Friday 2 November 2012

Is translating 'Abba' as 'Daddy' disrespectful to God the Father?


I was reading my new copy of the excellent English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible and came across some notes which suggested that because 'Abba' was used (in the time of Jesus) to address adult parents, then 'Daddy' was an inappropriate, indeed disrespectful, translation of the word.

Yet, I used the Daddy translation myself, only a few weeks ago:

The ESV attempt to label the word 'Daddy' as disrespectful made me see red, for a number of reasons!


In the first place, translation is not a word by word process, every translation is incomplete and potentially misleading, historical context is imperfectly understood - and all the rest of it. So there is no perfect word, no word free form the possibility of misinterpretation. Translation is always a question of priories - what it is wished to emphasize. 


But there is a very good reason to translate Abba as Daddy, and that is to bring out a son or daughter's child-like love-of, trust-in and reliance-upon their (good) Father - which goes far beyond the biological relatedness conveyed by the word Father.


What is more, my Ulster relatives (for instance) called their parents Daddy and Mummy for all their lives - it is not simply a child's endearment.

In fact I repent having stopped calling my own parents Daddy and Mummy during my teens (a transition I found difficult) - since dropping that appellation was certainly not a matter of increased respect but almost the opposite; shame at seeming childish, wishing to be trendy - in a nutshell an assertion of independence.


(Thus 'Daddy' signaled willing dependence; dropping 'Daddy' signaled rebellious independence. Which of these usages best applies to the proper nature of our relation to God?)


Of course none of this perhaps applies to Americans, who probably imagine Daddy to be an English upper class affectation - and who themselves seem to lack an equivalent word to 'Daddy' as it is used among working class people in the borders of England and Scotland (which includes most of my ancestors, including the Northern Irish Protestants). For Americans 'Daddy' may indeed be disrespectful - like 'Pops'.


But for me the idea that God is our (adoptive) Daddy if we accept his invitation; that we are asked to become Sons and heirs of God, and that Jesus will be our Heavenly Brother - well, this is exactly the kind of thing we need to hear; and something we ought to try and live by, and which the word Daddy perfectly expresses.



John G said...

Some Americans use Daddy in the way you describe. My own extended family, my aunts and uncle, still call their mother and father Mommy and Daddy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JG - In which case, the ESV commentator has no excuse at all!

Seriously, I can understand the motivation not to mislead, but that leads to abstract and 'bureaucratic' language, which is hopeless as a medium of scriptural translation.

Maybe this is reflected in the 'schizophrenia' of some evangelicals, who on the one hand have a very puritanical and word-by-word (as above) approach to scriptural translation for use in church and study groups; but covertly/ off the record and for their own pleasure/ edification use very loose and slangy scriptural paraphrases - sometimes in comic form.

(Myself, I use the Authorized Version as primary source, since it is divinely inspired - and other versions - like the New International, ESV, a translation of the Septuagint - as glosses or notes or cribs. I will also sometimes look at slangy stuff such as the 'Street' Bible, or comics like the Manga Bible. The one thing I avoid totally is 'inclusive', politically correct or any other type of Leftist screed - such as the NRSV - used by mainstream Liberal Anglicans.)

ajb said...

'Pappa' is another option, and fits with the vernacular where I am.

It also looks and sounds like 'Abba'.

Having gotten a better understanding of what 'Abba' means, though, I prefer to just use 'Abba' itself.

LDiracDelta said...

Professor Charlton,
What word did you transition to in your teens? In the NorthWest of the US, I can't think of a single person who didn't call their dad "Daddy" when they were younger. We then transition to "Dad" in our teen years, for better or worse. We only use "Father" to refer to our dads when we're in a very respectful mood as it does seem a bit pretentious in our slice of the anglo-sphere. I imagine it is a bit like the French concept of vousvoyer and tutoyer.

Bruce Charlton said...

LDD - It was Dad (and Mum)

Anonymous said...

In the south, Daddy and Momma are common. That's what I call my parents and I'm an adult, and my parents called their parents daddy and Momma for their whole lives.