Here are three synoptics' takes on Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane:

Matthew 26:38-39, "“I am deeply grieved, even to death;” ...“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

Mark 14:34-36, "I am deeply grieved, even to death;" … “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Luke 22:42, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

While there is no such equivalent scene related in the fourth gospel, there is the following line in Jesus' discourses about his death:

John 12:27, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

This seems like a direct commentary on the apparent difference between Jesus' will and God's will in the synoptics. It also doesn't seem to be said for the benefit of anyone but the reader and seems to reference special knowledge (e.g. of the Gethsemane tradition). There is a broader theme in John of Jesus being completely obedient to god to the point that his will and God's will are identical (there is no conflict, Jesus is an empty conduit to the Father). For example:

John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 10:30, "The Father and I are one."

It seems to me that John had awareness of either the synoptics, or the tradition from which the synoptics drew their common Gethsemane narrative (e.g. the one behind Mark). What do you think? How do you interpret this difference?

  • If the gospel of John is a production of the Holy Spirit as all scripture is, then this would mean that the Holy Spirit is solely responsible for the content of this gospel, not John. Since this is true, what possible reason could there be to speculate on John's motives?
    – oldhermit
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 13:50
  • The Synoptics portray a private prayer; it is common to be more vulnerable when alone with oneself. John, on the other hand, relates a public (and self-encouraging) speech; again, it is common to be tougher when surrounded by others, especially when trying to be strong for them. Trying to comfort a family member experiencing a profound loss or personal tragedy does not (usually) imply that the Comforter is himself devoid of any (severe) internal emotional struggle.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 1, 2020 at 3:14

3 Answers 3


I would answer with just two comments:

  1. It is almost certain that since John probably wrote his Gospel almost at the end of the first century and the synoptics were written possible 25 years earlier, John was well aware of them. [The purpose in John composing is account is quite different - it is theological rather than historical as per the synoptics. But this is not germane here.]
  2. None of Gospels records all the conversations, events and prayers of Jesus. Even those events and prayers of Jesus that are recorded, what we have is almost certainly a cut-down version to save space. Now, without detracting anything from Jesus' divinity, his humanity was buckling under the load of expectation of what was to happen after Gethsemane as the synoptics record. I would hazard a guess that all the accounts we have are correct as far as they go. Jesus did say what is recorded in all the verses listed in the OP's question.

That is, it is quite possible that Jesus' humanity shuddered at the prospects before Him - but He still went through with it. Jesus needed prayer desperately to withstand the onslaught that was looming against Him and prevailed!

  • Thanks, I upvoted this as useful. I'll add this caveat that it was also "almost certain" that John wrote his Gospel in 150-175 AD and that it was the most greek up until about 40 years ago. James Charlesworth, from Princeton Seminary, for example, dates the major sections of gospel of John to 68AD after the Qumran community was destroyed by Rome and before the temple was destroyed. The synoptics all talk about the destruction of the temple, but John does not mention this momentous event.
    – Gus L.
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:45
  • Agreed - that is why it often dated in the last decade of the first century. If it is dated 150-175 then it is a pseudepigraphon and would have been excluded from the Canon.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:48
  • The epilogue (Ch 21) seems to have been added after the actual death of the beloved disciple (one who walked with Jesus on earth) and after the death of Peter since there is knowledge of the way Peter died. Tradition has Peter being crucified in Rome around 64AD. If the epilogue was added after Peter's death but before the temple destruction (such an event would be hard to ignore for the Jewish Johannine community), and the Qumran destruction merging Qumran thought in with Johannine thought (not dominantly), then this would additionally support a late 60s Authorship for the whole thing.
    – Gus L.
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:51
  • It was included in canon, assuming that it was written by someone who was there at the time time. For the third/fourth century inclusion in canon, there would be the assumption that the prediction of Peter's death was fortune telling, not incorporated historical information used to date the text. The 150-175 AD date was the consensus date in academia until discoveries such as the Pool of Bethesda and the Dead Sea Scrolls which provided clarity on the deep jewish nature of the text and the authors inheritance of a tradition with knowledge about pre-70 temple cult Jerusalem.
    – Gus L.
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:55
  • In any case, John 12:27 is not part of the Gethsemane story - that comes in John 18 & 19. So there is little conflict anyway.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 12:15

No, John 12:27-28 is not a criticism of the synoptic accounts of Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, but an analogous prayer.

First, John and Mark begin with Jesus in anguish:

"I am deeply grieved, even to death."

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?"

The key is to recognize that what follows in each case is the demonstration of or working out of that anguish. In both cases Jesus' anguish arises from the conflict of his two desires: 1. His desire to be delivered from the cup/hour, 2. His desire to obey the will of the Father.

In John 12:27-28 Jesus thus wrestles between two possible prayers:

  1. Father save me from this hour!
  2. Father glorify your name!

In between these two prayers is Jesus' recognition "But it was for this very reason I came to this hour" that allows him to resolve himself to the Father's will.

In order to interpret this verse as a subtle polemic against the synoptic accounts, you have to basically ignore Jesus' statement that his soul is troubled, giving it no voice in the remainder of Jesus' speech. Such an interpretation creates a disjointed picture where Jesus is troubled, but not really - not like that Markan Jesus.

  • I like this, thank you. I don't think yours is the only take, however. You can read this as Jesus acknowledging that he is troubled about what is to come. This doesn't mean that he is seeking to avoid it anymore than someone nervous about a test at school is seeking to avoid it. The synoptic tradition has Jesus clearly label his will as to have the cup pass if possible. John's Jesus has clarity on this. "This is why I came to this hour." It really does seem like John is drawing a contrast between how Jesus faces his death. One looks for a way out. John accepts it with clarity.
    – Gus L.
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 3:18
  • John also has a different take on the language from the cross as well that conforms to this critique. "It is finished" vs "why have you forsaken me?!"
    – Gus L.
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 3:19

This is something that is not fully resolve in my mind, but I put a difference between Matthew and John and what I think of as the wilderness gospels of Mark and Luke. Mark and Luke containing 40 chapters.

Both Matthew and John were Jesus' disciples, Mark and Luke were not.

In Matthew Jesus is saying let this cup pass from me. He is openly doing this before the disciples, yet they do not pay attention two times.

I believe this indicates that so called communion should not be associated with the word, yet also showing that the disciples, and in particular Peter do not pay attention to this.

But then there is the third time, and it does not say explicitly whether they are watching.

Matthew 26:43 And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.

26:44 And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

26:45 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.

If I take it that at least some were watching, then I suppose your question is a fulfillment of this.

In the timeline the third day from his crucifixion I reckon to be figurative of 2000 years, him being away for the first and second day, corresponding to a thousand years for a day, and the pattern of the Genesis week.

It is this verse in John 12:27 appears to explicitly criticize. This does not feature in Matthew.

Mark 14:35 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.

A similar occurrence happens here:

John 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

5:32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.


Mark 14:61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?

14:62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

See also:

Matthew 9:12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

Luke's take on this that implies the people with Jesus are not healthy.

Colossians 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

2 Chronicles 16:12 And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians.

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