Can you imagine your pastor reciting the Lord’s Prayer in church today?
“Our Daddy, who art in heaven …”?
We don’t talk to God that way, do we? “Father,”yes, but not “Daddy.” Now we know that even the term Father is just a metaphor; God cannot be a father; fathers are human, and God is not human; Jesus is not his son. These are just metaphors we use to imagine God. But if we stretch the metaphor and imagine ourselves as little children talking to our daddy, then we’re playing games and we don’t do that when we’re praying because prayer is serious business.
All religions are like this. The Sumerian moon-god Sin is invoked as “the begetter of us all,” not the daddy. And the Babylonian god Ea is “like a merciful father.” (ANET. 385) Some of the references in Malachi (Mal.1:6) and Third Isaiah (Is. 64:7) plead for forgiveness as children to their father, but in all these cases, and all throughout the Bible, the word that is used is Father, not Daddy. God is an image of a very formal-like parent who may indeed be merciful to his children, but in a distinctly proper way.
Our gospel writers, who are good and proper religious men, quote Jesus calling God “Father” no less than 170 times. We know that they were not recording him as he spoke. Therefore, either the Holy Spirit dictated these words into the ears of the evangelists (not likely) or these four men simply copied down what they had heard others say Jesus said (third or fourth-hand). Or, and this surely happened from time to time, they made it up.
Only once — out of 170 times — does Jesus call God “Daddy.” It’s our first gospel writer, Mark, (Mk. 14:36) who records it. The other three (Matthew, Luke and John) copy Mark’s story almost verbatim but change his word from Daddy to Father. Why? Did Mark make it up? You remember the story: Jesus takes his Apostles into the garden of Gethsemane to pray before he’s captured and crucified. He kneels; they fall asleep, and he prays: “Daddy, you can do everything; get me out of this. But please, not what I want; what do you want?”
Did Mark make this up? Possibly. Mark states that nobody heard Jesus praying; they were all asleep. Where would Mark get this story and these exact words? I think the Passion narrative was part of the on-going early Christian tradition from the year 30 to the year 70 when Mark wrote his gospel, and it just kept building as each year passed. I can understand the basic story, but why insert the Aramaic word, “Daddy” (Abba) when the Greek word “Father” (ho Pater) is used 170 times elsewhere in all four gospels? There must have been a reason.
Many famous scripture scholars (Schelbert, Vermes, and Barr) claim it’s no big deal; “Abba” means the same thing as “ho Pater” they say. But another German scholar (Jeremiah) who knows Aramaic better, says “No! The word means ‘Daddy!’ No doubt about it.” This scholar maintains if Mark found a “Jesus-quote” in his scrolls where Jesus used that word, Jesus probably did use it, and more than just the one time. Our evangelists were hesitant to have us think Jesus called God the Father “Daddy.” So are today’s theologians.
I’m not. Since we must imagine God — and we do, don’t we? — why not imagine a warm, loving God instead of a cold, distant one? I think Daddy is a great image.
I think it’s important to imagine God as our intimate Father. So many places in the New Testament make this vividly and encouragingly clear even though the evangelists are afraid to use the word. It’s one of the rich qualities that makes Christianity distinct from all other faiths and philosophies, and one of the few opportunities we have to relax with our God.
I’d rather be disrespectful than aloof. But that’s just my opinion.
Bill Cummings’ latest book “Oh My God” can be purchased on amazon.com.