In both Jesus' prayer :

Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee. Mark 14:36. [KJV.]

and in Paul's epistles :

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:15. [KJV.]

God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Galatians 4:6 [KJV.]

the definite article precedes the Greek name 'father' but does not precede the Greek transliteration 'father'.

αββα ο πατηρ

[Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 :

TR - Beza, Stephens, Elzevir and Scrivener all identical.]

Why would this be ?


3 Answers 3


The word transliterated αββα is Aramaic (אַבָּא), not Hebrew (which would be אָב). Aramaic marks definiteness with the absolute state (usually the suffix ), as opposed to Hebrew which uses a prefix. The word אַבָּא is in the emphatic state (the absolute state in Aramaic would be אַב), so it effectively does correspond to the Greek definite article.

  • +1. Can't the definite article be used to indicate a vocative, too, in some cases? Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:40
  • 1
    @NigelJ Most of the NT transliterations are Aramaic, not Hebrew. Talitha kumi, golgoltha, eloi eloi lama sabachthani...
    – b a
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 15:54
  • 1
    @ba Cf. Hebrews 1:8 σου θρονος ο Θεος εις αιωνος "Thy throne, O God, is forever." Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 16:11
  • 1
    @NigelJ 1. One of your quotations of "abba" is also a saying of Jesus. 2. Golgoltha is a place name in the words of the evangelist, not Jesus. 3. I don't know offhand if Paul uses Aramaic anywhere, but why wouldn't he? If Aramaic is so common in the NT in general, why would Paul be an exception?
    – b a
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 19:07
  • 1
    Paul does use Aramaic as well (cp. 1 Cor. 16:22) Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 19:13

ἀββα is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic אַבָּא. In both Hebrew and Aramaic, the vocative is often indicated by definitizing a noun.1 Hence, we can interpret אַבָּא into English as the nominative “the father” (e.g., as the subject of a sentence) or the vocative “father” (e.g., in an address).

In each of its three occurrences in the Greek NT,2 it is unequivocally being used as a vocative. Why, then, is the adjacent lemma πατήρ declined in the nominative, ὁ πατήρ, rather than in the vocative, πάτερ?

Robertson wrote, “Indeed the second member of the address is always in the nominative form.”3 He cites Rev. 15:3 as one example of this supposed law: «κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ». There, we see the first member κύριε declined in the vocative, with the succeeding member ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ declined in the nominative. Yet, a brief survey of the NT yielded «πάτερ κύριε» in Matt. 11:25. If Robertson’s assertion were true, ὁ κύριος should have been written instead of κύριε.

If we consider the three instances in question, we must ask ourselves if Jesus really said both words? Did Paul really think Greek speaking Christians would cry out both words? I am of the belief (among many commentators; e.g., Bengel, Lightfoot, Wesley, etc.) that the adjacent Greek was added by a later transcriber (or perhaps by the author himself) for the purpose of translating what was to some of its intended audience an unknown word (i.e., the Greek transliteration ἀββα). That being said, ὁ πατήρ is in the nominative because (1) it is a literal translation of the definite אַבָּא and (2) the nominative can function as a vocative.


1 Arnold, p. 10. To definitize a noun in Hebrew, the noun is preceded by the definite article ה, and in Aramaic, א is suffixed to the noun. Hence, Hebrew האב = Aramaic אבא.
2 Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6
3 p. 461


Arnold, Bill T.; Choi, John H. A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. 2nd ed., revised. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2018.

Robertson, Archibald Thomas. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. Vol. 1. New York: Hodder, 1914.

  • In Robertson's defense, most Greek texts punctuate Matt 11:25 (// Luke 10:21) as ἐξομολογοῦμαί σοι, πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ. If that is correct (seems reasonable to me), there is no real address "πάτερ κύριε" (which would be a unique title AFAIK) here.
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:01
  • @Susan—I was treating πάτερ, κύριε as separate; I didn't they punctuation mattered since they are both referring to the same entity. That being said, if Robertson were correct, we should see «πάτερ, ὁ κύριος», should we not? Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 18:44
  • I'm glad I read down here, because my first instinct was to ask, "Could this be a sort of vocative case?" You've made a very complete, yet accessible explanation. Thanks. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 20:16
  • I haven’t read the context of Robertson, but my impression from what you’ve quoted is that this example doesn’t fall into the category of two-word addresses that he’s discussing, so I wouldn’t expect his formulation to predict anything in particular here. Regardless, +1 from me.
    – Susan
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 23:13

If we are talking about Greek: the Greek article does not have a vocative form and a vocative noun never takes an article either in the classical or in post-classical language. “ὁ κύριε” is simply wrong. However, if a vocative noun is followed by another noun in apposition then the second noun can be in the vocative (as in Matt 11:25 // Luke 10:21: πάτερ, κύριε τοῦ οὐρανοῦ), or it can be in the nominative, with the article (as in Rev. 15:3: κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ). Both examples have been quoted in a previous answer. The logic behind this is that a vocative noun is determined by nature, even though it does not take an article. This is a Greek phenomenon and has nothing to do with Aramaic.

ʼabbā “father” is Aramaic, or (with its geminated -bb- ) more precisely: Western Aramaic. It is formally the determined state of ʼaḇ, but it is used idiomatically as a form for addressing one’s own father. Thus, cross-linguistically ʼabbā (determined state) is equivalent to πάτερ (vocative).

More information here: http://cal.huc.edu/ put )b in the search box.

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