ABBA: Experiencing Intimacy with God


But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed – Luke 5:16 NIV

Prayer is a topic of deep mystery and much perplexity.  While for skeptics, prayer is a delusion, or a waste of time, for the believer it is a most precious thing, central to our lives.  Our model is Jesus as he drew near to his Father.  In our independence and self-sufficiency, God seems so far off.  Oftentimes we easily recognize our need and dependence, but much of the time it’s bad circumstances that drive us to our knees.  Jesus addressed his Father in a fundamentally new way, speaking to God personally and intimately.  So, what does it mean to call God “Abba, Father?”

Ancient Concepts

…you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16b ESV

Let’s examine the use of the term ABBA briefly with respect to the Old Testament and the surrounding ancient world’s concepts.  The King in the ancient world was understood to be the son of a divine father.  Father invoked unconditional and irrevocable authority, but also caring.  Some scholars say absolute authority can be seen fused with tenderness in the concept of Father.

But this was a national thing, not an individual thing, however.  God, in the Old Testament, is spoken of as father ONLY in relation to God’s people as a whole (Ex 4:22), not really in relation to individuals or humankind generally.  The Old Testament is reticent to speak of God as Father of an individual believer.

The ABBA language of Jesus

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Mark 14:36 ESV

For Jesus, however, his revelation of God was fundamentally new, and conceptually different.  He referred to God as his Father (“Abba”) 170 times in the gospels.  “Abba” was his go-to designation for God!   He uses this term in all of his prayers, (except for “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, where his estrangement from his Father is demonstrated”).

Scholars disagree as to whether ‘Abba’ is a child-like term or not (as in “Daddy”, as is commonly understood among Christians), or whether it was truly used in a more mature sense.  Regardless of any scholarly debate, however, “Abba” was clearly an everyday word, conveying warmth, intimacy, and respect.  No pious Jew would have approached God in this familiar way, as God is ‘other’.  For example, see Ecclesiastes 5:2 – God is in the heaven and you are in the earth.  Yet on Jesus’ lips, “Abba” expressed unreserved trust and affection in an intensely personal way.  This is the language of our adoptions as sons and daughters, signifying the new relationship that we have through him.

The Christian Use of ABBA

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” – Galatians 4:6 ESV

Jesus not only modeled an intimate approach to prayer showing what fellowship with God is supposed to look like, he also authorized and expected his followers to do the same.  The door was open; the barrier was broken down!  See in the Lord’s prayer, how Jesus taught his people to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” Matthew 6:9.  In the early church, in the New Testament letters, the language of our new relationship with God through Christ, and its power, was expressed clearly, especially terms of our adoption into the family of God.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  John 1:12-13 NIV

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15 NIV


  1. Does God too often seem far off in your prayers? What attitudes, issues, sins keep you from drawing near to Him?
  2. How does your status as a son or daughter of the King, bring you into closer communion with Him?
  3. How can knowing God as your “Abba”, Father, help you gain freedom from your fears and free you to know and serve Him in new ways?

Sample Prayer

God, thank you that you are our Abba, Father.  Through Jesus, you have welcomed us into your family, breaking down the barrier of sin once and for all that we may live in true knowledge and intimacy with you.  Help me to throw off anything and everything that entangles and enable me to run in fellowship with you, the race you have set out for me, in serving you and others.  In Christ’s name.  Amen.

[1] Compiled by David Spangler. Much of this meditation is borrowed from The Seven Prayers of Jesus by Laszlo Gallusz, published by Inter-varsity Press. Used per IVP’s fair dealing policy.