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Jesus and Jewish Prayer


After close analysis of the most sacred name of the Lord, one can now examine the title Jesus gave God. In the first portion of the text, Jesus began the prayer with the phrase, “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt 6:9). Addressing God as “Father,” was not a common practice in the first century Jewish culture. In fact, Harner states that there were only two Jewish prayers within the first century in which rabbis acknowledged God asאבינו מלכנו , which translates as “Our Father, Our King.”[6] One of these prayers, entitled the Ahaba Rabba, reads as follows:

With great love hast thou loved us, O Lord, our God, with great and exceedingly great forbearance hast thou ruled over us. Our Father, our King, for the sake of our fathers who trusted in thee and whom thou taughtest the statutes of life, be gracious also to us and teach us. Our Father, merciful Father, have pity on us and inspire us to receive and understand, learn and teach, observe and do and keep and love all the the words of the teaching of thy law.

The overarching theme of this prayer was that God was the ruler and helper of the Jewish community. This prayer, however, did not focus on the Lord’s fatherhood over the individual person. It is not to say that the Jews denied their personal relationship with the Almighty, but, rather, according to Harner, they “…thought of God primarily as the God of the people.”[7] Thus, the recurring theme of God’s fatherhood in Jewish prayers of the Second Temple period reflected his eternal dominion over the community of the Jewish people.

Christ’s Perspective of the Father

While the Ahaba Rabba emphasized God’s fatherhood over the Jewish community, the Lord’s Prayer accentuated personal connection with the Father. When Jesus acknowledged God as “Father,” he used the word אבא, which is equal to the word “daddy.”[8] Referring to God in this fashion was strange to the first century Jews because the term אבא was typically used by children. Although this was a different way of acknowledging God, Christ’s use of this word was not a vain attempt to replace the traditional perspective of Yahweh. In fact, Harner writes that Jesus still “…spoke of [God] as ‘Father’ in the sense of a ruler.”[9] The distinctive element between the Jewish tradition and Christ’s petition was that Jesus understood “…the significance of God’s role as Father.”[10] As the Son of God, Jesus intimately knew the One who was the Father and King of the Jews. Jesus’ reference to God as Father and King was exemplified through the psalmist when he wrote “[Y]ou are my son; today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7). By fully knowing the Lord, Christ was able to teach his followers about the relationship that the Father desired to have with his people. Because Jesus intimately knew the Father, he began his prayer with the phrase אבא.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2016

About the Author: Alejandro Daniel Castro, AA-INDS (South Texas College), received the call into ministry at the age of fourteen. After much prayer, Alejandro answered the call into ministry, and began serving as a volunteer youth leader at The Family Church. During his service, God placed a desire in Alejandro’s heart to clearly and effectively teach the Gospel to youth. As a result, Alejandro decided to pursue an education in theology and ministry. Currently, Alejandro is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in ministry and leadership at Oral Roberts University.

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