The Hebrews had several names for their god: Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, El, etc. But one of them was simply “Ab,” which was their word for Father.
But if a young Galilean peasant back in the 1st century wanted to talk to, or about, his own daddy, he’d use the word: “Abba.” Not Ab. Now the question is: would this same Galilean peasant use “Abba” when talking to or about his God? Could he be this familiar with the Father of the Hebrew Nation, the Father of Judaism, the Father-Creator of the world? Would he try to humanize this non-human entity as much as possible?
The famous German Scripture Scholar, Dr. Joachim Jeramiah, thought Jesus did just that. And even though Professor James Barr of Oxford fame, (Journal of Theological Studies, 39.) and Dr. Mary Rose D’Angelo, Professor of Scripture at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver (Journal of Biblical Literature, No. 4) both disagree with Joachim, I still find my German professor’s research compelling.
I really think that Jesus—sometime in his preaching and teaching—called Yahweh, "Daddy." Why is this so important? Two reasons:
Those of you who read my articles on a regular basis know that I really long to get behind the Gospels to the Historical Jesus himself. The Gospels are beautifully written stories, but it is my opinion that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. None of the four Evangelists seem to be interested in what we call the historical truth; they wrote “faith documents” intended to inspire and motivate people whose faith did not need history. These early Christians never knew Jesus, and, like Paul, they didn’t feel the need to know him or his brother or his close friends. (Gal. 2:6)
But every once in a while, in a rare moment, one of the Evangelists seems to pick up a scroll or hear a story or just find a word that has not been altered or changed over the past 50 or 60 years—and it rings “historical.” I think Mark found one. He writes in 14:36 that Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane waiting for Judas to come with the soldiers and he prayed to Yahweh, saying: “Abba, (Daddy) all things are possible for you …remove this cup from me.”
This word “Abba” appears only this one time in all four Gospels. All the early Christians knew how to say Father in both Hebrew and Greek, and they used both “Ab” and “ho Pater” for their Father-God—until somebody remembered: “Hey! Didn’t Jesus call Yahweh, “Daddy?”—and Mark worked it into his story in the garden of Gethsemane.
We don’t know where Mark found it and it really doesn’t matter. The question is: why did he put it in? Mark wasn’t there in the garden, and those who were there were sound asleep. Mark could have told this story with just the Greek word for father: “ho pater” (like the other 3 Evangelists), but he chose to have Jesus call God, "Daddy."
My theory is this: Mark is writing his gospel in the year 70 as the walls of Jerusalem are crumbling and the sacred Temple is falling stone by stone, and both the Jews and the Jesus-Jews are huddling close to each other, wondering if this is the end of the world. Mark doesn’t end his gospel with a glorious resurrection like the other three (the Markan verses 16:9-20 were added later). Instead, he ends it with everyone running from the tomb, trembling and afraid. (16:8)
It's pretty clear that the first readers of Mark’s gospel needed reassurance. They needed a God who was real and intimately close to them. They needed a God they could depend on. They needed a Daddy.
Mark gives them one.