From New World Encyclopedia

In most Semitic languages, the word Abba (also rendered Ab or Aba) means "father" (or more affectionately "Papa" or "Daddy.") According to the Christian Gospels, Jesus used the word "Abba" when praying to God, which reflected a level of intimacy unheard of in the Old Testament era. Thus, we see in early Christian faith development what appears to be a deepening of human sensibility and relationship toward God, the Father, and the concomitant richer sensibility about God's representatives within the growing faith community.

New Testament Context

The Aramaic word Abba, (written Αββα in Greek), appears three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks yearningly, deferentially, and tenderly to God by using the word "Abba":

He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want. (Mark 14:36)[1]

For over a half-millennium, the colloquial language for Palestinian Jews was Aramaic,[2] stemming from the Babylonian captivity and the invasion of the Assyrian empire. It is well known that Jesus was born as a Jew, and grew up in a Jewish family in Israel. Most scholars believe that the historical Jesus primarily spoke Aramaic, with some Hebrew and Greek.[3] The towns of Nazareth and Capernaum where Jesus lived, were likely Aramaic-speaking communities, and Jesus, accordingly, likely addressed primarily Aramaic-speaking audiences, albeit he also knew some Hebrew and Greek.

Linguistic Usage


The Arabic word for "father is Abun, which is derived from abawun (triliteral '-b-w). The dual is abawāni or abāni "two fathers" or "mother and father" (abai-ka meaning "thy parents"). The plural is abiyna (Sura 2:127 has abiyka "[the God] of thy fathers"). There is a diminutive ubā' , from original ubayūn.

li-llāhi abū-ka is an expression of praise, meaning "to God is attributable [the excellence of] your father."

As a verb, '-b-w means "to become [as] a father to [somebody]" (abawtu) or "to adopt [him] as a father" (ta'bā-hu or ista'bā-hu).

In the construct state, Abū is followed by another word to form a complete name (e.g.: Abu Mazen, another name for Mahmoud Abbas).

To refer to a man by his fatherhood (of male offspring) is polite, so that abū takes the function of a honorific, and the use of Abu to describe a man will cause his real name to fall into disuse. Even a man that is as yet childless may still be known as abū of his father's name, implying that he will yet have a son called after his father.

The combination is extended beyond the literal sense: in some cases, a man's enemies will refer to him in such a way to besmirch him, e.g. Abu Jahl, "the father of ignorance." A man may be described as being the possessor of some quality, as Abu'l Gadl, "father of grace," or "the graceful one;" Abu'l Fida, "father of devotion," or "the devout one." An object or a place may be given a nickname, such as Abu'l hawl, "father of terror" (the Sphinx at Giza). Abu'l fulus, "father of money," is frequently used to refer to a place where rumors have been told of a treasure being hidden there.

The Swahili word Bwana, meaning "mister," "sir," or "lord," is derived from the Arabic Abuna, "our father."


The Syriac or Chaldee version of the word is found three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), and in each case is followed by its Greek equivalent, which is translated "father." If the word "Father" is found in an authentic saying of Jesus, it can be safely assumed that it has been translated from an original Aramaic Abba.

The Aramaic term abba has passed via Greek and Latin into European languages as an ecclesiastical term, Abbot (Father), the head of a monastery.

Abba or Aba is the name of an important Rabbi in the Talmud.


The exact meaning of the element ab or abi in Hebrew personal names (such as Ab-ram, Ab-i-ram, Ah-ab, Jo-ab) is under dispute. The identity of the -i- with the first person pronominal suffix (as in Adona-i), changing "father" to "my father," is uncertain, it might also be simply a connecting vowel. The compound may either express a nominal phrase (Ab[i]ram = "[my] father is exalted") or simply an apposition (Ab[i]ram = "father of exaltedness"). Forms with the connecting vowel and with the pronominal suffix were likely confused, so that the translation will depend on what is meaningful in connection with the second element.

Most modern Israelis call their fathers Abba as one would use "Dad" or "Daddy" in English.


Abba is also an Ethiopian (Ethiosemitic) title derived from ab ("father") used for some clergy men (sometimes, though rarely, substituted for Abuna, "our father.") Abbaa is an Oromo (Ethiopian Cushitic) title of respect meaning "father."


  1. Revised Standard Version
  2. Maurice Casey, An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0521018975).
  3. Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0664255138), 4.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Casey, Maurice. An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0521018975
  • D'Angelo, Mary Rose. "Abba and 'Father' Imperial Theology and the Jesus Traditions." Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 4. Winter, 1992.
  • Gray, G. Buchanan. Studies in Hebrew Proper Names. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. ISBN 978-0766154872
  • Lane, Edward William. Arabic English Lexicon. 1893.
  • Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings. Westminster John Knox Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0664255138
  • Vermes, Geza. Jesus in His Jewish Context. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003. ISBN 978-0800636234

External Links

All links retrieved June 13, 2023.


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