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Did Jesus Pray or Didn’t He?

Muslim polemicists such as Shabir Ally argue that the Jesus portrayed by John is a person who has supreme control even over his impending death, unlike the Jesus of Mark who is depicted as a frail and more human.

One example cited by Ally to prove this claim is the case of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. In Mark, Jesus prays for the cup to pass from him, that God would spare him from death (cf. Mark 14:33-38). In John, however, Jesus refuses to pray such a prayer (cf. John 12:27). And on that basis, Muhammadans such as Shabir conclude that the portrait of Jesus has evolved from one Gospel to the other.

A careful analysis of the texts in question will show that this happens to be another time where these polemicists have not understood what they are reading. The Muhammadan fascination with liberal critical scholarship have hindered their ability to carefully analyze the texts in question so as to see how they are easily harmonized, as we will now show.

We begin with John and work our way backwards to Mark. Here’s the text in question.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” John 12:27 ESV

Jesus says that the very purpose of his coming was to die, “hour” being a reference to his upcoming crucifixion. And pay close attention to the fact that even here in John, Jesus admits to being troubled in his soul regarding his impending death.

Mark agrees that Jesus’ mission was to come and die as a ransom for sinners:

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’… ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:32-34, 45

Once again, pay careful attention to what Jesus actually says. In John, Christ states that he will not pray that the Father save him from the hour, the emphasis being on making a demand to God to act on his behalf to prevent his crucifixion. According to John, whatever Jesus asks or demands he receives since he always does what pleases God:

“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that WHATEVER YOU ASK from God, God will give you.’” John 11:20-22 ESV

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you ALWAYS hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” John 11:41-44 ESV

This fact is even brought out by the very context of John 12 itself:

“‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not mine.’” John 12:27-30 ESV

It is rather obvious that the immediate answer to Jesus’ prayer was designed to show that whatever the Divine Son asks he receives. This is a crucial point as we shall shortly see.

With the foregoing in mind, we now turn to Mark’s Gospel:

“And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, IF IT WERE POSSIBLE, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. YET NOT WHAT I WILL, BUT WHAT YOU WILL.’ And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’” Mark 14:32-42 ESV

A careful reader will immediately see that Jesus didn’t pray in the manner stated by John 12:27. We cite both these prayers side by side so as to allow the readers to see this point:

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.’” John 12:27 NIV

“And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; YET NOT WHAT I WILL, BUT WHAT YOU WILL.’” Mark 14:36 NASB

The Matthaean parallel brings the contrast out even more clearly:

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, IF IT IS POSSIBLE, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, BUT AS YOU WILL.’” Matthew 26:39 NASB

In John, Jesus says he won’t pray and demand that he be spared from death. In both Mark and Matthew, however, Jesus makes no such demand, but asks that if it is within the will of the Father for the cup to be taken away then may God spare the Son from having to drink from it. In other words, even though Jesus was troubled regarding his having to take on God’s wrath upon himself, he doesn’t pray that God save him from the Cross. He instead prays that only if it is possible for God to take away the judgment that would befall him, if it were within the Father’s will that the Son should be spared, then let the impending death pass from him.

Putting it another way, one is a prayer that something should happen as demanded, the other is a request asking whether it is within God’s will for that same thing not to happen, a huge difference. The Divine answer was that it was God’s will for the Son to drink from the cup with Jesus’ response then being:

“He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’” Matthew 26:42 NASB

After all, didn’t Jesus say that he came not to do his will but the will of the One who sent him?

“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.’” John 4:34 NASB

“I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 NASB

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38 NASB

It isn’t coincidental that these statements are all found in John’s Gospel.

If Jesus in his prayer demanded that he be spared from death then God would be obliged to answer, which would result in there being no salvation for lost sinners. And if Jesus did pray that way and had the Father not answered such a demand then this would mean that the Divine Persons of the Godhead are not in perfect union and accord. This would show that one Divine Person could pray a prayer that the other Divine Person does not answer, which would therefore mean that there is disharmony and discord within the Triune Godhead. But since no such discord exists, Jesus doesn’t pray that kind of prayer. Being God’s perfect Son, and the perfect servant, Jesus prays the perfect prayer which seeks to be in perfect union with the Father’s will, not seeking to impose his own will upon God.

Even if Ally and his fellow Muhammadans are correct about these two statements, and looking at this from a purely human perspective, leaving out all reference to Jesus being God, but seeing how humans react when they face dangerous situations, their objections would only confirm that Jesus was truly human.

In John, the crucifixion is still five days away (Cf. John 12:1, 12-27) and Jesus admits that he is troubled at the thought of the separation that he was to experience on the Cross, but knowing that this is the purpose for which he came, how can he then ask God to spare him from this tribulation? SHOULD he pray to be spared from the wrath to come? The implied answer is NO. Jesus does not actually pray, he only says that it would not be the right thing to do. His response reflects his conviction or principle.

In Mark, the arrest and torture and crucifixion are immediate. As it is part of human nature, human makeup, that when the danger is closer it is much harder to be courageous than when the question how to react is still only a “hypothetical discussion” of something that is some distance away. Who would want to fault Jesus for being fearful of experiencing the broken fellowship and loss of intimate communion with his Father, as well as being the object of the Divine wrath as a result of being our sin-bearer, our substitute who takes upon him what we deserve, namely death and separation from God? Yes, seeing that this dreadful experience is coming so close, Jesus would rather not have it.

Since these statements were made at different times. Therefore, it would only be a contradiction if at the same time X Jesus said A according to Mark, and B according to John. However, the two texts are clearly different in that Jesus said A at time X according to Mark and B at time Y according to John, and both are quite natural for a human Jesus to say since this is the way most human beings react. Therefore, even though it is an entirely human response, it is not even a contradiction on formal grounds since these two statements were made in different situations.

Moreover, as shown above, Jesus’ statements are not a contradiction as far as the contents of his statements are concerned. Those were two different statements, one an actual prayer which was said, and the other only a hypothetical prayer that was commented upon.

In light of our analysis we come to the conclusion that there is no contradiction between John’s and Mark’s portrait of Jesus, but rather a very consistent and harmonious picture that emerges from reading them in light of each other.

As I indicated earlier, the purpose of these Muhammadans such as Ally in citing this example is to show that the picture of Jesus has evolved from one Gospel to the other. According to Ally and others, as time went on the Christian writings tended to make Jesus more divine and less human. In light of this assertion, I now post the links to the articles I wrote refuting Shabir Ally for making this specific argument:

Is there an Evolution in NT Christology? (www.answeringislam.net/Shamoun/christology_evolution1.htm), Pt. 2 (www.answeringislam.net/Shamoun/christology_evolution2.htm).

The readers can also consult the following article which deals exclusively with the Markan evidence for the Deity of the Lord Jesus:

Is Jesus Omniscient? Omnipotent? (www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Shabir-Ally/omnipotent.htm).

In the above rebuttals I establish that even the earliest Gospel account, i.e. Mark, Jesus is portrayed as God in the flesh, being the very unique, Divine Son of God, and not simply a miracle-working prophet.

All of these materials conclusively prove that both Mark and John portray Jesus as the God-Man, the Son of God who is also the Son of man, one Divine Person who has two distinct natures. Moreover, both Gospel accounts depict the Lord Jesus as a real flesh and blood human being, having all the limitations and weaknesses of humanity with the exception of sin.

As such, there is no evolution in the Gospels’ portrayal of Christ, but rather a consistent and coherent picture of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, one that contradicts the Quran and which exposes Muhammad as a false prophet.

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