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The Passion Story, Part 8

July 29, 2011
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I’ll try to tackle a big chunk of the Crucifixion Story in this post. This first event, recorded in all the Gospels, is the accusation before Pontius Pilate. The pattern of the previous incidents of the Passion Story are still found here, with Luke diverging more from Mark and Matthew and John being even more different. However, there are still some interesting Matthew-Luke agreements that are not based on Mark (the edition we have, anyway).

The first thing I note here is that Luke adds an extra hearing before Herod, placed between two different scenes with Pilate. I must say, in my own opinion, this seems very unhistorical: Why does only one of the Gospel authors include this scene? Did not the others know about the event (in the case that it was actually historical)? Why didn’t the original Gospel, Mark, have it? (That Mark was the original may not be your opinion, of course, but in that case it’s likely that you’d choose Matthew for the original.) I would expect that the information for this scene could be more easily obtained than the accounts of other events. Instead, however, of just ignoring the Herod scene, the other Gospels, especially John, suggest that no trip to Herod interrupted the hearing(s) before Pilate.

In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Pilate just gives in to the Jewish leadership and the crowds they incite, for no apparent reason other than fear of mob violence. John, in a rare instance, has the slightly more likely version. I don’t know what to think about the absurd opening statement, though. To Pilate’s question about what Jesus was being accused of, the leadership just says that Pilate can believe Jesus is a criminal, because otherwise they wouldn’t want to punish him. Considering their need, according to John, for Pilate to give an order of execution against Jesus, it’s doubtful they would actually talk to Pilate like that.

I said it was only “slightly” more likely than the account in the other Gospels, because the reason Pilate eventually decides to execute Jesus is the same reason the leadership gives to Pilate in the first place, for which Pilate is shown questioning Jesus. When Pilate gets through with that, he experiences opposition from the Jewish leaders who do not agree that Jesus should be released. To get them to settle down, Pilate has Jesus flogged; then Pilate continues to “try” to get Jesus released. Undaunted by this attempted show of Jesus’s weakness; the Jewish leaders mention that Jesus called himself the son of God. However, Pilate still wants to release Jesus until the leaders remind him that Caesar doesn’t want anyone to claim to be a king, even though Pilate has already been told by Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and had accepted that answer. Even then, Pilate doesn’t give in to them until they say, “We have no king but Caesar.”

There is no crowd incitement and tumult in John. I can’t say that there’s anything in John that implies there wasn’t any crown incitement, but many times John specifically mentions the leaders instead of the Jews generally. Whether these references are intended to be understood when John only mentions “the Jews” in 18:38 and 19:14, I can’t say. These references hardly give the picture of yelling crowds, though. John’s discarding of the Synoptic narrative about Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus no doubt accounts for the disappearance of the crowds.

John identifies Barabbas as a robber, whereas Mark and Luke identify Barabbas as a revolutionary. Matthew only refers to Barabbas as “a notable prisoner.” Of course, someone could be both a robber and a revolutionary, but it’s doubtful that the revolutionary designation wouldn’t be used, if it was known. While John’s not knowing wouldn’t contradict inerrancy, not knowing would be unlikely if it were a historical fact, if the writer can correctly find out that Barabbas was a robber. That someone was a revolutionary would certainly be easier to find out and better known than if someone was a robber.

To fix this, the NIV translates John 18:40b as, “Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.” The HCSB agrees with this translation, using the word revolutionary, and the ESV says in a footnote that that would be an acceptable translation. However, the HCSB notes that the same word it translates as revolutionary is used in John 10:1, where the HCSB translates it as robber. This seems to me to be just an attempt to fix the disparity between John, Mark, and Luke.

I want to note here one final disagreement among Matthew, Mark, and John. Mark and John say that the Roman soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus during their mocking of him. Matthew, however, says the robe was scarlet. Mark and Matthew say that the soldiers took the robe off Jesus when they had finished their mocking, but John says Jesus was still wearing the purple robe when Pilate brought Jesus before the Jews one time, although it wasn’t the time Pilate gave in and condemned Jesus.

That reminds me that I didn’t make it clear before that the placing of the mocking scene is different among the Gospels. In Mark, John, and Matthew, the mocking scene is always right after the scourging scene. In Luke, there is no scourging scene and the only mocking (besides the mocking the night of his arrest, as recorded in all the Synoptics) is from Herod and his soldiers. Unlike John, Matthew and Mark place the scourging after Pilate had already condemned Jesus to crucifixion. I have never understood why Mark and Matthew have Pilate bother to flog Jesus after Jesus was already been condemned to execution.

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