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Meaning and etymology of the name Abba

Abba Abba

Abba is not really a name but rather an appellative. It occurs three times in the Bible. In Mark 14:36, Jesus uses it to cry out to the Father during His ordeal in the garden of Gethsemane. In Romans 8:15, Paul explains that the sons of God have received a spirit of adoption by which they cry out Abba, Father! In Galatians 4:6, Paul teaches that because of this sonhood, the Spirit of God's Son comes into the hearts of the sons, crying Abba, Father!

The word abba is the common Semitic (Galdean, says Zodhiates) word that expresses familiar intimacy with a father. It's probably related to the words papa (and thus pope), dad, daddy, and tata (that's the Slavic daddy), and some say this is because these words are essentially onomatopoeic, that is, written after the way a baby babbles.

In Hebrew the word ab (ab) is the proper word for father, but it comes from an assumed root aba (aba). What that root (verb) may have meant to the Hebrews, we don't know because it's not used in the Bible, and that means we have no context to try it to. BDB Theological Dictionary is even less yielding and declares this root "perhaps at least formally justified as the stem of ab, but existence and meaning wholly dubious." But, sayeth BDB in the shortest abbreviations justifiable, there is an Assyrian verb abu, which means to decide. The ab would thus be the one who decides.

And then, to make matters worse, there's the verb aba (aba), which is spelled and pronounced identical to the assumed root of ab (ab). This verb is quite common in the Bible, and it means to accede to a wish, consent or accept to a reproach. And of course there's the word eb (eb), which means freshness or fresh green, from the assumed root 'bb ('bb). Another derivation of this root is the word abib (abib), meaning barley. Hence the name Tel Aviv.

But the word ab (ab), meaning father, also occurs in meanings other than that of a biological parent. Sometimes it's used to indicate the lord of a village (Isaiah 22:21), or an elder (2 Kings 2:12), or an ancestor (Genesis 10:21), and often it simply indicates a position of authority; a counselor (Genesis 45:8) or prophet (2 Kings 6:21).

The Hebrew variant of our word daddy may not have expressed the comfort that comes from familiarity but rather the comfort that comes from knowing that someone bigger and stronger is in control. It's doubtful that in Gethsemane Jesus cried out like a small boy for his daddy. He most likely cried out to the Almighty, but in the most intimate way He could, appealing both to God's authority, His omnipotence and Jesus' priority as a son. He cried Abba like a prince to his king.

So no, Abba as used in the New Testament surely doesn't mean Daddy. It means Sir and only gains more verbal momentum through the weight of the one who says it, and that of the one it's addressed to.



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