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Zack Grese 3/08/2011 Theo 1001 122 Midterm Essay

Differences in The Passion Stories of the Four Gospels


Anyone who is familiar with the Christian tradition is also familiar with the fact that the New Testament contains four Gospels, four accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. An unbiased observer might ask why there is a need for four separate, yet almost identical accounts of the same subject. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each serve a different purpose though, as indicated by whom they were written by, whom they were written to, and the subject matter that is included, or equally important, left out. The Gospel According to Mark is likely the earliest written of the four. It was probably first put onto paper soon after the martyrdom of Peter sometime between 62 and 64 A.D. (Bowie et al, The Interpreters Bible Vol. VII 630). Mark was a gentile, and was writing to a readership that was already Christian, most likely Roman. He was also possibly a follower of the apostle Paul, which supports the idea that he was writing to Roman gentiles (633). Marks main focus, and reason for writing to the Church in Rome, is to portray Jesus as the hero-martyr, and to give strength. His emphasis of Jesus heroic actions is prominent because, at the time, the Roman Christians were being killed off by Nero. It was highly probable that those who initially read this book would soon be expected to follow in Jesus footsteps (634). Since it is the earliest of the Gospels, its timeline is what those of the other three are generally compared to. Judas leads an armed mob to Jesus and his disciples while they are in the garden, and betrays him with a kiss. While Jesus is being bound, one of the disciples draws a sword and cuts off the ear of a slave of the high priest. Jesus is then led to the high priest, the lower priests, and the scribes. They bring false witnesses against him, but their stories all disagree. Finally, the high priest asks him if he is indeed the Son of God. He tells them he is, and they

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condemn him, spit on him, and beat him. Next we see Peter deny thrice that he knows Jesus, fulfilling an earlier prophecy. Jesus is then brought before the governor Pilate, ironic because it is not a political issue, but a religious one and therefore should have been settled by the Council. Pilate can find no wrong, and releases the violent nationalist Barabbas in exchange for Jesus. The crowd then demands that Jesus be crucified, so Pilate hands him over to the guards. Jesus is mocked and beaten by the soldiers. This is important to include because, Marks readers would see in it a prototype of what their martyrs had suffered recently under Nero (898). While Jesus is being marched out to his dying place, a foreigner, Simon of Cyrene is picked out of the crowd to carry the cross. This again harks to the martyrdom- taking up the cross of Jesus. Jesus is then crucified, and while he suffers he is mocked by guards, passersby, the priests, and both of the robbers next to him. It is dark from noon until 3 p.m. while he is on the cross, and near the end he shouts out My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Revised Standard Version, Mark 15.34). He is given a sponge with vinegar to drink, and gives a loud shout of victory- again the hero-martyr. The curtain in the temple is torn in two as he dies. Finally, Joseph of Arimathea requests the body from Pilate, and buries it in his own new tomb. While Mark was written for a Gentile audience, Matthew was written for a Jewish one and as such takes certain knowledge of the Old Testament for granted. Peter hails Jesus as the Messiah, a purely Jewish idea at the time, and the book also deals with rules more than Mark does. Rules were something any Jew would have been familiar with (232). It was most likely written around 70 A.D., by an unknown author. Early tradition attributes it to the apostle Matthew, but, A careful reading of Matthew, especially when it is compared with Mark, shows that the book cannot have been written by an eyewitness. (242). Either way, it was written by a Jew, for a Jewish audience,

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and the main influence that this has is that the book focuses on Jesus fulfilling Old Testament promises, whereas Matthew, being written to the Romans, would have left those references out. Mark, and Luke for that matter, very closely follow the basic timeline that Matthew laid down, with only a few minor differences included in order to more aptly serve their desired purposes. Because of these differences, we can assume that a separate source, Q, existed at the same time as Matthew, and this is where some of the slight changes would have come from (Bowie et al, The Interpreters Bible Vol. VIII 635). The first major difference that we see in Matthew comes at the end of chapter 26, verse 56. After the betrayal by Judas it states, But all this has taken place that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. A Jew reading this account would know the prophecy that was being referenced. The next variation comes after Jesus is brought before Pilate. Judas repents and tries to return the money he took for the betrayal. When he cannot return it, he buys a field and kills himself. This calls back to a prophesy in Zechariah (the passage in Matthew mistakenly says it is in Jeremiah), and would ring very strongly to a Jewish reader, because to Jews, suicide was the equivalence of murder (Bowie et al, The Interpreters Bible Vol. VII 591-592). The final departure from Mark occurs at the moment when Jesus dies. While Mark only mentions the tearing of the curtain, Matthew adds in an earthquake and the resurrection of fallen saints. This information likely came from source Q, or an eyewitness to the crucifixion. Luke was probably written a few years after Mark, and around the same time as Matthew. The desired audience was, as in Mark, a Gentile people. This is most strongly supported by the fact that key Jewish words and phrases such as abba and Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani have been removed and replaced with words that would be familiar to a Roman citizen (Bowie et al, The

