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Synoptic Tradition

“…Spirit and Life”

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For the next few weeks, leading into the celebration of Pentecost, I will be presenting a series of daily notes based on Jesus’ statement in John 6:63:

“the utterances [i.e. words] that I speak to you are Spirit and Life

This involves two key words (and concepts) in the New Testament—pneu=ma (“Spirit”) and zwh= (“Life”). Because these have such an important place in the Johannine writings, those works (especially the Gospel and First Letter) will be my primary focus. However, I will be examining key passages in the remainder of the New Testament as well.

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define both of these Greek words.

pneu=ma

The fundamental meaning of pneu=ma (pneúma), derived from the verb pne/w (pnéœ), is that of blowing. This is usually understood either (1) of the wind (a natural phenomenon), or (2) of breath (a personal/physiological phenomenon). In ancient thought, of course, these were often combined, especially in the mythological/cosmological sense of wind as the breath of God. For human beings, the life-animating principle, divinely bestowed, was often identified with the breath. Thus pneu=ma came to be used in reference to this inward life-force—the “soul” or “spirit”. When speaking of God (or deity), the source of life given to human beings could likewise be understood as the “breath” or “spirit”—i.e. the life-giving Spirit of God.

zwh=

The noun zwh= (zœ¢¡) is somewhat easier to explain, being derived from za/w (záœ), a primary verb meaning “live”. Thus zwh= fundamentally means “life”—usually in the sense of natural, physical/biological life. Again, since God represents the source of life, zwh= could also be used to refer to the life possessed by God (or the Gods, in a polytheistic worldview). This divine life can be understood both in a qualitative and quantitative sense—both aspects are combined in the expression “eternal life”. Often, the divine life is contrasted with that of mortal beings, thus hinging on the idea of deathlessness (i.e. “without death”, a)qa/nato$). In ancient thought, the righteous or deserving among humans, either after death or following a final Judgment, could come to possess and share in the blessed life of (the) God(s).

The Synoptic Gospels

I begin this study with a survey of passages from the Synoptic Gospels, which include sayings of Jesus which are central to the early Gospel Tradition—thus reflecting one of the earliest (if not the earliest) layers of Christian thought. To someone who has not analyzed the evidence carefully, it may come as a surprise how rarely both words zwh= (“life”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) occur in the Synoptics, especially if we combine together the parallel passages. Admittedly the word pneu=ma itself is found relatively frequently, but often in the sense of a human “spirit” or of other “spirit”-beings (i.e. daimons, “demons”). Passages where the reference is clearly to the Spirit of God (or “Holy Spirit”) are far fewer. Let us survey these.

Pneu=ma in the core Synoptic Tradition

By this is meant the “Triple”-tradition, shared (generally) by all three Synoptics, and usually best represented by the Gospel of Mark. There are just six occurrences of pneu=ma (as “Spirit”) in Mark:

  • Three times in the context of the Baptism of Jesus:
    • The saying of John the Baptist:
      “I dunked [i.e. baptized] you in water, but he will dunk you in the holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8, par Matt 3:11 & Lk 3:16 [both add “and fire”])
    • The Baptism scene:
      “…stepping up out of the water he saw the heavens being split, and the Spirit as a dove stepping [i.e. coming] down unto him” (Mk 1:10; par Matt 3:16 [“Spirit of God”] and Lk 3:22 [“Holy Spirit”])
    • After the Baptism:
      “And straightway [i.e. immediately] the Spirit casts him out into the desolate (land)” (Mk 1:12; cp. Matt 4:1; Lk 4:1)
  • The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit”:
    “All (thing)s will be released [i.e. forgiven] for the sons of men, the sins and the insults, however they might give insult; but whoever should give insult unto the holy Spirit, he does not have release [i.e. forgiveness] into the Age…” (Mk 3:28-29; cp. Matt 12:31-32; Lk 12:10)
  • In Mark 12:36 (par Matt 22:43), Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s inspiration in the composition of Ps 110:1ff.
  • Mark 13:11 (par Matt 10:20; cp. Lk 12:12)—as part of the eschatological teaching given by Jesus to his disciples, he refers to the Holy Spirit:
    “…whatever shall be given to you in that hour, this you shall speak—for you are not the (one)s speaking, but (rather) the holy Spirit

It is only in the last of these (Mk 13:11), part of specific teaching by Jesus to his disciples, that something like the early Christian concept of the Holy Spirit appears to be in view. The sense of the “Holy Spirit” in the famous saying in Mk 3:28-29 is much more difficult to determine.

