Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Jesus Saw the Father

For some years I have taught that the Gospels provide three places where the actual Aramaic words of Jesus were remembered and recorded. They are all found in Mark. The first is Talitha, cumi—“Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). The second is ephphatha—“Be opened!” (Mark 7:34) And the third is Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

It struck me a few months ago very powerfully that there is one more place: “And he said, ‘Abba, …’” (Mark 14:36).

Abba is usually translated “Father”, and is presented as such in the three places where the word is used in the New Testament, but teachers often explain that Abba really means “Papa” or “Daddy”, i.e. what a small child would say to his own father. [However, see the first and second comments to this blogpost.] It is a term that demonstrates personal and familial, trusting intimacy. When we consider that it is how Jesus addressed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of his Passion, it is deeply moving. He prayed tenderly to his Father that he might be delivered from “the Cup”—and the Father refused. It is only a chapter later that the words, Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani are recorded. Yet we also know that even this experience was an expression of the Father’s love for his Son and the world into which he had become incarnate in order to save it.

When we are taught that Abba is the term that believers may also use to address God, it proclaims a reality that is nothing less than breathtaking. We find this teaching in Romans 8:15 (“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”) and Galatians 4:6 (“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’”). To think that we sinful human believers can address the Creator of the Universe with such a term tells us something extraordinary about God, and something indescribable about ourselves in relationship with him. It tells us that we are children of God—not just in some sort of sentimental way, but in a reality that is immeasurable.

I don’t think that the term Abba can be adequately translated into English. To address God in prayer as “Papa” or “Daddy” just seems to me so insufficient. Yet how can one “claim” the unique reality of the relationship that is the birthright of the born again? “Father” is truly a very rich form of prayerful invocation, often used both liturgically and personally and rightly so, but Abba means so much more than that. It struck me recently that the word needn’t be translated at all—one may simply address God as Abba. And so I have, when I needed comfort or sought guidance in times of stress, pain, and trouble. It was in such a time that Jesus himself addressed God as Abba. There is nothing inadequate about Jesus’ own word. If it cannot be translated, it can, perhaps, be pictured. To the right is a photograph of one such occasion.

So many, many people were not sufficiently held and hugged when they were children that it shows in their adult lives—sometimes dramatically. My blogpost of over three years ago, Hugs and Kisses, is one of my favorites. It really provides the background to this blogpost. I realize now that genuine, pure affection in Christ’s Name is one meaning of Abba as expressed in this life. In so many ways, it tells us who we really are in Christ. To pray Abba is to know that one is safe, loved, accepted, warm, and fully content in the arms of the One who loves us truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally. Even the best parents, spouses, or friends cannot give that message consistently. When we pray as Jesus did, Abba, when we need it most, we may catch a glimpse of that world where we are truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally loved.


Steve Caruso said...

Small comment:

"Abba is usually translated “Father”, and is presented as such in the three places where the word is used in the New Testament, but teachers often explain that Abba really means “Papa” or “Daddy”, i.e. what a small child would say to his own father."

It is a very common anecdote about the Aramaic language that "abba" means "daddy" it is unfortunately just that: An anecdote. A myth. Unfounded.

However, due to its nature, it is one of the most difficult misconceptions about the Aramaic language to combat. :-)

"Pappa" or "daddy" in Aramaic is either "baba" "papi" or "abbi" depending on dialect.

More information about the history of this myth can be found here on my website:

Abba Isn't Daddy - The Traditional Aramaic Father's Day Discussion

Steve Caruso, MLIS
Translator, Aramaic Designs
Author, The Aramaic Blog

Father David said...

Thank you, Steve, for your comment on my blog, JohnOneFive, regarding my post, "How Jesus Saw the Father". I was surprised and very pleased to have your learned statement that "Abba" doesn't equate to "Daddy". "Daddy" just hadn't felt "right" to me for many years--especially since the NT invariably added the word "Father" directly after "Abba". As my post observed, it just seemed to me that its meaning was untranslatable. It's been a long time since I studied Hebrew, but I do remember that so many "simple" words had such complex and deep meanings. Nonetheless, if I recall correctly, Jesus uses the word for "Father" to speak of God far more frequently and naturally than it is used as such in the Old Testament, and that certainly reveals something new and amazing about our relationship with God. The comments from others on your blogpost are very enlightening. I guess I come from the same place as "Aramaic Student"--and willing to learn more. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I was fascinated by the word and by the pronounciation: abba is exactly the pronounciation in arabic, cumi is also the same workd for rise in arabic, lima is also the same work for "why" in arabic.. I had always argued with my father about the relation between aramic and arabic and religions and languages, espcially about the origin of languages since that was his focus for years, he had worked years of research and studies reading into the bible, the quoran the holy book and other religious books and all leaded him to find that all languages (even if they are different in writing), the pronounciation that has always been used is exactly arabic.