Tag Archives: Bob Passantino

Not My Will, But Yours Be Done — Another View

© Copyright 2014 by Jimmy Akin

jesus-prays-garden-melton

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.

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The Golden Rule Apologetic


A classic article from the late Bob Passantino and Answers In Action

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© Copyright 2003 by Bob Passantino

Nearly everyone is familiar with the “Golden Rule” even if they don’t realize that it comes to us in its perfect form as a command of Jesus: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). [1] This command to deal fairly with others should govern everything we do as Christians, including how we defend our faith.

Taken within the context of Jesus’s other teachings, the Golden Rule is a minimalist argument, that is, the conduct commanded in the Golden Rule is the least one can do acting in imitation of the love of God. As a matter of fact, in many other places Jesus tells us that the superior commandment is not merely to be fair to others, to treat them as we would like to be treated, but even to excel in love toward others. He tells us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35) and to forgive someone repeatedly (Matt.18:21-22). Jesus Himself provided the best example of this Better-than-the-Golden-Rule: He sacrificed Himself willingly for us while we were still sinners, deserving nothing better than God’s condemnation:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

The maximalist argument we could call the “Platinum Rule,” exemplified in Paul’s command to the Christians in Philippi, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Whether minimalist or maximalist, the command to treat others fairly is a command Christians can’t ignore, even when we are practicing apologetics, which is defending the faith. Years ago I was disturbed by the attitudes and arguments some Christians were using as they defended the faith, arguing with non-believers, cultists, and those of other faiths. Far too often I saw Christians making fun of the beliefs of others, taking unfair advantage of them in discussions, even misrepresenting the truth or their opponents’ arguments if they thought they could get away with it. I began to encourage others to remember the Golden Rule when they were practicing apologetics. At first I called this the “Golden Rule of Apologetics” – the Golden Rule has a place in our apologetics. Although that is true and sufficient, I quickly began to see people respond to my encouragement by using the Golden Rule selectively in their apologetics – when it served their purpose and they thought they couldn’t get away with anything else.

Over the years I have modified my principle and now I call it the “Golden Rule Apologetic” – the only apologetic system worth pursuing is the apologetic system that is governed by the Golden Rule. There is good biblical and philosophical precedent for this principle.

The passage we chose to exemplify the ministry of Answers In Action is 2 Timothy 2:24-25:

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

Paul reminds Timothy to be kind and to gently instruct; in other words, to practice the Golden Rule with those who oppose the Gospel.

In 1 Peter 3:15b-16, which actually uses the word apologia (defense or reason), Peter says that one’s apologetics should be governed by gentleness and respect:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Paul uses the Golden Rule Apologetic with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:16-31). Rather than merely mocking them for their polytheistic beliefs, he treated them kindly and fairly, commending them for their religious respect and using their own poets’ statements as a starting point for declaring the truth of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

Paul condemns religious hypocrites in Romans 2 for not following the Golden Rule Apologetic. He argues,

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Rom. 2:1)

Paul contrasts this hypocrisy with God’s Golden Rule by which he continues to extend his grace and mercy to sinners even though they deserve condemnation:

Do you show contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Rom. 2:4).

In the Old Testament the principle I have applied to apologetics is applied to the every day activities of God’s people. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 gives this command:

Do not have two differing weights in your bag – one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house – one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.

Leviticus 19:35-37 parallels this teaching:

Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.

This is commonly referred to as the principle of “equal weights and measures.” Remember, to deal fairly and honestly is our minimal obligation under the Golden Rule. To deal generously and better than expected is our maximal obligation which transforms the Golden Rule into the Platinum Rule.

In philosophy a general rule called the “Principle of Charity” reflects the Golden Rule. In philosophy, one should give the most generous understanding and weight to what someone says. For example, if someone states his argument poorly, rather than merely pointing out the logical mistakes he has made, the Principle of Charity demands that his opponent correct the flaws in the argument (if they can be), and then respond to the best form of the argument rather than his opponent’s poor form of the argument. Another application of the Principle of Charity is to replace poor arguments with better arguments. If, for example, a Jehovah’s Witness gives two poor arguments against the deity of Christ, the Christian has the responsibility to give that Witness the best arguments against the deity of Christ – and then show that those arguments do not overturn the truthfulness of the deity of Christ. Those who fail to follow the Golden Rule in philosophy end up refuting “straw man” arguments that don’t properly represent the position we oppose in the first place.

An important part of the Golden Rule Apologetic is that you must not demand of your opponent what you are unwilling to provide. For example, if you are arguing with a Mormon that the Book of Mormon is full of contradictions, you must be willing not merely to cite those contradictions, but also to provide reasonable answers if the Mormon points to supposed contradictions in the Bible. If you launch ten quick arguments against your opponents’ view and then don’t give him time to respond, you cannot fairly complain if he does the same thing to you. On the other hand, if you bring up one argument at a time and spend the time necessary to be sure you both understand each other and where the evidence leads, you should feel free to ask your opponent to have the same patience and single mindedness with you.

