We Cry Abba/Father, NOT Daddy!

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.

Pastor Hammons,

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.

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25 thoughts on “We Cry Abba/Father, NOT Daddy!

  1. Mark G.

    Hey Timothy,

    the Abba = daddy thing is from Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979) after a rather lopsided “study” of 20th Century Arimaic speakers in Palestine and then reading it back into biblical times. It seems strange that this view of a liberal lutheran (i.e. German) scholar has made such strong inroads amongst conservatives. But it gets passed along through what I have heard called “grapevine theology”. Something gets repeated so often and no one does the research to “check the footnote” and before you know it, it is accepted as fact. James Barr (another scholar) has written a strong rebuttal of the Jeremias thesis: (“Abba Isn’t Daddy,” JTS 39 [1988] 28-47) You can read more here: http://abbadancingqueen.net/music/abba-isnt-daddy-the-traditional-aramaic-fathers-day-discussion/ I can’t vouch for the rest of the site, but its discussion of this topic is accurate.
    This particular bit of “grapevine theology” ranks right up there with the whole “tying a rope around the Jewish High priests leg for the day of atonement”, in case God struck him dead, they could pull him out. The closest reference to anything resembling this is from a strange Jewish source circa AD 1000. LONG, LONG, LONG after Bible times and 1000 years AFTER there was a temple and High Priests and the Day of Atonement. But you will find this bit of silliness put forth today (in fact, I myself put it forth during a Sunday School class while a seminary student) and was greatly helped by my New Testament prof who challenged me to provide a footnote for it. Couldn’t do it and have since not taught it and been more careful. If it is in the text of Scripture…awesome! If not, then check your footnotes and be cautious. Thanks for putting this up Timothy. Good stuff brother!

    Grace and peace,

    mark

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    1. Kevin

      Hi Timothy,
      Thank you for sharing you ideas. I appreciate your honesty. Do you have any Jewish friends? Have you ever heard a jewish child searching in a crowded airport terminal calling “Abba”? I have and have seen the look on the little boy’s face when he saw his daddy holding out his arms to snatch him up from the fear into which he was abandoned. I’m not trying to be touchy feely but the Sacred Scripture stretches to fit our world in the here and now. The common connotation of “Abba” speaks strongly to me when I recall this sight. And it reminds me that I have not received a spirit to fall back into fear. My Daddy’s arms are open to snatch me up. With much love, live well!

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      1. David Schofield

        Gotta roll with Kevin here… I remember walking through Muir Woods a number of years ago and passing a Jewish National on the trail. He had gotten ahead of his 2 little boys, maybe 4 or 5 years old, and they lost sight of him behind a giant tree stump. Suddenly they became scared and came running up the trail yelling “Abba! Abba!” and slammed into the father’s waiting arms. He tossled their curly hair and hugged them tight and said something to them that I couldn’t understand. But the image always stays with me whenever I read that passage.

        And when my 17 year old son was diagnosed with cancer last year you’d better believe that I went running with my arms open wide to my Abba and cried out to Him just like those 2 little boys.

        Was I needy? Yep! But my sovereign God, my El Shaddai, my King, my deliverer, my Redeemer, my Comforter, my Good Shepherd, my Abba…He has promised to supply all my needs, to never leave me, to seek me out. He is a Father to the orphan, defender of widows, and jealous husband of His church. If He cares that a sparrow falls and has inventoried the hairs on my head, if He took up the children in His arms and blessed them while rebuking the disciples, He knows that in my heart there is nothing of disrespect if, in my covenant relationship with my Creator God I respond to His providence and call Him Abba with all the love and intimacy I can muster. I will approach the throne with love and boldness together with respect and holy fear, knowing my adopted brother Jesus has made everything right between us.

        I love my reformed faith and doctrinal purity, but I find I also need to frequently reject the reformed idol with its cold, smug intellectualism and misplaced pride.

