[b-greek] Re: the intent of Mk. 14:38

From: Iver Larsen (iver_larsen@sil.org)
Date: Wed May 30 2001 - 03:00:44 EDT

Paul Dixon wrote:
> Jeffrey:
> Thanks for making your paper available.
> I copy and paste the concluding paragraph below for reference:
> ------------------------------
> Given this, I think it reasonable to conclude that what Mark presents
> Jesus as urging the disciples to ask for in praying MH ELQHTE EIS
> PEIRASMON is not, as is usually supposed, succor from their being
> themselves tested, but divine aid to avoid their following the example of
> the faithless wilderness generation and subjecting God to a testing of
> his faithfulness.
> -----------------------------
> I have serious doubts whether PEIRASMON refers to "subjecting God to a
> testing of his faithfulness" rather than to the temptation of the
> disciples. In the immediate context it appears Christ serves as an
> example of praying so that He Himself would not enter into temptation (v.
> 36). In fact, this is the second time Christ prayed so He would not
> enter temptation, the first time being when He had prayed and fasted for
> 40 days, and Satan came to tempt Him (1:13).
> No, the normal interpretation here seems contextually preferrable.
> Christ prayed so He would not enter into temptation and He encouraged His
> disciples to do the same. He knew that even though we may mean well (in
> spirit), our tired and weak flesh if unchecked by prayer will lead us
> into temptation and sin. Such indeed was the case with the disciples who
> failed to pray, fell asleep, and fell away with fear when the Master was
> arrested.
> Paul Dixon

It seems to me that Jeffrey's and Paul's position are not mutually exclusive, but focus on
different valid aspects of a statement that is open to a number of possible inferences. I
do agree with Paul, though, that it would not be correct to exclude the usual
interpretation that this primarily refers to the disciples being tested and tempted to

I would suggest that we need to consider several aspects, e.g.

1. PEIRASMOS refers both to trial/test and temptation. If I pass the test, it was a test
and I am strengthened through the experience. If I fail the test, it became a temptation
to me and I need to pick myself up and try again (IF I have that chance.)
I think Jeffery is right that there is an allusion to how the Israelites tested the
faithfulness of God in the wilderness by failing God's testing of them. They showed lack
of faith and obedience. In a similar, but smaller way, the three disciples failed by not
obeying Jesus' command to stay awake in 14.34. He did not ask them specifically to pray
for him, and they probably would not have known what to pray about. Jesus had his own very
serious test whether he was willing to obey the will of God, as it would include immense

2. The hINA conjunction is ambiguous, and all the three common meanings could be applied
a) content of the prayer (that)
b) purpose (in order that) and
c) result (so that).
All of these make sense in the context and can be said to be correct from the general
Biblical context. I don't think we can exclude any of them based on the Greek text alone.

3. There is an important contrast between spirit and flesh, and "spirit" includes an
allusion to the Holy Spirit, not just the personal spirit of the disciples. One of the
reasons that the flesh is/was weak is that the disciples had not yet received the Holy
Spirit which would supply them with a spiritual strength they did not have in the flesh
only. So, Jesus could both be commenting on their present situation and setting the stage
for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This ties in with the wilderness experience, where the
Israelites failed the test of obedience, whereas Jesus passed the testing in his own
wilderness experience as Paul stated. The NT remedy to the perpetual general disobedience
of the Israelites throughout their history is when the will of God is written in the
hearts by the Spirit of God, rather than on stone tablets or paper. This is what the OT
prophets looked forward to. The change from external control in the old covenant to
internal control in the new covenant is a paradigmatic shift, and Jesus had just a few
moments earlier introduced the disciples to the concept of the new covenant sealed with
his blood. We know that he also several times talked about the promise of the Father, the
promise of the Holy Spirit.

It is indeed an interesting statement of Jesus that his disciples has been pondering ever
since. And I think Jesus wanted us to ponder it without limiting ourselves to one specific

Iver Larsen

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