By Charles H. Welch
Abba. This Aramaic or Chaldee word is the equivalent of the Hebrew abi and means ‘my father’, but, although so far as translation is concerned the one word is equivalent to the other, in usage they differ in one great particular. Abi can be used of a natural father and it can also be used of an elder, a magistrate, a ruler, but abba can only be used of a natural or an adopting father. Dr. John Lightfoot gives a number of examples of this usage from Rabbinical sources. Moreover, the word abba was forbidden to a slave, only sons could use the title.
The word abba is found in three passages of the New Testament, namely, in Mark 14:36, Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15. The parallel passage in Matthew 26:39 reads ‘O My Father’ which is a good translation of abba. The introduction of the word abba in Mark’s Gospel is one of the indications that Gentile readers were envisaged, and the reader may know that in the prophecy of Daniel, at chapter 2, verse 4, the words ‘in Syriac’ indicate a change from the Hebrew, which continues to the end of chapter 7. This is one dispensational purpose served by the presence of this word.
The other is a claim to the highest relationship with the Father, that of a ‘son’ (for a fuller account of the dispensational distinction between ‘child’ and ‘son’, see ADOPTION p. 40). Both the place of the Gentile, and the high dignity and blessedness of being a ‘son’ are intended by the employment of this same word in Galatians and Romans.
‘And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4:6).In both these epistles ‘bondage’ is in the background of these references, and ‘liberty’ is nothing less than ‘the liberty of the glory of the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:21).
This study is mainly an adjunct of a larger theme, namely that of ‘Adoption’, and many aspects of the truth that seem to cry out for exposition will be found under that head. The need to conserve space makes repetition, however desirable, both uneconomical and unnecessary in a work of this character.
We append however the structure of the sections that contain the word abba in Galatians and Romans.