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Luke 11:1 reads,
1 And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”
Luke gives us almost no introduction to The Lord’s Prayer, other than telling us that one of Jesus’ disciples had requested a model prayer as was often done in those days. In Matthew’s account in chapter 6, we find Jesus teaching the people about prayer before setting forth the model prayer. Matt. 6:1-6 instructs us not to pray with the wrong motive. We are not to pray to be noticed by all who are in hearing range.
In Matt. 6:7 Jesus focuses on the quality of our prayer. Do not use “meaningless repetition,” thinking that verbal quantity enhances the quality of prayer. Like anything else, words tend to become cheap when there is an abundance of them. Perhaps Jesus had Eccl. 5:2 in mind,
2 Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
Matt. 6:8 reminds us that God already knows what we need even before we start praying. We do not pray to keep God informed, nor do we pray to impress God with our theological vocabulary. The purpose of prayer is to commune with God on a personal level.
There are times for formal prayer, of course, but I have learned to talk with God much like I would talk with a close friend, using normal tones and real-life conversation. Most prayer preparation should be spent in listening for the silent voice until we hear His presence from within.
Perhaps Jesus heard some rabbis praying on the street while people were taking notes on how to impress God with their prayers. After all, they thought, we might have a better chance of God hearing our prayer if we learn all the right ways of addressing Him by His titles and by using the right words in addressing royalty. Jesus probably used this as an occasion to tell His disciples to “get real” and to stop treating God as a reluctant benefactor or as an impersonal king.
In response, one of His disciples then asked Him for a model prayer of His own, so as not to fall into the same pattern of others. In Matt. 6:9 Jesus says,
9 Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”
Luke 11:2 words it this way:
2 And He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be Thy name’…”
Luke gives a shortened version of The Lord’s Prayer, and for this reason, Matthew’s version is usually the one memorized and quoted. Yet both gospel writers begin by addressing God as Father. It is likely that this was originally the Aramaic word Abba. Even today, in the places where Aramaic used to be the native language, Abba is the first word taught to a child. The “a” at the end of Abba is the definite article, “the,” as in “The Father.” It can also be translated My Father or “Our Father,” as Luke renders it.
The rabbis of Jesus’ day thought of Hebrew as a sacred language, and so their prayers were usually made in Hebrew, not Aramaic. Jesus seems to have departed from the norm by teaching a model prayer in Aramaic, in order to suggest universal access to God. One did not have to speak Hebrew to speak with God. Since most of the model prayers in Jesus day were directed toward “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” or the “Blessed One,” or “Holy One,” or “Mighty One,” or “The Redeemer of Israel,” the use of “Our Father” was different because it was much more personal—and also universal.
Even after the early Church shifted from Judea to the Greek-speaking areas, history shows that they were careful to retain the word Abba in their prayers. Hence, we read in three places where the writers used Abba along with a Greek translation for those who might not know this Aramaic word.
Mark 14:36 records part of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane,
36 And He was saying, “Abba! Father! [ho pater] All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.
Paul, too, writes in Romans 8:15,
15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” [ho pater]
Again, he says in Galatians 4:6,
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” [ho pater]
In each example above, the Aramaic word Abba is retained, even though the rest of the writing is in Greek. Each time the writer is careful to set forth Father in both languages to be sure that the reader understands. This tradition was continued in the early church long after the death of the disciples.
Paul’s use of the term was taken, no doubt, from The Lord’s Prayer. He uses it to teach the Fatherhood of God. In Rom. 8:15 (above) he teaches us that we are not slaves of a Master but sons of the Father. Galatians 4 shows that the slave-master relationship is the core of the Old Covenant, while the son-father relationship is the core of the New Covenant. Hence, we have the right to address our prayers to our Father in heaven and not merely to an impersonal King, Judge, or Master. We do not approach Him as a commoner trying to find a way to obtain an audience with the king. Instead, we are able to come before the throne of grace boldly (Heb. 4:16).
As for the actual usage of the term abba, it was used to address one’s father but was also a respectful term for a superior, elder, or teacher. The meaning of the term was broader than just a literal father-son relationship. Many students referred to their instructors as “father,” even though they had no direct familial relationship with them. Hence, Elisha called Elijah “my father” in 2 Kings 2:12. Likewise, the term is used of the Creator, from whom all things proceeded (Rom. 11:36).
We should also understand that addressing God as “Father” does not indicate that God is purely male apart from female. The term cannot be used—as many have done—to justify a “patriarchal” attitude that oppresses women and treats them as virtual slaves with no authority.
God is both male and female, as we read in Deut. 32:18, 19,
18 You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 And the Lord saw this and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters.
Here we see that God did not hesitate to call Himself “the Rock who begot you,” as if He were a Father, and then immediately call Himself their Mother, “the God who gave you birth.” In other words, God is both Yahweh, the Father, and El Shaddai, the Mother. When God created man in Gen. 1:27, He created them in His own Image, “male and female.” In other words, God’s image and likeness was pictured in man as a complete package, male and female.
Later, in Gen. 2:22-24, God took the female part out of man in order that they might be separate. At that point, men and women as separate beings could only be incomplete likenesses of God, apart from marriage. This incompleteness can be overcome apart from marriage, of course, but yet the basic truth remains that God intended marriage to be part of “normal” life.
As I showed in my book, Old and New Covenant Marriage, women are naturally endowed with the El Shaddai side of God, while men are naturally endowed with His Yahweh side. Marriage ought to reunite both giftings and provide a double witness in every family unit to know the will of God.
Hence, both men and women have equal access to God in a New Covenant marriage, whereas in an Old Covenant mindset the slave-woman must go through her husband to have any access to God. This is pictured in the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, the one being a free woman and the other a slave woman. Hagar’s situation depicts life under the Old Covenant—something that was not God’s goal, but only a temporary condition until that which is perfect has come.
We also see how the law commands sacrifice of a male goat for leaders (Lev. 4:22-24) and a female goat for the congregation (Lev. 4:27, 28). Both were types of Jesus Himself, because Jesus fulfilled all of the sacrificial types. Further, Jesus was crucified, I believe, on the top of the Mount of Olives next to the ashes of the red heifer (Num. 19:2). A heifer is female and again pointed to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Himself calling Himself a “hen” in Luke 13:34, saying to Jerusalem, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Again, in Luke 15:8-10 Jesus tells a parable about a “woman” and the lost coin, which she finds. This parable is back to back with the one about the lost sheep that a “man” found. Luke gives equal treatment to men and women here, and both fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:11,
11 For thus says the Lord God [Adonai Yahweh], “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
Therefore, Jesus’ use of the term Abba, “Father,” should not be taken so literally as to exclude the Motherhood of God. Though we ourselves have been separated by male and female in the divine plan, God remains complete, having all the characteristics of both male and female. He is first the begetter and then the birther in the matter of Sonship.
Throughout our study in the gospel of Luke, we see how Luke gives prominence to women as well as to men. Though he did not attempt to explain himself, his examples could not have been lost on the readers of his day. Having been Paul’s companion for many years, there is no doubt in my mind that Luke had discussed the place of women with Paul many times, especially in relation to the Old and New Covenants.
So when Jesus began His model prayer with Abba in heaven, He was first establishing our relationship with Him. Secondly, there are two kinds of relationship, and these are established by the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant relationship governs our growth as children who do not differ from servants (Gal. 4:1) and slave-wives such as Hagar (Gal. 4:24). The New Covenant relationship gives us a mature relationship with God, pictured as a full-grown son and also as a wife who is a free woman.