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LUKE 22:39-47 NTBDC: How is it possible that Matthew, Mark, and Luke could have known what Jesus was praying at Gethsemane? Even though Jesus was only a stone’s throw away from them, they were sleeping.
In the accounts at Matthew 26:36-47; Mark 14:32-43 and Luke 22:39-47, Peter, James, and John go further into the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem where Jesus began to feel deeply distressed and to be greatly troubled. And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw and knelt and began to pray to the Father. Jesus returned to check on Peter, James, and John numerous times, finding them asleep every time. Finally, a third time, Jesus goes a short distance away and falls to his knees, and with strong outcries and tears, he prays to the Father. If Peter, James, and John were asleep, how could they know what Jesus said in prayer to the Father?
(1) The Gospels’ authors were inspired by God and were moved along by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), so what Jesus said to the Father in prayer could have been given to them by inspiration, not by any direct knowledge. (2) An alternative option is that we are well aware that the apostles pummeled Jesus with questions continually like young children. So, during the 40 days after his resurrection but before the ascension, they asked Jesus what he had prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Or, they could have heard the part that made them ponder if Jesus was backing out of his decision to offer his life for the ransom? So, they asked him. (3) An additional option is that Jesus knew the importance of what he had said, and during the 40 days after his resurrection, he pulled Peter, James, and John aside and told them what he had prayed. (4) One More option is that after being caught sleeping the last time when Jesus had finished praying, Peter, James, and John express their deep sorrow and regret having fallen asleep, and at that time, Jesus conveys what he said to the Father in prayer. (5) Peter, James, and John we but 25-30 feet from Jesus. Mark tells us of the second time Jesus went back to pray, “And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.” (Mark 14:39) Matthew tells us the same thing but for the third occasion. “So leaving them, he again went off and prayed for a third time, saying once more the same thing.” (Matthew 26:44) By way of Mark, Jesus tells us that he was gone “one hour” during the first time praying. Whether that was a literal hour or an expression for a short time, who can know. But it certainly shows that Jesus likely said far more in his prayer than the words Matthew, Mark, and Luke gave us. What we were given is what we needed to be given. Also, it is doubtful that they all fell asleep at the same time, or at the same time each of the three times. So, it can be argued that they were close enough to have heard Jesus praying in desperate agony. And in each incident, all three could have caught the whole of what he repeated three times by simply falling asleep at different times on each occasion. When all three talk about it afterward, they can compare what each other heard. Because what Jesus prayed is a Bible difficulty within itself. Again, was Jesus backing out of his decision to die and provide the ransom?
No, Jesus was not backing out so as to be spared from death. If we recall, on one occasion, Peter suggested just that, Jesus avoiding the sacrificial death, and such an idea was repulsive to Jesus. Instead, Jesus knew that he was about to be executed as a despised criminal for alleged blasphemy, and as far as the people knew, he was going to die bringing reproach on the Father’s name. That is what brought him agony even though he knew it was not valid.
Tom Ragsdale offers an option (6). “See Luke 22:43, where it says an angel from heaven strengthened Him. That angel would have heard everything Jesus said, and then later could have passed that information on to the disciples (probably appearing to them in human form, like the angels in Genesis 18, and the one in Mark 16:5, and the two men in Luke 24:4 and Acts 1:10, or the strangers in Hebrews 13:2). That would also explain how Matthew and Luke knew what was said in the wilderness when Jesus was tempted. It says that angels came and ministered to him (Matthew 4:11). Those angels would have heard everything that was said, then later told Matthew and Luke.”
Some skeptics and Bible critics will not accept any of these options, especially option (1), inspiration. But we are not to concern ourselves with the hardheartedness of some. When persuading the skeptic and Bible critic, it is best to begin with, the mountainous physical evidence and then get into the more challenging Bible difficulties. It isn’t that to a reasonable, rational mind that this is difficult because all of these options are possible. The Bible is the inspired, absolutely inerrant Word of God. The evidence for this is so overwhelming that anyone who would reject such is being blinded by their worldview and ideology. Then, again, Satan, as Paul wrote, is “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4.