ABBA (; Αββᾶ).
By: Kaufmann Kohler
The Aramaic word for "Father," "my Father," which, together with the Greek equivalent, occurs three times in the New Testament. It is an invocation to God, expressive of a close personal or filial relation of the speaker to God. It is found in Mark, xiv. 36, the parallel passage, Matt. xxvi. 39, having only the Greek words "my Father." Paul, in Rom. viii. 15 and Gal. iv. 6, shows that, in admitting proselytes to membership in the new faith, they were declared to be the children of God while addressing Him as "Abba, Father." But there is nothing specially Christian about this. It was the formula for addressing God most familiar to Jewish saints of the New Testament times:
"To Ḥanan, the grandson of Onias, the children came during a great drought, crying, 'Abba [Father], give us rain!' whereupon the saint prayed: 'O Ruler of the world, for the sake of these little ones who can not discriminate between the Abba [the Father] who giveth rain and the Abba [the father] who can only pray for, but can not give, rain, hear my prayer!'—and behold rain came".
Of Onias, the grandfather of Ḥanan, we read (Ta'anit, 23a) that he prayed to God, saying: "Lord, I am as a son in Thy house, and by Thy great name I beseech Thee, nor will I leave this spot until Thou hast shown mercy to Thy children and granted my request." Then Simon ben Sheṭaḥ, the leader of the Pharisees, said to Onias:
Father in Prayer.
"I would excommunicate thee for thine irreverent mode of prayer, were it not that before God thou art a privileged son, who sayeth to his father, 'Abba, do this and do that for me,' and the father granteth him whatever he wisheth."
Thus, in Tanna debe Eliyahu R.ix.Elijah addresses the Lord as "My Father in heaven." Compare the expression "My Father in heaven" in a Midrash of the Hadrianic time, Mek., Yithro, 6, and elsewhere. Likewise in Mishnah, v. 1, Bab. Gem. 30b, Ber. v. 1: "The ancient Ḥasidim spent an hour in silent meditation before the prayer so as to put their hearts in the right relation to their Father in heaven." Almost the same expression is found in the Apostolic Constitutions, vii. 24:
"Pray thrice a day, preparing yourselves beforehand, so as to be worthy of being called the children of the Father, lest when you call Him 'Father' unworthily, you be reproached by Him, as Israel, His first-born son, was told, 'If then I be a father, where is mine honor? and if I be a master, where is my fear?' (Mal. i. 6.)"
For the appellation "Father" as it occurs in the Bible with special reference to Israel (Deut. xxxii. 6; Isa. lxiii. 6, lxiv. 7; Jer. iii. 4; Mal. i. 6, ii. 10), see
God is called "Father" by Josephus ("Ant." ii. 6, § 8; iv. 8, § 24); "the Father of the whole human race" by Philo ("Sacrifice of Abel," 18, and elsewhere; see Drummond, "Philo," ii. 63; Test. Patriarchs, Judah, 24; Wisdom, xii. 3; Sirach, xxvi. 1 and li. 10; and Tobit, xiii. 4). Still, as is shown by Dalman ("Die Worte Jesu," i. 150-155), the fatherly relation of God to man was only gradually recognized and expressed by the worshiper. In the Book of Wisdom, ii. 16 (compare ii. 13, 18), it is the righteous man only who claims that God is his Father and he His child; or it is the priest, whose holy ministration entitles him to the privilege of addressing God as "Father" (Test. Patriarchs, Levi, xvii. 18). Therefore it became customary to speak of God in connection with worship as the Father of the worshiper (see Tosef., Sanh. vii. 9), "Israelites lift up their eyes to their Father in heaven" (Midr. Teh. cxxi. 1), "Israel was shielded under the wings of his Father in heaven" (Mek., Amalek, i.; R. H. iii. 8). In the first century Johanan ben Zakkai referred to "the altar as establishing peace between Israel and his Father in heaven" (Tosef., B. Ḳ. vii. 6, 7); also, when referring to the mysteries of God, he said: "Blessed be the God of Israel for this son of Abraham, who has penetrated into the glories of our Father" (Tosef., Ḥag. ii. 2).
Subsequently Akiba, comforting his people in the misery after the destruction of the Temple, says: "Happy are ye, O Israel, your Fountain of Purification is your Father in heaven" (Yoma, l.c.). Likewise Simon ben Yoḥai calls God "the Father in heaven" (Sifre, Deut. xlviii.).
The paternal relation of God, while chiefly applied to Israel as the correct worshipers of God, was also applied to individuals who maintained this spiritual relationship (Soṭah, ix. 15; Ab. v. 20; Mek., Yithro, 6.; Midr. Teh. ix. 4; Ps. xii. 5, xciv. 2, cxxiii. 1). Wherefore the very invocation, "Abinu Malkenu!" (Our Father, our King!), uttered by a devout worshiper, was regarded by the people as endowed with special efficacy. The opinion expressed by Weber ("see Altsynagogale Theologie," p. 150) and others, that Jesus was the first to invoke God by the name of Father, does not rest on a solid foundation, and has already been refuted by Dalman.
- Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vorträge, pp. 330, 333, 336.