Everything Old Is New Again: Our Love Story

© Copyright 2005 by Pat & Gretchen Passantino Coburn

The prince & the fox

 [This is our true story as we wrote it together and then printed it in our wedding folder August 27, 2005.]

The young girl was new in her faith and only 14. It was a turbulent, confusing time ‑‑ 1967 in Southern California. Drugs, rock and roll, social unrest. The young girl met a young man. He was 20. A lonely Marine far from home, just back from Viet Nam, not knowing what his future held. She called him “Old Man;” he called her “Little Girl.” He gave her her first kiss as they sat on a warm wall in the sunshine and smelled the orange blossoms. They held hands in the back seat as her father glared at the young Marine through the rear‑view mirror.


When he left for Viet Nam the second time, he took her heart with him wrapped in a ribbon from her hair. He didn’t mind getting razzed by his buddies at mail call when she sent him perfumed letters covered with mushy stuff. He made it back alive, and she was a little older and he was a little tireder.

Watchf Associated Press International News   VIETNAM APHS54667 MAIL CALL AT CON THIEN

They read The Little Prince together and she called him her little fox, and he called her his rose. He finished his USMC commitment. She was older. He was tireder. She risked her father’s anger and slipped next to the young man as he slept on the living room couch. They lay together and he whispered, “Do you want to stay a virgin?” And she whispered, “Yes.” And he held her and honored her.


They had tamed each other, so it hurt when he went away. But he thought she deserved someone better; she thought she didn’t deserve him. He never came back, thinking that, after all, she is so much younger. She deserves a chance at life with someone better. So he never came back.


She tasted the world’s delights as ashes, roaming aimlessly and alone for a while, and then she grew up. She abandoned herself to God, and later her husband & children. She enjoyed everything and everyone that God gave her. She poured herself into her children, nurturing them.

But she never forgot. Not when she read aloud to her children from The Lord of the Rings he had given her. Not when she opened the jewelry box he brought back from Thailand. Not when she saw the cross with the broken chain he had once placed around her neck. And so she prayed for him, and hoped that he was happy in the Lord. Many years passed, years of happiness and sorrow, joy and pain, strength and vulnerability; years strung together with faith and loyalty to God’s Word.

LOTR Edition

He found another, married, had a fine son, found Christ, divorced, married again, another fine son. Life was, well – life. Some sweet, some bitter, but always, when he smelled orange blossoms, or saw blue hair ribbons, or especially when he was alone at night, he remembered his rose. And at those times, his heart was both comforted and destroyed, for even though he tried his best to push her out of his life, she always survived, hiding, waiting to pop up and surprise him. And at those times he said “I hope, I pray, that her life is full and happy, and she has peace.” And then he would softly put her away again.

Blue Lace Hair Ribbon

Her husband died and she lost her spouse, ministry partner and children’s father. But God was not finished with her. He strengthened her, comforted her, blessed her. Everyone said, “She’s so strong! She’s handling this so well!” And she thought, “Don’t they know that it’s God’s power in me, not myself?” And a year later she looked back on her year of loss and counted it a year of gain, despite its origin in death.

She felt a little guilty for her discontent. So she asked God’s forgiveness for her greediness. “Please,” she prayed, “just one more blessing. Please bless me with contentment in loneliness.” And she prayed every day, and waited for God to answer her. Life continued. She was nearly content.


For him, years had passed; His sons had grown to be fine young men. He was blessed with two beautiful grandchildren. His marriage was miserable, although there were good moments; but there was no trust. So afterwards, for many years, he slept alone, thought alone, lost hope, lost himself.

Then he had a dream. Dreams are strange, but this one was also unusual. It was about his rose, and although he could not remember much of the dream, when he awoke his heart was broken. The memory of her presence was as strong as it had been all those years ago, when he had left her unattended, and alone.

So he started to search for her, and one day saw her name – a new name, but he knew it was her – and after drying some tears and quelling some fears, he wrote to her.

Dream Rose

And she saw a name in the midst of her e‑mails. The same name as her little fox. What a coincidence, that he would come to mind just now. Then she read it. It was her little fox. His message was simple and innocent, but with the power to slay her: I hope this finds you well and happy, though I know of your recent loss and am truly sorry. You seem to have found peace and contentment in your life, and that knowledge brings me the same. If you wish to reply, I would be grateful. If not, let me thank you for being a wonderful and loving person. I do think of you often, and even though it may be moot to you, I do want to ask your forgiveness for being so cruel so long ago. I have paid for it.

She wrote back very carefully. She was no longer a young, naive teenager. He was just being kind and nostalgic. He couldn’t have planned to prick her heart again. How could he? She hadn’t known there would be such power in his name, his words. She replied, Looking back now I think a Marine far from home and facing death needed a young girl to admire and worship him, and a young girl insecure in the foreign land of late 1960s Southern California needed a boyfriend who was half a world away. And when it was over, it was very realistic that a relationship of a young teenager to someone nearly 7 years older was not a good idea. And inside she longed for the truth of the secret the fox had told the Young Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

At first he only saw the first part of her message: I’m in New York. I’m very busy. I’ll write you in a couple of weeks. Well, what did he expect? That she would feel the same as he did? How foolish! Be content that she is alive, she is successful, she is happy. That is much more than he ever expected to know. But he saw, or thought he did, a little glimmer of interest, of sadness? Maybe, what if, no, don’t be crazy, how could that be?

Prince & Fox Reunite

They corresponded. Always careful to stay clear of the thorns, to avoid the teeth, to keep themselves guarded. She told no one. God could not mean anything to come from this. She had asked only for contentment in loneliness. She deserved and expected no more, if that. But he haunted her dreams. And memories clouded her days.

The phone rang. She saw his name on the caller ID. She forced him to identify himself so he wouldn’t know she had been distracted for hours, her hand inches from the silent phone. They talked until the batteries went dead. They described themselves — older, wrinkled, lumpy, and slow. Not at all like 34 years ago. Both had full lives and were devoted to their children and grandchildren. Both had to make room in their schedules.

They agreed to meet a week later.

Fox & Prince Shake

The little fox and the rose met the next evening in a restaurant parking lot.

