“Not my will but yours” – who is talking to who?

In Matthew 26, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane after he has shared the last supper with the disciples. There in the garden he goes to pray on his own and says these famous words. 

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”[1]

Like John 5, this is central to the question of how the Son and the Father relate to each other. You see, the assumption throughout church history has been that when we talk about “will” it belongs to the nature of the being concerned. So that when we talk about the one God in three persons, we talk about him having one will because there is one God, one divine nature. We don’t want to think of the persons having competing wills.  If the Trinity involves one nature and three persons, then Christ mirrors this. He is one person with two natures. If will belongs to nature, then this means that Christ has two wills, the divine will and the human will.

However, this is a little puzzling because if Christ has two wills, then does the result in us thinking that he is in some way a host to two entities each with their own potential agenda.  Christians want to be careful about going down that route because it starts to sound like Nestorianism, another ancient heresy, we end up dividing Christ up. Just as we don’t want a triune God with lots of competing wills, so we don’t want Christ with competing wills.

Furthermore, it is not just that The Son has two wills, human divine but also that the divine will is not his own but rather he shares in the one divine will along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is potentially problematic because, here in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is talking. This is a family conversation, the Son talks to the Father. It is not the human nature of Christ speaking to the one divine nature.  That would lead to a different conversation.

It is beginning to sound a little bit like we are describing some inner turmoil within Christ nd that the human bit is choosing to submit to the divine bit. However, Matthew is very clear, the Son is submitting his will to his father’s will.

So, when we talk about how the Son and the Father relate to each other, we need to pay very close attention to Matthew 26 and John 5.


[1] Matthew 26:39.

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