Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane and Open Theism

Matthew 26:

39 Καὶ προελθὼν μικρὸν ἔπεσεν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ προσευχόμενος καὶ λέγων· πάτερ μου, εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, παρελθάτω ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ τὸ ποτήριον τοῦτο· πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλ’ ὡς σύ

42 Πάλιν ἐκ δευτέρου ἀπελθὼν προσηύξατο λέγων· πάτερ μου, εἰ οὐ δύναται τοῦτο παρελθεῖν ἐὰν μὴ αὐτὸ πίω, γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου.

In Matthew 26, right before the passion of Christ he appeals to God to let this cup pass from him εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν, if it is possible. When we think of the question of pre-destination against open theism, what we are also asking is whether or not Jesus was making a real request in this scripture or not.

In the Old Testament, there are plenty of places where God assumes a kind of open view. For example in Deuteronomy 30:19 Yahweh tells the Israelites that they can choose (ἔκλεξαι in the LXX, which is the same word Paul uses in Ephesians 1:4 where it talks about God choosing the elect in Christ before the foundations of the world) life or death. God also regrets, for example he regretted creating mankind prior to him brining the flood, and there are plenty of other texts pointing to Open Theism. Nevertheless, I want to focus on the quoted example in Matthew 26 for one reason, it involves Jesus, and Jesus alone. According to Orthodox Trinitarian theology, Jesus is Yahweh incarnate, but even if you hold a less “Orthodox” Christology (as I do), you still will believe, if you are a Christian, that Christ reveals God and was a perfect man.

When Jesus was praying to God, asking for the cup to be taken away, what was happening? Was this a psychodrama being played out for later readers to get some message? If so what was the message? Was it just “let your will be done rather than mine?” Or Did Jesus really wish, really desire, at some level, for this cup to pass from him? If he didn’t, if he knew that there was no chance for “this cup” to pass from him, what we have is not a true submittal of to God, but rather a psychodrama played out for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Ten Chapters earlier when hearing that Jesus would suffer and be killed and raised Peter says “ἵλεώς σοι, κύριε· οὐ μὴ ἔσται σοι τοῦτο,” “be kind to yourself Lord, this won’t happen to you.” Notice what Jesus’ reply was, he said “ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου, σατανᾶ· σκάνδαλον εἶ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων,” “Get behind me Satan, you’re a stumbling block to me, for your thoughts are not of god but of men.

Why would Peter be a stumbling block to Jesus? If Jesus held to a pre-destination view, and he knew that he was to suffer and be killed, what would the stumbling block be? One cannot insist on saying that from a human standpoint, things are open, but not from God’s standpoint, because in this case Jesus knew what God’s will was, yet Peter was a stumbling block, a σκάνδαλον. That word can also mean temptation; Peter was a temptation to Christ. Let’s say the Jesus was an Open Theist, then it all makes sense, Jesus has a commission, there are aspects about it that trouble him, yet he loves God so much that he is willing to put aside his will for God’s, Peter puts forward the option that he might not suffer, Jesus’ reaction is swift so as to quell that temptation. Then later in the Garden of Gethsemane Christ prays to God, asking one last time if there is any other way, but in the end submitting to God. If Jesus was a Calvinist, or Arminian, there is no temptation, there cannot be, the prayer could not be genuine, it’s not that he’s praying without knowledge, he’s praying knowing that God has a plan, and he’s asking God to change the plan.

This temptation that he claims Peter is to him, would point us away from the interpretation that what is happening in Matthew 26 is nothing more than a psychodrama played out for the benefit of the reader. Since Jesus seems to be actually tempted to want to avoid what ends up happening to him. We also have to remember that in the text no one hears this prayer, it’s only Jesus and his father, alone, the reader is listening in to Jesus’ private prayer. Was Jesus and his father playing games? Were they tricking the reader in order to make some moral lesson? Or was this genuine.

In Calvinist theology prescriptive commands (of which someone can rebel against or obey) and requests to God only make sense if the one in the position to obey or rebel and make requests of God remain behind a vail of ignorance of Gods decree. I pray to God for an outcome because I do not know his full council, I avoid temptation and pursue the good because I do not know whether or not I am of the elect, it is ultimately up to Gods eternal decree, but I must serve as though I am free, because I am ignorant of that decree. This standpoint doesn’t work in the case of Jesus being tempted by Peter or praying, he is not ignorant of God’s will for him, yet he is still tempted, and he still makes the request.

In the end, one has to make a decision: either both his temptation and his requests were real, or they were not. Jesus reprimanded Peter and made the request to God in time, as a finite human. Either Jesus had a false theology, or he faltered in his theology, or he had a correct theology and Open Theism is correct. Of course, Open Theism doesn’t descend into chaos, one can still affirm that God knows the beginning from the end. What it does affirm also is that possibilities within the beginning from the end are real, as Jesus seems to believe when he says to God “εἰ δυνατόν ἐστιν” “if possible,” this only make’s sense if possibilities are real, and possibilities are only real if Open Theism is true. Open Theism affirms that God was not trifling with the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:19, he was not speaking a second order truth, which was false in the larger picture. It also affirms that Jesus Christ had his theology correct, that his temptation was real and not a pyscho-drama played out for no reason, and that his request for God to change God’s will was a real request, not a deranged outburst which had no basis in reality, and that Jesus’ submittal to God and his sacrifice for God, was real.

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Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane and Open Theism

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