She remembered it this way. He jumped out of his truck and hurried toward the restaurant. She was behind him. She called out. He turned and his face lit up, and she saw that young Marine – the close cropped hair, the wind‑burned face, the muscles tightened by training, the ramrod backbone, the loping gait of the warrior. And in a moment she was enveloped in his arms, and they fit together perfectly.


He remembered that moment this way. He drove to meet her, drove past the restaurant, afraid to stop, drove back. He got out of his truck, headed in. And then he heard the voice call his name; the same voice. He turned, saw her then, his rose. The same beautiful deep eyes, the same smile, the same girl he had given his heart to so long ago.

It was 5 o’clock. They went inside & ordered. She took a deep breath. “Why did you send me that first e-mail? He took her hand in both of his & looked directly into her eyes. I loved you then. I realize now I’ve always loved you. I always will love you. I want to marry you and spend the rest of our lives together. She could barely speak over the lump in her throat. I love you with everything I am & everything I have. Of course I will marry you & spend the rest of my life with you. It was 5:05.


They completed each other. They healed each other. They loved, laughed, cried, and prayed together. And when they were very old and very tired, they lay together before the fire and he read to her from The Little Prince: “An ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you – the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses; because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.” And he gave her her last kiss. And they were content.


A Parable of the Fig tree, Running out of Gas, and Love . . . .

© Copyright 2014 by Gretchen Passantino Coburn

Pat & I began today with prayer, as we usually do, but specifically today asking for God’s will, in God’s time, by God’s manner, for God’s purposes: not our own. It’s difficult for me to yield to God’s way, even though I know it’s ALWAYS the best way, but when I pray, I pray whole-heartedly. I even began my first post today affirming that God’s way is always the best way.

And then I lapsed into anxiety, anger, & stubbornness.

We were on our way to our 2nd appointment when I realized I had forgotten to get gas after our 1st appointment. We barely had time. I pulled into our “usual” station & was attacked on all sides (that’s how it felt to me) by stupid drivers with no courtesy blocking all available lanes by the pumps & boxing me in (our Ford pickup) & wasting precious time we didn’t have. I used some bad words & scolded the idiots blocking my access & egress (fortunately for them the windows were up & the air conditioner was on) as I somehow worked my way through the mess & back on the street.

On the way down the block I apologized to the Lord & to Pat for my language & prayed for the Lord to center me back into His peace & His way. At the station a block away, the gas was 10 cents a gallon more & the lanes were more mixed up & un-navigable than at the first station. So I headed for the freeway, calculating in my head how many miles we had driven since the “low fuel” light had come on, & whether we could get to our appointment without running out.

Did I mention that our 2nd appointment was with Pat’s PTSD counselor, doesn’t happen nearly often enough, & is ALWAYS a huge blessing & benefit to both of us?

Pat: You know, I don’t cuss or get angry very much anymore, & it’s not because my mouth is numb. (Our 1st appointment today was for his major dental work.)

Me: Why don’t you cuss or get angry anymore? (Feeling guilty.)

Pat: I don’t like the sound of the words coming out of my mouth or the feeling coming out of my heart. I want my words & my heart to belong to God, not the world.

Me: You’re right. I’m wrong. I’m sorry. My state doesn’t solve anything, it just makes things much worse than they should be. Lord, thank you for my husband & his example. Forgive me for my failures. Give me peace & trust in your way & your time. . . .

The truck starts sputtering in the fast lane of the freeway & I know we’re running out of gas. As I maneuver to the right lane & the upcoming exit ramp, my emotions start boiling again & I start calling myself names for failing to get gas earlier & I’m especially angry because I really, really don’t want to miss this appointment. By the time I pull off the side of the exit ramp & park safely under a tree in the shade in the wide dirt past the breakdown lane, I start in with bad words & anger again. When I pause, Pat chimes in.

Pat: You did a good job sensing the truck sputtering. You pulled over & off safely. You found a safe spot to stop, & we have shade, too. Juggling all our bills you managed to keep our Auto Club membership paid. You have your phone — & it’s charged. Thank you, Lord, for my good wife.

Me: . . . .

I called our counselor & rescheduled. I called AAA. While we were waiting I started to calm down. We could use the time constructively by praying for various needs.

Me: Do you want to pray? Who should we pray for? [I mentioned several names & situations.]

Pat: No, I just want to sit here & enjoy the Lord. I can’t listen to Him when I’m talking.

Me: . . . .
Petrol station
Forty-five minutes later we’re pulling into another gas station to fill up (AAA gave us 2 gallons) & it’s EXACTLY the same situation as the previous 2 stations — crazy drivers, rude interlopers, cars every which way, no pumps accessible to the side of the truck with the gas cap. My language & emotions are even more deteriorated than before. Finally I get situated cock-eyed by a pump & get out to fill the truck. It takes a long time to pump 25+ gallons. By the time the tank is full, I’ve calmed down. I’m not spiritually centered, I’m not rejoicing in God’s alternate plan, but I’m calm.

I get back in the truck & prepare to take off through the hectic maze. I look down at the steering wheel. There’s a piece of painter’s tape in the center with my husband’s Sharpie scrawl: “I (heart) u.”
I love you 2
It’s a little hard to drive with tears in my eyes, so I’m extra cautious, patient, & slow driving the rest of the way home. My husband goes in to take a nap before our next appointment (the critical one with the foreign government influencer). I follow him down the hall to the bedroom.

Me: I want to be a fig tree. I want to stand still & accept God’s provisions of sunshine, water, & good soil. I want to be covered with God’s clothing for me. I want to just stand there & do what fig trees do, without anxiety, effort, or fear. Just bearing God’s rich, sweet, ripe fruit in His time & His plan. I want others to feast on my fruit that came, not from my own work, but from the Lord.
The Abundant Fig Tree
So I went out back & picked a couple dozen ripe figs bursting with God’s good provision, & I ate a few standing in the sun by the tree. And this time I TRULY gave up the rest of the day to the Lord. Oh, I know I’ll fall back again, but for now, I’m a fig tree, not a weak & fearful fallen human. And a fig tree is exactly what God wants me to be in this critical meeting this afternoon. May this individual see the Lord’s fruit, eat of it, & be nourished to eternal life. Amen

Figs on plate 2

The Keys of the Kingdom

© Copyright 1998, 2001 (Revised) by Bob and Gretchen Passantino


Jesus said, “I will give you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).

Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:15-20).

Locked Church Door

These passages are familiar to most Christians, and yet for all their familiarity, much of their rich significance is missed by many who do not understand the cultural and spiritual significance. Both passages are in some ways cryptic, because they assume familiarity with first century and Old Testament religious practices that most readers today don’t have.

People tend to take such enigmatic scriptural statements as those in Matthew 16 and 18 and build explanations around them that go beyond the bare bones of the text. Evangelicals point to Matthew 18 to support the idea that “church” is wherever “two or three” are gathered in Christ’s name. Mormons point to this same passage to support the idea that salvation (exaltation) is only available through the Mormon church. Roman Catholics use Matthew 18 to support the teaching that the church, represented by the priest, “mediates” between humans and God regarding the forgiveness of sin. Roman Catholics use Matthew 16 to affirm the primacy of Peter as the first universal “pope.”

Ugly Church

When a reader understands the cultural, historical, and biblical background of the two passages, it becomes clear that the interpretations above are inadequate. We can have a richer understanding of the passages once we understand the Old Testament background, the first century cultural context, the context of the texts, and the relationship of the texts to other New Testament passages.

Matthew 16:19 asserts that Jesus chose Peter as his “viceroy” to display God’s redemptive plan of the church after Jesus’ ascension, when he promised Peter and the eleven that they would be empowered to bring the good news to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the extent of the Roman Empire.

Matthew 18:15-20 asserts that when the local expression of the church, the congregation, acts under Christ’s authority, in God’s Will, by God’s standards, it can and should announce judgment and exclusion to those who reject God’s redemption, but it also should announce forgiveness and salvation to those who embrace God’s redemption.

First, Matthew 16 uses the metaphor of “keys” to indicate representative power from God. Although the word “keys” is used only in this passage, we know that Jesus also granted power to the twelve in Matthew 10:12-15, 32-33, 40-42 and John 20:21-23; to the Seventy disciples in Luke 10:10-16; and to the church in Matthew 18:18-19. The metaphor was a common one both in the Old Testament and in the cultures around Palestine during that time and the time of Christ. Isaiah 22:20-22 is a clear example. The passage reads,

In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

This is a Messianic reference incorporating a general custom in Israel and surrounding nations during the first millennium B.C. The custom was that the king, governor, prince, master, or head of household could give someone the power to act “in his name,” that is, in his place in his absence or for certain duties. This “prime minister” or “right hand man” was given a ceremonial robe, belt, and key to signify his authority under the leader. When the individual with the “key” (and other items) made a judgment over his master’s property and/or people, it communicated and represented the master’s will.

In Matthew 16, Jesus is appointing Peter as his “viceroy,” and in the Book of Acts we see Peter fulfilling that commission in Jerusalem, Judea, among the Samaritans, and among the Gentiles.

Peter receives the keys

The principle concerning the power of a royal representative is especially clear in the story of Esther. Throughout Esther we see the formal relationship between the king and Mordecai, the king and Haman, & especially between the king and his wife, Esther. This is particularly clear in Esther 4:9-11, where Esther recites the royal edict that no one may approach the king without his gesturing them forward with his scepter (a synonymous symbol to a royal key).

Matthew 16 and 18 were written before Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and before Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) by which three thousand were converted. At Pentecost the Jewish Christian “church” was established distinct from Jewish churches that did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, we can assume that the “church” Jesus referred to was the local synagogue congregation, which usually had one or more rabbis (teachers), a minimum of 10 or 12 Jewish adult males in each prayer service (minyan), and a maximum of about 200 regular members and their families. These synagogue “churches” served their local neighborhoods (in a metropolitan setting such as Jerusalem) or local community (in smaller towns, villages, and rural areas). They were places of prayer, worship, teaching of the scriptures (the Old Testament at that time), fellowship among believing members, regulation of Jewish religious life, and as courts of arbitration in local civil disputes.

Synagogue meeting

As a matter of fact, this basic structure was carried over into the Jewish Christian congregations and Jewish/Gentile Christian congregations in the first and second century. We still see remnants of it in the order of service in liturgical traditions such as the eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Episcopalian/Anglican, and the Lutheran churches.

The issue Jesus addresses in Matthew 18 is apparently a civil or personal dispute between two members of the same synagogue “church.” As such, the synagogue church represented God’s will in much the same way Israel did to the nations. We can take this as good advice for the Christian church of today as well.

According to the law given by God through Moses, both criminal and civil disputes were settled using the principle that a party can prevail only if there are “two or three witnesses” to the offense (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Deuteronomy 19:15 declares,

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

Jesus himself commended this practice, noting in John 5:31 that “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true,” not because the Son of God is a liar, but because no one should believe someone who claims he is the Son of God merely based on his claim, but instead we should believe because of multiple unequivocal “witnesses” or evidences. He continues, saying, “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true” (v. 32), further noting additional “witnesses:” John the Baptist (v. 33), Jesus’ miracles (v. 36), the Father’s voice (v. 37), and the scriptures (v. 39).

He returns to this theme in John 8:14, paradoxically announcing that “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true” [since he has proven by other witnesses that he is the Son of God]. Immediately following, he refers to the rules of witnesses (8:16‑18).

Later in Christianity, the apostle Paul commended the Bereans for testing his teachings (Acts 17:11), and warned the Galatians not to believe false witnesses, even if the witness is an angel or Paul himself (Gal. 1:6‑10). They would have been tested not only by the content of their preaching, but by the evidence or testimony available, following the “two or more” rule.


In Matthew 18, in the context of correcting the sinning brother, the person sinned against has an obligation to go to that person to try to resolve it privately. If he is unable, then he is to take “one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established'” (Matt. 18:16). If the brother still refuses to repent, then it is the obligation of the congregation (the “church”) to act as Christ’s representative in holding the sinning brother accountable, and then expelling him from the church if he remains unrepentant (vv. 17‑19).

