Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.1, Act 1, scene 1 - #5. Prayer in Gethsemane, Part Two: Jesus Prays to the Father, pp 163-178

(detailed summary)

Prayer in Gethsemane, Part Two: Jesus Prays to the Father
(Mk 14: 35-36; Mt 26: 39; Lk 22: 41-42)


As he moves away from the disciples, Jesus experiences a certain alienation in the fact that the disciples are unable to follow him. But the fact that this distance is not very great expresses the idea that he remains in relationship with his disciples. In Mark, prayer is expressed in indirect form, then in direct form, a way of emphasizing this prayer. This prayer is first centered on the hour, which has not only a chronological but also an eschatological meaning: Jesus' death is associated with the end of time, with this ultimate battle against the forces of evil. This prayer is also centred around the cup, a cup that does not refer to the wrath of God, but to the suffering and death of Jesus, and which is linked to the great trial with both historical and eschatological connotations.

Mark puts in Jesus' mouth the word "abba", father, a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word ʼabbāʼ. In the Old Testament, the use of "Father" to designate God occurs in reference to Israel as a people, but not in the personal prayer of the individual. Conversely, the use of "Father" to address God tends to multiply in the New Testament. All this points to a tradition which probably goes back to Jesus himself. As to the content of Jesus' prayer, a parallel can be drawn with the prayer of the "Our Father" which Jesus left to his disciples. Thus, even if the evangelists did not reproduce what really happened in Gethsemane or the historical content of Jesus' prayer, the tradition left by Jesus on the prayer was sufficient to reuse the same formulas when he was confronted with his own death and integrating the same type of obedience.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. Jesus Goes Forward and Prostrates Himself or Kneels
    2. The Prayer Concerning the Hour and the Cup
      1. The Twofold Marcan Prayer in Indirect and Direct Discourse
      2. The Hour
      3. The Cup
    3. Other Aspects of the Prayer
      1. "Abba, Father"
      2. God's will be done

  1. Translation

    Parallel passages are underlined. Square brackets [] indicate parallels found in another sequence in the Gospels.

    Mk 14Mt 26Lk 22Jn 12
    35 And having gone forward a little, he was falling on the earth and was praying that if it is possible, the hour might pass from him.39a And having gone forward a little, he fell on his face praying and saying, 41 And he drew away from them as if a stone’s throw; and having knelt, he was praying,27b [And what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this (purpose) have I come to this hour. 28a Father, glorify your name.”
    36 And he was saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you: Take away this cup from me. But not what I will but what you (will).”39b "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as you (will).”42 "Father, if you desire, take away this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”18, 11 (after Jesus has told Peter to put the sword back into the sheath): “The cup that the Father has given me – am I not to drink it?”]

  2. Comment

    1. Jesus Goes Forward and Prostrates Himself or Kneels (Mark 14: 35a; Matthew 26: 39a; Luke 22: 41)

      1. "And having gone forward (proerchomai) a little (mikron)". The two words proerchomai and mikron (in the spatial sense) are very little used in the New Testament.

      2. "And he drew away (apospaō) from them as if (hōsei) a stone's throw". We have here a typical Lucanian vocabulary. The word apospaō means: to tear oneself away from, to move away from. The expression "stone throw" exists in classical Greek, but not in the Septuagint. Thus, this distance means that Jesus kept in contact with his disciples, without being able to say whether he could be seen or heard.

      3. Going away to pray is attested in the Old Testament (see Abraham in Gen 22,5; or Moses in Ex 19,17), but in Mark it also implies a certain alienation from his disciples who cannot follow him. In the same way, even though the gesture of prostrating is well known in the Old Testament (Lot prostrates face down before the two angels, Gen 19:1), Mark accentuates Jesus' distress by saying that he falls to the ground. Matthew softens the portrait by taking up the Old Testament image of the face on the ground, just like Luke by simply speaking of a knee on the ground.

    2. The Prayer Concerning the Hour and the Cup (Mark 14: 35b-36; Matthew 26: 39b; Luke 22: 42)

      1. The Twofold Marcan Prayer in Indirect and Direct Discourse

        1. The two texts on the prayer of Jesus present a certain parallelism.
          v. 35v. 36
          he was praying that ifAnd he was saying,
          it is possible,Abba, Father, all things are possible to you:
          the hour might pass from him.Take away this cup from me.

          The two verses undoubtedly reflect a pre-evangelical tradition. This repetition constitutes an effective narrative style, since the first verse introduces the second to get our full attention and to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. Mark uses this process throughout the Gethsemane scene.

        2. Indirect prayer is tempered by the condition "if it is possible", while direct prayer is qualified by the condition "not what I will but what you (will)" This condition and nuance is required by the very fact that Jesus previously announced his sufferings and crucifixion as God's will. Some biblical scholars have seen a problem with this prayer of Jesus who wants to avoid what awaits him. In fact, they have misunderstood the relationship between prayer and God's will: prayer expresses trust in God's love and that he will listen and respond if it corresponds to his Providence. There are several examples in the Old Testament, such as Moses' prayer following the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:10-14), or David's prayer in the same Garden of Olives asking to be allowed to return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:25-26).

