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The Passion Story, Part 7

July 25, 2011
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I must admit a rather big mistake I made in my last post. I said, “Perhaps, instead, there was only one trial, and it was in the morning. The other Gospels do not explicitly say that their versions of the trial were at night.” I should have remembered (and at least remembered to look it up!) that Matthew and Mark both say that the Jewish leadership met again in the morning before the crucifixion and at that time “made their plans.” So there are two events in Matthew and Mark, and those two Gospels place Jesus’s confession of being the son of God in the first one. I am curious if these accounts can be reconciled with Luke’s.

Since I’m posting now, I also need right now to address two more aspects of the Council Story that I forget yesterday. The first is another agreement of Matthew and Luke against Mark. I wouldn’t say that this one is quite as notable as the last three, however. It involves Jesus’s answer to the question about whether he is the Messiah and the son of God (the term “Blessed One” is used in place of God in Mark, and the questions are split into two in Luke). Mark has Jesus say, “I am,” whereas Jesus says, “You have said so,” in Matthew and, “You say that I am,” in Luke.

I admit the latter two are not identical wordings, but they’re more similar to each other than to Mark. This could be for several reasons, though. Of course, a common, non-Markan source is the first response, but if you think, as I do, that that is unlikely, you’ll look for another explanation. Matthew and Luke could both be borrowing the “You have said so” of Jesus’s response to Pontius Pilate in Mark 15:2. I think I read somewhere that that was the more polite or respectful way to answer a judge’s questions back then. If so, Matthew and Luke may have thought–maybe even without Mark 15:2–that they need to “clean up” Jesus’s response to the high priest.

While I’m here, I need to note another interesting Matthew-Luke agreement. As I said, Mark has the high priest say, “Son of the Blessed One.” Matthew and Luke both have him say, “Son of            God.” It’s also interesting that Matthew doesn’t “keep” the Markan wording, because his changing of Mark’s “kingdom of God” into “kingdom of heaven” suggests Matthew prefers to refer to God in a “reverential” tone. Otherwise, it isn’t very surprising to me that two writers, to be more direct, would change “Blessed One” to its obvious reference.

So this brings me to another possibility for why Matthew and Luke sometimes agree together against Mark (which is probably more often in the Passion Story, although I’m not sure about that): they may both be using an altered copy of Mark. That would explain why they agree together on some small things, but not on anything that alters the storyline. However, if John didn’t also use Matthew or Luke, John would have likely gone with whatever Mark said about the Denial Story with Peter. Since John didn’t, we have to wonder why no copy of this altered Mark was preserved, if three Gospels used it for their source.

The second aspect of the Council Story I want to review is Matthew and Mark’s account of the false witnesses that said something about a claim by Jesus concerning the Temple. Mark seems to be the more coherent version of this account, because in that Gospel the false witnesses claim Jesus said that he himself would destroy the Temple. In Matthew, Jesus is only accused of saying that he was able to destroy the Temple. It’s not clear to me why Matthew would have considered these claims an accusation. However, the more coherent account is certainly not necessarily the original. How would Matthew have managed to bungle Mark’s version so badly? And why wouldn’t Mark want to “clean up” Matthew’s error?

Anyway, the reference to “three days” is interesting. It’s no surprise that John makes it a reference to Jesus’s death and resurrection in an actual statement by him (2:19-22). However, if the original writer, Matthew or Mark, was thinking of it that way, or if it’s just a coincidence, I’m not sure. Of course, someone more “orthodox” could also say that the original was just going by the facts, as it got them.

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