When we call God “Abba Father”, we must act with filial reverence to Him.
Abba Father. Of all the names God has in human history, the title of Abba is His most distinguished. Jesus Himself invited us to call Abba whenever we pray. He calls us to be sincere, humble, and obedient to the Father and to the Holy Spirit.
He created us in His image and likeness. When we accepted Christ Jesus into our lives through baptism, we became His children. This unique relationship is why Jesus tells parables of fathers who take care of their children, regardless of what they do.
But it’s easy to feel overwhelmed about the nature of God as Abba. Don’t worry, once you know what Abba means, you will understand your familial relationship with Him.
What is the Meaning of Abba Father in the Bible?
The Aramaic word “Abba” is multifaceted. It refers to intimacy and filial piety. Jewish families use this term to call their fathers and other important mentors and leaders in the community. The Ethiopian, Syrian, and Coptic Churches also use this to address their patriarchs and bishops.
In biblical tradition, Abba Father refers to our rich relationship with God. In the Old Testament, we know Him as our creator and purveyor of needs. We depend upon him for our day-to-day sustenance. Whatever we have in life comes from Him. But we also owe Him our unconditional love and unwavering obedience.
There are many stories in the Old Testament where people suffered because they turned away from God. David’s fall, Moses dying before the Israelites arrive at the Promised Land, and the destruction of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel after the corruption of their kings are just a few. Ancient Hebrews and Palestinians know God as the strict but loving father of their nation.
In the New Testament, our relationship with God as Abba Father changes. Christ Jesus introduces the New Covenant. Instead of hundreds of laws, Jews need to memorize and keep, Christians only need to love God with all their heart, mind, and soul. And we also need to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
Jesus gave us the intimacy of calling God Abba Father in prayer. This develops one’s faith and deepens our relationship with God and His Church. Abba here is deeper and more emotionally closer than the Old Testament term. As discussed by Jesus and the Apostle Paul, Abba refers to our personal relationship with God.
The definition of Abba Father consists of two elements:
- Intimacy – God loves us so much, to the point of sacrificing His only begotten Son to redeem us from the fatality of sin. He is also open to our deepest and most sincere concerns. As Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive”.
- Obedience – God demands our full commitment to Him. We should live with God as the center. Whatever you do, you should behave without defaming the Holy Name of God. You must offer everything in life to His greater glory. And trust in His Will.
Abba in the Old Testament
Abba Father in Isaac and Abraham’s story
The word Abba first comes into the Bible in the story of Isaac and Abraham. In Genesis 22:7, Isaac calls out “Abba” to Abraham as he follows his father in the climb up the Mountain of Moriah. He carries wood, flint, and a knife in anticipation of a sacrificial offering to God.
He had complete faith in his father, never uttering a word of discontent in the long arduous journey. Isaac obeyed Abraham even when Abraham told him to put himself on the altar with the organized firewood. He believed that his father knew best, even when he was put in grave danger.
Indeed, Abraham was doing this in obedience to God’s decree of sacrificing his firstborn. After proving his unconditional commitment to God, God gave Abraham a lamb to slaughter in place of Isaac.
This is a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate act of love for humanity – Jesus’ death on the cross to cleanse us from the slavery of sin.
Abba Father in the Old Testament Prophets’ eyes
The ancient prophets of Israel invoke the title of Abba unto God. They exhort the Israelites to return to God who loves them so much. God’s love back then was revealed in His discipline towards His people and His patience with the ones who disobey Him.
David declares to his congregation as the Father of Israel forever (1 Chronicles 29:10).
Isaiah writes about the everlasting name of Abba Father, our redeemer (Isaiah 63:16). And he also exhorts us to acknowledge God as the maker of our lives. That He is the potter who molds us according to His Will (Isaiah 64:8).
Abba in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Abba denotes a more intimate, spiritually enriching relationship.
Abba Father in Jesus’ eyes
Jesus invites us to call with filial deference and tenderness. He simplifies obeying God into two commandments of love:
- Love God with all of your beings;
- And give your neighbor the same love and respect you owe yourself.
The first mention of Abba in the New Testament is in Mark 14:36, “And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” Here, Jesus experiences great turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prays to God as He realizes the imminent end of His human life. He defers to Abba. Jesus hesitates in mortal fear over the painful consequences of His ministry because His views on spirituality and ethics are radical in his day. He knows that the Jewish church leaders and Romans will seek to kill him.
But in the end, Jesus listens to God. He trusts and submits to what God wills to happen. He prays as He seeks to fulfill His Abba’s Will on Earth.
Abba Father in Paul’s eyes
We see Abba Father mentioned twice more in Paul’s letters. The Apostle Paul went through a tremendous spiritual transformation from being the strictly-laced Pharisee Saul to the great evangelist of the New Testament. It is his personal experience that draws the unique meaning of Abba.
He writes to the early communities in Rome and Galatia that whoever is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, becomes a child of God. No more a slave to sin, we can now call Abba, Father. To continually live in sin is to die. But we live again in Christ as His brothers and sisters forevermore.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul instructs the Christians to trust and obey God, our Heavenly Father. For He loves us and we need to be committed to Him with filial responsibility. He wants us to leave sinfulness and honor Him with righteousness.
