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The Passion Story, Part 13

August 20, 2011
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So I have three more cross sayings of Jesus to go through, and I also want to get to the Burial Story. Besides them, I also have a few other, small things to note.

Related to Luke’s account of the conversation of Jesus with the “repentant” thief, I first have to consider whether the Roman Empire ever crucified criminals convicted of only theft. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a historical error on the part of Mark and Matthew, but I have not seen good evidence for this claim. John does not repeat the claim that these were robbers, although John does record this for Barabbas (Jn. 18:40). It’s possible, I suppose, that John didn’t want to repeat the claim that robbers were crucified and didn’t mean to imply Barabbas was going to be.

What’s interesting here is that John and Luke do not claim that the other criminals crucified with Jesus were thieves, and yet Mark does. This is thus a case where John agrees more with Luke than with Mark. However, this is a conceptual difference, at most, and is certainly not a textual one. I don’t think is decent evidence for any Lukan usage by John, although the “Mary and her sister Martha” stories are suspicious (Lk. 10:38-42 and Jn. 11-12).

I put the word repentant in quotation marks above, because, although that is a commonly applied adjective for this character, the criminal (never called a thief in Luke) is not necessarily repentant. Luke merely records that he acknowledges the propriety of his death sentence. (Since one of the criminals from Luke admits this, it is quite possible that Luke did not intend him to be just a thief. Most would admit that thieves do not deserve the death penalty. However, there are different degrees of theft, and maybe Mark and Matthew meant theft against the Roman government. Even this, though, might not prompt an acknowledgement of the death penalty’s appropriateness from the thief sentenced to that punishment.)

And unless the “thief” had a very sudden change of heart on his cross, he acts completely differently from what Mark and Matthew record. Those books say (Mt. 27:38-44 and Mk. 15:27-32) that both thieves mocked Jesus’s claims to be the king of Israel. (Well, here Mark says they were just “insulting” Jesus; it does not say they took issue with any of his claims. Matthew, however, says that the thieves “insulted” Jesus “with the same words” as the “scribes and elders.”)

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