Pneu=ma in the “Q” material and the Gospel of Matthew

(References marked with an asterisk might be considered part of the so-called “Q” material, shared by Matthew and Luke [but not found in Mark])

  • In the Matthean Infancy narrative, the Holy Spirit is mentioned as the source of the supernatural (virginal) conception of Jesus—Matt 1:18, 20 (on the Lukan parallels, cf. below).
  • Matt 12:18—part of a citation of Isa 42:1-3, a (Messianic) prophecy applied to Jesus (“I will set my Spirit upon him…”)
  • *The saying of Jesus in Matt 12:28: “but if in [i.e. with/by] the Spirit of God I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God has (already) arrived upon you”. The parallel saying in Luke 11:20 reads “finger of God” instead of “Spirit of God”.
  • *The saying regarding the “sin against the Holy Spirit” in Matt 12:31-32 and Lk 12:10 differs in certain respects from the Markan parallel, and may be derived from the “Q” tradition.
  • Matt 28:20—The famous statement by Jesus, part of the closing “Great Commission” refers to the Holy Spirit in something like a Trinitarian sense. Here it seems to reflect (or at least anticipate) early Christian thought and understanding regarding the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus.
Pneu=ma in Luke

The Gospel of Luke contains noticeably more references to the Spirit, representing a key theme and motif that continues on in the book of Acts. This will be discussed in a separate note in this series. Here it is necessary to survey the key Gospel references unique to Luke:

  • In the Infancy Narrative, John the Baptist, Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Simeon are said to be “filled with the Spirit”, or that the Spirit is (or will be) upon them, that they are “in the Spirit”, etc.—Lk 1:15, 35, 41, 67; 2:25-27. This reflects both the traditional idea of Prophetic inspiration, as well as a foreshadowing of the role of the Spirit among Christians (e.g., in the book of Acts). In reference to the conception of Jesus (cf. Matt 1:18, 20), “the Holy Spirit” is parallel (and synonymous) with “the Power of the Highest” (Lk 1:35).
  • Luke has expanded the basic Synoptic tradition from Mark 1:12 (par Matt 4:1), describing in more precise terms, the relation between the Spirit and Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (before and after the Temptation scene):
    Lk 4:1: “And Yeshua, full of the holy Spirit, turned back from the Yarden, and was led in the Spirit in the desolate (land)”
    Lk 4:14: “And Yeshua turned back in the power of the Spirit into the Galîl…”
  • As part of this narrative recording the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (in Galilee), there is the citation of Isa 61:1 in Lk 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” This a fundamental passage regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah (“Anointed One”), both at the historical level, and in the Gospel of Luke.
  • This same aspect of Jesus’ relationship to the Spirit is reflected in the introduction to his saying in Lk 10:21:
    “In that hour he leapt (for joy) [in] the holy Spirit and said…”
  • The Lukan version of the saying in 11:13 (cp. Matt 12:34):
    “if you…have known (enough) to give good gifts to your offspring, how much more will the Father out of Heaven give the holy Spirit to the (one)s asking him?”
  • Mention should also be made of Lk 24:49, which, though the word pneu=ma is not used, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit. On “Power” as a kind of synonym for the Spirit, cf. Lk 1:35.

Thus, even without considering the evidence from the book of Acts, it is clear that there has been a degree of development in the Gospel Luke, giving greater emphasis to the (Holy) Spirit, both in relation to believers and to Jesus himself.

