Which Jesus died on the Cross? (or the 7 things he might not have said)

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.

‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’

For the most part, Matthew’s depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion remains true to Mark’s account.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

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 .

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

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?).

‘It is finished.’

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.


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  1. #1 by Sherry on June 18, 2010 - 1:55 pm

    I think you are on the right track in realizing that you can’t build a composite picture of Christ by combing gospels. Each evangelist wrote with somewhat different information, and most importantly from a community who experienced the life and resurrection of Jesus differently. Thus, each evangelist, writing to convince his particular audience, tailored his “factual basket” to fit.

    My vision of Christ would be different in some ways than yours, and so it was with them. No doubt they fudged a good deal to make a point. But it was a point they believed in entirely I believe. Thus to them, it was not untruth.

    What can we take to be the real Jesus from all this? Wow, that is a tough one. I’m not sure we can get behind what they visioned. Other than the instances where all agree that is.

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on June 18, 2010 - 3:37 pm

    What can we take to be the real Jesus from all this? Wow, that is a tough one. I’m not sure we can get behind what they visioned. Other than the instances where all agree that is.

    Perhaps that just it. Let’s focus on those places where the majority of Christians agree on the nature of Christ. At least that’s a start. But I guess that would excuse me from the conversation – don’t buy some of the non-negotiables like the Trinity or Penal Substitution. And the majority of the church didn’t seem to be too close to the teachings of Jesus for the majority of its history.

  3. #3 by anon on June 19, 2010 - 12:09 am

    if the goodness/wisdom is in the teachings of Jesus Christ(pbuh) it would be sensible to focus on that….

    “don’t buy some of the non-negotiables like the Trinity or Penal Substitution”—-you are exploring an interesting direction……..

  4. #4 by Christian Beyer on June 19, 2010 - 9:02 am

    Oh, I’ve been off on that expedition for some time now. I find myself identifying more with Suffis and Buddhists than most “Christians” these days. Not that I would want to convert to Islam or Hinduism or anything like that – Jesus and his teachings (when I can be sure of what they were) are still the means by which I most easily “see” God. But the religious forms that got me there, like the Buddha’s rafts across the river of life – I’ve left them behind.

  5. #5 by anon on June 20, 2010 - 6:25 am

    If one already has a good foundation, it is easier to build on that, rather than start from scratch.
    Looking at other religions is like travelling—when we leave our own country to travel, it opens our mind and we are able to appreciate our own country with more awareness and depth, where before we may have been blind or taken things for granted.

  6. #6 by Christian on June 20, 2010 - 6:45 am

    Now,THAT is a wonderful analogy! You won’t mind if I purloin it, will you?

  7. #7 by anon on June 21, 2010 - 11:13 pm

    Thanks Chris—and no, I don’t mind at all

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