God is Your Abba, Not Your Daddy!

Yesterday I posted the first part of this article HERE. This will make more sense if you read that first.

God is often referred to as “Daddy.” This is taken from the Aramaic word Abba, used three times in the New Testament. Is daddy an appropriate way to view God? Here is part two of why I think not.



Use of Abba by commentators

Commentators Bruce,[1] Boice,[2] Harrison,[3] Lane,[4] and Wessel[5] follow and quote Jeremias and the interpretation that abba is some sort of term of endearment, the speech of a young child, such as “daddy.” Unfortunately many preachers and teachers rely on these resources to be their authority on the text of Scripture on a regular basis.

Moo seems to avoid the problem altogether in his expansive commentary on Romans and says very little about the use and background of abba in 8:15. In a footnote he mentions that abba has been found in prayers at Qumran and should not be restricted to the speech of little children to their fathers. He notes Barr’s “Abba Isn’t Daddy,” but also notes the criticism of this by Fee.[6] He appears to avoid a clear position on the matter and instead leave the options open.


Use of Abba in lexicons, dictionaries, and encyclopedias

Several lexicons, dictionaries, and encyclopedias will be evaluated below. As stated above, these are significant because pastors and teachers who desire an accurate understanding of the biblical texts heavily rely them upon.


This dictionary says that abba is a “term of endearment.”[7] There is little evidence given for this meaning, which relies heavily upon the work of Jeremias.


Brown begins by saying that abba is originally a word derived from baby-language. After a baby is weaned, he says, “it learns to say abba (daddy).”[8] He goes on to say that this childish meaning receded over time and abba, “acquired the warm, familiar ring which we may feel in such an expression as ‘dear father.’”[9] He also leans heavily on Jeremias, almost directly quoting him.[10] He seems to ignore the use and background of the word in his conclusion.

Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible

Mowery points out that both young children and grown children call their fathers “abba.” [11]  Therefore, abba does not mean “daddy.”  It should be translated “the father,” or “my father.”  Mowery is correct in his conclusion, though his article lacks evidence.


Kittel says that Jesus used “the speech of the child to its father.”[12] He also says that according to the Syrians Chrysostom, Theodorus, and Theodoretus, it was the term “little children used to call their fathers.”[13] He shows the use of abba, in Judaism and mentions the use in the Targums. He also suggests that it is likely that in all cases where Jesus calls upon God as father, abba was originally used. This is followed by Jeremias, but lacks any textual evidence. Kittel’s conclusion is vague as he does not give a translation of abba. Rather, he says that the term “shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new.”[14]  The concept of intimacy fits with the interpretation of a term of endearment. Jeremias probably relied upon Kittle’s work and further developed this view.



After evaluating the published literature and analyzing the use of abba in the NT and Hebrew OT, the Aramaic meaning of abba as used in the NT should be “my father.” Unfortunately the influence of Jeremias has been widespread and his teaching of abba as a term of endearment, “daddy,” is well entrenched in many of the hearts and minds of western Christians. Such influence may add to the lack of reverence and honor that exists in the Church. It is not wrong for a person to think of their relationship with God as that between child and father. But this must be balanced with a deep sense of humility, respect, and reverence, so often lost in the consumer age of twenty-first century Christianity.

Jesus’ use of abba, and Paul’s teaching in the context of adoption should give the reader great joy in knowing God as father. Every person who puts their faith in Jesus is adopted into the family of God. Each child then has the privilege of calling upon him as abba. No matter what a person’s biological family background, all who trust in Jesus for eternal life by faith gain adoption into God’s family can call upon him as abba, “my father.”


QUESTION: How does taking abba as MY FATHER vs. “daddy” make a difference to you?


[1] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 199-200.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. F. Gaebelein; 12 vols.; Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1984) 10:473-475.

[3] Everett F Harrison, “Romans,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. F. Gaebelein; 12 vols.; Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1984) 10:92-93.

[4] William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (NICNT; Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1974) 517-518.

[5] Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. F. Gaebelein; 12 vols.; Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1984) 8:763-764.

[6] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT; Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1996) 499-503.

[7] BDAG, 1.

[8] Colin Brown, “Father,” NIDNTT 1:614-615.

[9] Ibid., 614.

[10] See Jeremias, Prayers, 96.

[11] Mowery, “ABBA,” 2-3.