Zwh= (“Life”) in the Synoptic Gospels

It is somewhat surprising that the word zwh= occurs just 16 times in the Synoptic Gospels (compared with 36 in the Gospel of John). If we exclude the Synoptic parallels as such, the actual number of distinct occurrences is even smaller. Found in the sayings of Jesus, they involve certain idiomatic expressions, generally with an eschatological orientation:

Only twice (in Luke 12:15 and 16:25) is zwh= used in the normal sense of an ordinary human life (or life-time). In all the other occurrences cited above, it can more properly be understood as eternal life—that is, the divine life which the righteous will come to possess (or enter) at the end-time (following the Judgment). This is important, as it indicates the background to the term as it came to be used regularly by early Christians. If we accept the fundamental authenticity (and historicity) of the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics, we would have to recognize that the early Christian usage has been shaped and influenced in important ways by Jesus’ own teaching.

Supplemental Note on Luke 23:47

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Luke 23:47

In the most recent daily note, I discussed briefly the difference between the centurion’s declaration in Luke and that in the Synoptic tradition of Mark/Matthew. It is one of the most dramatic differences or discrepancies in the Synoptic Passion Narrative, and has resulted in a considerable amount of commentary, both from a critical and traditional-conservative viewpoint, much of which is foreign to the context of the Gospels.

To begin with, a simplistic harmonization to the effect that the centurion actually said both things, together or in sequence, would seem to be ruled out by the fact that the two versions of the declaration have virtually the same form:

  • a)lhqw=$ (Truly)
  • o&ntw$ (Really)
    • ou!to$ o( a&nqrwpo$ (this man)
    • o( a&nqrwpo$ ou!to$ (this man)
      • ui(o\$ qeou= ([the] Son of God)
      • di/kaio$ (just/righteous)
        • h@n (was)
        • h@n (was)

Critical commentators who hold that Luke made use of the Gospel of Mark would assume that the former has altered the Synoptic tradition at this point. On the other hand, if a change/development in the tradition took place, it is perhaps more likely that it was in the opposite direction—altering “righteous (one)” to the more exalted title “Son of God”, rather than the other way around. If one is determined to retain the historicity of both, conceivably the centurion could have said something like, “Surely this man was a righteous son [of God]”—however, this remains entirely a matter of speculation.

However one judges the historical-critical question, and whether or not Luke has altered the Synoptic tradition, we are left to consider what the Gospel writer intends to convey to us with this form of the centurion’s declaration. An important detail is preserved in the first half of the verse: “And seeing the (thing which) came to be, the chief-of-a-hundred [i.e. centurion] gave esteem/honor to God [e)do/cazen] saying…”. Thus the centurion is portrayed as a God-fearing Gentile who gives esteem [do/ca] to God—i.e. recognizes and worships the true God—much like the centurion in 7:2-5ff or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10. This is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely related to the early Gentile mission—cf. Lk 2:30-32; 3:6; Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; 11:18; 13:46-48; 15:7-11ff, etc. On the motif of giving honor/esteem (i.e. “glory”) to God, using the verb doca/zw, see Lk 2:20; 5:25-26; 13:13; 17:15; 18:43.

As far as the declaration itself in verse 47b, there are two other important aspects to consider in the use of the adjective di/kaio$ (“just, righteous”):

1. The Innocence of Jesus

In the LXX, di/kaio$ can be used to translate Hebrew yq!n` (“clean, without guilt”, etc), as in Gen 20:5; Prov 6:17; Joel 3:19; Jon 1:14. It seems to have this sense also in Matt 27:19 and Acts 16:39 D (cf. also 1 Pet 3:18). The innocence of Jesus is an important motif in the Passion Narrative, but is especially prominent in Luke’s version, running through the entirety of the Roman interrogation and crucifixion scenes of chapter 23—cf. especially vv. 4, 11, 14-15, 22, 41. In the dialogue between Jesus and the criminals on the cross, di/kaio$ referred to the just punishment given to the criminals, while the “good” thief declares that Jesus, on the other hand, has done “nothing out of place [i.e. nothing wrong]”. Jesus’ punishment then is not just, for he is innocent of any guilt, precisely as the centurion states in v. 47.

2. Jesus as the Just/Righteous One

The adjective di/kaio$, used as a substantive, occurs in the Lukan book of Acts as a title of Jesus—i.e., “the Just/Righteous One”, Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14. It is found similarly in the New Testament in 1 Jn 2:1, etc. The references in Acts reflect early Christian tradition, i.e. preaching and proclamation of the Gospel message by the first believers. It is natural that Luke would prepare his readers for it here at the end of the Gospel narrative. The early Christian use of the title may derive from Messianic passages in the Old Testament (Jer 23:5; Zech 9:9; also Isa 53:11) and later Jewish tradition (Ps Sol 17:32). We may also recall how in Luke’s version of the Crucifixion Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5; in verse 18 of the same Psalm, in a context evocative of the crucifixion scene, the sufferer is referred to as “the just/righteous one”.

