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.

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