Thus, Christian churches today should place great responsibility on the local congregation for ensuring that its members are treated fairly and that unrepentant sin is inexcusable. When the church (including, but not limited to, the “two or three” witnesses required) judges someone guilty or restored, it is acting as Christ instructed it to act, and as God commanded both in the Old Testament synagogue churches and in the New Testament and historical Christian churches after Christ’s coming.

Christians should be careful to distinguish that the “keys,” the power to “forgive” and “retain” sins, is a derivative or reflective power of announcing forgiveness or judgment according to God’s standards.

There are additional aspects of the “keys of the kingdom” mentioned in Matthew 16:19, Isaiah 22:22, and Rev. 1:18. (There is an analogous passage about the “key of knowledge” in Luke 11:52). The contextual passage of Isaiah 22:22 reads,

In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah.  I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah.  I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father.  All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots—all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars. In that day,” declares the Lord Almighty, “the peg driven into the firm place will give way; it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.” The Lord has spoken.

The apostle John’s reference to Christ with the keys in Rev. 1:18 would have been immediately understood by his first century A.D. readers as a reference to Is. 22:22. In Revelation 1:18 the risen Christ says to the apostle John,

Do not be afraid. I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Likewise, when Jesus used the term in Matthew 16, his disciples understood that they were to act in his behalf and communicate his will through their own actions and words. This responsibility is echoed in John 20:21-23, in which the resurrected Christ commands his disciples, saying,

Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

In this sense, all Christians have the responsibility to communicate God’s will and God’s plan of salvation to those who don’t know it. We are God’s representatives, and individual congregations are represented by their pastors.

Revelation keys

The passage in Matthew 16 refers specifically to Peter, and by inference to all Christians. We see from the book of Acts that Peter, representing both Christ and the church, “used” the “keys of the kingdom” in first proclaiming the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2), then confirming that the gospel was meant also for the Samaritans (Acts 8:14‑25), and finally confirming the universal nature of the gospel, including to the Gentiles (Acts 10). This is the pattern Jesus commanded in his concluding remarks just before his ascension (recorded in Acts 1:7-8):

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The risen Christ summarized this authority and responsibility in Matthew 28:19:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.

Of course, any misrepresentation that churches or Christians make are invalid uses of “the keys” or acting “in His Name” since they contradict the will of the Master (Jesus Christ). We are told to represent Jesus, but not that we can act with authority outside his will. We are commissioned to announce God’s forgiveness and judgment, not to determine God’s forgiveness and judgment. The Augsburg Confession (XXV 3) summarizes this principle:

It is not the voice or word of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command.”

The concept of “the keys of the kingdom” provides a depth and richness to our understanding of Jesus commissioning Christians to share the gospel and warn people of God’s judgment against unrepentant sinners. Rather than fearing human judgment, we can be confident of Christ’s perfect judgment communicated by his church.


The Testimony of Two or Three Witnesses: We Can Trust the Factuality of the New Testament


© Copyright 2003 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

The evidence for the historical Jesus, his teachings, miracles, and resurrection from the dead, is so overwhelming that it places Christianity far above any other world religion. What distinguishes Christianity from all other religions is not its morality – Buddhism promotes moral behavior; not its longevity – Hinduism is older; but its claim that God became man and redeemed the world by his own sacrifice. This is Christianity’s strongest attribute, since it can stand the test of history and historical empiricism. We can prove what others only theorize, meditatively conjure, or feel. It is also Christianity’s greatest vulnerability, because if one could disprove Jesus and his resurrection, one would disprove Christianity itself. If Buddha never lived, the moral principles of Buddhism would survive. If Krishna was not a manifestation of God, the philosophical ideas of Hinduism would still be entertained. But if Jesus did not live, die, and rise again immortal in his physical body, then the very basis of Christianity is destroyed. Judicial and Islamic expert Sir Norman Anderson remarked, Christianity is, truly, “the witness of history” – its original followers died not for a system of rituals or a list of behaviors, but for the empirically verified and historically preserved fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul said, “if Christ is not raised, our faith is vain and we are of all people most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Doubting Thomas

Although this subject could be explored from a variety of perspectives, we will look at only one aspect: the standards of proof God insisted his people should follow when they tested the religious claims of anyone. In the contemporary world we have become accustomed to rampant, naive pluralism – any and all religious propositions are given equal weight and value even if they are irrational, meaningless, contradictory, or otherwise unbelievable. This is not the culture of the people of the Bible, the Jews who looked forward to the coming of God’s Messiah (in the Old Testament) and the Jews who witnessed that coming (in the New Testament). Indeed, the Bible instructs everyone to withhold judgment unless there is sufficient corroborative evidence. Over the years we have observed this biblical principle in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. We have come to call this the principle of “the testimony of two or more witnesses.”

Multiple Witnesses

In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, God tells the Jews that they are not to believe someone who claims to be a prophet unless he comes with the correct knowledge of God as God had been revealed to them through the Prophet Moses, whose claim to represent God was affirmed by the miracles he performed before them and the Egyptians. (See, for example, Exodus 4:1-9.) Deuteronomy goes on to say that someone who claims to be a prophet must be right 100% of the time he prophesies – if anything he says is going to come to pass does not come to pass, he is not to be believed (Deut. 18:18-22). If this principle were applied today, no one would believe a newspaper’s horoscope column, a psychic hotline “friend,” a fortune teller, Nostradamus, or anyone else whose track record is not 100%. The biblical prophet, then, should not be believed merely because he proclaims his prophetic gift, but only if that claim is substantiated by at least two witnesses: its correspondence to what God told Moses and its 100% track record.

In the very next chapter of Deuteronomy, a general principle is given affirming the two witness idea that is to govern all the civil and criminal courts of the Jews. We read,

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother (Deut. 19:15-19).


The same principle is mentioned or given by example in a number of other Old Testament passages. The principle says that one should not believe something without corroborating evidence, and that one who deliberately promotes falsehood is guilty of sin.