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  2. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the comments. Yes, I remember using that High Priest Rope “pulpit fiction” too. Then some guy I knew from DTS, that transferred to RTS told me that there was actual evidence for it. 🙂

    Thanks for the link. I appreciate that.
    Blessings

    Timothy

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  3. I’m actually the author of the content on http://abbadancingqueen.net/music/abba-isnt-daddy-the-traditional-aramaic-fathers-day-discussion/ which is a scraper site that grabbed my article from here: http://aramaicdesigns.blogspot.com/2009/06/abba-isnt-daddy-traditional-aramaic.html (which has a number of comments that expound upon the topic). I’m in the process of filing a DMCA notice to have it removed from the Abba site. 😦

    “Grapevine” theology is a good way to describe it. Like the “‘eye of the needle’ is a gate in Jerusalem where one must dismount their camel” story: It’s wonderful sermon material and something you can easily identify with or wonder at… but it is not rooted in anything even remotely historical.

    The big problem is that when scholars go after “pulpit fiction” we end up doing what scholars do best: Post well-researched and well-sourced rebuttal articles in obscure peer-reviewed academic journals that only *other scholars* read. 🙂

    It works for academia, but not for popular culture. 🙂

    Peace,

    Steve Caruso, MLIS
    Translator, Aramaic Designs
    Author, The Aramaic Blog

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  4. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for your gracious response. I did find it odd that there was a post about Abba/Father there, and Dancing Queen was in the sidebar… and now, that stupid song is stuck in my head. 🙂 My wife loves the band because she knows how much they irritate me.

    I can’t stand “pulpit fiction” because so much is made of it, and since we are supposed to be preaching the truth, there is no room for it. That is why I think it is important to debunk it and get the word out. Thanks for your work.

    Blessings
    Timothy

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  5. Very interesting! I have always been taught Abba=Daddy from several different pastors & teachers of various denominational backgrounds. Same with the priest/rope and the eye of a needle/camel stories. So those aren’t true either? What other popular “pulpit fiction” is out there?

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  6. Hi Alysa,
    Those are the only few that I know of off hand, but I’m always keeping and ear open for more. AS those who preach the truth, everything we say must be true, or be told as simply a story. If something is not true, then we need to correct ourselves.
    Blessings
    Timothy

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  7. mark lawson

    a problem with abba/father not equating to daddy is that daddy is not disrespectful, but rather intimate. I am able to call out to God as my father, my dad, papa.. I am a joint-heir with Jesus, we have the same father. having my son call me dad and pops is something very dear and personal, intimate in a way that sir or father is not.
    the issue is not that abba/father translates as daddy, but rather the writers understanding of what daddy means.

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  8. Hello Diana,
    I’m not denying that we are His children. I’m writing against those who address Him in such a manner that is irreverent. We need to address our Father as He has instructed us to do in Scripture, and not come up with our own constructions to fit our fluttering emotional needs.
    Blessings
    Timothy

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  10. Cindy

    Our relationship with our heavenly Father is intended to become intimate as we grow closer to him through Christ. I agree both ways…he is our Father and he should be honored to the upmost and yet sometimes when we are overwhelmed with his love and the nearness of his presence we might whisper papa!

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  11. I love to preach from this text in Romans 8:15-17 where Paul does not just use a metaphor of adoption but speaks of our true adoption into the family of God. I preached this message in a small Bible college in Myanmar (Burma) a year ago and reminded them that because of our adoption we are brothers and sister because of our Father. We are no longer of this world and of our former father, walking according to the ways of this world, but now we have identity with our Heavenly Father.
    One of the things many people forget is that with adoption comes a name change. The same is true about Christians. When we do something to bring honor and glory to the Father they see the Father in us. But many call themselves “Christian” and go about dragging His name through the gutter. Just like in our family when our children do something that is not right, people do not look at the child they look to the parent. They bring disgrace to the family name.
    As heirs and children of the Most High God who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we need to live like it. This is not our home; rather we are ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom. Believers need to remember they are princes and princesses of the King!

    Charles

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  12. Excellent post Timothy! I can’t stand it whenever theology is emotionalized thus disrespecting God. It bothers about as much as the “buddy Jesus” stuff. Yuck.

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      1. We call him our Father, brother, friend, etc. but I think no matter how we address God it should be with reverance and respect and not try to bring him to our level. Above all, he is GOD!