      2. The Hour (Mark 14: 35)

        1. In this indirect prayer, the condition "if it is possible" expresses the desire to be reconciled with God's plan announced in the preceding predictions. This plan is expressed by the term "hour" which Mark did not invent, but which he probably found in his pre-Gospel tradition: not only did it appear earlier in an eschatological passage where Jesus admits not knowing God's chosen hour (13:32), an indication of a passage that could be traced back to the historical Jesus, but it is also found elsewhere in the New Testament in authors who did not know Mark (see for example John 2:4; Romans 13:11).

        2. To what extent can the word "hour" be given an eschatological connotation in addition to its historical connotation? In the prophet Daniel, the hour clearly has an eschatological dimension where it describes the end times with the tribulations and the intervention of the archangel Michael to deliver his people (see Daniel 11:35,40; 12:1,4). In Mark 13:32-33 the hour was accompanied by eschatological signs. But can we also associate the hour of Jesus' death with the eschatological hour? Yes, because Jesus' ministry was presented as a long battle against the devil and the forces of evil, and his death will be described as the Son of Man being delivered into the hands of sinners; this battle with sinners, a form of holy warfare, is an aspect of the coming of the Kingdom.

      3. The Cup (Mark 14: 36 and par.)

        1. The Septuagint used the Greek word potērion (cup) usually translating the Hebrew word kôs. Most of the time, "cup" has a symbolic meaning, and it refers primarily to the cup of wrath. This perception is widespread in the ancient Near East and is found in the Old Testament, where the culprit must drink the wrath or punishment of God (Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-16; 51:7; Ezek 23:33; Ps 75:9). This poses a problem with Jesus: how could he be guilty or the object of God's wrath?

        2. Mark 10:38-39 presents this scene where Jesus asks John and James: "Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am about to be baptized with?" Here, it is impossible to associate the cup with the wrath of God. The simplest explanation is to see it as the cup of suffering that Jesus has already begun to drink, a cup that will culminate in the anguish of death as a criminal. Thus, James and John are called to be plunged into the waters of affliction in their proclamation of the Reign of God.

        3. Also, in Mark 14:36, the cup is associated with this horrible death which is part of the great trial. Traditional elements of God's wrath can be seen in the fact that the apocalyptic context presents us with the great battle of the last days when God will finally overcome evil. Thus, the cup, like the hour, is related to the great trial which has both historical and eschatological connotations.

        4. Jesus had already referred to the cup at his last supper (14:23-24): "He took a cup and gave thanks.... This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be shed for many". In it Jesus expresses his total gift of himself. Would he regret this total self-giving in Gethsemane? Like every human being, Jesus learns obedience to God's will through suffering.

        5. Matthew and Luke have tried to soften this very hard portrait of Mark's Jesus and have omitted this prayer on the hour in the indirect discourse. Let us take a closer look at the prayer on the cup where the tone is constantly softening.

          Mk 14: 36aMt 26: 39bLk 22: 42a
          Abba, Father, all things are possible to you My Father, if it is possible Father, if you desire

          Luke uses abundantly "will/desire" (boulomai), (out of the 37 uses in the NT, 16 times in his Gospel and Acts) where it is God who is subject. This word conveys with him the idea of a pre-established divine decision. Thus, his Jesus seeks to inquire about the direction of the divine plan.

        6. John completely eliminates this request to avoid the hour, to the point of asking Peter to put away his sword, because for him the hour is the hour of glorification of the Son of Man.

    3. 3.Other Aspects of the Prayer

      1. "Abba, Father"

        1. All evangelists use the word "Father" (patēr) in Jesus' prayer, and Mark adds abba, the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word ʼabbāʼ. The latter derives from ʼab (father), when in an irregular emphatic state, to make the Greek expression ho patēr, a nominative name used vocatively. Throughout the NT it appears only three times: Mark 14:36; Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15.

        2. In a Dead Sea Scroll (4Q372), we have an example of someone addressing God with "My Father" (ʼābî). In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, there are several instances in which one addresses God with the expression "Father" or "My Father," and this is the case with Jesus in the Gospels. Also, we cannot simply assume that every time Jesus addresses God as his Father, it is the Aramaic word ʼabbāʼ. When we look at the period from 200 BC to two hundred years later, we notice that it is normal for a child to address his father with ʼăbî (my father). But there is no data in Jewish literature to support the idea that ʼabbāʼ was used to address God in a personal prayer.

        3. Did Jesus really address God with the expression "Father"? In the Old Testament, the use of "Father" to refer to God occurs in reference to Israel as a people (Deuteronomy 32:6: Is this what you render to Yahweh? Foolish people, devoid of wisdom! Is he not your father (ʾābîkā), who bore you, who made you and through whom you subsist?" see also Isa 63:16). When we turn to the NT, we realize that its use tends to multiply: 3 times in Mark, 4 times in the Q source, 4 times in the special material of Luke and 3 times in that of Matthew, and 100 times in John. This multiple attestation points to a pre-evangelical tradition. It is therefore plausible that we are looking at a memorable and historical practice that goes back to Jesus himself. But this does not mean that we see the Christological significance of the only Son of God, which presupposes a long theological development.

