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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Thursday, May 05, 2011
Abba Da Da?
You have probably heard from the pulpit that in those three places in scripture (Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6) where the Aramaic word "Abba" has been transliterated into Greek, it means "Daddy".

One might imagine, because this teaching is so widespread, that this teaching has been the understanding of the church from day one, but in fact it is a recent "translation".

I want to start with a bit of a history lesson. When Judah went into exile in Babylon for 70 years, the generations that were born there were taught to speak the language of the land: Aramaic. This would have been their "native" tongue. That isn't to suggest that all Jews stopped speaking Hebrew, rather it is to say that through this exile, the language of Babylon came to Judah, when the exiles returned - and even in Christ's day, though Greek had become the language of commerce, Aramaic was still spoken in Judah.

It should surprise no one who lives in a culture where more than one language is commonly spoken (in Canada both English and French are spoken, for example), that some words from one language find their way into other languages.

Such is the case with the Aramaic word "Abba". Not surprisingly, "Abba" means father. I say not surprisingly because the three times it is used in scripture, it is immediately translated into "father" for the reader.

Well, we might ask, if "Abba" means "Father" - why are pastors correcting their translations by telling their congregations that "Abba" really means "Daddy"?

Without getting into the details, a Lutheran scholar named Jechoniah Jeremias hypothesized that the word Abba grew out of the same kind of baby talk as ma-ma or da-da. That is, the formal word for father being "Ab" - it followed (sort of) that Abba was an especially intimate form of address because the word, according to this speculation, grew out of baby talk. It wasn't long before that turned into "Abba" equals "Daddy" - and once that was out, it spread like wildfire!

Now, it is important to note that although Jeremias originally held the view that the word implied a special, indeed a unique, intimacy, yet he later stepped back from that view, regarding his former opinion , and I quote, as "a piece of inadmissible naivety".

Notwithstanding, the cat was out of the bag, and so it has remained to this day.

Of course, one could sidestep all the scholastics, and just look at an early Aramaic NT. There we find the word Abba indiscriminately translating the Greek word for father. No special meaning. No fuss.

What would have been profound to the Pharisees, had they heard our Lord praying, is that Jesus was addressing God in prayer using familial (ie. the language of family) language - not simply referring to God in the second person as His Father, but addressing God personally as Father.

What is profound for us, is that we can pray to God using the same familial address - Christ even taught us to pray thus, "Our Father, which art in heaven". Early Christians picked upon the Lord's words, and prayed, using the exact same phrase "Abba father" just as we see in the other texts where this word "Abba" appears (Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.)

Now, you know those people who talk normal the rest of the time, but, for whatever reason, pray to God in English that sounds like they are reading from a King James Bible (Dear Lordeth, Thou art mine Godeth, and I praise Thee Thine Glory, yada-yada-eth.). Don't follow their example and start praying each prayer with the opening phrase, "Abba Father" because that is how some did in in the NT. Good gravy - copy their heart, not their first century mannerisms!

But I digress.

Comparative texts at the time show that "Abba" was the form of address you used to address your father, regardless of whether you were a child or a full grown adult. The connotations we breath into the word "Daddy" simply aren't there in the word "Abba" and the moment we put them there, we displace the true meaning of the text with a spin that implies something that the scriptures themselves do not imply.

This is what it looks like to "add" something to scripture. It isn't that we tack on ten more verses here, or twenty there (though that would be adding also), it is that we have added some nuance that is foreign to the text, and in doing so we paint both God and Christ in hues that God Himself hasn't supplied.

The problem for us is that this particular twist jumped out of the academy, as it were, and into commentaries and even dictionaries, but was never removed from those when it was shown to be naive (at best). The end result is that a cursory or superficial examination of the word may not be sufficient to undo the damage that is already done to this. You may need to dig beneath the surface a little.

Try googling "does Abba mean Daddy" and you will find commentaries and dictionaries that say it does, and you will also find commentaries and dictionaries that say it does not. Unless you are willing to put them all in order and piece together the history of the last 50 years or so, you may not see how the word came to be abused, and is only now being (reluctantly in some circles) restored.


posted by Daniel @ 7:25 AM  
  • At 10:14 AM, May 05, 2011, Blogger David said…

    I love seeing stuff like this debunked.

  • At 12:29 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger Bob Johnson said…

    Thanks for this. I remember years ago hearing this from the pulpit and feeling awkward about it, but taking for granted that my pastor wouldn't be saying it if it were not so. Years of experience have convinced me that I mustn't evaluate the truth of anything based merely on a gut level reaction to it.

    Your explanation makes sense, challenging the conventional "wisdom" but stopping short of condemning those who propagate it.

    Again, thanks.

  • At 1:18 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger Daniel said…

    I remember the first time I heard this, I also felt deep within something saying, nuh-uh, that can't be right.

    I encourage people to check into this one for themselves though. I am no scholar, I just report the news.

  • At 1:43 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger David said…

    Sometimes those of us who listen to sermons are like frogs in water that is gradually heated to boiling. We don't notice when the preacher is full of baloney.

  • At 1:49 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger Daniel said…

    Now you're just baiting me because you know that I know that the frog story is all bunk.

  • At 2:41 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger David said…

    Oh, come on! Would I do that?

  • At 2:46 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger Daniel said…

    Oh, you're right, what was I thinking? You would *never* do such a thing. -Ever-.

  • At 2:52 PM, May 05, 2011, Blogger Daniel said…

    Man ...? How old is my profile pic now? I gotta change that.

  • At 4:01 PM, May 10, 2011, Blogger Jim said…

    This is just like those chain emails which purport to share some incredible secret but are always just too good to be true.

    Why are evangelicals such suckers for these stories over and over again.

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