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

By March 26, 2015 Q&A

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.


  • J Nocero says:

    I find the Passion of Jesus Christ and the those who lived within it to be fascinating. In particular Christ facial bleeding during this time only reflects his understanding of what was going to occur in the coming days. The human body only exhibits this type of behavior during extreme turmoil, which would mean Christ understood the human suffering he was going to be exposed to.
    I do have one question regarding Judas Iscariot, I have such strong feelings that Judas’s betrayal was in fact known by Jesus prior to it occurring, in addition I feel Judas was tested with his free will. First Jesus acknowledges his betrayal during the last supper, then of course it happens, however free will is something that is offered to each of us, or is it…? If Jesus knew of his betrayal, then where did Judas’s free will to not betray Jesus go, or did Jesus knew prior to the event Judas would feel free to betray him?
    Your thoughts on this please…

  • Hambone says:

    J Nocero: To put it simply, God knows what Judas was going to do, and what YOU and I are going to do. But Judas didn’t know what he was going to do until he did it, and you and I don’t either. You have free will to make any choice you desire. But because God exists outside of time, He already knows the results.

    • J Nocero says:

      Thank you both for the reply, I do believe we have free will and Hambone touched on this well. Although Judas chosed to betray our Lord, God and Jesus knew the outcome, which of course was in the grand plan.
      I cannot imagine the pain Jesus must have felt knowing this, and accepted our fathers wishes. It is truly a faith in our father he exhibited, for we know the love he had in his entire being, knowing not only in his coming sufferng but the suffering Judas also clearly felt. It is to me the ultimate showing in faith and devotion to God our father.

  • Aries says:

    Am sorry I have to say this. Am troubled by most interpretations from most so called bible scholars. Be it catholic or the counterpart. This day all they do is give wrong meaning to the teaching of God even sometime referring to the scripture as mere stories or fable when it beat their imagination of science not in agreement with some bible happening. I have decide to read my bible and leave out this beguiling footnotes. In deed the letter kills…

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