The New Testament affirms this same principle. Jesus himself used it in Matthew 18:15-20, where he instructed the disciples on how to settle a dispute in the church. The unrepentant sinning brother must be confronted with witnesses so that the judgment against him is assured to be just: “so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v. 16). The church can have such confidence in judgment with corroborating evidence, Jesus says, that the church’s judgment is equivalent to the judgment of God himself (vv. 18-20).


Jesus Christ claimed to come from God and to be God’s Messiah. He did not expect people to believe him merely because he made a claim. In fact, in John 5:31, Jesus makes what at first appears to be a self-deprecating statement: “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” Jesus goes on in John 5 to describe that he does not testify merely about himself: his claims are verified by the prophet John the Baptist, by the miracles he did, by God the Father’s voice from heaven at his baptism, and by the whole testimony of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses. Jesus has more than met the principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

It should not surprise us, then, that in John 8 Jesus boldly claims, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid” (v. 14) because it is not alone. Jesus spends the rest of John 8 providing the verification for his testimony: God the Father, Jesus’s miracles, Jesus’s teachings, his coming crucifixion, death, and resurrection, and even the eventual resurrection of all believers.


We find the principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses” affirmed by Christ in his resurrection appearances as well. He did not merely appear alive in some sort of a spiritual vision or religious ecstasy on the part of his followers. He appeared in the flesh to multiple witnesses, men as well as women, believers as well as non-believers, inside a room, outside, in Jerusalem, and in the countryside of Galilee. In fact, Jesus appeared after his resurrection for a period of forty days – the traditional Jewish period between conviction and sentencing, set aside by the judges to allow ample opportunity for exculpatory evidence such as mentioned in Deuteronomy 19:16-19. When Jesus appeared to the apostles in the room he declared, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [spirit] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). After so many appearances and proofs, Peter could preach confidently on the day of Pentecost, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22) and “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (v. 32). Paul recited for the Corinthian Christians a confession of faith that had been repeated by Christians from the time of the resurrection:

Now,brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and one which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

Even thirty some years later the apostle Peter did not waver in his conviction that Jesus’s identity was verified by corroborating evidence: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Aesop's Fables

The apostles who followed Jesus and took his message of redemption and eternal life to the world were not to be believed without corroborating evidence, either. Jesus prophesied that they would do the same kinds of miracles he had done as a validation of their divine commission (Mark 16:17-18) and miracles accompanied their preaching from the beginning. Peter and John healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-10), Paul raised a young man from the dead (Acts 20:9-12), and many other miracles were performed by Jesus’s emissaries. Those miracles were tested by those who witnessed them. They were not magic tricks (Peter rebuked and refused a magician who thought he could “buy” the power of the Holy Spirit – Acts 8:18-22). They were not sorcery (Paul exposed a sorcerer in Acts 13:6-13 and cast a demon out of a girl who was used for divination in Acts 16:16-24).


God manifested himself in Christ by his resurrection to those who were unbelievers or doubters who did not expect him to rise from the dead, over a period of forty days, in a variety of circumstances, to a variety of people, in a culture and historical period where the eyewitness testimony could be challenged. He came to a culture where accurate memory was trained into people and tested repeatedly as a normal form of preserving facts and events. He was followed by associates who performed the same kinds of miracles he had performed.

God gave us the best proof by appearing at a point in history as Jesus Christ, providing both followers and unbelievers with many infallible proofs, no only during his natural lifetime but after his resurrection. Jesus Christ provided a witness that launched a true and life-giving religion and gave us evidence for all time to believe in and trust God. The principle of “the testimony of two or three witnesses” is a principle by which a religion will stand or fall, and Christianity is the only religion that can stand. It is the only religion that gives an objective test for its own truth claims.


There and Then, Here and Now, Where and When? A Few Keys to Understanding Prophecy

Moses© Copyright 2003 by Gretchen Passantino

Articles, essays, chapters, books – even commentaries have been written about biblical prophecy. Amidst the plethora of “stuff” about prophecy, some basic characteristics of prophecy have become unknown to most Bible readers. Consequently, most of prophetic scripture is at best a puzzle, at worst an excuse for sensational speculation that discredits not only the speculator, but, sadly and unfairly, the Bible itself. When fictions like the Left Behind series sell 50 million and the few contemporary commentaries stay in print only a few short years, it is no wonder. Here are a few foundational keys to understanding biblical prophecy.

Two basic mis-assumptions plague most people’s unsuccessful attempts to understand prophecy. First, many people think prophecy is the same thing as fortune telling or divination. They think of the ancient Greek customs such as the Oracle of Delphi when they think of prophecy. The Oracle of Delphi was a young “chosen” woman who sat above a smoking fissure in the rock at the Delphi temple, chewed bay leaves, and experienced an ecstatic state that manifested in incomprehensible speech in response to an individual’s specific inquiry of the gods. Then a priest in the temple “interpreted” the message and gave it to the inquirer. The questions and answers were always specific to the individual and the time.[1] For example, an inquirer might ask whether the gods would bless a particular business deal, or whether a particular courtship would be successful. Many people who experience a false “gift of prophecy” misunderstand prophecy in this way. Instead, the bible gives us a picture of prophecy that is rationally received and delivered, is one hundred percent accurate, and involves God’s eternal righteousness, judgment, and mercy.

Oracle of Delphi

Second, many people think prophecy is only or at least primarily about future events regarding God’s interventions in human history. This misunderstanding fuels most of the sensationalistic fiction and non-fiction(?) literature glutting the shelves of most Christian bookstores. This misunderstanding lies behind many Christians’ fears that we are living in the “terminal generation,” the “last days,” that will see worldwide, cataclysmic events in which millions – even billions – of people will suffer and die immediately preceding Christ’s Second Coming. Instead, the biblical examples give us a picture of prophecy that focuses on the eternal covenant between God and man, ratified and fulfilled in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf. While at first glance biblical prophecy may seem to cover thousands of events and principles, at its core biblical prophecy is simply concerned with God’s eternal salvation plan in his Son.

End of the World

After we lay aside these two common misunderstandings, we can look at what the Bible says about prophecy and understand much more than we once did. There are many books that we recommend on this subject, including Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness, Milton Terry’s Biblical Apocalyptics, and William Biederwolf’s The Millennium Bible.

