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“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.” (Mark 14:36)

“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)

“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)

These are the only texts containing the two words together, ‘Abba, Father’, though they were commonly linked by early Christians. In each case, the capital ‘F’ is used for ‘Father’ and capital ‘A’ for Abba’. ‘Father’, is the masculine noun, pater. It has a number of possible meanings, including both literal and metaphorical.


As the capital denotes reference to God, the meanings of physical male parent do not apply. Metaphorically, it means the originator of something, and the one who infuses others with the same spirit. Thus, Christ said that if we are unsaved we belong to our “father, the devil”, because he fills us with his own wicked spirit.

‘Father’ was also used when speaking to Hebrew priests who taught God’s word, and to members of the Sanhedrin. The meaning in these texts, however, is that of God, the Father of everything and everybody… the universe, all humans and angels (as creator), Christians and of Jesus Christ as Son. As Father, He is acknowledged to be the creator, sustainer and protector. Christians are accepted “in Christ”, because Christ is the Son, and the Son is loved and sent by the Father. There are many more meanings for ‘Father’.

The term may be used of a Christian who has deep knowledge of Christ. It is also used by Paul, enabling him to call those He taught and led to salvation as his ‘children’. But, use of it by today’s priests is not acceptable because they have no deep understanding of Christ, nor can they engender spiritual children. This can be said in confidence, because their very office and title is barred by Christ, for He abolished the priesthood! Christ clearly warned: “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9). Nowadays, the term ‘father’ can only be used in a secondary sense, of one who perhaps began a movement, or who is acknowledged to be the spiritual mentor of someone.


The word was originally used of God when praying, so was used as a more formal word. Whenever it is found in the New Testament (three times) it is attached to the Greek – Pater, as an Aramaism.

From its inception, Hebrews gradually used it as a sacred proper name, so Greek speakers always put it together with their own word, pater (‘father’ in English – a very close translation). Abba is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew ‘father’. Both Jews and Christians used the same title for the first three hundred years.

Because the title was used of revered teachers, rabbis in the Babylonian period were often referred to as ‘Rabbah’ or Rava’, or by their shortened versions, ‘Ba’ or ‘Va’. It may also be used as a shortened version of ‘Abraham’. In modern days it survives as ‘Abbot’. Based on the Hebrew (or possibly Aramaic) ‘ab, meaning ‘father’.

So, what is the difference between ‘Father’ and ‘Abba’? Essentially, Abba is more of a personal name, whereas ‘father’ is a reference to a function or relationship. The word Abba implies total trust, whereas Father speaks of a known relationship, which only comes to adults. Used together, Abba, Father, denote trust and love, as well as a personal relationship. This can be discerned in the three texts quoted above.

Note that ‘Abba’ is not an actual translation, but is a transliteration, because there is no English word that can directly translate from it. ‘Father’ is a translation. Abba refers mainly to the spiritual relationship with God. Like His Apostles, Jesus likely spoke Aramaic with a Galilean dialect, plus some Koine Greek and Hebrew, so they would have all been familiar with all uses of Abba and Father.

Today, many trendy people like to say ‘Abba is a close relationship, and should be translated ‘Daddy’. This is quite irreverent and should never be used.

© February 2010

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom