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The Passion Story, Part 15 (Conclusion)

August 22, 2011

This post will have to conclude my series on the Passion Story. I will not be posting again until December or later. To keep me on track, I will list the things I still have to cover: the passages that recount the Temple’s curtain ripping and the Burial Story with Joseph of Arimathea. Yeah, that’s all.

The only thing I have to mention about the ripping of the curtain is the language of Mark, Matthew, and Luke that causes some to see a contradiction. Matthew 27:51 says “At that moment” (NIV), “Suddenly” (HCSB),”Then behold” (NKJV), or “And behold” (ESV and NASB) to describe the time the Temple’s curtain ripped in relation to Jesus’s death. Mark 15:38 refers to the same event with no time placement in the NIV, “Then” in the HCSB and the NKJV, and “And” in the ESV and the NASB.

Luke 23:44-46, however, gives no time placement for the curtain’s ripping but records the ripping before Jesus’s death in many translations. The ESV, however, say “Then” after the curtain’s ripping for its placement of Jesus’s death. This still wouldn’t necessarily be a contradiction, though, because the translation “Then” may not be appropriate in both cases, as the ESV’s translation of the two demonstrates, or in either case. More important, then does not necessarily denote sequence. That any “then” in Luke 24:46 merely refers to concurrent events is the accepted interpretation in Christian circles.

The most relevant part of the Burial Story as it relates to inerrancy is the possible contradiction between Matthew 27:60 and John19:42. The former passage says that the tomb was Joseph’s own tomb that he “had cut out of the rock” himself. The latter passage says that Joseph laid Jesus in a particular tomb because the time was late and the tomb was nearby.

I’ve always taken this to mean Jesus was going to be buried at the time, no matter what, and Joseph (and Nicodemus in John) just chose a convenient tomb—apparently Joseph bought it right on the spot. However, if the ”because” in Jn. 19:42 merely means that otherwise they would have just waited till later to bury Jesus, even though the tomb was already determined, this contradiction would disappear. Perhaps this even is the more likely explanation. Another possible problem with my previous understanding is that, if Joseph didn’t have time to buy the tomb, he wouldn’t have been able to bury Jesus anyway.

I can’t pass up the beginning of the Burial Story, however. I think it’s strange that only Mark includes the scene of Pilate asking a centurion to make sure Jesus is dead. Since John changes the story quite a bit and adds a different scene with soldiers verifying that Jesus is dead, I’m not surprised that book would omit this scene. However, it’s interesting that both Matthew and Luke do not have this scene, either. I can only wonder how this affects the Markan priority theory. It certainly wouldn’t predict a problem like this.

This brings me to the Matthew-Luke common differences from Mark. First, there is the added concept that this was a new, unused tomb. This concept is also in John. Matthew and John use the same term, “new tomb,” but this could easily be an independent non-textual agreement. It is passages like this that make me think more about another version of Mark that was used by Matthew, Luke, and John.

(Also interesting is that Mark says while recording the burial that the tomb was closed with a “stone.” John and Luke, however, refer to the stone only after the tomb is discovered empty. So the full list of the times John seems more similar to Matthew or Luke than to Mark include the Mary/Martha stories (Luke/John),the pacement of the stone references (Luke/John), and the scene of Jesus appearing to his disciples in a Jerusalem house after his resurrection (Luke/John). I mentioned the “new tomb” reference, but that might be a coincidence, as I said, or it might have come from a different version of Mark from what is in a standard New Testament. And Luke and John include even more similar language in the passage—“in which no one had yet been laid” [John] and “where no one had ever lain” [Luke].)

Of course, one of the most obvious textual differences between the New Testament’s Mark and the other three Gospels is the switch from referring to Jesus’s body as a “him” to referring to it as an “it.” And here’s another Matthew-John common difference from the others: Matthew says Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, and so does John. The other two do not. Whether they still imply that, however, is a matter of debate.

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