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Does Abba Mean Daddy?

Picture of children paying attention can remind us of childlike faith and can also remind us of the question "Does Abba Mean Daddy"?

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Does Abba Mean Daddy? It’s unlikely. But does that mean it’s impermissible to use that term for God?

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)

Many Christians are interested in God’s many names in the Bible, including how God names Himself.

I heard a message online recently where the minister answered the question “does Abba mean Daddy” with a resounding yes. I have heard this said before, but this person was saying it with such conviction and feeling that I felt drawn to research it further.

Does Abba mean Daddy? Let’s check into this together.

Does Abba Mean Daddy in the Bible?

So, the question “does Abba mean daddy in the Bible” is…complicated. It really depends on what you mean by “in the Bible”. What do I mean by that?

The basis for considering does Abba mean Daddy is to consider the Peshitta, which is an early translation of the Bible into Syriac, which was a common dialect of Aramaic. Scholars believe that Syriac was what many spoke in Jesus’ day, including Jesus Himself.

As this translation was derived from Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, it is a translation based on traditional manuscripts. Just like any English translation we read today, while the original meaning is preserved, there could be colloquialisms or turns of phrase that might not be 100% literal, or one translation may come closer to capturing the translation or meaning a little more clearly than the other.

Note that I’m talking about the translation, not the manuscript. The Bible is true, valid and authoritative (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I’m talking about nuance in translation only.

In this particular case, it appears that the Syriac language itself may have allowed for one scholar to answer the question of does Abba mean Daddy in the affirmative.

The idea of Abba being translated as Daddy is a recent one. Joachim Jeremias, wrote in his 1971 book New Testament Theology that abba was a word used by children, and more closely approximated the chatter of a small child. From that implication, some have come to believe that in this context Abba is more accurately translated as Daddy. It is interesting to note that Jeremias never explicitly made that claim.

Abba Doesn’t Mean Daddy

Other scholars, such as James Barr in 1988, have since offered counter-evidence that Abba doesn’t mean Daddy, claiming that it was actually a reverent, adult-appropriate and culture-specific term more closely approximating Father.

Given that scripture translates the phrase as “Abba, Father” as seen in today’s passage, and the recency of the (potential) claim that Abba could possibly mean Daddy (which has not caught scholarly traction), it would stand to reason that Abba doesn’t mean Daddy.

So, you will notice I didn’t provide any links to sources. They are out there if you wish to find them. However, in researching this topic, I did find out that there is a lot of passion on both sides of this question. There are some who feel calling God Daddy is disrespectful and are not hesitant to call out the practice in strong terms.

Is Calling God Daddy Disrespectful?

We are supposed to hold Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, in great reverence. There is much in the Bible to let us know that.

When seeking to understand the Bible we should always strive to ensure we’re not reading something into it that’s not there. We can see from evidence that supporting does Abba mean Daddy is difficult. But that’s different from asking is calling God Daddy disrespectful.

I had a dear friend who would pray to God by calling Him Daddy. Did it feel a little strange? Yes, it did. But I knew exactly the heart and spirit with which the prayer was being given, so I chose to give them grace.

I cannot comfortably argue the Abba meaning in the Bible being anything different from Father from evidence. It may even be likely that those who choose to do so are doing it more from how it makes them feel than from biblical support. But does that make calling God Daddy wrong? Can we hold God in reverence while calling him Daddy? That is an entirely different question.

When is it Ok to Call God Daddy?

Again, I think there is an aspect to giving fellow believers grace in this area. However, as we give each other grace, we should use discernment based on the counsel of scripture. Implementing the discipline of Bible study will help us to set aside emotion and make a reasoned conclusion on if and when is it ok to call God Daddy.

I think there are two biblical principles at play as it comes to deciding if it is ok to call God “Daddy”. And then a third principle about choosing to do so.

We Should Be Respectful to God

The first principle we’ve already mentioned, and that is one of reverence.