[12] Gerhard Kittel, “abba,” TDNT 1:6.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Kittel, “abba,” 6.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

9 thoughts on “God is Your Abba, Not Your Daddy!

  1. Ed,
    Hope all is well. By teaching the nuances of the cultural use doesnt this encumber the pastoral impact. A person has been set free and can call God Father or Papa. I would think that the best way to get folks to understand the impact would be the slaves to sons contrast and not worry so much about if someone is using daddy. Just my thoughts.

    • Great thoughts Bill, thanks. Great to hear from you. The point is Jesus and Paul use the word to emphasize relationship. Abba is not a term of endearment. You’re right, we are free to address God in relevant personal ways. But because He is MY Father, I have been adopted by the God of creation, my relationship has more of a reverent healthy fear than than whimsical and flippant friend.

      • Great to hear back from you as well. I just wonder if we teach the reverent healthy fear, what exactly does that mean? How do we know how much healthy fear one has? How do we know people are treating God like a flippant friend? Whose definitions are we using? Its like the old adage a Christian can’t habitually sin, well how much is too much. The Spirit creates the desire to use the term within in us (I know you’d agree) my question is how do we judge how a person is using the term, when all we hear is Father or Daddy, we might be reading a lot into one persons word. I know your not saying this, I just wonder if this teaching is as effective as teaching the slavery to son context of its use. Thoughts?

        • I’m really trying to make the point that both Jesus and Paul are emphasizing relationship. God is MY Father. I am adopted into HIS family. It does speak of intimacy and closeness, for sure. But the emphasis is on the relationship, the new family that I’m adopted into. Daddy is not that. Daddy is a term of endearment and that’s just not what Paul or Jesus was saying. Any Christian is free to address God however they want. But to use the word Abba to mean Daddy is just not correct. Hope that makes more sense. I’m with you though Bill, just trying to clarify.

          • I’m with you too, just thinking out loud Ed. Yes it makes sense. Basically was thinking through the context and how that relates to using outside sources to help with that. Thanks.

  2. Ed, Thanks for studying this through and sharing with us. I agree with your point that too many people today look at God without a reverent and healthy fear. If Abba does not mean “Daddy,” (which according to the research and background of the word, it does not – at least in the context in which most of us use the word) then would it be appropriate for us to not think of God in terms of endearment? What about when we are called friends of God? I hope that as we think of our relationship with him, it would lead us into a greater intimacy as well as reverence.

    Just a side note, the Korean word “daddy” is 아빠 (appa/ abba).

    • Jacob, thanks for commenting, great points! The emphasis of Abba is the relationship. I can’t imagine Jesus addressing God the Father as “daddy.” But others might see that???

      Being a friend of God also seems to emphasize relationship and not a term of endearment. That might be hommie or buddy or something. And to be honest, I don’t use terms like that to address God.

      The emphasis is not on fear or reverence per say. Rather, when we address God we understand that He is OUR Father. That can be intimate and close, just as Jesus and the Father were. Jesus clearly teaches His disciples to address God as Father on more than one occasion.

      I define fear of God as reverential trust. It’s humble recognition of who He is and who we are before Him. That’s my emphasis in prayer and what I try to emphasize in teaching prayer.

      And yes, many languages, including Hebrew, use some form of abba to mean father or maybe daddy. But as I’ve interviewed people it rarely means daddy in the way that we think of daddy in America. Certainly not in Hebrew or Aramaic/Arabic cultures.

      Thank you again for commenting Jacob. PLEASE continue to do so, interact, push back, and question. I want this to be more of a dialog and conversation.

      • Hey Ed, Thanks for your thoughts. It was helpful to get clarification on that. I’ve always heard or thought of Abba as Daddy, so this was really an eye opener. It’s easy for believers to view God as a teddy bear, rather than holy and all-powerful. The amazing thing is that we can be close and intimate with God as He made us His children and friends. I just want to be sure not to take any part of God or my relationship with him lightly. Maybe calling Him “Daddy” would give the connotation that we don’t need to think of Him as King or Lord or Judge. Emphasize relationship rather than endearment. Interesting and beneficial to think about. Thanks!

        • Great thoughts Jacob, thanks for sharing. I would definitely see the emphasis on relationship. It’s SO comforting knowing that God is MY Father. And Yours. So we are truly brothers in Christ. Great having this interaction with you bro. Looking forward to meeting you soon.

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