The biblical prophet is one who is called by God to give inspired teaching and preaching. He (or she) is primarily a forth-teller and only secondarily a fore-teller.[2] In fact, when one actually analyzes the prophetic passages and books of the Bible, it is evident that fore-telling is a minor part of the prophet’s burden from the Lord. When we understand this important distinction, much of the Bible becomes suddenly more easily understood. It makes sense, then, that Moses is called the greatest of prophets except for Jesus (Deut. 18:15; 34:10; Acts 3:22; 7:37), even though we think of him primarily as the liberator and law giver of Israel. It makes sense that Jesus linked Moses with the prophets who spoke of him, God’s Son (Luke 16:29-31; 24:27, 44). We can understand the words of Philip, who told Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45).


This emphasis on forth-telling is verified by analysis of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. There are five “Major Prophets,” books representing four authors (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations – also written by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel). They are called the major prophets not because they are the most important, but because they are the largest in size. There are twelve “Minor Prophets,” so named not for any lack in importance, but for their relatively smaller sizes.

When we analyze these 17 books, we find that the vast majority of the texts do not refer to the future at all. Instead, we find the same exact theme often repeated in each book: the story of redemption. This simple story includes that God created us perfect and provided us with everything we needed for perfect life in him. We rebelled against him and earned his righteous judgment and condemnation. Because of his infinite love for us, his mercy and grace, he did not leave us in our sin but provided reconciliation for us in his Son, so that by responding in faith to the power of his gospel, we can repent, be reconciled to God, and enjoy the presence and power of God in this life and for the future (John 3:16-21).


What do we notice about this timeless story of redemption? Comparatively little of it has to do with the future: it is primarily concerned with the past (God’s creation, our fall), the present (God’s judgment delayed by his mercy through Christ), and the immediate future (will we respond in faith believing or continue in unrepentant rebellion?). The far or final future (enjoying God’s presence and power into eternity) is merely the culmination of the first three “time” elements in the story. In fact, every prophet in most of his (or her – Miriam, Deborah, for example) prophecies includes these four time referents: past, present, immediate or near future, and far or final future. This is what we would expect.

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 gives us the first test of a true prophet of God: even if what he says comes to pass, if he encourages us to worship a false God, or to worship God falsely, he is not to be believed. He is a false prophet.


Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives us the second test of a true prophet. (This immediately follows Moses’ declaration of a coming “prophet” who would be greater than him – 15-18 – we know him as Jesus Christ cf. Acts 3:22; 7:37.) In this test we are told that if what the prophet says is going to come to pass does not, then he is a false prophet. While Miss Cleo and her band of dollars-by-the-minute psychics repeatedly fail this test, in the Old Testament, to have even one prophecy not come to pass disqualified one from being a true prophet of God. If it were the case that a substantial part of a prophet’s message was concerned with the far or final future (events hundreds, even thousands of years after the lifetime of the prophet), how could the trustworthiness of a prophet be established? For this test to have any reliability, it must have been the case that an overwhelming portion of the prophet’s messages had to have been about times his hearers could test – the past, present, and near future.

When we analyze the Old Testament prophets, that is exactly what we find. Isaiah, for example, spends most of his time talking about the past. He talks about how Israel had a covenant with God but repeatedly broke that covenant, both while united and by Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) after the monarchy divided. He talks about many other nations that practiced idolatry and ignored the Lord God Almighty. He talks about how God had already brought judgment against these other nations. All the nations failed to repent and thus deserved God’s judgment.

Isaiah spends the second greatest amount of material talking about the present. He points out all the areas of sinfulness, rebellion, unrighteousness, idolatry, and social injustice in Israel and Judah. He points out all of the examples of God’s patience and mercy, withholding judgment even though it would be just because of Israel and Judah’s rebellion.

Isaiah talks at length about the near future: if Israel and Judah do not repent, God will bring well deserved punishment, judgment, and condemnation on the nations for their continued rebellion. If, however, Israel and Judah repent, God will withhold his judgment and restore the kingdoms to the power and blessings of God. In fact, Isaiah says, both Israel and Judah will refuse to repent. First God will allow Israel to be destroyed as a nation and its leaders taken into captivity because of its greater sinfulness and as a final example to Judah. This all happened during the course of Isaiah’s ministry. Everything Isaiah said about these time periods (past, present, and near future) was tested by his contemporaries (using Deut. 13 and 18), and Isaiah was proved to be a reliable prophet of God.

Once Isaiah had been proven a reliable prophet of God, his listeners were willing to suspend judgment on the comparatively little he says that would occur after the end of their own generation. Isaiah spends comparably less time speaking about the far future. In that time, Judah will fall to foreign destruction just as Israel had already. This judgment of God will last seventy years. Judah will finally repent and beg God for forgiveness. God will extend his mercy and grace to Judah through the pagan king, Cyrus, who will allow the Jews to return to their land, rebuild the temple, and restore their kingdom. This happened within less than two hundred years of Isaiah’s prophetic ministry.

Finally, Isaiah spent the least amount of time speaking about the final future – the time when the entire earth, all of humanity, will be affected eternally by God’s redemption plan in his Son, the Messiah: those who believe and repent will be resurrected to eternal life; those who continue to rebel will be resurrected to judgment and condemnation. This final future time began with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2) and will conclude with Christ’s Second Coming for final judgment and the reconciliation of all things (1 Cor. 15:51-58). The redeemed inherit eternal life, the unrepentant inherit eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).

The next time you stumble across prophetic portions of Scripture, don’t despair or throw up your hands in confusion. It’s not as mysterious or cryptic as contemporary sensationalists make it. Remember that the prophet always talks mostly about the past, the present, and the near future. Certainly he talks the least (and sometimes not at all) about the far future (after his own generation) or final future (the completion of the redemptive story).

[1] See Colin Brown, gen.ed. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume 3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978, 75ff.
[2] Colin Brown, Dictionary Volume 3, 74-92.