Followers of Christ aren't Church Members - we are family!Jesus is truly a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). And when we follow Christ, we are called children of God (1 John 3:1-2). The Bible is replete with passages that describe us in one way or another as being part of the family of God. Followers of Christ aren’t church members – we are family!

Yet at the same time, God is God. Yes, He loves us enough to have sent His one and only Son to die for us so that we may have our sins forgiven. But He is also the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God. We are less than ants in comparison to Him, in every measurable way. We need to maintain a healthy respect for God at all times.

Is it possible to be at a place of intimacy with God, that a person can reverently, whole-heartedly, refer to God as “Daddy”? Yes, I think it’s possible.

And in fact, the more we take to heart the idea of being God’s children, I think it’s possible to feel so intimately in love and connection with God that we can respect Him and still call Him “Daddy”.

That doesn’t mean that everyone can or should seek to achieve that place in their faith. Because for some, calling God Daddy does feel disrespectful. Their faith isn’t less because that’s where they are.

A mature believer knows in their heart in what context they intend to call God “Daddy”. If a person ever found themselves calling God “Daddy” in a casual or flippant way, then I would suggest not to do it. It is evidence they require more maturity.

Christ Calls Us to a Childlike Faith

The second principle has to do with having the faith of a child.

Interestingly, although we hear the term “childlike faith” in several contexts, that exact phrase doesn’t show up in Scripture. But the principle of having the “faith of a child” is clearly taught through illustrations used by Jesus Christ.

Jesus talks about approaching God with childlike innocence, trust, and humility in a few passages where He teaches kingdom principles through the perspective of a child (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:14-15).

If Jesus Himself decided it made sense to teach us about faith by using illustrations of children, and those who follow Christ can be called God’s children, it stands to reason that learning to adopt these childlike qualities in the practice of our faith is a good thing.

We should be discerning about what childlike faith looks like, however. For example, if we narrow in on select scriptures, we might interpret childlike innocence incorrectly. The Bible clearly teaches us to be innocent about evil, but not about knowledge and right thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20).

What I’m getting at is, paradoxically, there is a level of maturity required to achieve childlike faith. This mirrors the first principle; to have a level of childlike faith that can rightly use the term “Daddy” for God requires maturity.

The Grace to Call God “Daddy”

The third principle is covered in Romans 14, where Paul implores believers to grace. Both grace to each other in the areas of non-essentials, and the grace to each other by not flaunting our own freedom in these areas.

The reason is, not all of us are on the same step in our individual spiritual journeys. Therefore, we need to be prepared to accept those weaker in the faith, and not argue with them about right or wrong practices of faith (Romans 14:1).

Again, we’re talking about non-essentials; we are not talking about what is and isn’t sin. What we need to be careful of is that we’re not teaching newer, less mature Christians that our preferences should be interpreted as their commands, especially if they are convinced otherwise. This would be tantamount to judging others.

At the same time, we need to be careful about flaunting our own freedoms in front of other believers who believe those freedoms are wrong. This is actually an unloving thing to do (Romans 14:14-16).

Abba Doesn’t Mean Daddy – and That’s Ok

So what does all this mean? If you are in a place where it blesses your faith and you can do so maturely, perhaps it is ok for you to call God “Daddy”. But if you come to that point, be aware that it may not be prudent to just start doing it every chance you get in front of others. Show some discernment that this can be a sensitive topic for other believers. If your attitude is “I don’t care how others react”, then that may mean it’s time for more reflection and growth.

Does Abba mean Daddy? Perhaps not literally. The Bible does not explicitely commend the practice of calling God “Daddy”. But if you wish to call God “Daddy”, then an examination of biblical principles suggests doing so with humility, reverence, and keeping mindful of your brothers and sisters in Christ before doing so publicly. That way, you can please God the Father whether or not you call Him Daddy.

More Bible verses about Abba Doesn’t Mean Daddy:

Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 64:8; Malachi 2:10; John 14:9-11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 6:18; James 1:17

All Biblical reference links courtesy of Bible Gateway, a searchable online Bible tool hosting more than 200 versions of the Bible in over 70 languages.

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