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?
Not an expert, but I did have this link sent to me once:
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.
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." :-)
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
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".
From the New Bible Commentary, 2nd Edition (1954), on Mark 14:36:
Abba (36) is Aramaic for 'Father.' The addition of Pater (Father) is probably not a translation by Mark. Some think the two words together are a very early liturgical formula of address in prayer. But it is more likely that they reflect a natural prayer habit of Jesus Himself, which some of his disciples caught and transmitted (cf. Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). In any case they are a reminder that our faith had its origin among a bilingual people. (p. 836)
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.
καὶ ἔλεγεν Αββα ὁ πατήρ πάντα δυνατά σοι παρένεγκε τὸ ποτήριον ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ τοῦτο ἀλλ᾽ οὐ τί ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλὰ τί σύ (TR, 1550)
οὐ γὰρ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον ἀλλ᾽ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν Αββα ὁ πατήρ (TR, 1550)
Ὅτι δέ ἐστε υἱοί ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν, κρᾶζον Αββα ὁ πατήρ (TR, 1550)
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.
Aramaic is a Semitic language ala Hebrew and Arabic. In fact it could be considered a dialect of Hebrew though it is different enough to be considered its own language, much like the Romantic languages that branched off of Latin:
"Abba" means "my father" which was more useful for prayer than simply "father":
The Aramaic word for "Father," "my Father," which, together with the Greek equivalent, occurs three times in the New Testament. It is an invocation to God, expressive of a close personal or filial relation of the speaker to God. It is found in Mark, xiv. 36, the parallel passage, Matt. xxvi. 39, having only the Greek words "my Father." Paul, in Rom. viii. 15 and Gal. iv. 6, shows that, in admitting proselytes to membership in the new faith, they were declared to be the children of God while addressing Him as "Abba, Father." But there is nothing specially Christian about this. It was the formula for addressing God most familiar to Jewish saints of the New Testament times: ABBA (Αββᾶ) Jewish Encyclopedia.
The term was mostly used by Jews for invoking YHVH as the father of Israel:
Exo_4:22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
And when invoked by an individual in prayer it was considered more effective as a prayer:
The paternal relation of God, while chiefly applied to Israel as the correct worshipers of God, was also applied to individuals who maintained this spiritual relationship (Soṭah, ix. 15; Ab. v. 20; Mek., Yithro, 6.; Midr. Teh. ix. 4; Ps. xii. 5, xciv. 2, cxxiii. 1). Wherefore the very invocation, "Abinu Malkenu!" (Our Father, our King!), uttered by a devout worshiper, was regarded by the people as endowed with special efficacy. [Ibid]
The translation provided within the Christian scriptures for abba is "the father":
Mar_14:36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
Rom_8:15 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.
Gal_4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
There is some suggestion that the word carries the idea of the privileges of the son.
"...In Christian teachings, Abba is often translated as "daddy", suggesting that it is a childlike, intimate term for one's father.1 This has been rejected by most scholars because abba, unlike "daddy", is used by adult children as well as young children. In the time of Jesus, it was neither markedly a term of endearment nor a formal word, but the word normally used by sons and daughters, throughout their lives, in the family context. Indeed, the usage of abba in Galatians 3:22-4:7 suggests that abba "asserts not childlike relation to God, but the privileged status of the adult son (not daughter) and heir". : Ab (Semitic) Wikipedia.
Transliterating as "Abba" or "my father" would both benefit by providing a footnote though the transliteration more so.
"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.
אבא (abba) is simply Aramaic for "Father" (אב) with the definite article attached (denoted by the א following אב). Christians may be familiar with the Aramaic משיחא (moeshicha), where the final א denotes the definite article : yielding the meaning, "the Anointed" (or more familiar to English-speakers, "the Messiah").
While it literally means "the Father," in this context, the definite article makes it vocative (direct form of address), much like the Greek which translates it (a translation provided by the Gospel writer themselves), "ο πατρος" (which, like the Aramaic, literally means "the Father"—and is used as such elsewhere—but also denotes the vocative, or direct form of address; see, e.g., Heb. 1:8: "Thy throne, O God").
It is perhaps best translated "Father" (or "O Father"). There is certainly implied but not included in this vocative usage, and depending on conext, the possessive pronoun (here, "my"). (The same may also apply to Bar-Abba, more commonly known via the Greek as Barabbas, which translates either to "Son of the Father, which I find untenable and unlikely, or "Son of his Father"—much more likely). "My Father" may possibly even be a translation of אבא, e.g., in Mt. 26:39.
The translation in Romans 8:15 in any case must acknowledge the unambiguous vocative form of "Father" (the vocative being usually denoted by "O" before the noun); that is, it is perhaps best translated:
For you did not recieve the spirit of slavery again, unto fear, rather you receieved rather the spirit of sonship whereby we cry, 'Abba!' 'O Father!'
Likewise Galatians 4:6.
A lot of people, including some scholars such as the late famed Joachim Jeremias, attempt to make a huge issue of the Aramaic word Αββα here. Jeremias even went so far as to suggest that Αββα is some sort of diminutive alternative for “Father” which would make it equivalent to the term 'daddy,' 'papa,' or some other diminutive expression. This idea is however, largely rejected by most scholars, and rightly so.
In order to clear up any misconceptions about what Αββα means and how it should be understood, let us look at the grammar of the address. This word is only used three times in the New Testament and always in the same context.
- Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Mark 14:36, καὶ ἔλεγεν Αββα ὁ πατήρ πάντα δυνατά σοι παρένεγκε τὸ ποτήριον ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῦ τοῦτο ἀλλ᾽ οὐ τί ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλὰ τί σύ.
- Galatians 4:6, Ὅτι δέ ἐστε υἱοί ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν, κρᾶζον Αββα ὁ πατήρ.
- Romans 8:15, Οὐ γὰρ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα δουλείας πάλιν εἰς φόβον ἀλλ᾽ ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας ἐν ᾧ κράζομεν Αββα ὁ πατήρ.
The construction of Αββα ὁ πατήρ is the same in each text. Although ὁ πατήρ is nominative in its spelling it is used as a vocative of address. This is not at all uncommon in Greek grammar. There are many examples of this. One such example would be Hebrews 1:8-9 where the Father address the Son as ὁ Θεός. Θεός is nominative spelling but it is used as a vocative of address.
In each of the thee places where Αββα is used, the meaning of the word is clearly set forth by the user. Both Jesus and Paul ascribe the word 'Father' as the definition and equivalent of Αββα. Αββα is not offered as a proper name for the Father as some have suggested because of the use of the definite article with Θεός. It is simply an address – Father. This is certainly not a diminutive form of address. There are Greek diminutive forms of father (παππας, τατα, τέττα, and perhaps even πατρίδιον), but none of these are used in connection with Αββα in any of these three passages.
There is really nothing spectacular about the word its self. Both Jesus and Paul provide the meaning of the word as 'Father'. The point Paul is making both here and in Galatians 4 is that being able to address God as ‘Father' is a profound privilege. This is a big deal. This is what separates the son from the mere servant. As adopted sons, we are privileged now to address God as “Father,” not merely collectively as was the Jewish custom, but individually which was inconceivable to Jewish thinking. This is why the Jews attempted to stone Jesus for blasphemy in John 5:18 when he called God his Father.
“For this reason, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”
Paul says for us to be able to address God as “Father” is a privilege we now enjoy that we did not previously have.