Help Gretchen Passantino and Answers In Action Save Home & Ministry Base

We are in critical danger (July 8 sale date) of losing our home & home office & research library to foreclosure. We believe that God wants us to stay in this home/office, continuing to devote the stamina & energy he provides us to Christian ministry as I have for the past 40 years, 17 years in this home. We have exhausted all other options.
ImageWe need $20,000 within the next 2 weeks to save our home from forced foreclosure sale & reinstate mortgages & update property taxes. We need $20,000 over the year to meet our expenses until our Answers In Action has new non-profit status, my early retirement SS begins, & Pat’s hardship VA benefit kicks in. God has called us to ministry focus, me with 40 years of full-time Christian ministry in apologetics & discipleship, Pat with his trauma, combat, & critical medical crisis experience sharing the grace & sufficiency of Christ with others in crisis & trauma. Please pray about helping us to stay in our home & serve the Lord.

We are raising support through direct gifts & gifts through Go Fund Me. Go Fund Me is the easiest way to give on-line, or you can message me for other options (gretchen.passantino@answersinaction.org) or check my FaceBook page (Gretchen Passantino Coburn). Through June 30 ONLY, a generous benefactor has promised to MATCH ANY GIFT OF ANY AMOUNT DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR up to $10,000. Anything you give through June 30 will be doubled by this kind offer.
We are in this precarious position because of the devastating medical crisis my husband experienced 18 months ago, when literally in a heartbeat, he went from our major provider as a painting contractor to a survivor of sudden death cardiac arrest & accompanying anoxic brain injury, unable to work. December 18, 2012 the ER cardiologist was prepared to officially declare him dead, but God gave him new life.  At first I was told his probability of survival was 0.01%, he spent more than a week in a coma, had to learn to talk, swallow, lift his head, move, etc., & was hospitalized for nearly 6 weeks. The road to recovery has been long & difficult, but God’s blessings in the midst of it have been overwhelming. This picture is from Pat’s first anniversary of new life, when we returned to the hospital to thank those God used to heal him.
The journey has contained many opportunities for serving God. Six months after Pat’s collapse & new life, he was proud to stand with others at the hospital, Hoag Memorial Presbyterian in Newport Beach, & testify for life when they announced they were no longer going to perform elective abortions.
The Lord called me back to active apologetics ministry, & has brought me many opportunities to share & defend the gospel, including this class at our local St. James Anglican Church. This is my 40th year in full-time Christian ministry as a teacher, apologist, writer, & speaker.
“Apologetics in the Book of Acts,” a summer in-depth Sunday evening class begins in our home/ministry base on July 6. With the wealth of apologetics explicit & implicit in the Book of Acts, students will be inspired to defend the faith on a daily basis. Our home is not just a home. It is our ministry base, given us by the Lord in 1997, before my first husband, Bob, died. It contains my specialized 8,000 volume research library & has been the location for countless Bible studies, graduate classes, prayer & church services, fellowship & meal sharing.
Since Pat’s collapse & new life, God has very specifically called & equipped him to support veterans, especially combat veterans, with God’s grace & gospel. Pat is a 2 time combat Vietnam Marine veteran. This latest medical crisis opened up the consequences of his previous trauma stress & gave him the opportunity not only to grow & heal through the stress, but to be used by God to help other survivors of trauma.
Pat & I call our home “Our Little Hobbit Hole.” It is a sanctuary of the Garden, a reminder & promise of God’s coming renewed kingdom. It not only shelters us from the ravages of the world, but is a refuge for countless others who find the peace, forgiveness, & assurance of the gospel here.
Our Hobbit Door Pat built for a Middle Earth party a couple of years ago.
The raised herb garden Pat built for me to spare my permanently injured back. The mural he painted is from The Lay of Luthien, a Middle Earth song about the love between an immortal elf maiden (Luthien) & a mortal man (Beren). She gave up her immortality for him, & he sacrificed his life for her. A metaphor of God’s Great Redemption Story in Christ.
We call this our “Sam’s Kitchen Garden,” after Middle Earth’s Samwise Gamgee, the gardener of Hobbiton. His love of growing things & his hopeful tender care of the gardens symbolizes God’s creative intention for us humans, created in His image.
Our fig tree bursts with 100s of sweet, ripe figs every August. It is a continual reminder that God prunes us, nourishes us, & empowers us to bring forth much fruit for the kingdom!
So you see, this is not just a roof over our heads, it is the geographical heart of our family & ministry. Please prayerfully consider praying for us, encouraging us, &/or gifting us either through Go Fund Me or directly (gretchen.passantino@answersinaction.org). And remember, through June 30 only an anonymous & generous benefactor has promised to match every gift of any size, dollar for dollar, up to $10,000. Anything you give will be doubled!

Not My Will, But Yours Be Done — Another View

© Copyright 2014 by Jimmy Akin


Recently, Gretchen Passantino Coburn posted an interesting piece on whether Jesus was trying to avoid the Cross when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Not My Will, But Yours Be Done). The piece very correctly points out that Jesus knew it was his Father’s will for him to die on the Cross and that he lived his life in complete submission to the Father’s will (thus also setting an example for us). As a result, there was never any conflict between his will and the Father’s, properly speaking.

What are we to make, then, of his prayer, “Not my will but yours be done”? The article makes a striking proposal:

[W]e argue below that it was not death on the cross that Christ was longing to avoid, but death in the Garden before the cross; and that Christ’s will was not different than the Father’s will, but in harmony with the Father’s will. We argue below that Christ, in danger of expiring in the Garden, cried out to the Father for the necessary power either to remain alive through his Garden experience, or, if he expired in the Garden, to be revived by the Father so that he would be alive for his coming crucifixion.

I have a different understanding of this passage, and Gretchen has very graciously invited me to do a follow-up piece for purposes of discussion.

The First Question

Luke writing gospel

The first question we need to address is whether Jesus was about to expire in the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the article,

Jesus was in danger of dying in the Garden. Luke says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Matthew and Mark affirm, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matt. 26:37-38, cf. Mark 14:33-34). [Theologian J. Oliver] Buswell notes that profuse perspiration is a medical sign of life-threatening shock, when the body is so traumatized that it cannot control basic life sustaining functions and instead “shuts down” preparatory to death.

What should we make of this argument?