Returning to the difference in the titles used by the centurion in the Markan and Lukan version of his confession—”Son of God” and “Righteous One”—it is worth considering the association of the righteous as “sons/children of God”. This derives from the Old Testament image of Israel as God’s “son”—more specifically, of the faithful ones in Israel as the sons/children of God. In Wisdom Literature, it was natural to extend this to the righteous ones generally. In the book of Wisdom, such an identification is made (cf. 2:13, 16, 18); moreover, in 3:1 there is a passage which would seem to apply well to the idea expressed by Jesus in his dying utterance (Lk 23:46): “the souls of the righteous is in the hand of God”.

Note of the Day – April 19 (Luke 23:26-49)

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Luke 23:26-49

While Luke’s account of the Death of Jesus follows the basic Synoptic tradition (cf. the previous daily note), there are significant differences, as well as signs of development in the tradition, which must be examined. To begin with, there is a substantial difference in the overall tone of the episode, in terms of Jesus’ Passion. In the earlier Gethsemane scene, we previously noted that, if one regards 22:43-44 as secondary to the original text (a view that is probably correct), then Luke has eliminated the sense of Jesus’ distress and anguish which is otherwise found in the Synoptic version of the Prayer scene (compare Lk 22:39-46 [om. 43-44] with Mark 14:32-42 par). In a similar fashion, Luke seems to have removed (or at least downplays) the suffering of Jesus in the crucifixion episode. Consider that there is no reference to Jesus’ being whipped/scourged (to be inferred only from v. 22). Jesus’ great cry to God (Mk 15:34f par, citing Psalm 22:1), with its sense of anguish and despair, is also omitted. Throughout the episode Jesus appears to be calm and in control, offering instruction, exhortation and comfort to others, even as he hangs from the cross (cf. below). Luke retains the loud cry of Jesus at the moment of death, but without the parallel to the first cry of anguish, it comes across as more of a forceful command or declaration, all the more considering the words which Luke records.

In terms of the structure of the narrative, the Gospel writer has expanded the core episode with additional material, and, as a result, it is comprised of three distinct parts:

  1. The Way to the Cross—vv. 26-31
  2. Jesus on the Cross—vv. 32-43, which can also be divided into three portions:
    a. The scene of the crucifixion (vv. 32-34)
    b. The mocking of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers (vv. 35-38)
    c. The dialogue of the two criminals with Jesus (vv. 39-43)
  3. The Death of Jesus—vv. 44-49

Each of these scenes has been modified in some way, compared with the Synoptic version in Mark/Matthew.

1. The Way to the Cross (Lk 23:26-31)

In the main Synoptic version, this is limited to the (historical) traditions surrounding Simon the Cyrenian who carries Jesus’ cross-piece to the place of execution (Mk 15:21), and the reference to the name of the location (“Golgotha, (the) Skull”, Mk 15:22). Luke includes both details, with little modification (vv. 26, 33), but adds a separate tradition involving the crowd of onlookers as Jesus proceeds on the way to the Cross (vv. 27-31). Among the crowd are specified certain women who were “cutting/beating [i.e. their breasts] and wailing”—apparently according to the manner of professional mourners. Their actions prompt a response by Jesus:

“Daughters of Yerushalaim, you must not weep upon [i.e. for] me—(all the) more upon yourselves you should weep, and upon your offspring” (v. 28)

