Earlier today I saw something come up in my Twitter account that I appreciated. It was a tweet from New Testament professor Will Varner. The link Will provided led me to this online post at the Gospel Coalition site: “Does Abba Mean ‘Daddy’?” The brief post outlines why the answer is no.
Scholars have actually addressed this issue in academic journals several times, most famously James Barr’s essay in the Journal of Theological Studies (“Abba Isn’t ‘Daddy’,” vol 39, 1988). Barr’s essay isn’t available online, but the one below is, and I recommend it to readers:
Sigve Tonstad, “The Revisionary Potential of ‘Abba! Father!’ in the Letters of Paul,” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1 (2007): 5-18.
Basically, scholars have demonstrated that (a) the Aramaic term abba was not exclusively used by children, but frequently by adults in adult discourse, and (b) reducing the term to childish (though affectionate) prattle guts it of important interpretive nuances. Tonstad’s article demonstrates this nicely.
Be warned — this is a scholarly article, and so it’s long and can get technical. The “Daddy” discussion is only a page or so at the end (pp. 17-18 of the PDF). And you divine council fans will appreciate that there’s (again) another touchpoint with the divine council worldview in this issue, brought out nicely by Tonstad when he comments on the “elemental rulers” in the essay (though Tonstad doesn’t appear to be thinking about the divine council when he writes — normal for a NT specialist).