Feast upon the Word Blog

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New Testament Lesson 25 (KD): Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46

Posted by Karl D. on July 9, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46
Reading: Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Background Issues

Today, the lesson covers the events of the garden of Gethsemane. It is hard to overestimate the importance of these events. However, notice how short the selected text is for the lesson. For example, the Matthean version of these events is confined to just 11 verses (likewise for Mark and the Lukan version is even shorter). Compare that, for example, to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. The genealogy of Jesus takes up about as much space in the Matthew’s account as the events in the garden of Gethsemane.

  • Why do the gospel writers devote so little space to these events? Does this tell us anything about how we should understand what scripture is or is not?”1

3 Matthew and the Garden

Read Matthew 26:36-46:

(36) Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. 37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. (38) Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. (39) And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (40) And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? (41) Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (42) He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (43) And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy. (44) And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (45) Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (46) Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.

  • The word Gethsemane means “oil press” and it probably refers to an olive orchard on the Mount of Olives.2 In what other parts of the gospels has the Mount of Olives been mentioned? Do you think that is an important backdrop?

3.1 Reflection

What do you reflect upon when you read this passage? What things come to mind?

  • Has the way you reflect on this pericope and related pericopes in Mark and Luke changed over time? Do you think about these events differently now than you did 5 years ago? 10 years ago? As a teenager? As a missionary? As a newly-wed? As a parent?
  • Do you read this pericope in Matthew and the related pericopes in Mark and Luke frequently? More than other passages? When do you read them and why?
  • Which version (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) do you like the best or which version is the most meaningful to you?

3.2 First Read

Do you find any part of this pericope surprising? What elements are you most surprised to see? What about the focus? What does the text focus on or emphasize?

  • Suppose, this is the first time you have ever read this pericope and you have no notion or understanding that this is the time where Jesus suffered for the sins of the world. What might you think is happening in these verses? What do you think would be the most natural reading?
  • Why doesn’t this pericope specifically mention that Jesus is suffering or bearing the penalty for sin to make salvation possible? Why does the pericope only mention Jesus’ sorrow and his desire to have this cup removed?

3.3 The Structure

Let’s take a step back and think of the structure of this passage. Like other parts of the gospel of Matthew we see the use of a triadic structure (See the Sermon on Mount for a good example of Matthew’s tendency to use triads). In the pericope there are three prayers and Jesus and the disciples have three encounters. There is definitely a great deal of symmetry.

Let’s outline the pericope as the following:3

  1. Jesus and his disciples enter the garden (v 36).
  2. Jesus and his inner circle (Peter, James, and John) progress into the garden (vv 37-38).
  3. Jesus’ First Prayer (vv 39-41)
    • The prayer (v 39)
    • Finds the disciples asleep (v 40)
    • Exhortation to the disciples (v 41)
  4. Jesus’ Second Prayer (vv 42-43)
    • The prayer (v 42)
    • Finds the disciples asleep (v 43)
  5. Jesus’ Third Prayer (vv 44-45)
    • The prayer (v 44)
    • Finds the disciples asleep (v 45)
    • Exhortation to the disciples (v 45)
  6. Imminent Betrayal (vv 45-46)

Should we care about the structure in this case? Does it tell us anything important or help focus us, as the reader, on the something important? What does the symmetry emphasize?

3.4 Jesus in the Garden

Do you think it is important that Jesus came to Gethsame with “his disciples” in verse 36, but he only took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) further into the garden? Is this an important detail? Does it signal something about the importance of the event? Does it remind the reader of other important events in the gospels?

  • The only other event I can think of in the gospel of Matthew is the transfiguration in Matthew 17. One the other hand, in the gospel of Mark only the inner core is allowed to participate in the healing of the dead girl (Mark 5:37).
  • The first thing that I notice about the outline is that it points to a central focus of prayer. Jesus prays three times, and each time he says “the same thing.”
  • Why do you think the prayers of Jesus are emphasized? Do the prayers help us understand the experience better? Why emphasize the role of prayer in this experience?
  • On some level do you think we can see the garden pericope as a lesson or maybe the lesson about the command to, “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart?”4
  • In verse 37 we find out that Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. He then tells Peter, James, and John in verse 38 that “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Why is it important that the disciples keep watch with Jesus? Could this expected watching really matter in some sense? Why or why not?
  • I am struck by the images of Jesus separating himself, but at the same time being with or watching with the disciples (or at the very least wanting to watch with the disciples). He first separates himself from his disciples and then his inner core. At the same time he expects them to watch with him he separates himself from them. He also returns to the disciples after each prayer. To me these contrasting images of isolation and communion are very poignant. I wonder if it teaches us something about the nature of Jesus’ role as a Savior and the role of the church and community?
  • Do you see a theme of increasing isolation? Where do we see this theme climax? Do you think this is an important theme?
  • Why would Jesus fall on his face before praying? Is there more than one possibility? What do you think is the most likely reason? Can you think of other examples in the scriptures where a person has fallen or prostrated themselves before praying?
  • Do you think it is remarkable or unexpected that the disciples (Peter, James, and John) fall asleep? Why do you think it was disappointing to Jesus that they did fall asleep?
  • Why does Jesus return again and again to his disciples? Do you think there was some hope that they would be a source of strength for him in this difficult time? Or does he return for a different reason? Is he still trying to teach the disciples in this time the he is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death?”
  • Do you think Jesus’ response after seeing the disciple asleep helps answer or hints at why Jesus wants the disciples to watch with him?

