The word, “Abba,” is used in the New Testament 3 times, once by Jesus and twice by the Apostle Paul in his letters.  There is a common thought that this word is properly viewed as meaning, “daddy,” but according to numerous articles written by scholars of the Aramaic and Hebrew languages, they have reached the conclusion that this is not a correct rendering of the word.

According to an article written by Glen T. Stanton, “This origin of this understanding is generally traced to the notable German Lutheran New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias who in his 1971 text New Testament Theology explained that abba was “the chatter of a small child. . . . a children’s word, used in everyday talk” and seemingly “disrespectful, indeed unthinkable to the sensibilities of Jesus’ contemporaries to address God with this familiar word” (p. 67). While Jeremias did not use the word “daddy” or “papa” in relation to abba, the implication was strong and others came along to make that connection.  But other Hebrew and New Testament scholars have taken exception with this understanding.”

Further in his article, Stanton quotes James Barr from his essay, “Abba Isn’t Daddy,” as found in the 1988 Journal of Theological Studies: “It is fair to say that abba in Jesus’ time belonged to a familiar or colloquial register of language, as distinct from more formal and ceremonious language. . . . But in any case it was not a childish expression comparable with ‘Daddy’: it was a more solemn, responsible, adult address to a Father.” 

While I understand and respect their research on this word, I cannot help but latch onto the fact that they also say that this word has a level of intimacy with it which, in my view, would have most likely been scandalous (at least in the eyes of the religious of the day) to use when referring to God.  It did not denote a sterile relationship between God and humanity, which, in practice, was the way I see those religious leaders of the day (Pharisees, Sadducees, among others) viewing God’s relationship with Israel and humanity as austere and sterile and very formal.

Jesus introduced and ushered in true intimacy with God.  In his prayer right before his arrest (John 17:21), Jesus prays, “That they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in me and I in You, THAT THEY MAY ALSO BE IN US. (All caps mine)  In this unity was extreme intimacy, a oneness, unlike that which had been available since the banishment from the Garden of Eden.

So, the challenge that is before Christians today is how to, in the colloquial language of our day, communicate the intimacy now available to us in a relationship with God, an intimacy that God desperately desires to have with each person?  And it is an important challenge to be met.

In my understanding and use of the word, “father” has very little or no intimacy connected with it.  To me, it is a very sterile formal word that does not denote an intimate relationship.  When I am addressing my own father, I do not say, “Father.”  I typically only use this word when I am referring to him in a conversation about him which only speaks to the biological connection which has no aspect of intimacy connected to it.  When I address my father, I say, “Dad,” because this word has intimacy connected to it.

Consider this saying: “Any guy can father offspring, but it takes a real man to be a dad.”  There is a huge difference between being a father and being a dad.  To me, being a “father” only speaks to the biological aspect of the relationship.  Being a “dad” speaks to the love and intimacy of a relationship between man and child.  That’s why a child who has been adopted can call the man who adopted him/her, “Dad,” even though he never fathered him/her.  It’s all about the relationship.

So, inside remaining true to the meaning of the language used by Jesus or the writers of the New Testament, there must also be a commitment to transferring that meaning into the language people today use and understand.  Only sticking to a strict translation does not do this.  And that makes it once again sterile and cold.

So, speaking as a father of 4 wonderful kids whom I love deeply, I love hearing them call me “Dad” or “Daddy” because that tells me that they sense and love and enjoy the intimacy of the relationship.  I do not find it disrespectful in the least.  And I think that God looks at it the same way.  He loves having an intimate relationship with us and enjoys the fact that we recognize and love having an intimate relationship with Him as well.

So, even though the scholars might disagree, as a pastor, I would encourage you to use words that share and express how much you love the intimacy you have with our Heavenly Father.

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I believe this view to be CRUCIAL

Recently, I directed to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ a one-question quiz, which I posted on my Facebook page.  The one question was this: “As of today, which of the following are you?  1. Sinner  2. Sinner saved by grace  3. Saint.

In the replies, I received mostly the answer I expected – #2.  

But I see a problem, biblically, with this view of followers of Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the living God who are fellow heirs with Christ and who have received Christ’s nature as our own since we have been crucified with Christ and resurrected with Him into his life.  This is the reason why Paul says in Galatians 2:19b-20, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me; and now that which I live in flesh, I live by faith, that of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  We are no longer who we once were.

When we were born, we were born into sin.  Therefore, we were sinners in need of God’s saving grace.  At belief, we received that grace and were redeemed, becoming saints, the holy ones of God.

Getting our minds to the end of this process is crucial.  First, it is how God views us.  Nowhere in any of the letters of the New Testament are those who are in Christ called sinners.  I cannot recall one time where, after belief, we are called that.  But these same letters, particularly Paul’s, are rife with those who are in Christ being called saints.  Think about the way Paul addresses his letters – “To the saints or holy ones at…”  Even at the beginning of his first letter to the church of Corinth Paul calls them “saints.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

So, if God no longer has us called “sinners” after belief but “saints” and “adopted sons and daughters of God” and “fellow heirs of Christ” and even God’s own “inheritance,” why would we call or regard ourselves as anything that uses a part of our past identity and not our currently reality, at least as how God sees it?  It is my position that continuing to regard ourselves in terms of our past perpetrates a continuing mindset that does not lead to transformation.  It’s not that we forget what we once were, but we realize that we are no longer that.  Therefore, we should not use any part of that past identity in crafting or naming our current reality.

Paul says in Romans 12:2, “…and no longer be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may be able to prove what is the good and pleasing and perfect will of God.”  There is a direct relationship between the level of mind renewal and transformation.  The conclusion, therefore, is that if my past as a sinner is kept as part of my view of who and what I am, this transformation will be stunted because I am continuing to hold onto my past identity.  It is only when I fully embrace how God now sees and knows me in Christ (which is how I believe this renewal should be defined) that transformation to its fullest can occur.  Anything less is still holding onto a past identity and will hold me back.

Further, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, “Therefore, from now on, we know no one according to the flesh, even though we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we now no longer know him this way.  So, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed/gone away/left/departed/been kicked to the curb/said ‘adios’ to, behold he has become new.”  So, Paul is saying that if someone is in Christ, he is no longer what he once was at all, even in part.  So, Christians must not define themselves in the terminology of their past for it has gone away.  We must change the way in which we refer to ourselves.  Instead of saying “sinner saved by grace,” we should say, “I was saved by grace and because of that I am now a saint.”  We also must change how we view our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for they also are new creations and we are not to regard them as to the flesh (sin) but as new creations (something totally different) in Christ.

This change in view and mindset is crucial.  If Christians still view themselves as sinners, albeit ones saved by grace, it shouldn’t be surprising when it is common that the sin part is what is done.  It is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy because it is common that what we focus on is often what becomes reality.  We must fully change how we view ourselves and know our identity to line up with how God sees us and knows us to be so that we can better move into our new, God-given identity.  As Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  So, how we view ourselves is crucial in our development of becoming in reality what God already knows us to be.

So, let us have a mind of a saint for God has already declared us to be saints.