You can even use the Golden Rule Apologetic to defend yourself. If your opponent makes fun of and misrepresents your view, you have every right to ask him if he would like you to act that way toward him. I am not saying that you should “pay him back” by mockery and misrepresentation (remember our Platinum goal), but that you bring out your Golden Rule principle to reason your opponent into a fair discussion.

If you apply the Golden Rule Apologetic every time you defend the Christian faith, you will find that those of opposing beliefs will listen more closely to what you say, respect your position even if they continue to deny it, give greater weight to your arguments, and be more willing to examine their own beliefs. You will not only give a good representation of Christianity, you will also be used by God to extend his mercy and patience to others, just as it was extended to you.

The next time you are tempted to perform sloppy apologetics, to mock someone with whom you disagree, or to dismiss opposing arguments without fair consideration, remember the Golden Rule and practice it until it becomes the Platinum Rule in your life.

[1] Other versions are in the Old Testament (see, for example, Leviticus 19:18) and in the writings of other religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism).

About Gretchen Passantino

Gretchen Passantino Coburn

Biography 2013

 Gretchen Passantino Coburn (neé Beisner) is the co-founder & director of one of the oldest & best-known Christian apologetics & research organizations in the world, Answers In Action (AIA). She has been in full-time Christian ministry for 40 years & is a well-respected & award-winning teacher, author, qualified expert, & speaker. She has been an adjunct teacher on the undergrad, grad, & seminary levels.

Passantino co-founded Christian Apologetics: Research & Information Service (CARIS) in 1974 with her late husband, the well-known apologist Bob Passantino. She worked for & was mentored by the late Dr. Walter Martin, founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI) beginning in 1974, serving as his Senior Research Consultant for 4 years, teaching assistant (1974-1982) co-author of The New Cults, & editor on nearly all his writing projects from 1974 until his death in 1989. As his TA she taught at Melodyland School of Theology & Simon Greenleaf School of Law. She taught as adjunct faculty at Biola University,  Concordia Univeristy (Irvine), and Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary.

Passantino holds a B.A. degree in Comparative Literature (German Literature minor) from the University of California (Irvine) (1974) & a M.Div. degree (Apologetics emphasis) from Faith Seminary (2002). At Biola (1988-1992) she taught in the English & Communications department, including Journalism; Speech, Debate, & Critical Thinking; Composition, Writing for Publication, & English. At Concordia (1992-1996) she taught in the English department, including Composition & Writing for Publication. She taught for the Biola University Writers Institute (1988-1992) & was its sole director (1991-1992). At Faith Seminary she has taught in Bible, Theology, Apologetics, Church History, & Hermeneutics.

Passantino  has authored or co-authored more than 20 books, including the award-winning Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon, The New Cults, Answers to the Cultist at Your Door, Witch Hunt, When the Devil Dares Your Kids, & Satanism. She has authored hundreds of articles for many major publications, including Christianity Today, Charisma, Moody, World, Christian Retailing, Focus on the Family, Christian Parenting Today, Discipleship Journal, Journal of Psychology & Theology, Christian Research Journal, Cornerstone, Answers In Action Journal, & Christian Times. She was the news editor of Christian Research Journal, editor of Cornerstone, and director of AIA Journal. She has received multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, Christian Booksellers Association, and the Free Press Association.

Passantino  has spoken nationwide at hundreds of churches, organizations, conventions, seminars, & schools. She is a frequent expert for radio & television news. She has been interviewed on Oprah!, Bill O’Reilly’s The Factor, Sean Hannity Live!, & all of the national prime time news programs as well as numerous local news affiliates on both radio & television.

Passantino  is a recognized research expert on Satanism, world religions, new religious movements, aberrant faith issues, & reasons for faith. She has always been involved in medical & social ethics issues, but has a new commitment to apologetics in life issues (see below). The award-wining AIA web site (www.answers.org), directed by Passantino Coburn, is recognized world-wide for its sound research in these areas.

Passantino  is married to Patrick Coburn. Between them they share 5 grown children & 8 grandchildren. In December 2012 her husband suffered sudden cardiac death from an arterial blood clot but was resuscitated with associated brain injury. He is well along in recovery, expected to make a full & complete recovery, something only a small fraction of such patients experience. Passantino has a new apologetics focus on life & death issues, euthanasia, “living wills,” brain function & mental function, & other issues she & Pat are experiencing in this journey of faith. Together Pat & Gretchen actively support life & death crisis issues & military & veterans affairs. Pat is a 2 time combat Vietnam USMC veteran & member of the American Legion Honor Guard (Newport Beach Post #291).

Gretchen Passantino Coburn. Answers In Action. Gretchen.Passantino@answersinaction.org