Their apparent concern over his fate is directed away, back to their own situation as “daughters of Jerusalem”. This expression, derived from Old Testament tradition (2 Kings 19:21; Isa 4:4; 10:32; 37:22; 52:2; Lam 2:10, 13, 15; Mic 4:8; Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9, also Song of Songs 1:5; 2:7, etc), is a poetic figure for the city, the land (and its people) as a whole. In other words, the women represent the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judea. This is clear from the prophecy which follows in verses 29-30, echoing the eschatological suffering and distress announced by Jesus in Mark 13 par (esp. verses 14-20). For women and children, such suffering will be particularly acute; indeed, frequently the suffering of women and children (especially women in labor) is used to symbolize the experience of a people’s collective suffering. One of the most difficult aspects of New Testament interpretation is the question of whether the terrible events predicted by Jesus in Mark 13 (par Luke 21) should be understood in terms of the Jewish war (66-70 A.D.), distant future events, or both. Luke specifically sets Jesus’ prediction of suffering (corr. to Mk 13:14-20) in the context of the siege of Jerusalem (21:20ff). A similar siege description is part of Jesus’ prophecy-lament for Jerusalem in 19:41-44. If the Gospel of Luke is to be dated c. 70 A.D., as believed by many commentators, then it is likely that these 1st century events are foremost in the Gospel writer’s mind.

The precise meaning of the illustration in verse 31 is not entirely clear. Most likely the sense would be—if people do these things when conditions are not so bad (as they will be soon in the future), how will they act during the dry/severe time of tribulation that is to come?

2. Jesus on the Cross (Lk 23:32-43)

Several distinct Lukan features and details in this scene should be discussed.

The saying of Jesus in v. 34—Among the details of the crucifixion scene in Luke is a saying by Jesus, presumably just after he has been put upon the cross:

o( de )Ihsou=$ e&legen: pa/ter, a&fe$ au)toi=$, ou) gar oi&dasin ti/ poiou=sin.
“And Jesus said, ‘Father, release [i.e. forgive] them, for they know not what they are doing.'”

This verse is absent in a wide range of manuscripts and versions (Ë75, ac, B, D*, W, Q, 0124, 579, 1241, and some Syriac and Coptic translations), including the early Bodmer papyrus (Ë75). At the same time, it is found in the majority text, including both family 1 & 13 MSS, and the entire later Koine text tradition, along with key early manuscripts (a*, C, Dc, L, G, D, 0117) and many early translations. Thus the manuscript evidence is fairly evenly divided, perhaps with a slight edge to the shorter reading. Even if secondary, the verse may well represent an authentic saying by Jesus that was inserted in this location by early scribes; certainly it is accord with the teaching and example of Jesus expressed elsewhere in the Gospels. I disagree with scholars who claim that it is easier to explain the omission of this saying than its insertion. Orthodox scribes, on the whole, appear to have been reluctant to delete Christologically significant sayings or details, and were more likely to add or preserve them.

The context of the narrative indicates that this prayer by Jesus—whether original or secondary to the Gospel—refers to the Jewish leaders who were primarily responsible for arranging his death. On this motif of ignorance, cf. Acts 3:17; 13:27; 17:30). Note also the similar prayer by Stephen in Acts 7:60b.

The Mocking of Jesus (vv. 36-38)—In Mark 15:29-32, first the people passing by generally (vv. 29-30), and then the Chief Priests and Scribes specifically (vv. 31-32), mock Jesus, taunting him to “come down” from the cross if he is the miracle-working “Anointed One, King of Israel”. As I discussed in the previous note, this parallels the Sanhedrin interrogation scene closely (cf. Mk 14:57-61ff par). Luke would seem to have modified this considerably. First, while people do pass by, it is only the religious leaders (“the chief [ruler]s”) who mock Jesus this way (v. 35). Second, they are joined in the taunts by Roman soldiers (vv. 36-37), a detail unique to Luke’s account. Both modifications would appear to be intentional and with a distinct narrative (and theological) purpose. This is confirmed by the fact that there is a similar modification in the earlier Roman “trial” scene. In Mark/Matthew, a crowd of the (Jewish) people demands Jesus’ death, while in Luke, it is only the group of Jewish leaders presenting the case to Pilate who are involved. The entire Roman trial scene in Luke has been composed in relation to Psalm 2:1-2 (cf. Acts 4:25-28). The Jewish and Roman leaders—i.e. Herod and Pilate, the Chief Priests etc and Roman soldiers—are the ones arranging and carrying out Jesus’ death. While they represent the people, it is not the people (as a whole) who are directly responsible.

