Today’s devotion focuses on the Epistle and comes from Concordia Commentary: Galatians.
Because our sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood, we are able to approach our heavenly Father with confidence. Jesus even called His Father “Abba.” In our devotion, we look at what this name means and what it tells us about our relationship with God.
“Abba” (ἀββά) is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic vocative for address of a “father,” even as the Greek ὁ πατήρ is likewise a vocative of address of the “Father.” The Aramaic word may initially seem out of place in a letter in Greek to a gentile audience. Aramaic was the language of the Jews in the vicinity of their homeland, while Greek was the language of Paul’s gentile audiences. Paul’s doubled address of the Father in both Aramaic and Greek is likely another way of expressing that Jews and gentiles in Christ now share the same rights as sons in the same family (thus also Rom 8:15). They are “no longer” slaves (cf. Gal 3:25).
A venerable scholarly tradition has noted the fact that the Jews generally do not call God “Father” and has concluded that “Abba” must have been Jesus’ own unique, preferred form of address of God (thus Mk 14:36). That scholarly tradition has of late been scrutinized. First, the term “Abba” cannot be attributed with certainty to Jesus and may have originated in the Syrian Christian communities. Second, “Father” or “my Father” was occasionally used as an address and epithet for God in ancient Judaism. Third, the address of God as “Father” did not necessarily originate with Jesus. Even granting these reservations, God is rather frequently called “Father” (πατήρ) throughout the Gospels (forty-five times in Matthew, five times in Mark, seventeen times in Luke, and a hundred eighteen times in John). The frequent use of Father-language in the Gospels is striking when compared with the paucity of the appellation in Judaism. “Father” as the preferred form of address for God conveys Jesus’ sense of a unique sonship. Furthermore, believers who have received “adoption as sons” (υἱοθεσία, Gal 4:5) participate in the rights of sonship to such an extent that they may address God in the very words of his own Son (αββα ὁ πατήρ, “Abba, Father,” 4:6).
In many Christian circles, “Abba” is understood as an intimate form of address that is the equivalent of “Daddy.” This popular understanding is unfortunately mistaken. Jesus addresses God as “Abba” in prayer during a rather serious moment in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mk 14:36. Mark interprets Jesus’ Aramaic utterance with the ordinary Greek word for “Father” (ὁ πατήρ) and not “Daddy” (πάπας or πάππας). Paul, like Mark, juxtaposes the Greek equivalent “Father” (ὁ πατήρ) to interpret the Aramaic word. Grammatically, the Aramaic -a ending signified not intimacy but rather definiteness. By Jesus’ day, “Abba” had replaced older Hebrew and Aramaic forms as a solemn, responsible address of a father, whether on the lips of an adult or a child. The word may indeed be used with a sense of endearment, but the context would convey that sense and not the word itself. The head of a household was an authority figure who had the right to put a family member to death. Paul’s point in Gal 4:6 is not to express intimacy, but rather status. The presence of the Spirit of God’s Son who cries “Abba” demonstrates that those in Christ are likewise the sons of God. Those who call God “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer do so by virtue of a powerful, enabling presence in their lives!
Devotional reading is from Concordia Commentary: Galatians, pages 415–18 © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.