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Interpreters Bible Vol. VIII 4). The author of the book was probably Luke the physician, a travel companion to Paul along with Mark. While there are many similarities between Luke and Mark, the tone is greatly different. Mark wrote to strengthen, Luke wrote to reassure. His main goal was to assure the Gentiles that Christianity was not simply a radical Jewish sect, but a religion for the entire world (5). Luke expands on the betrayal scene by adding that Jesus healed the slaves ear, chastising the one who cut it off (Luke 22:51). A few structural changes are then thrown in. The denial by Peter is the next account mentioned, and the mocking of Jesus happens prior to the trial by the Council. An episode unique to Lukes account is the sending of Jesus to Herod. Herod finds nothing wrong and sends him back to Pilate. This is to emphasize that it was not the Romans who killed Jesus, but the Jews (397). Likewise, Pilate makes every effort to keep Jesus from being killed, but the Jewish leaders insist. As Jesus is led to the cross, several Jewish women mourn him. He turns to them and says, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children, (Luke 23:28). These three variances from Matthews source, Mark, are designed to show the Gentiles that if the Jews can still be The People of God after killing his son, then the Romans can be as well. One final difference is the penitent criminal crucified next to Jesus. This is not found anywhere else, and there is no way to know if it is true, or simply an augmentation by Luke (411). The final gospel, John, has a completely different purpose than the three Synoptic Gospels. It is not a biographical book, but theological, rather (John 20:31). It was likely written by a leader of the Christian church between 85 and 90 A.D. (441), in what he thought was the best way to explain the life and ministry of Jesus to those both familiar and unfamiliar with the story. Most of the differences come from the fact that the author was probably not acquainted with the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, or Luke.

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There is an emphasis on the divine nature of Jesus, first seen in the days leading up to the crucifixion. In the other three Gospels, Passover is celebrated before Jesus is arrested. In John, however, he moment when the families would be killing the sacrificial lamb is the moment that Jesus dies (754). This is because it is not a biographical book concerned with chronology, but instead highlighting that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God. Another difference comes in the betrayal scene. When the soldiers attempt to arrest him, Jesus speaks to them and they fall backwards. The author probably felt that a miracle juxtaposed with the willing nature of his capture would further his purpose (757). When Pilate questions Jesus, several times he tries to get Jesus to speak so that he can release him. Instead, Jesus hints at his divinity. When Jesus is led to Golgotha, he bears his own cross, a symbol of his divine strength. There are several differences in the crucifixion scene as well. Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple, and when he dies, instead of a cry he says, It is finished (John 19:30). This signifies not defeat, but victory: he has completed his task given to him by God, something that only someone of divine nature could do. One final difference occurs after he dies. The soldiers pierce his side, and blood and water come out. This is to dispel rumors that were going around that Jesus may not have actually been dead (787). The separation of blood and water can occur when part of the heart ruptures, leaving no doubt that Jesus was in fact dead (The Physical Death of Jesus Christ). Due to the different purposes of the authors of the Gospels, they were required to highlight different aspects of the Passion story. Because of this, it is impossible for us, two thousand years later, to know exactly what transpired over the course of those few days in Jerusalem. However, there is one thing we know for absolute certain: Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of the world. This is the true message in these four books. The minor differences are only to make them

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more relatable to the lives and situations of their desired readers. As is the case with so many other matters in the Bible, it is not about the how aspect of a story, but rather the who, and more importantly the why.

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Works Cited

The Interpreter's Bible: Vol. VII. Ed. George A. Buttrick, Walter R. Bowie, Paul Scherer, John Knox, Samuel Terrien, and Nolan B. Harmon. Vol. VII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1952. Print.

The Interpreter's Bible: Vol. VIII. Ed. George A. Buttrick, Walter R. Bowie, Paul Scherer, John Knox, Samuel Terrien, and Nolan B. Harmon. Vol. VIII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1952. Print

"The Physical Death Of Jesus Christ, Study by The Mayo Clinic." FrugalSites.Net Web Hosting Services. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.frugalsites.net/jesus/death.htm>.

The Revised Standard Version Bible with Apocrypha. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. Print