Last week I quoted Philip Ryken’s helpful explanation of why the NT term “abba” should not be translated “papa” or “daddy” (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). We received many comments and questions about that post. From a different angle, but with the same conclusion, listen to what Eugene Peterson has to say about this. Perhaps Peterson’s words will shed more light on the discussion in a helpful way – a way that has to do with the history of interpreting Matthew 6:9, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6.
“…The German scholar Joachim Jeremias…tried to provide a fresh appreciation of the childlike spontaneity conveyed by ‘Abba.’ Jeremias tried to make a case for ‘Abba’ meaning something on the order of “Daddy.” His suggestion was welcomed with enthusiasm by many. The cozy informality of the term found itself used in sermons and teachings everywhere. It was made to order – and under such auspicious scholarly authority, the eminent Jeremias! – for a culture that was uneasy with authority, was anti-hierarchical, and wanted to be on a first-name, even nickname basis with everyone. And now God.”
“Then the Oxford scholar James Barr threw cold water on what he discerned was nothing more than sentimentalizing coziness. He convincingly demonstrated that Jeremias was embarrassingly mistaken. But by then it was too late. The horse was out of the barn. The mistake, coziness displacing holiness, keeps showing up in both scholarly and popular writing.”
“There is, to be sure, a childlike intimacy and delight in the use of “Abba.” But the word also continues to carry an element of awe and respect and reverence. I don’t cease to be a child in the presence of my father. Otherness is not diminished by affection. Intimacy does not preclude reverence. True intimacy does not eliminate a sacred awe: otherness, Otherness.”
“The ‘Daddy’ fad that is still sweeping through our churches is a case of premature intimacy. We don’t begin by getting cozy with God. We begin with solemn reverence: Holy.”
“In the first petition [of the Lord’s Prayer], Jesus leads off with a verb that gets us started off on the right foot and places us in a posture of reverent respect, standing in awe – an affectionate awe to be sure, but still awe. ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ (Ex. 3:5). The first petition protects the third commandment: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain’ (Ex. 20:7 NASV). ‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God’ (NRSV).”