John 20:16

New International Version

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher").

New Living Translation

"Mary!" Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, "Rabboni!" (which is Hebrew for "Teacher").

English Standard Version

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

King James Bible

Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

Where did this word originate? As far as I can tell, it is used very sparingly in the whole of the Bible, and consistently translated as so in this passage. Could anyone shed some light on the

  • origin
  • significance
  • overall usage

of the word?

Some translations also have the word used in Mark 10:51; however, this word is translated as rabboni with a bit less frequency.

Mark 10:51

New International Version

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."

New American Standard Bible

And answering him, Jesus said, "What do you want Me to do for you?" And the blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!"

King James Bible

And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.

With this being the case, I'd also like to know if there are different words used in the Greek for the two different verses, and perhaps what they mean and typically translate into.

  • I think the reason it's so consistently transliterated rather than translated in John 10:26 is because the very next clause is an explanation of what the word means. For an Aramaic-speaking audience, this wouldn't have been necessary, but as the author of the Gospel of John is writing for a much more global audience, he (or perhaps a later scribe) felt it needed elaboration. In other passages, since rabboni could mean teacher or master, it is translated, transliterated, or replaced with Rabbi based on the surrounding context (and in good translations the original intended audience as well). Jan 3, 2020 at 0:29

4 Answers 4


The same word is found in Mark 10:51 and John 20:16: ραββουνι (rabbouni).

Rabbi vs Rabboni (in English translations)

The distinction in English versions is related to a choice between translation (using an English word) and transliteration (letter-for-letter copying of the Greek). In Mark 10:51, Rabbi (an established English word, albeit also originally a transliteration of a related term) is a good translation, and there is no compelling reason not to translate. In John 20:16, the author himself provides a translation of this Semitic word (see below) into Greek, so the translators can give both a transliteration and a translation:

Rabboni (which means Teacher)

The Semitic Background

As evidenced by John's translation, rabboni is not Greek but Semitic. The word is a development of the adjective רַב (rab) = great → "chief".1 A first person pronominal suffix makes רַבִּי (rabbi) = "my lord". The form rabboni is from the intensified form rabban (also rabbon in Palestinian Aramaic).2

Derived from רַב (rab), the intensified form רַבָּן (rabban) is a title for the outstanding scribe.... רַב is already used for "teacher in the saying handed down by Jehoshua bPerachiah (c. 110 B.C.): "Get a teacher (רַב) and find a fellow-student." The saying shows that a student had to try to gain admittance into the circle of a respected teacher and to engage in the study of Scripture and the tradition in this fellowship.2

The Jewish Encyclopedia indicates that the intensified form as a title was first used in the first century C.E.:

It was first used of Rabban Gamaliel the elder, Rabban Simeon his son, and Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, all of whom were patriarchs or presidents of the Sanhedrin.

New Testament Usage

In the NT, ραββουνι and ραββι are generally reserved for Jesus.3 The frequent title διδάσκαλος (didaskalos) (often vocative: didaskalē) also probably translates rabbi. (See, in addition to John's translation above, e.g. Mt 17:4, where didaskale is used for Mark 9:5's rabbi.) Luke never uses rabbi, which would have been foreign to his Hellenistic readers, usually preferring ἐπιστάτης (epistatēs, "master") (e.g. Mark 9:5 = Luke 9:33).

So, to answer the title question:

Is there precedent...for the usage of “Rabboni,”...?

Yes. "Rab", "Rabbi", and “Rabbo(u/a)ni" are variants of the same term, which was used in Judaism as a title or form of address for a respected teacher beginning as early as the 2nd Century BCE.

1. Also in Hebrew, e.g. 2 Ki 25:8ff "chief of the guard"; Est 1:8 "officer of his household"; Jer 38:3 "chief magician”.
2. Eduard Lohse. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Ed. Friedrich, Trans Bromiley. Eerdmans, 1968.
3. The exceptions are Matt 23:7, which alludes to the address being applied to scribes, and John 3:26, when John the Baptist is addressed as Rabbi by his disciples.

