The Names of God 3 – Abba
In the second installment of this series, we discussed the holiest name for God – YHWH. This installment will look at the most intimate name for God. This word is not a Hebrew or Greek name but an Aramaic name. Aramaic was the common language of Israel and was the common language Jesus used. It is the word Abba. Abba means Daddy. Not Father, but Daddy. Daddy is an intimate name that children have for their fathers. When my kids were young, and even today, after they have grown, it brings me such a feeling of warmth and connectedness whenever they use this word to refer to me. If you have kids, I bet you can relate.
Looking at languages from around the world, there are many ways to say “daddy,” but they are all similar. Scandinavians, Dutch, and Russians use the word “pappa.” Hindi as well. Asian countries use “uppa” or “babpa.” Whatever the language, each one has this intimate name for fathers. It was a word that Jesus and Paul used when addressing the first person of the Trinity. Abba is not as common as YHWH, only three times in the New Testament. Let’s look at each.
In Mark 14, we find Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus has separated from them and is desperately praying to the Father about his impending crucifixion. In verse 36, in his most desperate time, he prays:
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36
Notice that he calls him Abba and Father (πατήρ patēr in Greek). He uses a term of intimacy and a term of authority when submitting himself to the will of his Father.
In the letter to the Galatians, at the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4, Paul describes how believers in Jesus have a new and unique relationship with God as children of God. This was really tough for the Jewish believers as they were looking at their Gentile friends and co-believers. The Jewish belief was that only children of Abraham could be called children of God. But Paul is stating that every believer gets to call the Father by the most intimate of names:
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:6-7
In Romans 8, Paul again picks up on this theme and expands it from his letter to Galatians. Here he states in vss. 14-17:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:14-17
Notice that he links our ability to call God Abba with the Holy Spirit. When we become believers, we receive the very presence of God – The Holy Spirit – to dwell in us. It is very intimate.
The word Abba allows us to approach the Father relationally. Some people have tough relationships with their fathers – I certainly have in the past. I had a hard time knowing God as my Daddy for many years because my Daddy was an alcoholic and distant. But through the work of the Holy Spirit, he has brought me to a place of confidence where I know I am a child of God. I am no longer an orphan to sin and loneliness but a child of the King – my Abba. God desires intimacy with his people. He desires it so much that he puts his very image on us. Although we have mucked that up with the fall and our own individual sin, we can call on our Daddy with the arrival of the Holy Spirit into our lives. In our most desperate times or in our times of celebration, our Abba is there with open arms, ready to embrace, love, and care for his children – those who call on the name of Jesus.