In the Galatians, Paul further explains what it means to be a child of God. God knows us and he believes in our free will. And to be free from the slavery of sin, we should turn to God – not to the laws of man. Note that he writes this to console and strengthen the faith of the early Christians who suffer from the persecution of the Roman empire.
Abba ultimately means our personal, wholehearted commitment to God. To trust in Him is to live with respect and responsibility to His fatherhood.
Where Does the Word “Abba” Come From?
Abba from the Aramaic Word
Abba came from the Aramaic language and most Semitic tongues. The Greeks wrote this formal title as Αββα. It also comes in the form of Ab or Aba. Abba is always followed by the word Father in the Bible.
According to Abarim Publications, the Hebrew noun אב (‘ab) refers to a father. But in Semitic cultures, fatherhood is a social relationship. It represents the patriarchy in which the community revolves. He is the one who gives instructions to the ‘sons’ (בן, ben) of the community. This salutation denotes male leaders from lords (Isaiah 22:21), elders (2 Kings 2:12), ancestors (Genesis 10:21), to counselors (Genesis 45:8).
Misconceptions About Abba
Often we Christians think of God as “Daddy”. If Paul wanted to convey a child’s word for “father”, he could have used a Greek word like Papas or Pappas which means “papa” or “daddy”. Our Bible teachers and catechists teach us about how God loves His children so much. This characterization emphasizes the intimacy of God’s love. We usually think of God as someone we can ask for anything in our prayers.
But that is a limited view of God. He is Abba Father. Although He loves us so much and wants the best for us, He is also our Father. He calls us to live in accordance with His Will.
Jews and other Semitic speakers use “Abba” as a title to honor and respect fathers. This affectation is not childlike. The ancient Church author Origen reflected upon Galatians 4:6 as our adoption as children of God who we call “Abba Father” in terms of following and spreading His message in word, thought, and deed.
The misconception of Abba as a childlike title comes from German Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias. To him, Abba was a term commonly used by children. But other biblical scholars refute this meaning.
George Schelbert of the University of Fribourg argues that Abba has no other equivalent in Aramaic. It means “the father” or “my father”, adds the scholar Professor Geza Vermes. And finally, theologian James Barr states that Abba speaks of solemnity and filial responsibility.
As you develop spiritually in your faith, you will realize the deep, diverse relationships we have with God, our Father.
How to Welcome God as our Abba?
Why We Should See God as Our Abba Father?
As we know from our family history and genetic science, children get their looks and qualities from their parents. We may get our nose from Dad, our eyes from Mom, our skin color from Dad, our hair from Mom, and so on. The basic thing we relate to ourselves is our origin as the son or daughter of our parents. Society recognizes us by whose progeny we come from.
In each of us is God’s image (So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them, Genesis 1:27). God is our Creator, who gave us everything we need to do His Will on Earth. Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” He gave us free will so we can choose which ways to go. Even after we are born, God molds us into the person we are meant to be. The blessings, trials, and challenges we encounter are all part of His plan for us.
God loves us and wants the best for us. He is our Abba who we should obey and revere, not as a tyrant, but as a compassionate parent. He wants us to grow spiritually mature so we can also guide our brothers and sisters to live in Him.
What does it Mean to Call God Our “Abba Father”?
God knows what is in us. Unlike our fathers on Earth, he can see our thoughts, desires, and truths. He loves us all equally. Even when we sin, he patiently waits for us to repent and reject the bondage of sin.
To call God our Abba Father reflects more than just the intimacy of a familial relationship. It’s not just praising Him. You need to realize the privilege of us experiencing God as Abba. Even if God knows every man, not all know and acknowledge Him. We benefit, every time we call to Abba Father, from his redeeming and liberating love. We are called to exercise our freedom to spread the Good News.
When we use the term “Abba Father”, we surrender ourselves to God’s Holy Will. We trust in Him. So whatever comes our way, we always try to live with unconditional love and utmost respect for Him.
We may be sinners. But God cleanses us in the process of guiding us to be truly human. So don’t hesitate to call out to Him, every time you pray.
The Lord’s Prayer and Abba
“Abba” is the first word that Jesus taught us when it comes to authentic prayer. He introduced the “Our Father” to counter the long-winded, self-righteous prayers of the Pharisees. In this prayer, he calls to trust in God as Abba.
Jesus taught us to pray directly to God as our Father. He calls on us to recognize God’s Holy Name and Will upon Heaven and Earth. He also encourages us to ask God for daily sustenance. And He ends the prayer with a trusting invocation of God’s power to forgive us of our sins and deliver us from all dangers.
The Lord’s Prayer relates to how we should be sincere in our faith in God. We should try to do His Will on Earth. And forgive our trespassers as He forgives our trespasses.
Jesus taught us to pray to God with the invocation of Abba as the realization of intimacy and obedience. To pray to Abba is to surrender all your cares to Him and to trust in Him.
God is a multi-faceted being. He is our Creator, Savior, Judge, Lord, King, and so on. But the most important appellation to Him is Abba Father. As our celestial father, he knows us completely. So much is His Love that He has a plan for our good.
It is easy to confuse the meaning of Abba with “Daddy” or “Papa”. But we should look at God beyond a toddler’s understanding of a parent. He is not just a giver of needs. He is the leader and authority we should obey.
To welcome God as our Abba Father is to acknowledge our humanity. And do everything with love for Him and our fellow man. Repent, humble oneself and trust in God’s Holy Will.
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