Luke thus has a different sort of parallelism in this scene, which comes out especially when we examine the taunts directed at Jesus by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, respectively:

  • Jewish leaders (v. 35):
    “He saved others—(so) let him save himself, if this (man) is the Anointed (One) of God, the (One) gathered out [i.e. Chosen One]!”
  • Roman soldiers (v. 37):
    “If you are the King of the Yehudeans {Jews}, save yourself!”

These two titles “Anointed One” (Messiah) and “King of the Jews” were combined together in Mk 15:31 par, as they also are in the charge against Jesus presented to Pilate in Luke 23:2. They reflect the Messianic figure-type of the coming (end-time) ruler from the line of David (cf. Parts 6-8 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). It is the latter title (“King of the Jews”), with its more obvious political implications, which features in the Trial and Crucifixion scenes, as emphasized in the inscription on the cross (v. 38 par).

The title “Chosen One” (e)klekto/$, lit. “[one] gathered out”) is a different sort of Messianic title, being drawn primarily from Isaiah 42:1ff. The substantive adjective, along with the related verb (e)kle/gomai), only rarely occurs in the New Testament as a title or description of Jesus. Most often it is used as a title for believers. However, there is an important occurrence of the title in Luke 9:35, uttered by the heavenly voice at the Transfiguration scene: “This is my Son, the One (I have) gathered out [i.e. my Chosen One]” (cp. Mark 9:7 par). The same substantive adjective form used here in v. 35 is also uttered by John the Baptist (in relation to the Baptism of Jesus) in Jn 1:34 v.l.

The Dialogue with the Two Criminals (vv. 39-43)—In the Synoptic tradition, both of the criminals being crucified on either side of Jesus join in the taunts (Mk 15:32b). In Luke’s version, however, only one of the criminals acts this way, his words being recorded in v. 39. The other criminal rebukes him, and offers a declaration (confession) of Jesus’ innocence: “…this man has performed [i.e. done] nothing out of place” (v. 41). The entire dialogue is unique to Luke’s version, and concludes with the famous and moving exchange between the “good thief” and Jesus:

  • “Yeshua, remember me when you should come into your kingdom” (v. 42)
  • “Amen, I say to you (that) today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43)

On the textual issue in verse 42, cf. the critical discussion in my earlier note.

This is a good example of the way that a simple historical tradition (Mk 15:27, 32b) is expanded and developed.

3. The Death of Jesus (Lk 23:44-49)

In this portion, Luke follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew more closely, but with a number of small (yet significant) differences:

  • Jesus’ “cry of dereliction” (citing Psalm 22:1) is omitted
  • The darkness over the land is described in terms of an eclipse(?) of the sun (v. 45a)
  • The splitting of the Temple curtain takes place prior to Jesus’ death (v. 45b)
  • The final cry of Jesus before death is accompanied by the words: “Father, into your hands I set along my spirit” (v. 46)
  • The climactic declaration by the centurion is entirely different (v. 47, cf. below)
  • The action of the onlookers in v. 48 parallels that of the women following Jesus in v. 27 (cf. above); note also the reference to women followers of Jesus in v. 49 (cp. 8:2-3).

On the omission of the Synoptic cry of distress, cf. the discussion above. Instead of the quotation from Psalm 22:1, there is a different Scriptural quotation by Jesus in the cry prior to his death—from Psalm 31:5. It is possible that v. 45a is a creative reworking, in some fashion, of the tradition in Mk 15:34 par; note the points of similarity:

  • Elwi…egkate/lipe/$ me
    elœiengkatelipes me
    “Eloi [My God]…(why have) you left me down (behind)?
  • tou\ h(li/ou e)klipo/nto$
    tou ¢liou eklipontos
    “at the sun’s being left out…”

If wordplay of this sort was intended, later scribes, unable to understand it, would have found the expression strange and been included modify it to something like “and the sun was darkened“, which we see in a number of manuscripts. It is possible that, in terms of the natural phenomenon involved, Luke is referring to the occurrence of a solar eclipse.

Luke’s location of the Temple curtain event is curious, setting it prior to Jesus’ death. He may simply wish to connect it directly with the darkness over the land; as I discussed in the previous note, both events are symbols of God’s Judgment upon the land (and its people). The reordering also has the effect of setting Jesus’ cry to the Father in a more climactic position.

