120 Your name be holy

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This page is part of the Jesus Database series and relates especially to 120 The Lords Prayer

For comments on specific petitions, see:

120 Abba/Father | 120 Your name be holy | 120 Impose your imperial rule | 120 Bread for today | 120 Forgiveness shared | 120 Save us from the time of trial

On Abba/Father, Lachs (Rabbinic Commentary) remarks:

God as father appears in the OT and in the apocryphal sources; and in rabbinic literature, often in dicta and prayers:

Isa 63:16; Mal. 1:6; 2:10
Tobit 13:4; 3Macc 5:7; Jub 1:25; Sir 23:1,4; WisSol 2:16

Mek. to Exod 15:2; M.Sot. 9:5; M.Yom. 8:9; M.Avot 5:22

In Jesus Before God p 59f, Taussig lists some of the basic data for the Abba (single word) prayer fragment as a distinctive element of Jesus' own practice:

Interestingly enough, the word "Abba" occurs strikingly early and in a wide range of first-century "Christian" texts, all of which were written in Greek. It appears twice in Paul (Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6) and once in Mark (14:36). Both Mark and Paul took pains in their text to translate "Abba" as "father." Finding the Aramaic word that Jesus would have spoken in preserved Greek texts most likely indicates that followers of Jesus from a wide variety of settings remembered that he spoke to God in that way. ... "Father" was not a very common way of addressing God in first century Aramaic-speaking Judaism. ... The early Christian use of "Abba" in Jesus' maternal Aramaic was so infrequently recorded that it most probably reflects Jesus' actual usage. ... "Abba," then, is the first prayer fragment that all major scholars agree can be traced with reasonable certainty back to this historical Jesus. I find no treason to doubt this conclusion.

Later (in ch 5), Taussig makes some of the following points:

Although it was not completely unheard of, it was fairly rare. Saying "Father" to God would likely have produced something between a slight wrinkle of the brow and a bright twinkle in the eye ...

Jesus' use of the colloquial Aramaic "Abba" for God was at least mildly provocative.

... it is very unlikely that Jesus said any version of this particular prayer. Rather, The Lord's Prayer was most likely composed a generation after Jesus

Furthermore, it is highly doubtful that Jesus ever taught anyone how to pray, much less to memorize and repeat The Lord's Prayer! When the core sayings of the historical Jesus are examined as a whole ... the Jesus who emerges does not seem interested in teaching others to pray. Of the ninety sayings that the Jesus Seminar attributed to the historical Jesus, no others--beside five of the eight phrases in what eventually came to be the Lord's Prayer--even mention prayer. There is no teaching of Jesus in these ninety sayings that recommends prayer or even alludes to it.

So Jesus' prayer of "Abba/Father" is most likely just a fragment from prayers that he prayed. While we cannot reconstruct what the rest of his "Abba" prayers said, the fact that this Aramaic word resurfaces in so many New Testament passages about prayer is powerful evidence for locating this key word in Jesus' personal prayer life.

What then could "Abba/Father" have meant in the prayers of the historical Jesus? In the context of the other ninety authentic sayings of Jesus, "Abba" points toward a spirituality that calls traditional dependencies into question and casts oneself on the care of God.

God ... was the source of strength and nurture in Jesus' core teachings, but this was not a God who was enmeshed in and allied to systems of wealth, family, and religion. This was an "Abba/Father," a God invoked over against the conventions of economy, nation, temple, and clan.

Since Jesus did not mandate that the title of "Abba/Father" be used all the time, it most likely emerged as a clever dimension to his challenge of family privileges and convention.

In first century Galilee family was the primary form of "social security." That is, it was bonds of kinship that provided the safety net for the needy and the aged or [those who] suffered health of business disasters. But for Jesus, reliance on traditional family ties was an impediment to a lifestyle that trusts in the God beyond family conventions. Seeing God as "Abba/Father" was a clever combination of challenge to family tradition and an evocation of a new trust in the divine fabric of life itself. ... Those listening to his "Abba" prayers were no doubt aware that he was replacing tangible family security with a much more intangible "reign of God."

Taussig then poses the question, Did Jesus grow up without a father? He suggest an affirmative answer to this question ("many biblical scholars now think ...") and entertains the possibility that this may have influenced the way that "Abba" functioned as an intimate affiliation with God by Jesus.

If this were the case, Jesus -- both as a child and as an adult -- would likely have suffered the taunts of being an "illegitimate" child, and come to an understanding of himself that transcended the social slur of "bastard." For a person, whose lack of a father had been thrown in his face for so long, praying to God as "Abba/Father" might signal a new self-understanding beyond the oppressive conventions of society. It may also have been a way of cleverly tossing the "bastard" insult back in the faces of those with traditional family values.

He then offers two imaginative "sketches" that portray Jesus using the Abba prayer in circumstances from 1C Palestine, after which he continues:

Placing the prayer fragment "Abba/Father" -- now detached from any form of the Lord's Prayer -- in the context of Jesus' life as a Galilean sage not only shows how much it belonged to Jesus, but also tells a great deal about the character of Jesus' prayer life. We begin to understand not just a particular word Jesus used in prayer, but a whole strategy of prayer tat challenged the one praying and those listening to re-think and re-situate themselves. This kind of prayer fit into Jesus' larger calling as sage. It integrates his spirituality with his quest for wisdom, his social status, and his particular personal background.

On the basis of this reading of Jesus' "Abba" prayer, Taussig offers a critique of two popular ways of interpreting this practice of Jesus:

... We need to challenge the conclusion of much of traditional Christianity that Jesus' use of Abba validates an exclusively male picture [of God]. Although one cannot debate that the great majority of references to God in Jesus' Galilee were male-gendered, it is much less clear that Jesus' use of the term Abba/Father was meant to endorse the maleness of God or exclusive male reference to God. ... "Abba" seems to have been a much more unconventional than an endorsement of God as male would have been ... it is difficult to see "Abba" as upholding the traditional male grip on power

Influenced mostly by ... Joachim Jeremias, many commentators interpret "Abba" as an intimate expression of little children for their "Daddy." Such a line of interpretation has promoted the notion that Jesus' image of God was that of an approachable, loving "Daddy." not a distant, angry authority. Occasionally such a "loving Daddy" is unfairly contrasted with allegedly less kindly images of God in the Hebrew scriptures. This reading of a "loving Daddy" into Jesus' usage of "Abba" cannot be justified by textual evidence within the New Testament. The three occurrences of the word all picture adults in very adult situations crying out to God. In both Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6 gentile followers of Jesus Christ cry out to "Abba" to claim their "sonship" before God. This is much more reminiscent of adult sons claiming their inheritance than little children being embraced by a loving DaddyHal's final comment on the Abba fragment is as follows:Jesus' "Abba" prayers then had to do with neither his endorsement of a male image of God nor his picture of God as a loving Daddy. Rather, ... This Abba prayer is our first example of the clever, image-breaking, and intensely social sage at work.