Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 3 (Lk 22:39-46; Jn 18:1-11)

The Prayer Scene—Mk 14:32-42; Matt 26:36-46; Lk 22:39-46

The Prayer scene in the Garden (or Gethsemane) is one of the most famous and moving portions of the Passion narrative, perhaps because of the powerful dramatic effect of seeing Jesus struggle with human fear and suffering—indicating how far he shared in the human condition (Heb 5:7, etc). The Synoptic Tradition makes this the central scene of the Passion narrative—epitomizing Jesus’ passion, properly speaking. The Markan outline vividly shows Jesus separate from the disciples, taking along with him only three (Peter and the brothers James and John); then he moves further away from them, and prays to God on his own. This movement into prayer takes place by steps:

  • To the disciples: “Sit here until [i.e. while] I speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray]” (v. 32)
    • He moves away, taking Peter, James and John with him (v. 33)
      He begins to be struck (with sorrow) and full (of distress) in (his) mind
    • To the three: “My soul is in pain (all) around until [i.e. to the point of] death! Remain here and stay aroused [i.e. keep awake, keep watch]” (v. 34)
      • He goes forward a little to pray by himself (v. 35a)
        He falls upon the ground (overwhelmed by the moment)

The time of prayer (lit. speaking out toward [God]) begins with verse 35b, where Jesus’ prayer is summarized by the narrator in the context of his Passion:

“he spoke out toward (God) [i.e. prayed] that, if it is possible, the hour [w%ra] might go along (away) from him”

This is then repeated in direct address by Jesus, as part of a three-fold cycle (vv. 36-41a), in which Jesus prays for a time, and then returns to the three disciples to find them asleep. Only in the first instance are Jesus’ words—the essence of his prayer—recorded:

“Abba, (my) Father, all things are possible for you [i.e. are in your power]—(please) carry along this cup (away) from me! But (yet let it not be) what I wish, but what you (wish)” (v. 36)

Following this first time of prayer, Jesus’ address to the disciples (to Peter) is also recorded:

“Shim’on, are you sleeping? Did you not have strength to keep aroused [i.e. awake] for one hour? Stay aroused and speak out toward (God) [i.e. pray], that you might not come into (the) testing! The spirit has a forward impulse [i.e. is ready/willing], but the flesh is without strength.” (vv. 37-38)

The Gospel writer provides no further words until Jesus’ third (final) return, when he wakes the disciples and gives the climactic declaration in vv. 41-42. The reference to the “hour” (w%ra) is parallel to that in verse 35b and marks the scene as the beginning of Jesus Passion—which will continue with his arrest, interrogation/trial, mistreatment, and death.

The Gospel of Matthew (26:36-46) follows Mark quite closely here, giving even greater definition to the three-fold cycle of prayer mentioned above. Several details serve to enhance and personalize the scene:

    • “he began to be in pain/sorrow…” [a different verb is used] (v. 37)
    • “remain here and keep aroused [i.e. keep awake/watch] with me” (v. 38)
    • “he fell upon his face” (v. 39)

More notable, Matthew records (the essence of) the first two times of prayer, giving us Jesus’ words:

    • 1st: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup go along (away) from me! Yet not as I wish (it), but as you (wish it to be)” (v. 39)
    • 2nd: “My Father, if this (cup) is not able to go along (from me) if not (that) [i.e. unless] I drink it, may your will come to be” (v. 42)

This doubling generally fits what Mark describes in 14:39, but creates a more dramatic moment.

