She and He may be Abba
This is a “so what” post. I really like the comment of my co-blogger, Craig, saying, “I have always found this whole discussion irritating. Our words for our parents obviously come from infancy.” It is irritating, to me too. (This is a third, and final, post in a series; here are part one and two.)
Let me confess why, for me, there really is a “so what” that makes be want to engage in the discussion. It much has to do with how my parents submitted themselves to a certain “biblical parenthood” that had him as the alpha-male dominant Pater (as in Patriarchy, Head of Household, Spiritual Leader) and her as the submitter, with God, even the Trinitarian Christian God as the exemplary, the model, for this hierarchical arrangement. (I think it was Wayne Grudem’s continued publications of how he reads Paul’s letter to the Galatians that prompted my series of blogposts here, btw.)
To begin to do this confession of the why-this-irritating discussion of God-as-FATHER may be important, let me have us look at the MT and the LXX and certain Englishings of the Bible and how the Book represents certain ones by the sounds “Ab” and “Abba.”
Let’s look, for example, at Isaiah 9:6. At Christmastime we hear it in Handel’s Messiah sung:
And His name shall be call-ed,
The Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace
We hear, the “child,” the “son,” … shall be called … Father.”
To hear this in the Jewish Publication Society’s English is to hear that this way:
“For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom.”
For this same Hebrew אֲבִי-עַד, Craig Smith in The Inclusive Bible, has “Eternal Protector,” with the footnote that says the Hebrew is “Literally ‘parent forever,’ though the context emphasizes a parent’s protective role.”
Well, the “biblical” name for this Child, this Son, prophesied as G-d in part sounds like אב. These are sounds children, even boys, have made for their parents throughout human history. The adult meanings attached extend from this intimacy, from this literality, in ways that the adult Father Walter Ong theorized from orality to literacy, as if one is primary and the other much more adult-like.
When adults, scholars, authorities like pastors, and Fathers, and complementarian “head” husbands interpret, they tend to do like Aristotle did. They tend to avoid ambiguities and to teach others to do so if they’re to use language properly and not improperly. They tend to separate the terms, one from another. They tend to divide meanings so that the one in the binary is absolutely not the other. And they tend to put the one as over and in opposition to the other. This is their “terministic screen” to borrow a term from the rhetorician Kenneth Burke.
After my days of atheism (in the household of my parents, who were Southern Baptist complementarian Trinitarian Christian missionaries), I found myself unable easily to refer to (much less to pray to) God as “Father” when the “Bible” so clearly endorsed sexism. In our home, we not only had to tolerate such but we fundamentally saw it as Natural, as the way of God and His Nature, as spoken in his adult Word, where children, and women, had no voice.
As an adult, I’m amused now by the whole discussion (or debate) over Abba. I’m irritated that the adults who taught me the Bible as a child didn’t show Isaiah’s images of God as Father as so different from human fathers, like my own (by reading, say, Isaiah 63:16 and Isaiah 64:8, which respectively have those Hellene translations of sú kúrie patḕr and kúrie patḕr hēmȭn [σύ κύριε πατὴρ and κύριε πατὴρ ἡμῶν]). And now when I find curious items in the Septuagint, like a mother being named Αββα, then I just blog about it; whatever the reason for that “translation” or slip of the tongue or the pen of an editor, it sure sounds like language play, which children and adults engage in with all of their meanings, some intimate like an inside joke. Language, or more precisely, all the ways we humans use our language, is a lot more robust than we often want to give ourselves credit for. The power for some in using language is their ability to contain Reality somehow by it, and even Language or languages or Αββα as Natural and self-evident. That’s hardly all that language is, nonetheless.
I am grateful for the blogging community, especially my cobloggers here, and for Craig’s work in Bible translation and his comment here. (Do read his Bible, and notice how he uses Abba throughout!). I appreciate James McGrath’s conversation and James Pate’s reblog. I also want to say a Thank You to Abram K-J blogger not only for his organizing the reading of Greek Isaiah but also for his ongoing Septuagint Studies Soirée, now with the third installment here.