Does “Abba” mean “Daddy”?

“Thus therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in the heavens, let thy name be sanctified” (Matthew 6:9)

"And he said, Abba, Father" (Mark 14:36)

This prayer is for those who know God as their Father in Christ, for those who have become the children of God by faith in Christ. Although all humans are the children of God by creation — and in this case “children” means “creatures”, — but not all of them are His children spiritually; only those who are born of God by faith in Christ are the spiritual children of God in Christ: “but as many as received him, to them gave he [the] right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) Only these have the adoption in Christ, and only these will know how to call God “Abba” in the right way: “For ye have not received a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye have received a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15); “But because ye are sons, God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6) The unrighteous do not respect God as their Father in Christ, because they don’t know Him in that way; some of them are false Christians or mockers who go to some really unashamed extents of iniquity by disrespecting the Holiness of God and lowering Him to their level by interpreting “Abba” as “Daddy” in the wrong sense.

But does the word “Abba” really mean “Daddy”? In both of the verses which we saw above and where this word “Abba” is used, the word is immediately followed by its translation to Greek, and in both cases the translation is “Pateir”, which literally means “Father”. Yes, in Aramaic “Abba” — as used in these verses — means “Father” in the sense of “O Father” (i.e. we are calling Him). It is the same in Arabic (another Semitic language) where it would be “Abana” or “Abee”. Readers of the Bible are familiar with the name “Barabbas” which in Aramaic is “Bar abba“; it literally means “son of the father”. As you see, the word “abba” is used in this name, and this name certainly does not mean “son of daddy” (as the word “daddy” means today)… It is true that this word “abba” was used in the context of a Semitic Eastern emotional context and thus it expressed the familiar sense of the word “Father”, but at the same time that Semitic Eastern context gave this word the sense of honor and respect, as in that society the father was respected in the family, and his children honored him and used this term “Abba” in a respectful way. Even until today in many places children kiss the hand of their father and behave respectfully in his presence. So in that society, which is the biblical context, the word “Abba” expressed at the same time familiarity and respect. In the Bible, this respect is expressed by the verb “fear” in the filial sense. Thus God is our Father in Christ, therefore we fear Him in a filial way (i.e. we respect and honor Him as our Father). In fact, the English word “Father” itself previously used to mean both familiarity and respect. But in today’s definition, in many societies the word “Father” has lost its meaning of familiarity, and “Daddy” which has replaced “Father” has lost the respectful aspect of the word “Father”, especially in the Western societies. Centuries of wrong philosophy and psychology have brought humanity to a place where fatherly discipline is considered as a “non-civilized” way to educate our children, and where fathers should befriend their children and just give them enough “freedom”… The result is that disrespectful generations are growing up, and the words “Father” and “Daddy” are taking a new corrupted sense. Many people today want to interpret the biblical “Abba” with the word “Daddy” or “Pappa” in order to express this new corrupted sense in which only familiarity is meant and respect is rejected. In this new sense, the father has no real authority on his children, but he is just a man in the service of his children, ready to fill all their needs and to give them whatever they wish. Thus, concerning God, when some people today want to make “Abba” mean “Daddy”, they are in fact dishonoring God and they do not understand His Holiness, because they use about Him a term (“Daddy”) which has come to mean something very different than what the Lord Jesus and His Apostles meant when they used it in the Bible in that biblical context. In this new sense, God has become the cosmic Daddy who is in the service of humans to fill all their needs… This is a man-centered definition of the word “Abba”, yet this is not the biblical sense. Step by step, for many people God has become their servant… They command Him and they think they have sovereign authority over Him to the point that they think they have authority to give Him permissions… We recently received a comment on one of our articles where a Roman Catholic (who seems to be Charismatic) tells God that he gives Him absolute permission to move… Of course, he was copy/pasting from a Roman Catholic website, and here is how the source of his copied comment has put that prayer: “Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians become a reality, in Your way, we have absolute confidence that you can bring your people together, we give you absolute permission to move, Amen.” This author thinks he can give God permissions, while in fact it is God who is Sovereign and who commands and gives permissions…

It is not by chance that the Lord, when He was teaching us how to pray, added immediately after the “Our Father” the expression “who art in the heavens, let thy name be sanctified”. With this expression, the Lord made it clear that God should be respected as Holy and as the HEAVENLY Father who is Sovereign. God is in Heaven, and we are creatures on earth! God is in Heaven and He does whatever He wants, because He is Sovereign; this is what the Bible says exactly: “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) John MacArthur explains this in a simple and deep way, so let’s read together what he says:

