The expression, "Abba Father" is found three times in the New Testament: Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6. In both Romans and Galatians we find it in the context of the Holy Spirit bearing testimony to the adoption of those in Christ and the wonder of this relationship. Through this relationship we are able to cry out, "Abba, Father." "Abba" is a Syriac or Aramaic word that intimates filial affection and parental tenderness. It denotes the blessing of being able to approach God as one of His own children and addressing Him as "Father." It speaks of His love and care for us and of our confidence in approaching Him as a child approaches his father.
In modern times it has become popular and trendy for pastors to teach that "Abba" is equivalent to the English word, "Daddy." Some have taught that "Abba" was a form of baby-talk, similar to one of our children saying, "da-da." Many respected teachers have adopted this position. John MacArthur writes in his Commentary on Galatians, "Abba is a diminutive of the Aramaic word for father. It was a term of endearment used by young children of their fathers and could be translated "daddy" or "papa." I recently heard one radio teacher declare that it would be perfectly acceptable for him to open his pastoral prayer at the beginning of the worship service by calling upon God using the word "Daddy." I can appreciate the desire to stress the tenderness and warmness of our relationship with God, but calling God "Daddy" is not only an inaccurate understanding of the expression, "Abba Father," it fosters an attitude of disrespect and an unholy familiarity.
There are several reasons we must reject this interpretation of "Abba." First, the text doesn't support this interpretation. I'm not fluent in Aramaic but it is my understanding there were other diminutives to express childish words for father: "baba," "babbi," "abbi," "pappya," etc. which would carry the idea of "daddy." But in all three Biblical occurrences the word "Abba" is used. It is left untranslated but is followed by the Greek word for "Father" so that the Greek-speaking readers would understanding the meaning being conveyed. In other words, "Abba" should be understood in the formal sense of "Father."
Second, we find Jesus using the expression in Mark 14:36. It is in the context of His agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion. Are we really to understand Him to be crying out to His Father, "Daddy!" Daddy implies a childish attitude of immaturity. Jesus was about doing His Father's business. Although, He had an intimate and eternal relationship with His Father there was no hint of immaturity.
Third, when His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He revealed the proper way we are to address God. "Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name . . ." (Matthew 6:9). He begins with the blessedness of our adoption as we call upon God, "Our Father." But, immediately He reminds us that God is unlike any earthly father. He is God above, "which art in heaven." He isn't "Daddy" but our Heavenly Father who dwells in glorious light. The first petition is, "Hallowed by Thy name." "Oh God, make Thy name glorious upon the earth." Somehow, "Daddy" doesn't adequately express the glory of God revealed in the model prayer.
While we have the infinite blessing of adoption; of being heirs and joint heirs with Christ; of being able to approach God as a loving Father who loves us and cares for us as a Father to His dear children, we must never diminish His infinite splendor with common thoughts and irreverent titles. He is the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. He is forgiving, yet infinitely holy. He is loving, yet fearful in judgment. He is Father and wonderful in His imminence, and yet He remains infinitely holy and distinct from His creation.
The Church today is plagued by an unholy familiarity with God. We barge into His presence as we would come into the presence of a man. We pretend that He should accept any form of worship that seems right to us. We sleep through the worship service and daydream about our common affairs because we fail to recognize we have entered into the presence of "Holy, Holy, Holy." Speaking to Him with the title, "Daddy" is just another example of our failure to worship Him as glorious and Almighty, full of splendor and majesty. "To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ or Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever, Amen" (Jude 1:25).