What is the best English translation of
abba (Greek: Αββα, Aramaic: אבא) such as in Romans 8:15? What are its senses in the original languages, and are those best captured by
daddy, or something else in English?
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Not an expert, but I did have this link sent to me once:
I presume that this in reference to its use in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, it means "father". It's pretty much the only translation for it.
Use in Greek text
Essentially, it's considered more like "daddy" because it's considered more of an "infantile" word that's used. Children called their fathers abba. However, adults used the Greek word pater for "father".
From the New Bible Commentary, 2nd Edition (1954), on Mark 14:36:
Personally I'm inclined to think Jesus intended to join, in the disciples' thinking, the concept of Fatherhood of the covenant God of Israel to apply to Palestinian Jews and (Greek-speaking) diaspora Jews, Jews and Gentiles, bondservants and freeborn citizens, without precondition or qualification (besides faith), in the new kingdom economy. In the dual sense and use of Jesus and the apostles in the NT, God is deeply personal and intimate, "Abba," as well as a revered and trusted authority, i.e., "Pater."
The Greek word Αββα occurs three (3) times in three (3) verses in the Textus Receptus.
In each occurrence, the author follows Αββα by the Greek phrase ὁ πατήρ. Evidently, Αββα, which is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word אַבָּא, is equivalent to the Greek phrase ὁ πατήρ. However, since the phrase Αββα ὁ πατήρ functions as a vocative (rather than a nominative) in each verse, the proper English translation would be, "Abba, Father," rather than "Abba, the Father."1
While some insist that Αββα is equivalent to "dad" or "daddy," this translation is anachronistic and based on modern Hebrew colloquial speech. It is true that some Jewish speakers of modern Hebrew use אַבָּא as an informal and familiar expression towards their fathers, but again, this wasn't its usage in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic in the 1st century A.D. Furthermore, if indeed Αββα was akin to baby talk or child's speak, the author could have easily used Greek words such as τάτα, τέττα, and perhaps even πατρίδιον.
1 While ὁ πατήρ literally translates into English as "the father," there are instances (excluding the three verses in question) in the Greek NT where it is functioning as a vocative and would thus be translated without the definite article. For example, Matt. 11:26.
"Abba" vs the other forms of father as mentioned above bring up an interesting yet important linguistical distinction often lost among English speakers. The concept of "informal" vs "diminutive". This is especially important with scripture study. Understanding this point further enlightens our understanding of the Savior's usage of the term "Abba" at that critical time in Mark 14:36.
Using the example of a father and son in modern terms is an excellent way to highlight this concept. In English there are multiple ways of addressing a man who is a father. Depending on WHO is addressing him the order of formality or respect will change. Among coworkers and friends the order would probably go as follows:
Mr. Johnathan Doe -- Mr. John Doe -- Johnathan Doe -- John Dow -- John -- Johnny -- etc…
However, coming from a SON the order above would often be considered disrespectful or hurtful with few exceptions. Depending on age the order of formality in this case completely changes where the most appropriate would likely be:
Father -- Daddy -- Dad -- ect….
This concept is further highlighted to those fluent in most any language other than English. Most languages have a formal and informal form of personal pronouns especially for the first person (you). In Spanish along with Latvian (a close modern linguistical relative to the Savior’s language) and Russian the “tu form” of you (Spanish) is the “informal” yet if a close friend or family member was to begin using the formal version it would cause similar relationship confusion as a 10 year old son calling his father by his first name. It indicates “space” between them or a lack of closeness. As part of a related tangent English actually does have an “informal” form of personal pronouns… “Thee, Thy, and Thou”. It is truly unfortunate the way these words have been discarded in our language, especially in religion. I don’t mean to say that the Lord is offended by the linguistical distance placed between us as we address him with the common “you”. However, I do believe we lose a sense of closeness and divine familial connection that should exist between a Father and son or daughter so I am very conscious to use and teach the thee, they and thou forms.
Back to “Abba”. The term “Abba” is surely not diminutive but it is informal. This shows the close relationship between Christ and the Father. The vocative introduction into this discussion is EXTREMELY interesting. Based on context of the verse, the linguistical ending of Abba, and knowing what was going on at the time there is absolutely NO question that “Abba” was stated in the vocative case here and every instance in the NT. This leads to another discussion entirely. If interested, continue this thought by pondering and comparing the following verses- John 10:30 with John 17 with a focus on v.11, Luke 22:42 with Mark 14:36, John3:16, John 14:28,John 1:29-24, Matt 3:13-17 & Mark 1:9-1 & Luke 3:21-22, Matt 17:5, closing it off with a historical view of the Council of Nicaea.