Re: Jesus at prayer

From: Jim West (jwest@Highland.Net)
Date: Sat Jun 27 1998 - 17:15:33 EDT

At 04:55 PM 6/27/98 -0400, you wrote:
>The above stated "Mat 26:39 and parallels" raises an interesting question
>about when the synoptics use different words to present the same pericope.
>In this case, three different verbs are used. Matthew, as noted above, uses
> PROSKUNEW, which I always understood to be the standard Israelite
>description of one's posture during prayer and might be translated into
>English as "prostrate." Mark, on the other hand, uses EPINATE EPI THS GHS,
>which I took to mean a literal "falling on the ground" or "collapse." Luke
>has yet another verb, QEIS TA GOVATA, which is literally "bending the
>knees," or what we might describe as "kneeling."
>Why the three different expressions for what is depicted as essentially the
>same action?

Basically, (IMO), these differences have to do with the manner of prayer
practiced in the various communities addressed by these differing documents.
I.e., Mt addresses an audience predominantly Jewish, and thus uses the
expression most prominent in describing their prayer practices. Mark
addresses a different audience which prays prostrate, while Luke talks to
folk who kneel. Same song, different verse, in other words.

> Are they simply synonyms, or do they reveal a different
>understanding? My own speculation has to do with just how desperate the
>gospel writer wanted Jesus to appear--and oddly enough, the progression
>parallels the commonly accepted chronology of gospel writing: Mark,
>Matthew, Luke. In Mark, the immensity of what he's facing hits Jesus so
>hard that he literally cannot stand up but collapses to the ground. In
>Matthew, he's also on the ground, but in the common Jewish posture of
>prayer--which reveals little about any interior turmoil. In Luke--written
>presumably for a gentile audience--the Jewish form of prayer (let alone the
>actual collapse) is replaced by what I assume to be a more widespread and
>equally proper prayer posture, kneeling. (In John, of course, there is no
>"agony in the garden" at all, and Jesus remains in total control throughout
>the experience.)

Quite right! I would, however, tend to see less in the chronology and more
in the practice of the Marcan, Matthean, and Lukan communities, as mentioned

>I'm wondering if there's any significance to the differences, especially
>whether they parallel the style and message of the synoptic writers.
>Perhaps someone might want to look at the words used by each gospel writer
>to describe the entire "agony" scene, checking whether this same
>progression regarding Jesus' mental state is evidenced.

I do not think so. But be sure to look at Ray Brown's "Death of the
Messiah" at this point. He discusses all this in great depth (as he usually
discusses everything in great detail!).

>Finally, a somewhat related question. Recently, I heard someone making a
>case for the significance of the Mt. of Olives in the life of Jesus and of
>the Israelite people. Without getting into too many details, I have a
>question that pertains specifically to Greek. This person used KATA TO EQOS
>(Lk. 22:39) to indicate that the Mount was a place Jesus went to
>frequently. Is that a fair assumption, based just on the Greek? It's only
>in Luke.

If it was his "custom" to go there, then he must have gone there regularly.
But why? It was a farm, after all, in which olive trees grew and olives
were processed for sale as either oil or food. It would be like going out
to the middle of your neighbors apple orchard and sitting down for a while
to be by yourself. Most likely, that is why Jesus went there as well.
(After all, there were no churches there to visit and no salesmen hawking
their leather belts!).

I think the reason it is in Luke is because Luke wants to explain how it is
that Judas finds them so quickly. How did he know where they would be in
order to lead the soldiers to him? Because it was Jesus' "custom" to go there!

As to whether it was a significant place "for the Jewish people"- I cannot
imagine why it would be. Is it mentioned in the OT? Rabbinic Lit? The NT
outside the Passion Narrative? I do not recall a single instance (but, I
could be mistaken, as memory is a tricky thing ;-O




Jim West, ThD
Pastor, Petros Baptist Church
Adjunct Professor of Bible,
Quartz Hill School of Theology

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