Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Abba (“Father”) Part 2

Paul’s usage of “Abba” demonstrates that the term was used at least occasionally in the early church (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Indeed, Paul’s usage may well provide us the guiding theological principle. Both Pauline epistles in which Abba occurs (Romans and Galatians) were written prior to Mark, and Galatians is generally recognized as preceding Romans in the date of composition. In both cases, Paul’s used the exact same phrasing that we saw in Mark, “Abba Father” ( ͗αββά ò πατήρ). Since Mark often is thought of as a Roman Gospel (see http://ext.sagepub.com/content/105/2/36.extract) and Paul was closely associated with Rome, the natural question arises of whether Mark picked up the phrasing from Paul rather than Jesus. Since Matthew and Luke did not follow Mark at this point, and since the Gospel of John makes no reference to “Abba,” we have to grant the possibility that the use of Abba was a theological construct from Paul that found application in Mark’s account of Jesus.

On the other hand, Peter also was closely associated with Rome; and Peter was one of the three disciples Jesus took with him a little farther into the garden where the prayer recorded in Mark 14:36 was spoken (Mark 14:33-40; Matthew 26:37-37), though both Gospels imply that Peter and the other two disciple slept through most of Jesus’ time of anguish. Still, we cannot exclude the possibility that within the closest circle of Jesus’ followers were those who had actually overhead Jesus referring to God as “Abba.” We also might expect that Jesus prayed in his native Aramaic in this context rather than in Greek and that the addition in Mark is “Father” as an explanation for Greek readers rather than the other way around. We also should note that Paul was a Diaspora Jew who was fluent in Greek, wrote in Greek, cited the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), and “at points betrays Hellenistic influences” (A. C. Purdy, IDB, III, 688). I think it unlikely that the Aramaic “Abba” would find its origins in him, but it would find a more natural place in the vocabulary of Jesus.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Abba (“Father”) : Part 1

“Abba” is the English transliteration of an Aramaic word (אַבָא), forms of which were used in late portions of the Old Testament (Dan. 2:23; 5:2,11,13,18; Ezra 4:15; 5:12) and in three passages in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). The Aramaic word is pronounced “ab-ah” (ab as in abs), but in English it most often is pronounced “ah-bah” from its Greek equivalent ( ͗αββά), which was derived from the Aramaic. The root word is shared in a broad range of Semitic languages, and the Hebrew word for “father” (אׇב) is among those. The plural forms of the word often are translated “fathers” or “ancestors.”

Biblical interpreters often have emphasized that Abba was the appellation applied to the father in the intimacy of the family circle. New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias popularized this idea after witnessing a child in the Holy Land running to greet his father while crying out “Abba, Abba.” Earlier scholars like Dalman and Lietzmann had previously explored the term. In English, Jeremias’ idea often is illustrated by contrasting the formal title “Father” (πατήρ in Greek) with the more intimate “Daddy.” While the family connection certainly is true, the idea of Abba implying a special kind of intimacy may be somewhat overblown. The usages in Daniel 5 and Ezra certainly show a formal application of the term in the Babylonian court.

Some early Greek-speaking Christians borrowed the Aramaic term and carried it over into their cult language as a vocative used in prayer. This is popularly understood to have been derived from the actual term Jesus commonly used in praying to God, a conclusion based solely on a single example in Mark 14:36. In Mark’s account, Jesus, engaged in anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, began his prayer, “Abba Father” ( ͗αββά ò πατήρ). Since Mark generally is recognized as the oldest Gospel, this certainly is a significant appellation. Somewhat troubling, however, is the fact that Matthew and Luke (who are widely assumed to have drawn upon Mark’s Gospel) do not follow Mark’s use of  ͗αββά in their Gethsemane accounts but instead employ πατήρ μου (“my father” in Matt.26:39) and πατήρ (“father” without a possessive pronoun in Luke 22:41). In addition, the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray used the more common Greek word for “father” (πάτερ, Matt. 6:9 with the possessive “our” and Luke 11:2 again without a possessive pronoun). Standing alone, this evidence might support an understanding of Jesus’ personal intimacy with God; but does it justify a similar intimacy for those of us who are Jesus’ disciples?
(To be continued)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Offertory Prayer for 1/1/2012

O God, we often sing of you as the God who is our help in ages past, and we stand today at one of those junctures in our lives where we look back in reflection upon a year just past. We are seeking understanding and a clear perspective on all that has transpired during this past year. When we think of our lives, our families, our church, our community, our state, our nation, and indeed even our world, we confess that much of what we have seen this past year is discouraging. And so we plead for your help again, today, just now, in these troubling times. For our weaknesses, our omissions, our failures, our infidelities, our sins, we plead for your forgiveness and pray that you will once again give us a fresh start. Unburdened by our pasts and renewed in our commitments, let us not just ask for your help, but let us open ourselves to your presence and submit ourselves to your guidance and direction in the days ahead.
We also sing of you as the God who is our hope for years to come, and we stand today in this first new day of this new year and plead that your hope might fill us as we contemplate our futures. Our world is troubled, and we sense real dangers on so many fronts. Give us hope and a commitment to strive for peace. Our nation will be making significant choices in the year ahead that will shape what our country and our society will be in the years to come. Give us hope and guidance. Our church and our families face hard and difficult times. Give us hope and a commitment to strive for deeper faith, strengthened bonds of love, and renewed dedication of all we have and hold for your service.
It is in that last petition that we come now to give our offerings of obedience, of thanksgiving, and of dedication—offerings channeled through this church, but given to you. Bless us as we give; bless our church as it serves as a steward of your resources; and bless every act of worship, every ministry, every missionary endeavor, every effort to teach your people, and every gathering where your people plan, prepare, and engage in service—bless all that will be enabled through these gifts we give today and through the offerings will faithfully give throughout 2012. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.