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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 father, dad, daddy, or something else in English?

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3 Answers 3

Not an expert, but I did have this link sent to me once:

Abba Isn't Daddy

Each of the three occurrences of αββα in the NT is followed by the Greek translation ο πατερ, "the father." This translation makes clear its meaning to the writers; the form is a literal translation -- "father" plus a definite article -- and like abba can also be a vocative. But it is not a diminutive of "babytalk" form. There are Greek diminutives of father (e.g., παππας [pappas]), and the community chose not to use them.

and

There is still a point of confusion: In Modern Hebrew, "abba" has become commonly used as... You guessed it: "Daddy." So, when a Hebrew speaker happens upon this anecdote, to them it makes "perfect sense." :-)

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I like this and it makes sense. But why would people use the Aramaic "abba" instead of either of the Greek words available ("pater" and "pappas")? –  Richard Oct 19 '11 at 16:18

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

From Vines

Abba is an Aramaic word, found in Mar 14:36; Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6. In the Gemara (a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the traditional teaching of the Jews) it is stated that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title. It approximates to a personal name, in contrast to "Father," with which it is always joined in the NT. This is probably due to the fact that, abba having practically become a proper name, Greek-speaking Jews added the Greek word pater, "father," from the language they used. "Abba" is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; "father" expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child.

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".

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"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.

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