        What really bothers me (since we are on the subject of music in a different post) is the “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs… especially a popular newer song called “I Love The Way You Hold Me” (See here for lyrics: http://www.songlyrics.com/jamie-grace/hold-me-lyrics/ ) For some reason that song completely rubs me the wrong way when I hear it and I turn off the radio. Other songs are a little more tolerable especially when you are familiar with the artists other songs but that one bothers me a lot.

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      2. Hi Alysa,
        Yes, I agree with our assessment about those songs. Jesus is not our boyfriend. He is our King, Savior, Redeemer, etc. Those who confuse Him with being their boyfriend do so because they misunderstand true biblical love. True biblical love is covantal in nature, not emotional in nature. It is about a commitment to someone not based upon feelings, but their well being. Those who sing such songs in worship have replaced biblical love with Hollywood love. The first is based on God’s word, the second is based upon man’s lust. This is why so many Christians have difficulties in arguing against gay marriage, they have confused biblical love, which is the basis for marriage, with Hollywood love, the basis of lust. Sad, but once people started referring to Christianity as a relationship, is the moment all this junk started popping up. Yes, it is relational, but that is just a benefit of salvation, not the purpose of salvation.
        Blessings

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      3. Yeah, instead of songs like “love the way you hold me” I like songs like “power of the cross” by townend and getty

        “The Power of the Cross”
        Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
        Copyright © 2005 Thankyou Music

        Oh, to see the dawn
        Of the darkest day:
        Christ on the road to Calvary.
        Tried by sinful men,
        Torn and beaten, then
        Nailed to a cross of wood.

        CHORUS:
        This, the pow’r of the cross:
        Christ became sin for us;
        Took the blame, bore the wrath—
        We stand forgiven at the cross.

        Oh, to see the pain
        Written on Your face,
        Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
        Ev’ry bitter thought,
        Ev’ry evil deed
        Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

        Now the daylight flees;
        Now the ground beneath
        Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
        Curtain torn in two,
        Dead are raised to life;
        “Finished!” the vict’ry cry.

        Oh, to see my name
        Written in the wounds,
        For through Your suffering I am free.
        Death is crushed to death;
        Life is mine to live,
        Won through Your selfless love.

        FINAL CHORUS:
        This, the pow’r of the cross:
        Son of God—slain for us.
        What a love! What a cost!
        We stand forgiven at the cross.

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  13. Jared

    Excellent post Timothy! This was very helpful. The “daddy” stuff bothers me about as much as the “buddy Jesus” stuff.

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  14. Makenna

    Alyssa and Pastor Timothy,

    Please look at the Lyrics to Jamie Grace’s “Hold Me” song again. It never ever refers to God as a boyfriend. It does refer to God as holding her which He truthfully does based on the scripture below. The song clearly refers to God holding, caring for, comforting and/or carrying her when she is in a time of weakness. Thanks be to our King and Lord and Father! We are blessed to serve such a loving and merciful God!

    Deuteronomy 33:26-27
    New International Version (NIV)
    26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
    who rides across the heavens to help you
    and on the clouds in his majesty.
    27 The eternal God is your refuge,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
    He will drive out your enemies before you,
    saying, ‘Destroy them!’

    Isaiah 40:11
    New International Version (NIV)
    11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
    and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

    Isaiah 41:10
    New International Version (NIV)
    10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

    Isaiah 46:4
    New International Version (NIV)
    4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
    I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

    Psalm 139:10
    New International Version (NIV)
    10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

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  15. Gary

    Hi Everyone,
    As far as calling God = daddy. I have to say that God was Jesus father and Jesus was his only begotten son. We are only saved because of Gods mercy and I believe we should reverence him with honor and respect. Many of us don’t even honor our own dads on earth. Using the term dad or daddy with our own is because it is all we have ever known. I believe we are bringing the creator of heaven and earth down to the level of man when we use the term daddy because I have heard others pray like this in a way that they are telling God what he needs to do. Remember folks, God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Just remember that God took man from the dirt and breathed life into him. We should walk humbly before Him.

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