Saturday 5 November 2011

Does it matter how Jesus prayed?

Chapter 30 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God is "Son of God" by Ben Witherington III. It seems mostly to be an argument for the idea that Jesus was God's son — because he was reported, in the Bible, to have said as much. The whole thing is so confused, however, that it's hard to draw any conclusions from it.

Witherington points out that Jesus prayed to God using the term "Abba", which is a term of endearment. This, he says, shows that Jesus thought of himself as the "son" of God as distinct from the prevalent usage where kings were also considered "sons" of God. But Witherington immediately undermines this proposition by stating that Jesus also taught his disciples to pray to God using the term "Abba". So this term does not, after all, denote a special exclusive relationship of the kind usually claimed for Jesus.

Added to which, the chapter doesn't address the issue of reliability that's inevitably triggered by a passage such as this:
There can be no doubt however, that Jesus did not view His relationship to God as simply identical to the relationship King David had with God. For one thing, it tells us a lot about Jesus that He prayed to God as Abba which is the Aramaic term of endearment which means dearest Father (see Mark 14:36, Abba is not slang, it does not mean "Daddy.")
We have no records of anything Jesus wrote. We cannot know how he prayed, only how he was reported to have prayed. Witherington's entire chapter is scuppered by his very first sentence:
One of the big mistakes in Christian apologetics is just focusing on what Jesus publicly claimed to be.
There's been much discussion over two millennia about Jesus' public statements — how accurately they were reported, whether his chroniclers' agenda influenced the slant of their reports, or even whether their memories were reliable given that they wrote nothing about Jesus for decades. What Witherington is talking about, however, are Jesus' private prayers. What chance have we of reliably knowing anything about those? And even if we did know, what difference would it make?