  • 1
    Thanks! The modern version of the JE article covers the material in quite a different way, but worth noting anyway: "Rabbi, Rabbinate" in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (2008). | Also the tangentially related Q&A: "Why did not the Apostle Paul ever say “In the name of him who says” (i.e., Heb. be-shem omro)?"
    – Dɑvïd
    Oct 27, 2015 at 17:07
  • Thanks especially for the JE link. | I’m having trouble reconciling my quote from Jehoshua bPerachiah (is that for בר/בן?) (or at least its interpretation by Lohse) with your statement (at tangential Q&A) about the chain of authority not being in place yet.
    – Susan
    Oct 27, 2015 at 18:22
  • From the same article you cite: Sherira's statement shows clearly that at the time of Jesus there were no titles; and Grätz ("Gesch." iv. 431), therefore, regards as anachronisms the title "Rabbi" as given in the gospels to John the Baptist and Jesus, Jesus' disapprobation of the ambition of the Jewish doctors who love to be called by this title, and his admonition to his disciples not to suffer themselves to be so styled (Matt. xxiii. 7, 8).
    – Ruminator
    Dec 7, 2020 at 22:59

I had a dream recently. The setting of the dream was in some sort of restaurant/bistro those aren’t even the right words to describe the surroundings. The woodwork was beautiful. I felt as though I worked in the place. My job was to take care of the flowers which had a staircase off to the side. There were tons of flowers in pots. Many In barrel pots. Large, small. But the flowers were at their peek-vibrant and almost running over. They were arranged some what like being in a field. A light shown down like in an Attrium. There were people there. They were dressed nicely like going to a wedding or anniversary date- happy, talking, laughing. It was like they were going to eat but I never saw any food. They sat around in private romantic little areas lined with smooth woodwork. There was a man who approached me, tall slender but not too slender. Dark hair brown eyes. Wavy hair. He was going to ask me to marry him. I felt this no one told me. I stood in front of him. In my head I told him he could not ask to marry him in front of all those people. At that time I realized they had come to see us married. (My conscience was fighting it because I am married and I knew this was wrong in my dream. But it was so beautiful. I did not know if the devil was trying to trick me into agreement.) As I talked in my head a woman walked forward and called out, “Rabboni.” After I awoke I processed this dream. I love my husband dearly and have thought of how much it would hurt if I ever lose him. It was as if God was telling me and showing me the LOVE HE HAS for me. It is much deeper and overwhelming than that of any we possess for our loved ones. Which has led me to study the word RABBONI. I believe it is a heartfelt respectful title only used by someone knowing such a LOVE. That is how I know the dream came from God. I will continue to study the word “Rabboni” in scripture and online. Thank you. I know this does not go with your research. However, it may help you innwhat you are searching for. The title is much more than what a definition can teach.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. This question is really outside the scope of this site as it does not concern the analysis of the Bible text.
    – Dottard
    Dec 7, 2020 at 22:20

My question is though, why only in this one passage of John with Mary Magdalen, is this archaic word used in today's common English translations of the NT? While all the rest of the Bible has been modernized, rabbi (which, today would be the far more recognizable word)has not replaced rabbouni?

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our Tour. (See below left) Thanks. Your reply isn't really an answer to the question. You might make it a comment and place it below the Q or an A above. Jul 24, 2019 at 15:22

For what it's worth, in his commentary on Mark, James Edwards writes regarding 10:51:

"According to the NIV, Bartimaeus says, 'Rabbi I want to see.' The Greek, however, uses a more reverent epithet, 'Rabbouni' (see also John 20:16). In extant Jewish literature 'rabbouni' is seldom used with reference to humanity, and practically never as a form of address. It is frequently used as an address to God in prayer, however. Its use here suggests Bartimaeus's - and Mark's - estimation of Jesus"

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