(41) Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (v 41)

  • What is meant by the phrase the “spirit is willing and the flesh is week?” How does the context of the events of the garden affect your understanding of the phrase and how and why it is significant?
  • Do you think it is important that in this story we have recurring images of failure by the disciples. The fail to watch with Jesus. They fall asleep. Why does Matthew and the other gospel writers keep this detail in the narrative? Is there something important we can learn from this detail? About Jesus and his mission as Savior of the world? About the nature of discipleship? About ourselves?
  • Do you think it is important that this is the last pericope (in Matthew) where Jesus (the earthly or pre-resurrected Jesus) is with his disciples?
  • Do you think that prayer and watching is equated? If so, why?

3.5 Verse 45

Note, there appears to be come variation in how verse 45 is translated across different versions of the Bible:

(45) Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. –KJV


45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” –NSRV

  • What reading do you prefer? Do you think one makes more sense given the context?
  • I don’t really know ultimately what is right reading. I think the question, “[a]re you still sleeping and resting?,” fits a little better with the pericope and particularly the symmetry. On the other hand, maybe it is meant to signal a change. That the event is complete. The disciples have missed the opportunity to watch with Jesus.

4 Mark and the Garden

Read Mark 14:32-42:

(32) And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. (33) And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; (34) And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. (35) And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. (36) And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (37) And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? (38) Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (39) And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. (40) And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. (41) And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (42) Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.

  • How is the Markan version different than Matthew’s version? Do you see any difference in terms of focus or emphasis?
  • One difference is the use of the word “Abba”. Kevin Barney suggests that we should be careful about overstating the intimacy of the expression:5

The popular notion that this was a diminutive form with the intimate connotation of Daddy is not correct.

  • However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a meaningful phrase. The plea, “My Father” or “O Father” strikes me as very poignant and furthermore it serves to emphasize the relationship between Father and Son. I think the Oxford Bible Commentary frames the issue nicely:6

Too much has probably been made in the past of “Abba” as a child’s address to its father. Nevertheless, the word is distinctive as showing close intimacy, and the fact that the Aramaic word “Abba” is preserved here suggests that this was remembered as characteristic of Jesus.

  • What is verse 33 about and who is sore amazed and very heavy (note, the footnotes of the LDS edition provide some useful alternative translation for “sore amazed” and “very heavy”)? Is it Jesus or Peter, James, and John?

(33) And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;

5 Luke and the Garden

Read Luke 22:39-46:

(39) And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. (40) And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. (41) And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, (42) Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (43) And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. (44) And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (45) And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow, (46) And said unto them, Why sleep ye? rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

  • How is the Lukan version different than Matthew’s version? Do you see any differences in terms of focus or emphasis?
  • Well, the symmetric triadic structure is gone. Does that effect the focus or what part sticks out?
  • Also, the inner circle is not singled out. Just a more generic reference to the disciples.


1 Faulconer, Jim, 2007, “Lesson #25”, Feast Upon the Word Blog

2 Oxford Bible Commentary, 880.

3 Adapted from Hagner, Donald A., 1988, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28, Nelson Reference and Electronic, 781.

4 The New Jerome Bible Commentary, Prentice Hall, 670.

5 Barney, Kevin, 2006, Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints, Mark-60.

6 Oxford Bible Commentary, 917.

2 Responses to “New Testament Lesson 25 (KD): Matt 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46”

  1. I printed off the pdf of the scriptural texts that Jim linked to in his blog post on this lesson, and reading these accounts side by side gave me an additional insight on the Abba thing.

    The Hebrew word for father is ab (pronounced av; the b is spirantized). If we wanted to say “the father” with the definite article, we would say ha-ab. But in Aramaic, the definite article is represented by an -a added to the end of the word. So in Aramaic, when we add the definite article we get Abba (the b doubles and loses its spirantization; this is pronounced like the 1970s Swedish pop group). This is the demonstrative form. And this is clearly how it was understood, because Abba appears in transliteration three times in the NT, and each time it is followed by the Greek ho patEr “the father” (with the definite article).

    Why the definite article? Would Jesus addressing his father call him “the father”? That seems quite awkward. There are two reasons for the article to be used. First, the definite article emphasizes that this is a specific father, not just any father, but Jesus’ father, so in that sense the expression could be rendered as “my father.”

    Second, Aramaic lacked a true vocative, and it is well established that the language would use demonstrative forms as a substitute for a vocative. In English we represent the vocative with the vocative particle, “O.”

    Now, Matthew doesn’t specifically represent the word Abba in transliteration the way Mark does. But look at what he has at that point in his text: “O my father.” That is, I believe, exactly the nuance we should derive from the Aramaic form Abba.

    So while there is some sense of intimacy in the expression, IE “my father,” more importantly the sense of the usage is plaintive and emotional, “O my father!” This fits well with the context, of Jesus throwing himself down to the ground for this prayer.

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