The one place in the Christian New Testament (NT) that gives the most inspiration for the Christmas holiday, which had its origins in pagan celebrations, is probably the statement attributed to Jesus in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” No divine origin need be ascribed to that statement for it to be valued as holding great truth. Of course, the “more blessed” part seems to imply some sort of divine or supernatural favor for the act of giving. However, blessing can come from other sources. First, I think giving directly brings greater self-esteem to givers. Second, we can naturally expect giving to increase social solidity, that is, concern for the others in the group and cooperation in future efforts for common goals. Of course, this also might include direct recompense from those who received the gifts.
So this makes me think about the relationship between statements attributed to Jesus from the NT Gospels and other statements attributed to Jesus in other NT documents. The quote from Acts 20:35 is, of course, an example of such a proverb. However, there is not necessarily anything special about the statements and stories in the Gospels: they are also themselves farther removed from the origin of Christianity than the Pauline epistles. And Acts 20:35 actually is from a book that purports to be the second part of the Gospel of Luke. But the same kind of thing is claimed for epistles by other Christian writers.
I haven’t looked into these quotes beyond what I read in two books about the historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. There is so much to study about the historical situation and development of Christianity that it can get overwhelming. I plan to get to a full study of it all eventually, along with studies of significant episodes of United States history, economic history, and related concepts. Anyway, two books that provide a start for studying the possible “layers” in the Christian record of Jesus of Nazareth are Gary R. Habermas’s The Historical Jesus and Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle. Habermas takes the Christian apologetic position and defends the Christian tradition from claims of legendary development; Doherty presents a rather sensational theory of how all the claims of a historical Jesus could all be fabrications. I don’t recommend either view, but the books are great resources to get familiar with the different early source materials.
Hello again. I have returned from my long absence, brought about by my time commitments for my university classes. I will be returning, with an even heavier workload, January 17. Until then, I will try to find some things to write about on this blog. I wish I had something to write specifically for Christmas. I can say that, even though I am not a Christian, I love Christmas… as much as I love any holiday. I find it hard to really appreciate holidays anymore, because the real value of holidays when I was younger was the family gatherings. Now, almost all my extended family lives too far away. But there’s something beautiful about Christmas. I love the idea of a special day to give gifts to others, although the idea has been abused—or maybe is an imperfect idea, naturally leading to distortion.
Although I’ve been busy with my school work, I have had time to read Esther, 2 Corinthians, Job, 1 and 2 Kings, and I am just getting to the last couple chapters of Joshua. Of course, regarding 1 Kings and Joshua, I decided to skip over some parts that were about temple construction particulars and territorial allotments, in each book respectively. I don’t know how much I could say about each book on this blog, though. Job didn’t make much sense to me, as it never has. Esther just gives a strong sense of fiction and non-historicity. Perhaps my favorite Bible story is in 1 Kings, and that is the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The books of Kings remind me just how brutal the “chosen people of God” were said to be. And if those books weren’t enough, with an occasional endorsement by God of what the kings or others did, the book of Joshua gives ample evidence of what kind of god the Hebrew scriptures present.
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.
The last two sayings of Jesus from the Crucifixion Story are from the same scene (Jn. 19:25-27). John records that Jesus commanded “the disciple whom He loved” to take care of Jesus’s mother and treat her as his own mother. All I have to comment on this is to bring up an interesting thing Frank Morison caused me to think about by his book Who Moved the Stone?
Morison points out that Mark 15:40 lists Salome as being present at Jesus’s crucifixion. In Mark 15:47, however, omits Salome from the other women she was with before, although she is back with them in Mark 16:1. Matthew 27:56 lists the same two other women as Mark does, and then identifies a third woman as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” This is probably meant to be the same woman as Salome.
So it’s interesting that “the disciple whom He loved” is often identified as John. That means that the mother of James and John was absent at the same time John 19:27 says “the disciple whom [Jesus] loved” took Jesus’s mother to John’s own house. Just to give my own evaluation of this, I think it’s a little interesting, but I think it doesn’t come nearly close enough even to being a likely connection. Mark (and Matthew and Luke) doesn’t even mention Jesus’s mother. That’s more noteworthy in my opinion. It’s not likely that the disciple John’s mother who have to be absent, just because one of her sons was taking Jesus’s mother to the son’s house.
Now I need to jump over to the other two Gospels, Matthew and Luke, but also compare them to Mark and John. Matthew (in 27:52, 53) is the only Gospel that includes a reference to the “arising” of “many saints” at Jesus’s death. What’s strange is that the passage in Matthew says that these saints “arose” at the time of Jesus’s death but didn’t come out of their tombs until after his resurrection!
Perhaps this was some bizarre apologetic on the part of the author of Matthew, to explain why empty tombs were plentiful in Jerusalem at that time. I don’t think that’s likely, however. I think that it’s this event is not believable for at least two reasons. One, none of the other Gospels mentions it. I mean, I don’t know how many is “many” in this passage, but surely this wouldn’t have been unknown to Christians. If these revived people had memories of the afterlife, they surely would have caused a stir.
Even if they didn’t remember the afterlife, or were not expected by Matthew even to have been conscious during that part of it, several of these people going around Jerusalem and saying that they had just come out of graves would have created an environment of less skepticism of Jesus’s disciples’ claims that he has been resurrected. Also, if they had recently died and were recognized by living friends or relatives, those people would add their testimony to the miracle. The connection between this event and Jesus’s resurrection would not be hard to make.
