I’ve long looked at the four Gospels as being complimentary to each other. One evangelist filling in the gaps that were, for whatever reason. left by another. Recently, I took a closer look at the differences between the four passion narratives and it no longer appears that this is the case. Mark was the first Gospel to be written and the vast majority of scholars understand that Matthew and Luke both based their gospel largely on Mark’s. But it is clear that Luke significantly changed Mark’s account. It’s not like he just added to it, filling in the gaps, but he changed the story in such a way that, if they both didn’t use Jesus’ name, you might think that he and Mark are talking about two different men.
Mark’s Jesus is quiet and if anything, despairing. He does not respond to those who taunt him, not even those (2?) crucified along side him. Before he dies he forlornly cries out to God, asking why he has been forsaken.
For the most part, Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion remains true to Mark’s account.
Luke’s Jesus, on the other hand, is much more talkative and seems to be much more positive about and more in control of his circumstances. Jesus is taunted by only one of the two crucified and he assures the other one a place in paradise. He asks God to forgive his killers and does not cry out in despair as he does in Mark and Matthew. Instead he appears unafraid of death and offers his spirit to God .
And John’s Gospel does not mention any dialogue between Jesus and the thieves. His Jesus does not cry in despair or vocally assign his spirit to God (though it is implied) nor does he ask forgiveness of his tormentors. Instead he concentrates on the future well being of his mother and that of an unnamed disciple. Most importantly, his last words seem to underscore the cosmic significance of his death ( or do they?).
I’m not questioning the authenticity of any of these accounts. But what do we mean by authenticity? That the scriptures must be factual representations of actual events? If so, then how do we account for where they differ? Did Jesus say all of these things (as the famous ” 7 things that Jesus said on the Cross” quiz would suggest)? If so, then why are all of them not found together in at least one Gospel? If not, then why would one author (or later scribe) remove or add something to another’s earlier account? I don’t think there is any way we can read these four accounts and not see that this is precisely what happened. But what were their motives? What, if anything, do these observations mean to us? Is it a good thing or not that these changes in the text, though at times seemingly slight, may decidedly alter the way in which we perceive Christ, perhaps in ways that were never intended?
Does a devotion to biblical literalism, a zealous misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura, require that someone ignore the obvious? If we can force ourselves to deny the scripturally obvious in order to comply with ‘orthodoxy’ then perhaps we can also force ourselves to deny (or overlook) the essence of scriptural truth.
Perhaps it is too late for us to cut to the chase , too difficult to critically edit the various Jesus movies that are playing in each of our minds, where in each film Jesus is portrayed differently: the tough Christ, the loving Christ, the Christ who climbs on Rocks. Angry Jesus, sad Jesus, suffering Jesus, baby Jesus, the Jesus who loves little children. Warrior Christ, peaceful Christ, Buddha Christ, liberal Christ, Super Christ, American Christ. Vindicator Jesus, savior Jesus, Jesus the blood sacrifice. Max von Sydow, Jeffrey Hunter or Jim Caveziel? Jesus as man, as God or as the Son of God. Which Jesus died for you?
There is an old Evangelical tee-shirt that mimics the Coca Cola logo and reads: “Jesus-The Real Thing”. How certain can we be that our Jesus is “the real thing”? Or should we be so confident? Perhaps certainty is part of the problem.