Mark vs Luke on the Crucifixion

This week we are considering how Mark and Luke took the same basic story — the Crucifixion — and  described how Jesus reacted during the event in an entirely different manner.

Mark, the first Gospel written, portrays Jesus as being in deep agony as he goes to the cross. He beseeches God three times to get him out of this. He is mocked by both of the men hanging with him. Finally, at the end he says “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Luke likely had Mark’s manuscript on the kitchen table when he was writing his version. Luke readily admits early on to having consulted other documents in preparing his Gospel. But in contrast to Mark, Luke says nothing about Jesus being sorrowful or distraught. Jesus asks only once for God to get him out, and even that included the qualifier “if it be your will.” On the cross, he asks God to forgive his transgressors. And only one of the robbers mocks him on the cross, while the other asks for help. 

Why did Luke make all those changes? Interpreters can only speculate. Maybe he wanted to give an example to Christians how they should face death in the face of persecution. But the main point is that Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew all have a different emphasis on what they say about Jesus. It’s not that one is right and another is wrong. It’s just that the Gospels are not to be treated as first-person eyewitness accounts of what happened 2,000 years ago.  

Much of the information above was from the book by Bart Ehrman entitled Misquoting Jesus:  The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. The Chief Editor finished it this week. It was worth looking into, although not a page-turner. Here are just a few of the reasons that the version of the Bible we pick up today may (or more likely may not) be exactly what was written down initially:

  • Translation from Arabic (the spoken word in Jesus’ area and time) to Greek to Latin to English.
  • Manual copying by scribes of various skill levels for centuries before the invention of the printing press.
  • Edits made by scribes and church leaders to make the texts read the way ‘they should have been written’.

OK, six bullets this week. But it’s still short.

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