Theologically, these people could not have experienced a “full” resurrection, according to the author of Colossians (not necessarily Paul) and the author of Revelation. Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5 both say that Jesus himself was the first human to be resurrected. The writer of 1 Corinthian 15:20-23 (who is usually thought to be the real Paul) may be implying this as well, when he identifies Jesus and no one else as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Surely these writers were aware of “resurrections” in the traditional Hebrew scriptures, even if they were not familiar with the Gospel stories of resurrections for individuals besides Jesus. The difference in their minds between the two types of resurrections we can only guess at. I’m sure renewed mortal life, as opposed to eternal life, would be one difference. Sinless perfection and harmony with God may also be included. Luke (24:13-53) and John (20:19, implied) would probably agree that the people Jesus raised to life did not have the post-resurrection abilities they ascribe to him, and all of the Gospels.
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.”)
Before I go on to the fourth saying (although I’m not counting these in the chronological order that an attempt at harmonization would probably come up with), I want to say something more about the scene with the reed and sour wine. I will also include my comments about the different versions of Jesus’s last words (pre-resurrection, of course).
The first thing that needs to be considered about this scene is the narrative and textual relationship it has with John 19:28-30. John was probably using the story model of Mark, although John has few textual similarities with any Synoptic Gospel. If that is the case, John is aware of Mark 15:35-36. I don’t suppose John had any compunction, though, about creating a different event from similar details. However, there isn’t necessarily a contradiction between the two stories. They both could have happened; there’s just some tension between the two that I will note.
John gives me the idea that Jesus hadn’t yet been given a drink of the sour wine. The best way, I think, to harmonize this story with Mark’s is to make them almost the same event. After Jesus’s cry of “My God, my God,” he would say, “I thirst.” This scenario would just have to suppose that any inference that the cry had something to do with prompting the giving of sour wine is just a mistaken understanding. Then after Jesus receives the sour wine, he cries out again. The problem here is that John puts Jesus’s death immediately after the receiving of the sour wine, although it doesn’t mention a cry.
Instead, John has a different saying, “It is finished.” John gives no indication that this saying is a loud cry. This change is the most interesting departure John takes from Mark in this passage. It may be that the writer of John didn’t like the idea of Jesus crying out during the crucifixion.
However, if Mark’s story in 15:33-39 (which is mostly the same as Matthew 27:46-50) were first instead, the “loud cry” would have to be before the saying of “I thirst.” Would this have caused the soldiers (assuming the “they” in John are soldiers) to have given Jesus more sour wine, since he had just gotten some and his thirst was not quenched? Of course, I guess the time duration between these events could be a while, if they are to be split apart. A straightforward reading of them indicates immediacy, but that would not allow for the different last words both to be spoken.
This brings me to the other version of last words. Luke 23:46 has “a loud voice” of the words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” I think, though, that this “loud voice” can easily be reconciled with the loud cry of Mark and Matthew.
And now that I’m speaking of Matthew and Mark, I will say that I am intrigued by the difference in the “Wait, let us see” comments in those two Gospels. In Mark, that comment comes from the same person who is taking sour wine to Jesus. In Matthew, it comes from “the rest” (NASB/HCSB/NIV) or “the others” (ESV). The Matthew reading seems to be a little smoother, which adds to the evidence that it was the later version. Of course, we have to remember that Mark’s version of the false witnesses in the Trial Story seemed to be smoother.
Next I would like to compare the eight crucifixion sayings of Jesus and some things that are related to them. Mark and Matthew are the only two the record the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the only saying that those two Gospels record. What happens after Jesus says this is very similar to John 19:29, which is stated to be right before Jesus dies. I have trouble imagining Mark 15:36 coming before John 19:29, although they are both supposed to be near the death of Jesus.
It is harder to imagine that they were the same event, because, first, Mark and Matthew imply that the soldiers’ giving sour wine to Jesus was somehow related to the aforementioned cry, and more important, John gives the impression that the act was not at a time Jesus was crying out. (To keep track of the eight crucifixion sayings, John 19:28 has a second one, “I thirst.”)
A third saying comes from Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I have nothing to comment on this, besides to note the similarity to Acts 7:60. This reminds me of the disagreement about whether Acts comes from the same author as most of Luke or whether Acts was just intended (possibly by the original author) to read as a second volume of Luke. I’m not sure if the similarity between the two passages mentioned before from those two books argues more for that hypothesis or for the traditional understanding that they are, in fact, from the same author. Or since the similarity isn’t too strong, they could very well be completely independent, or the Acts passage could be an unconscious influence of the former.
While reading the text of the passage in Luke I was referring to, I was reminded that I need to note one more stunning Matthew-Luke addition to the Markan story. Mark does not say where the inscription of Jesus’s accusation was placed. Matthew and Luke, however, both say that his accusation was written “over him” (Lk. 23:38) or “over his head” (Mt. 27:37). Maybe this was the customary place to write it, but in that case why did Matthew and Luke perceive a need to record the location? Also, this should be considered along with my previous observation of Matthew’s and Luke’s additions of “This is.”
John, interestingly, does not give the exact location, but does say, “Pilate … wrote an inscription and put it on the cross.” On the other hand, the accusation’s usual location would be able to explain this addition, I think. I will have to save the other five sayings for later.