Luke’s account (22:39-46) is rather different from the version in Mark/Matthew, though it clearly derives from the same basic tradition. Much depends on the status of verses 43-44, which are textually uncertain (for more on this, cf. the supplemental note). Commentators are divided on whether or not to include them as part of the original text. I am inclined to regard them as secondary—an ancient interpolation perhaps drawn from authentic (historical) tradition, despite the seemingly legendary quality to the details. If the shorter text is original, then Luke certainly presents a much abridged version of the scene, with two main differences:

    • The three-fold cycle of prayer is replaced with a single time of prayer, followed by Jesus’ return to the disciples.
    • There are two exhortations to pray, which frame the scene (cf. below)

The references to Jesus’ sorrow and distress have also been eliminated—that is, unless we accept vv. 43-44 as original, in which case Luke’s version contains a different (and even more striking) depiction of Jesus’ physical and emotional anguish. The overall tone and tenor of Luke’s account would seem to argue against this portrait in vv. 43-44. The shorter text has a clear chiastic structure (another argument in its favor):

    • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 40)
      • Jesus withdraws from them and falls down to his knees on the ground (v. 41)
        ——His prayer to the Father (v. 42)
      • He stands up from prayer and returns to the disciples (v. 45)
    • Exhortation to the disciples to pray, so as not to come into testing/temptation (v. 46)

The Lukan form of Jesus’ prayer differs slightly from those in Mark/Matthew, combining elements of both versions (cp. above):

“Father, if you will (it), carry along this cup (away) from me! Yet let your will, not mine, come to be” (v. 42)

This idiom of drinking the cup is a way of expressing the acceptance of one’s destiny, as it has been determined by God. For something of the Old Testament background, cf. Psalm 11:6; 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 49:12; Lam 4:21. Sometimes the image carries the sense of accepting one’s death, as in the expression “cup of death” in the Jerusalem II Targum on Gen 40:23 (cf. Fitzmyer, p. 1442).

John 18:1-11

John’s version of the Garden scene is quite different from the Synoptics, and certainly derives from a separate line of tradition. Yet there are certain elements in common which indicate that both lines rely upon a fundamental set of historical traditions:

    • The general location—a place on the slope of the Mount of Olives, though indicated by different designations. John is unique in describing it as a garden spot across the “winter-flowing Kidron” riverbed (v. 1). There may be an allusion here to 2 Sam 15:23.
    • The arrival of Judas (the betrayal) with a crowd of police/soldiers and attendants of the religious authorities (Chief Priests, etc). The tradition that Judas was familiar with the place (v. 2) may have confirmation from the notice in Lk 22:39.
    • Jesus addresses them (spec. Judas) on their arrival
    • The incident of the disciple who cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave with a sword
    • Jesus’ words of rebuke in response (in Matthew & Luke, but not Mark), along with a declaration regarding the necessity of these things (i.e. his arrest) coming to pass
    • Jesus is taken into custody by the crowd

The outline of John’s account is quite simple:

    • Narrative introduction (vv. 1-2)
    • The arrival of Judas with the crowd—their encounter with Jesus (vv. 3-9)
    • Peter’s violent action and Jesus’ response (vv. 10-11)

The central scene is very much unique to John, both in the way Judas is presented, and, even more so, by the depiction of the crowd’s encounter with Jesus (vv. 4-8). The detail in vv. 2-3 reminds the reader of Judas’ former inclusion as one of Jesus’ Twelve closest disciples, and of the betrayal as he arrives with a crowd of attendants (acting as police) from the Chief Priests, along with (Roman) soldiers (a detail found only in John). After verse 5, Judas essentially disappears from the scene; there is nothing corresponding to Mk 14:44-45 par. His role (as betrayer) was to set Jesus’ Passion and death in motion.

By contrast, the encounter in vv. 4-8 between Jesus and the crowd is striking, with nothing like it in the Synoptics (cp. Mk 14:48-49, for the nearest parallel). Jesus has a commanding presence, and speaks with such authority, so as to cause the crowd to shrink back and fall to the ground. His double declaration of e)gw\ ei)mi (“I am [he]”, vv. 6, 8) is certainly to be related to the earlier I AM statements of Jesus in John, and intended here as a declaration of his identity as the eternal Son of God. As such it carries definite Christological weight, and is a far cry from the portrait of Jesus in the Synoptic version of the Garden episode. In this same spirit is the emphasis on Jesus’ control over the disciples—those given to him by God the Father and left in his care (vv. 8-9). His authority protects them from harm in the moment of his arrest.

