Last week I enjoyed a three-day weekend off. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Just last week I received two new significant works for the academic market. One from Baker Academic: Reading Koine Greek by Rodney J. Decker and the other from Zondervan: New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE) by Moisés Silva. Both will be important contributions to the academic world. The latter is an update to the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology by Colin Brown which was published in 1975-78. For the next couple of weeks I will be drawing excerpts from both of these works. Those who don’t know Greek may still benefit from many of these posts since I will try to keep them readable to a lay audience.
Where better to begin than with abba which is the Greek word for father. You’ve heard it said that abba means “daddy” but the NIDNTTE says:
“Other Jewish writings make clear that this was the word normally used by adult sons and daughters, and that it could even be used as a respectful title for scholars, similar to the term rabbi. Thus it is an exaggeration, and somewhat misleading, to say that the word has a childish character and is equivalent to Eng. daddy. It remains true, however, that [it] was used by children in the home. It is also significant that nowhere in the entire wealth of devotional literature produced by ancient Judaism do we find [it] being used to address God, and the reason may well be that pious Jews were hesitant to call upon the Lord with the familiar word used in everyday life. In rabbinic documents we find very few passages where this term is used in reference to God. For example, R. Nehemiah (fl. c. AD 150) is reported to have spoken of ‘the will of Abba in heaven’ . . . two sentences later he uses the expression ‘my Father in heaven’. (p. 85)
“The term [abba] occurs in the NT only 3x: Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6. In each case it is used as a way of calling on God in prayer. In the other Greek literature of early Christianity it is found only in quotations of these passages. . . . The fact that the church, like Jesus, may say ‘Abba’ is a fulfillment of God’s promise: ‘I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters’. (p. 86)