Tag Archives: abba

Brace Yourselves: ‘Abba’ Does NOT Mean ‘Daddy’


So, repeat after me, “‘Abba’ does NOT mean ‘daddy.'”

One more time: “‘Abba’ does NOT mean ‘daddy.'”

Are we understood? Good.

Yet another year goes by and yet another year this persistent bit of fiction needs to be rebuffed. It is the bane of Aramaicists worldwide: The idea that “Abba” — in Jesus’ native language of Aramaic — is baby-speak, child babble, an informal appellation to call one’s father by. An intimate term that was reserved for a close relationship. It’s silly. It’s rubbish…

However, it is not that simplistic.

אבא “abba” was a term that meant “father.” When used in direct address it did mean “my father.” However, this word was used by children and adults in both formal and informal contexts. You have full grown men referring to their fathers as “abba” and some Rabbis even referring to honored elder members of their schools as “abba” (it’s were we get the word “Abbot” in Christian tradition, even).

However, what makes this very confusing, especially in modern times, is that “abba” was adopted into Modern Hebrew as… you guessed it… “daddy.” This was simply not the case in Jesus’ day. It’s a modern development.

So off you go, with newfound knowledge in hand! Preach against the pulpit fiction. Perhaps the linguists’ headaches will subside… Perhaps…

You can read about its origins here.

And see another fun infographic about it to share here.

In spite of rogue etymology, have a wonderful Father’s Day!

If you’d like to learn more about Jesus’ language, click here.


Repeat after me: Abba does not mean Daddy.

I’m glad to see that I am not the only person who is habitually troubled with the whole “‘Abba’ means ‘Daddy'” meme. (Keep fighting the good fight, Doug!)

You may have heard on the Internet, or through a sermon, or even may have read in a number of books that the Aramaic word “abba” is akin to the English word “daddy.”

Unfortunately, this anecdote is just as true as “the eye of the needle” being a gate in Jerusalem or a rock formation where one had to dismount their camel in order to get through. (Read: It’s a myth. It’s false. It’s not the case.)

If you’d like to learn more, please check out my earlier post on this issue, here where everything is dealt with in greater detail.


Abba Isn’t Daddy – The Traditional Aramaic Father’s Day Discussion

It is traditional that I bring up the common myth that the Aramaic word “abba” means “daddy” around this time of year, but I must admit that this is the first year in a long time that sightings of that anecdote among the blogs are few. (So either, there isn’t as much interest this year, or people are actually doing their research. 🙂 )

So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular meme, it is common to find around the Internet and in sermons throughout the world that where Jesus is recorded in the New Testament to use the Aramaic word “abba” that the term was an informal word, the likes a child would refer to their pop (i.e. “dad” or “daddy”).

This stemmed from an idea that was originally proposed by a scholar named Joachim Jeremias (b1900-d1979); mainly, that the form “abba” originated from “child-babble.” The connection between “abba” and “daddy” was then popularized by his following.

However, this idea was immediately challenged by a number of other scholars, such as James Barr who published an article entitled “Abba Isn’t ‘Daddy'” (in the Journal of Theological Studies) which outlined the numerous problems with such an assertion and addressed them in detail.

Overall, I believe that Mary Rose D’Angelo summed up what happened next nicely:

“Jeremias began almost at once to retreat from the claim that “abba” had the same connotations as “daddy.” In a sense, Barr’s title (but only his title) misrepresents Jeremias. Even as Jeremias acknowledged that the word was in common use by adults and was used as a mark of repect for old men and for teachers, he continued to stress the origins in babytalk and the consequent intimacy as a special component of Jesus’ use of the word. This meaning seems to have been the basis on which he regarded Jesus’ use as absolutely distinct from the Judaism of his time.

The NT itself gives quite a different reading of αββα. 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.

–Mary Rose D’Angelo. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 111, No. 4 (Winter, 1992), pp. 615-616

And beyond this, many years after Jeremias’ death, modern linguistic study of how children pick up speech has completely discounted his conclusions of abba as “babytalk.”


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.” 🙂

The myth survives.

Nevertheless, happy Father’s Day to all of the pas, fathers, pops, dads, papas and daddies out there, wherever you are!