Is it true that Jesus didn’t know what would happen to him?

Full Question

I have a New American Bible that has an unsettling footnote to Matthew 16:21-23. Those verses state, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” The footnote says, “Neither this nor the two later Passion predictions (17:22-23; 20:27-29) can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he foresaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God (see 26:29).” Is this true?


It’s another illustration of the non-infallibility of the foototes in Catholic Bibles. (See the January 1994 “Dragnet” column for an instance in which we nailed another incorrect footnote.) While one might suggest that this prediction is a paraphrase of something Jesus said rather than an exact quotation from him, it must be regarded as the substance of one of his actual historical utterances.

This is underscored by the fact the Gospel writer gives a specific time when Jesus began to make this claim (“From that time on . . .”). It was not a bit of embellishment invented by a later writer and inserted to give a literary flourish. It was something Jesus actually said.

The only reason anyone ever challenges the idea that Jesus predicted his passion, death, and resurrection is out of an anti-supernatural bias. Jesus could not have predicted these things because, the reasoning goes, that would mean he knew the future, which is impossible. The idea that Jesus never predicted his own death and resurrection became popular over a century ago with liberal Protestant Bible scholars, and they infected many Catholic Bible scholars in turn.

This attempt to de-supernaturalize the consciousness of Christ was recently refuted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states,

[The] truly human knowledge of God’s Son expressed the divine life of his person. The human nature of God’s Son, not by itself but by its union with the Word, knew and showed forth in itself everything that pertains to God. . . . The Son in his human knowledge also showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts. By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. (CCC 473-474)

Thus Christ humanly knew the supernatural mission he had come to perform and what it would involve.

The Catechism also deals with the texts where Christ predicts his Passion and Resurrection:

“When the days were near for him to be taken up [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” [Luke 9:51]. By this decision he indicated that he was going up to Jerusalem prepared to die there. Three times he had announced his Passion and Resurrection; now, heading toward Jerusalem, Jesus says: “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” [Luke 13:33]. (CCC 557)

The footnote in your New American Bible is thus not only completely out of line with the historical teaching of the Catholic Church, but with the Church’s contemporary teaching as well.




  1. Tom Rafferty Reply

    How do you determine the authenticity of the New Testament? It was written decades after the supposed life of Jesus, and there is no contemporary evidence of him within the Roman Empire. Also, please tell us why the N.T. is more authentic that what Joseph Smith wrote about Mormonism or Mary Baker Eddy wrote about Christian Science. Thanks.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This all-knowingness thing is a problem. If Jesus knew he was not going to really die, then he didn’t really sacrifice his life, so why do we talk about his big sacrifice? It’s not hard to imagine Jesus turning off his pain receptors, given that he could turn water into wine (but not lead into gold in order to feed the poor), and walk on water, etc. Anyone with those skills could turn off the pain, and indeed this seems to be Luke’s Jesus – who unlike Mark and Matthew’s Jesus, does not suffer. (Some scholars claim the anguish scene at the Mount of Olives, was a later redaction, as it doesn’t really fit the rest of Luke’s theology). Luke does not have Jesus crying out asking why he has been abandoned by Yahweh. He chats up people on the way to the resurrection, chats up the people on the crosses next to him, and in the end, calmly commits his spirit to Yahweh and passes on quietly. Luke’s Jesus is not suffering; and he knows he’s coming back, so where’s the sacrifice?
    If by all-knowingness, we understand that Yahweh knows in advance whether we are going to heaven or Hell and he allows us to be born anyway, knowing this final outcome – then what greater evil could there be than that? How could anyone worship such an evil god? Fear, sure, but worship?

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