“I Could Die”

The statement that he is sorrowful “to the point of death” is generally understood as hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point). This is a common mode of expression in the Bible and one that Jesus uses in the Gospels. We even have similar sayings in English where the possibility of death is raised without it being meant literally (e.g., “I’m so embarrassed I could die”).

The possibility (probability) of hyperbole is so significant in this case that Jesus’ statement about being sorrowful “to the point of death” can’t be relied upon as proof he was literally about to die in the garden.

The argument for the claim thus depends critically on Jesus’ sweat becoming like blood and this being an indication of imminent death.

Is the Text Original?

The statement that his sweat became like blood is found only in Luke 22:44. It is not in Matthew, Mark, or John. However, there are significant reasons to question whether this material was originally in the text of Luke. Most modern Bibles will carry a footnote on verses 43 and 44, like this one from the New American Bible:

These verses, though very ancient, were probably not part of the original text of Luke. They are absent from the oldest papyrus manuscripts of Luke and from manuscripts of wide geographical distribution.

It is risky to make a dramatic interpretive claim (Jesus was about to die in the garden barring divine intervention) concerning an event found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) when the key detail is found only in one Gospel and there is strong reason to think it was not in the original.

Is Bloody Sweat a Sign of Imminent Death?

If we assume that the statement was in the original, there is still a problem, because Buswell appears to have been mistaken about the nature of this phenomenon. While rare, bloody sweat is a known medical condition. Referred to as hematidrosis (Greek, “blood-sweat”), it is caused when the capillaries rupture into the sweat glands. Hematidrosis frequently is the result of anxiety, and it has been successfully treated with beta-blockers such as propranolol, which are used (among other things) to treat anxiety:  however, it does not appear that hematidrosis is “a medical sign of life-threatening shock, when the body is so traumatized that it cannot control basic life sustaining functions and instead ‘shuts down’ preparatory to death.” The condition is not on that order of magnitude. While often produced by anxiety, the condition is a dermatological one that involves the capillaries leaking into the sweat glands, not a sign of overall systemic shutdown.

I did a quick review of online medical literature and turned up many cases where hematidrosis was not a sign of impending death. (See, for example, here, where patients are noted to have had repeated instances of hematidrosis.)

Buswell, writing in the early 1960s, may have had less access to medical information about hematidrosis. In fact, the condition is rare enough that it had not been studied as much then as it has been now. As a result, it could be understandable for Buswell to draw inaccurate conclusions.

A Clearer Indication? An Explanation?

Jesus Suffering

It also strikes me that, if the Evangelists meant us to understand that Jesus was about to die on the spot, in contravention of God’s plan for him to die on the Cross, they would have signaled this to the readers in a clearer way.

They also likely would have provided some explanation for why this last-minute crisis was occurring. For example, was it a final attempt by Satan to foil God’s plan? If so, how do we explain the Gospels’ insistence that it was Satan who prompted Judas to betray Jesus? Furthermore, Jesus himself describes his arrest (not the agony in the garden) as “the hour of darkness” (Luke 22:53), suggesting that Satan was behind it.

But if it wasn’t the devil that tried to bring about Jesus’ death in the garden, what did? It wasn’t the Father’s plan for him to die there, and so it wouldn’t have been the Father. That would leave us with either an accident that seems to threaten God’s Providence or Jesus simply having a panic attack so severe that it threatened his life. Personally, I’d be inclined to resist either of those suggestions.

An Alternative Theory

As an alternative theory of the event, I propose that Jesus knew in advance that he would die on the Cross and that he was resolute toward this goal. However, it is emotionally one thing when death is remote and another when it is staring one in the face.

Thus Christ was able to deal serenely with the prospect of Lazarus’s death—and even remark on how it would bring glory to God—when he was still in Galilee (John 11:1-4), but he nevertheless wept when he was standing at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35-36).

This response is rooted in the death aversion that is part of human nature. Being in proximity to death causes averse feelings in humans (fear, sorrow, revulsion), and that’s a good thing. It is part of God’s plan, and it leads us to try to preserve life.

By virtue of his human nature, Jesus had death aversion also, and—as with the rest of us—it manifested with particular intensity when the hour of his death drew close: nevertheless, he was resolute to go through with the climax of his mission.

“Not My Will But Yours Be Done”

Jesus Obeys Father

Jesus’ statement “Not my will but yours be done” does not indicate an actual opposition of wills. Indeed, it indicates the opposite—that he is completely submissive to the Father’s will.

The paradoxical nature of this statement is to be understood along the lines of similar paradoxical statements that Jesus makes—e.g., “He who saves his life will lose it,” “The first will be last.” These statements rely on ambiguity of language for their solution (i.e., they rely on the fact that terms like “saving” and “losing” and “first” and “last” can be taken in different senses).

In this case, the term that is subject to ambiguity is “will.” This can indicate a determination, decision, or choice—or it can indicate a wish, preference, desire, or similar emotional rather than volitional state. One can even recognize that one’s wish is not going to be fulfilled, but still give voice to it as a way of expressing one’s feelings.

That ambiguity seems to be in play here. By making his statement, Jesus is expressing his fundamental submission to the Father’s will while giving voice to the fact that he is experiencing death aversion. His statement could be paraphrased, less paradoxically, as “Not what I might wish, but may what you determine be done.”

Emotions vs. Resolve

This does not imply that Jesus’ will is not united to the Father’s. Indeed, he indicates that it is united to the Father’s. Rather, it implies that Jesus is feeling something different than what he wills. What he wills is to do what the Father has determined, but he is experiencing the feelings of death aversion that are normal for human beings in the presence of their own imminent demise. His giving voice to those feelings allows him to achieve an emotional release—just as when he wept or when he cried out in anguish—but his will is still in submission to the Father’s.

This incident thus highlights the dynamics of Jesus’ experience as a man. We also find ourselves in situations, particularly when we are suffering or preparing to die, where we need to say what we’re feeling as part of dealing with our emotions—even though we are resolved in our wills to a particular course of action.

By way of conclusion, I’d like to thank Gretchen and Bob Passantino for defending the fact that Jesus was always resolved to do the Father’s will, and I’d like to thank Gretchen for her gracious invitation to do this post.