Now this I think comes after “Our Father,” because it’s a protection against something. Too much “Our Father,” too much Abba, too much Daddy turns into sentimentalism, and we drag God down and we make God into a nice kind of a, a buddy-buddy, and we’ve dope that in American Christianity to the point where it’s a real problem. People talk to God in such low level concepts and terms that they don’t really do justice to His hallowed name.We’ve got the Daddy part down pretty much, we think God is the big Daddy that we ought to approach and He’s going to give us everything. Listen the Jews were very aware of this and so was our Lord, that’s why after “Our Father,” Abba, He says, hallowed, holy, reverenced is Your name. Jews were conscious of this when a Jew called God Father he almost always immediately added another title after that to balance off his thinking. I read through some of the Jewish prayers this week and over and again I found this, 0 Lord, Father and Ruler of my life. 0 Lord, Father and God of my life. 0 Father, King of great power, Most High and Almighty God. In the Shemonēhesrahwhich is the eighteen prayers a Jew had to pray everyday this is the way they began every one of those prayers, 0 Father, 0 King, 0 Lord. In the ten penitential days at the time of the Day of Atonement the Jews prayed a thing called the Avinumalkaynuand when they prayed through this forty-four times they said this, Our Father, Our King, Our Father, Our King, Out Father, Our King, because they never wanted the concept of God as limited as theirs was of God as a Father to cause them to be sentimental about God who was also a majestic sovereign King. And so they guarded carefully the issue of sentimentalizing God. In First Peter 31:15 Peter says, “Sanctify the Lord God in your heart.” He uses the same word hagiazēn, reverence God, treat God as holy, treat God as separated, extraordinary, uncommon, worthy to be adored and praised and glorified. What is it to hallow? It is to set apart from everything common and profane, to esteem, to prize, to honor, to reverence, to adore as divinely and infinitely blessed the true and only God, an you cannot speak of God in earthy terms, you cannot drag God down to the street talk, God must have titles that are fitting for His power and His holiness. How easy it is in our lifetime to go through it saying, “Hallowed be thy name,” “Hallowed be thy name,” and have no idea what we’re even saying. The truth of such a petition is that God is to have the rightful priority place, my heart longingly seeks to have Him glorified, honored in every situation, every circumstance and every relationship. Jesus said, “Father, honor your name in me.” In John 12, that was His goal.

Source: The Priority of Prayer.

Of course, there are well-meaning Christians who try to explain the familiar side of the word by using the term “Daddy” in order to make their idea clear, but when you hear them pray, they always use the word “Father”, because it better expresses the original biblical sense of intimacy in a respectful way. God is Holy and He is not of our level. God is in Heaven (as Matthew 6:9 says), while we are on earth. God is our Father, but not in an earthly sense; He is not of our level; He is our Divine Father and we’re just humans (i.e. creatures). When we address Him, we should address Him in a filial respectful way, just as the Lord’s Apostles used to address Him with respect calling Him “Abba”. We see a representation of this filial respect in the Old Testament when a son addressed his father, especially in the case of the children of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) who sought the blessing of their father with a great respect.

Of course, as I said in the introduction, only those who are really born of God will know what “Abba” really means and will know how to address God with that term in the filial and most respectful way.

Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ

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2 Responses to Does “Abba” mean “Daddy”?

  1. DB says:

    I know for a fact that in the united house of prayer, our use of the term Daddy means father above and/or father in Christ, we use the term in high respect of God and his power, never in a disrespectful or dishonoring way, so i totally disagree, because some may have used the term out of context, we use it in high context and regard…nowadays if u asked a child to point out their male parent, they will most likely say that is my father or that is my daddy depending on there background but its never as a disrespectful term…father and daddy are at equal level in our society…and mostly we say daddy is the one who birthed us and father is the one who raised us, but daddy is the birthfather to us naturally speaking

  2. Dear DB,

    Thank you for your comment.

    The author of the article did not have you or anyone personally or particularly in mind, but those who do not respect God as God, those who use the expression “Daddy” about Him as if He were not their Master and they His servants.

    Grace be with you!
    Disciple of Jesus Christ

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