        4. Can we go so far as to say that we are before the very words of Jesus. Some biblical scholars believe this on the basis of Hebrews 5:7-8: "It is he who in the days of his flesh, having made supplications and supplications with loud cries and tears to him who could save him from death, and having been heard because of his piety, learned obedience as a Son from what he suffered," (on the expression "because of his piety", see Appendix III). We forget to distinguish between a request to be saved from death (Hebrews), and a request to be saved from the hour (Gethsemane). Nevertheless, we can recognize that we are before an ancient tradition of a Jesus in prayer.

        5. Finally, we can observe that Mark departed from the very words of Jesus, because Jesus certainly did not pray at the same time in Aramaic and Greek. But this prayer reflects an Aramaic form that Jesus probably used, and which was transliterated into Greek to be used in Christian prayer. The very fact that it is found in St. Paul's suggests that Mark put a known formula of Hellenistic Christian prayer on Jesus' lips. This is confirmed by the following expression: "All things are possible to you", for it is typical of the Greco-Roman prayer, as we see in the Septuagint in Zechariah 8:6: "This is what the Lord Almighty says : If in these days it is impossible in the eyes of the remnant of this people" (the Hebrew text says rather: "Thus says the Lord of hosts. If it is a miracle in the sight of the remnant of this people").

      2. God's will be done

        Here is a list of references to God's will. The square brackets [] indicate words that are not found in the Greek text, but that must be added in English to translate the meaning.

        Mark 14: 36"But (alla), not what I will but (alla) what you [will]"
        Matthew 26: 39"Nevertheless (plēn), not as I will but (alla) as you [will]"
        Matthew 26: 42"Let your will (thelēma) be done (ginomai)"
        Luke 22: 42a"If you desire"
        Luke 22: 42b"Nevertheless (plēn), not my will (thelēma), but (mais) yours be done (ginomai)"

        1. i.There is a certain parallelism between Matthew and Luke, not only in that they avoid an initial "but" (alla), but they both use the words "will" (thelēma) and "come / be done" (ginomai). This would be the influence on the evangelists of a common oral tradition on prayer.

        2. The prayer of the "Our Father" was certainly part of this tradition. In Matthew we have the "Our Father", but in Luke simply "Father" with an imperative, which is probably the original version. This is followed by three parallel requests (two in Luke indicated by an asterisk): *Let your name be made holy
          *Let your kingdom come
          Let your will be done, as in heaven so on earth

          The Greek text contains aorists in the passive, a passive that indicates that it is God who acts, performing an eschatological action that will allow us to recognize the holiness of his name (Ezekiel 36:22-23) and implement his will. There is a clear parallel between the third petition and the prayer concerning the cup in Gethsemane.

        3. In John, Jesus prays saying, "Father, glorify your name" (12:28a). This request is very close to the first request of the "Our Father" of Matthew and Luke (hallowed be your name). Thus, it can be affirmed that the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane both in the synoptics and in John finds a parallel with the ancient forms of Christian prayer, of which the "Our Father" gives us an echo.

          Finally, the sixth and last request of the Our Father in Matthew contains two requests (one in Luke indicated by an asterisk): * Do not led us into trial (peirasmos)
          but deliver us from the Evil One

          Already Jesus had asked his disciples to pray not to enter the trial at the last supper in the synoptics, and John 17:15 presents us with Jesus who prays to the Father for his disciples that he may keep them from the evil one.

        4. We must recognize that all these parallels are not accidental. The "Our Father" probably already had a well-developed form in the prayers of the early Christians, a form that probably came from a formulation associated with Jesus himself. Here Jesus asks to avoid the peirasmos, the coming of the hour, the drinking cup, and hopes for the coming of the kingdom, but in a different way. It is futile to ask whether the disciples in Gethsemane were close enough to Jesus to hear his prayer: Christians knew quite well how Jesus prayed, for their traditional prayers were traced back to Jesus, reflecting his style and values.

        5. The audience of Matthew and Luke has before them a Jesus who showed them how to pray, and uses the same formulas himself when confronted with his own death, and so they are called in turn to say "Father" when addressing God and to try to integrate the same kind of obedience into their lives. Mark's audience, who must face their own trial, can identify with this Jesus who says: "Take away this cup from me" after having asked James and John if they were able to drink it, knowing that everything is possible for God and that Jesus will finally say "not what I will, but what you will". Finally, the audience of John, who has just been expelled from the synagogues and is facing Jewish persecution, is called to confess Jesus without ambiguity, and so he repeats Jesus' prayer: "Father, glorify your name".

Prayer in Gethsemane, Part Three: The Strengthening Angel

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