It is significant that John’s version contains nothing of the Synoptic depiction of Jesus’ distress and anguish; indeed, there is nothing at all corresponding to the Prayer scene (cf. above), except perhaps for the wording of the concluding declaration in v. 11. A closer parallel may be found at an earlier point in the narrative, in 12:27ff:

“Now my soul has been disturbed, and what may I say? ‘Father, save me out of this hour?’ But through this [i.e. for this reason] I came into this hour.” (v. 27)

The Johannine presentation of the disciple’s rash and violent act with the sword is meant to serve as a decided contrast to the calm authority and control with which Jesus acts. John provides several interesting (and unique) details:

    • The disciple, otherwise unidentified in the Synoptics, is Peter
    • The name of the slave—Malchus
    • Agreement with Luke in specifying the right ear

The latter is a natural development of the tradition; the second would appear (on objective grounds) to be authentic historical information. Only the identification of the disciple with Peter is problematic—how and/or why would the other Gospels have left out this key bit of information if it were part of the original tradition? However one judges the historical-critical question, the identification with Peter is important within the Johannine narrative, as it serves as a parallel to Peter’s role (his denial) in the next episode. His rash act with the sword is, in some ways, an extension of his failure in the denial scene. Often in the Gospel tradition, Peter effectively represents all the disciples, and so perhaps we should understand it here.

Even more significant is Jesus’ response to Peter’s act (v. 11). Matthew and Luke also record (very different) responses; John’s version is closest to the declaration by Jesus in Matthew (26:52-54), at least in its initial words:

“Turn your sword away back into its place!…” (Matthew)
“Cast (your) sword (back) into the sheath!…” (John)

In place of the Synoptic reference to the fulfillment of Scripture (Matt 26:54 par), in John’s version, Jesus’ words echo the Synoptic prayer scene:

“…the cup which the Father has given me (to drink), (indeed) shall I not drink it?” (v. 11b)

John’s account also differs slightly in that he separates the actual arrest of Jesus (v. 12) from the main Garden scene, making it part of the next episode—the interrogation of Jesus before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin)—which will be discussed in the next note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 28, 28A (1985).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Passion Narrative, Pt 3 (Mk 14:32-52 par)

The Garden/Gethsemane Episode

The next (third) episode of the Passion Narrative is the scene in Gethsemane, so identified as the location in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew). In this episode, Jesus’ suffering (his Passion) truly begins, climaxing in his arrest. For the basic outline and treatment of the Synoptic tradition, we begin with the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:32-52

The outline of this episode is quite simple, being comprised of two scenes:

  1. The scene of Jesus in Prayer—vv. 32-41b
  2. The Arrest of Jesus—vv. 43-52

The declaration of Jesus in vv. 41b-42 is at the center of the episode, joining both scenes and effectively announcing the beginning of his Passion:

“…the hour came—see, the Son of Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)! Rise (up)! we should lead (ourselves) away—see, the (one) giving me along has come near!”

With the aorist form of h@lqen (“came”) Jesus may be telling his disciples “the hour came i.e. while you were sleeping” (cf. verses 37, 40-41a).

The arrest of Jesus itself can be divided into two portions:

    • The arrival of Judas and his kiss identifying Jesus (vv. 43-45)
    • The seizure (arrest) of Jesus (vv. 46-52), which contains two traditions:
      • A disciple strikes off with his sword the ear of the High Priest’s servant (v. 47)
      • The description of the young man who represents the fleeing disciples (vv. 51-52)

Neither Matthew nor Luke records the tradition in vv. 51-52, and it may be a local detail unique to Mark’s Gospel. However, it seems clear that both traditions, in different ways, are meant to reflect Jesus’ prophetic prediction in verse 27 (citing Zech 13:7). In between these two traditions, a saying (declaration) by Jesus is recorded (vv. 48-49):

“Did you come out as (you would) upon a (violent) robber, with swords and sticks, to take me (in) together? (Day) by day I was (facing) toward you in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and you did not take (firm) hold of me (then), but (only now so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled!”

When we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we can see that, while the basic Synoptic (Markan) outline is followed, there are certain signs of development in the Tradition.

