Word Study: Abba אבא


Mark 14:35-36: “And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 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.”

In the New Testament Gospels we have a number of occasions where the writer gives the Aramaic word or phrase and the right after it the translation. I have always wondered why do they do that? Why not just give the translation if they know it. One answer is that the scribes are being honest. They are translating Jesus’s words from the Aramaic into Greek and they are not sure what the word means. So what follows is not the inspired text but a scribe’s opinion as to what the word means. For instance in Mark 5:41: “And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.” Why use the Aramaic if the scribe knew the translation?

There are three reasons. One is that the scribe may not be sure of the translation so he uses the exact words of Jesus and then gives his translation as an addendum which is not to be taken as inspired as he is leaving it up to you or someone who has a better understanding of Aramaic to come to a conclusion. Another reason is that there may be no direct Greek translation. So the scribe gives the best possible Greek word but leaves the Aramaic for you if you happen to understand Aramaic and can come up with something better. The third reason and most likely reason is that there may be some connotations behind the word which would be lost in translation to the Greek such as Talitha which in Aramaic means wound lamb. This is most likely the reason for the word father after Abba. Let me explain.

In Mark 4:36 you have the most famous transliteration Abba. This is usually followed by the English word Father or in the Greek text ho pater (the father). Actually in Aramaic the word for father is ab and the final a is a definite article (the) so it is literally in Aramaic the father. Ab is a common word in Semitic languages like in Abraham in Hebrew (ab for father) or Abu Mazen in Arabic (Abu for father). The reason we do not just translate it as Father is because the Aramaic word Abba really has no English, Greek or Latin equivalent. It is a word of endearment or a parent and everyone has their own special word of endearment for their fathers and/or parents. Some will say dad, papa, pops, etc. So Abba is kept in the Aramaic rather than given a translation but followed by a translation of Father leaving it to you to choose the English word which is most endearing to you. If you were not raised with a father you might even choose momma or nana if it was a grandmother that raised you as that would be the most endearing word for you toward a parent. Grammatically gender in Hebrew and Aramaic does necessarily connote whether something or someone is male or female. Thus Abba does not have to be a male. It is simply an expression of endearment for a parent. It is only our Western thought and culture that insist Abba be a reference to a male figure. However, Jewish children will only really use the word Abba for their fathers as that is the most common use.

What I am saying is that God is neither male nor female. In our culture today there is a sexual revolution where the lines between male and female are getting blurry. For instance the other day I was standing outside a single user bathroom. The men’s bathroom door handle indicated “in use” and the women’s indicated “vacant.” There were about three men waiting to use the men’s room and I had neither the time nor ability to wait out three others so I turned to them all and announced: “I just want you to know that today I am identifying as a female and if you don’t like it write your congressman.” I then proceeded to enter the women’s single use facility. When I finished I noticed another man was also identifying as a female for that moment.

My point is that we associate male and female by sexual organs. Then we move from that to certain traits that are female, like compassion, love, nurturing etc. and the traditional male traits such as protection, provision, discipline etc. to make the distinction. In our culture today those roles are blending and many times it is the woman who is the protection, provision and disciplinarian and men have shown to be capable of such things as compassion, love and nurturing. So the question is being hotly debated today as to what is a male and female beyond the physical sexual identifications. Which brings us to God who has no physical sexual identifications. Yet, we insist on calling Him a male, why? The Bible makes it clear He is neither male nor female. Actually, He is both as far as the traditional role of male and female goes. He is the female compassion, nurturing and loving parent as well as the male protection, provision and disciplinarian parent.

When the Bible uses the words Abba Father, the word Father is your wild card. You are permitted, yea, expected to insert the most endearing word you have for a parent. Abba Daddy, Abba, Pops, Abba Nana or even Abba Momma. Whatever word is the most endearing one for you when you think of a parent. If you need protection or provision you might say Abba Father. If you are seeking love and compassion and you feel it was your mother who gave this to you in abundance, then you are perfectly, grammatically and theologically (in some circles) correct to say Abba Mother.

The Scripture, God’s inspired Word, realized when it comes to terms of endearment, we all have our specially little words. Just as a father may be greeted by his daughter as “Daddy,” he would feel disappointed and something wrong if she called him “Father.” He wants to hear those words that are dearest to his daughter’s heart.

In other words, there is no magic or specialness in the word Abba if you use it for God. Your heart has that special word, “Daddy” “Papa” or yes, even “Momma” or “Nana.” It is that special word dear to your heart that God wants to hear. That word that expresses all your love and affection. There are no brownie points for using Abba unless that is somehow the expression of your deepest affection for you Heavenly Parent.