can give us plenty of liver quivers if that is what we are looking for. Our faith is built on truth, a person, His work and the salvation that comes from it, not feelings. However, my faith is not dead and I do have feelings in the midst of it. But we are not to let our feelings drive our beliefs.)
The point is that I believe translating Abba into Daddy is wrong headed and misguided, especially given that there is no support for this use and the fact that it is diminutive as well as disrespectful. I mentioned this in my sermon.
Afterward, one of my members came up to me and said he read that the point of the term “Abba” was to stress the adoption we have in Christ. Under Jewish Law, the servants of the household were not allowed to call the head of the household “Abba.” That was a term reserved for the children, both adopted and natural. Paul is using this phrase to show us that we are no longer just servants to God, but His children. Our relationship has changed.
Nate sent me the information this morning and here it is. Please read all of it. This helps us see the importance of our adoption in Christ.
I found what I think was the reference I was speaking about regarding Romans 8:15 and the term “Abba.” It was in Calvin’s Commentary on Romans and is in the editor’s notes (Henry Beveridge edited edition circa 1840s). First the relevant passage here from Calvin, and you will see that the editor takes a different view, noting that Calvin follows Augustine and other early Church fathers in stating that using two different languages here is to note that “Father” the name of God is invoked in any language now in the New Covenant:
“Through whom we cry,” etc. He has changed the person, that he might describe the common privilege of all the saints; as though he had said, — “Ye have the spirit, through whom you and all we, the rest of the faithful, cry,” etc. The imitation of their language is very significant; when he introduces the word Father, in the person of the faithful. The repetition of the name is for the sake of amplification; for Paul intimates, that God’s mercy was so published through the whole world, that he was invoked, as Augustine observes, indiscriminately in all languages. 2 His object then was to express the consent which existed among all nations. It hence follows, that there is now no difference between the Jew and the Greek, as they are united together. Isaiah speaks differently when he declares, that the language of Canaan would be common to all, (Isaiah 19:18😉 yet the meaning is the same; for he had no respect to the external idiom, but to the harmony of heart in serving God, and to the same undisguised zeal in professing his true and pure worship. The word cry is set down for the purpose of expressing confidence; as though he said, “We pray not doubtingly, but we confidently raise up a loud voice to heaven.”
The faithful also under the law did indeed call God their Father, but not with such full confidence, as the veil kept them at a distance from the sanctuary: but now, since an entrance has been opened to us by the blood of Christ, we may rejoice fully and openly that we are the children of God;
Here is Beveridge’s comment re the superscript (2):
2 Wolfius gives a quotation from the Talmud, by which it appears that “servants” or slaves, and “maids” or bondmaids, were not allowed among the Jews to call their master Abba (aba), nor their mistress Aima (amya), these being names which children alone were permitted to use. And Selden says, that there is an evident allusion in this passage to that custom among the Jews. Under the law the people of God were servants, but under the gospel they are made children; and hence the privilege of calling God Abba. Haldane, quoting Claude, gives the same explanation. . . . The idea mentioned by Calvin, derived from the Fathers, seems not to be well founded. — Ed.
I dug up my Haldane’s commentary on Romans (circa 1820, first English version 1830s) and sure enough, here is a similar claim from another source:
Adoption confers the name of sons, and a title to the inheritance; regeneration confers the nature of sons, and a meetness for the inheritance. Abba, Father. — The interpretation which is generally given of this expression is, that Paul employs these two words — Syriac and Greek, the one taken from the language in use among the Jews, the other from that of the Gentiles — to show that there is no longer any distinction between the Jew and the Greek, and that all believers, in every nation, may address God as their Father in their own language [as per Calvin quoting the fathers above –Nate]. It would rather appear that the Apostle alludes to the fact that among the Jews slaves were not allowed to call a free man Abba, which signified a real father. ‘I cannot help remarking’ (says Claude in his Essay on the Composition of a Sermon) ‘the ignorance of Messieurs of Port-Royal, who have translated this passage, My Father, instead of Abba, Father, under pretense that the Syriac word Abba signifies Father. They did not know that St. Paul alluded to a law among the Jews which forbade slaves to call a free man Abba, or a free woman Imma. The Apostle meant that we were no more slaves, but freed by Jesus Christ; and consequently that we might call God Abba, as we call the Church Imma. In translating the passage, then, the word Abba, although it be a Syriac word, and unknown in our tongue, must always be preserved, for in this term consists the force of the Apostle’s reasoning.’
It seems to me that this understanding is in best agreement with the adding of this term “Abba” in the text and it really helps draw out the fact that we have the spirit of adoption, not of bondage, so we can cry “Abba” to the heavenly father, as according to the Jewish custom. The “daddy” thing apparently was at one times someone’s cute attempt to simplify this underlying meaning, but clearly goes off the mark.
The point is that when we trust Christ, we do move from one realm to another. In that move, we are given the honor of being able to call our Father, Abba as well. This is not a privilege the rest of the world has because they come to God without the merits of Christ. Once again, we are reminded of the wonderful relationship we have in the Father, and that we are His special people.
BTW, one of the most dangerous aspects about those who let their feelings drive their beliefs is that they are always looking for the next tidbit of information to keep those fuzzy feelings going. Those who do this really open themselves up for error and falsehood, because the truth of God’s word is not driving them. They soon fall in line with spiritual nutcases like Oprah. If you find yourself doing this, repent and fall back into line of God’s word. It’s not as fuzzy, but eternally much more rewarding.