Matthew 26:36-56

The main differences in Matthew (compared with Mark) are:

    • The form and presentation of Jesus’ words during the Prayer scene (vv. 36-42, cf. below)
    • An expansion of the Judas tradition in vv. 49-50
    • The additional saying of Jesus in vv. 52-54
    • There is no reference to the disciple (young man) of Mk 14:51-52

The differences which appear to be unique to Matthew are in verses 49-50, 52-54:

The Judas tradition—This will be discussed further in a separate note on Judas, but Matthew has ‘expanded’ this scene with additional details not found in Mark:

    • The crowd with Judas is described as a throng/crowd of many [polu/$] people
    • The Chief Priests and Elders are identified as being “of the people” [tou= laou=]
    • Judas’ greeting to Jesus includes the salutation xai=re
    • Jesus’ words to Judas (v. 50a), which could be read either as (a) a statement or (b) a question:
      “(My) companion, (act) upon that which you are along (to do)”
      “(My) companion, upon what [i.e. for what purpose] are you along (here)?”

The Saying of Jesus—Following the violent act of Jesus’ disciple (who is not identified) with the sword (v. 51), Matthew records an extensive saying by Jesus which clearly reflects ethical teaching—not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for believers in general:

“Turn away your sword (back) into its place! for all the (one)s taking sword (in hand) in [i.e. by] (the) sword (they) will destroy (themselves). Or do you consider that I am not able to call my Father alongside and will he (not) stand more than twelve legions of Messengers alongside of me? (But) then how would the Writings be fulfilled (which declare) that it is necessary (for things) to come to be this (way)?”

Luke 22:39-53

In some ways, Luke’s account is simpler and shorter, and yet includes a considerable number of details not found in the other Synoptics. These include:

    • The prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) is made part of the Last Supper scene, so the reference to their journey to the Mount of Olives (v. 39) becomes part of the Gethsemane/Garden episode (Luke does not mention the place name “Gethsemane”).
    • The Prayer scene is greatly abridged, especially if one omits the disputed verses 43-44 for which there is considerable uncertainty in the textual tradition (addressed in a supplemental note).
    • Luke, like Matthew, has developed the arrest scene, further expanding and emphasizing the role of Judas and eliminating any mention of the disciples’ flight.

Generally, the arrest scene in Luke is narrated in a simpler fashion, but there are a number of added details unique to Luke:

    • The kiss (lit. “[mark of] affection”) by Judas is not actually mentioned (only “he came near to give Yeshua the mark of affection”). Apparently before Judas kisses him, Jesus, in Luke’s version, says to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a mark of affection?” (v. 48)
    • Before the actual seizure of Jesus, some of the disciples ask him: “Lord, shall we strike (them) in [i.e. with] (the) sword?” (v. 49). This refers to one of the two swords mentioned earlier in v. 38—a violent and improper application of Jesus’ teaching, to be sure!
    • Luke records (a) Jesus’ response to his disciples, and (b) his act of healing the ear that was severed (v. 51), identified specifically as the man’s right ear. Jesus’ words of rebuke are difficult to interpret and translate precisely. It may be understood as a sharp rebuke (i.e. “No more of this!”), or in terms of an explanation as to why they must not act—”Let (things) be (even) until this [i.e. my arrest]!” The tenor of the tradition overall would favor the latter, but the specific teaching in vv. 24-27ff may indicate that Luke has something like the former in mind.
    • Jesus’ address to Judas and the crowd (vv. 52-53) follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark 14:48-49, except for the concluding statement, which is quite different:
      “but (it is so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49)
      “but this is your hour and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness!” (Lk 22:53)
      The word “hour” (w%ra) refers to the time of Jesus’ Passion and links back to the start of the Last Supper scene in Luke (v. 14). This time of darkness also reflects the opening of the Passion narrative, in which Luke records that Satan entered Judas (v. 3). For similar associations with the Devil and darkness, cf. John 13:2, 30b. The Gospel of John also uses the word “hour” in a similar way, to introduction the Passion narrative (13:1).

In the next note, I will examine the differences in the Prayer scene between the Synoptic versions, and also look briefly at the unique tradition presented in John’s Gospel.