Most difficult of all is the confession of the centurion, which has a form in Luke so very different from that of Mark/Matthew:

  • “Truly this man was (the) Son of God” (Mk)
  • “This man really was just/righteous [di/kaio$] (Lk)

The different in formula—and also emphasis—is striking indeed, so much so that is necessary to address the issue briefly in a separate note.

Note of the Day – April 18 (Mark 15:21-41; Matt 27:32-56)

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The Death of Jesus

The sixth and final episode of the Passion Narrative is the death (crucifixion) of Jesus. There is a core historical tradition which all four Gospels have inherited, including the following details:

  • The reference to the Aramaic name of the location of the crucifixion—gûlgalt¹° (Greek Golgoqa, Golgotha), “(Place of the) Skull”
  • Two others were crucified along with Jesus, one on either side
  • The inscription placed upon the cross, reading variously:
    “The King of the Jews” (Mk 15:26)
    “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
    “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt 27:37)
    “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19)
  • The soldiers casting lots and dividing Jesus’ clothes
  • Jesus given sour wine to drink while on the cross

Mark 15:21-41; Matthew 27:32-56

The Synoptic version of this episode, as represented by Mark’s account, is divided simply into two halves:

  • Narrative introduction—the man (Simon) standing nearby (v. 21)
    —He follows Jesus, carrying the cross (cf. Mk 8:34 par)
  • The Crucifixion and Mocking of Jesus (vv. 22-32)
  • The Suffering and Death of Jesus (vv. 33-39)
  • Conclusion—the women (Mary and the others) standing nearby (vv. 40-41)
    —They are followers of Jesus (cp. Lk 8:2-3)

The symmetry of this account is quite apparent, the two scenes being framed by narrative descriptions involving the theme of discipleship (following and suffering with Jesus). The historical notice regarding the passerby Simon (v. 21) has all the marks of authenticity, and yet would appear to be contradicted by Jn 19:17 where Jesus carries his own cross to the place of execution. Let us examine each of the principal scenes, considering the differences in Matthew’s version, which otherwise follows Mark closely (as it does throughout the Passion Narrative).

1. The Crucifixion and Mocking of Jesus (Mk 15:22-32 par)
Time: 3rd to 6th hour

If we look at the events and traditional details as they are presented, it is possible again to divide them into two parts:

  • Details surrounding the Crucifixion (vv. 22-25)
    The King of the Jews [inscription on the cross] (v. 26)
  • The Mocking of Jesus on the cross (vv. 27-32)

The main detail in vv. 22-25 is the description of people (i.e. soldiers) dividing Jesus’ garments and casting lots for them (v. 24). While not specified by Mark, this is doubtless included as an indication of the fulfillment of prophecy (Psalm 22:18), a point made specific in Jn 19:24. The central element of the scene is the reference to the inscription on the cross (v. 26); Mark states it as follows:

“And the writing of the cause (for death) written upon (the sign above) was
‘The King of the Jews'”

As noted above, each of the Gospels records this same tradition, but the exact wording of the inscription differs in each case. Matthew specifically mentions that the inscription was over Jesus’ head on the cross, which may be parallel with his emphatic version of the inscription—”This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (27:37). The official charge against Jesus, and the cause for his execution, involves the title (“King of the Jews”) featured in the earlier interrogation scene with Pilate (v. 2). It is a title more meaningful, in political terms, than the corresponding “Anointed One” (Messiah) used by the High Priest in the Sanhedrin scene (14:61), though in Jewish thought they both refer to the same fundamental Messianic idea (cf. Parts 68 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). This is confirmed in the mocking of Jesus which follows, paralleling the Sanhedrin interrogation scene:

  • Report of the Temple-saying—14:58 / 15:29f
  • “Are you the Anointed One…?—14:61
    “Let the Anointed One, the ‘King of Israel’ step down…”—15:32

The challenge in v. 32 is made by the Chief Priests and Scribes (i.e. members of the Council), just as the question to Jesus in 14:61 was made by the Chief (High) Priest.

2. The Suffering and Death of Jesus (Mk 15:33-39 par)
Time: 6th to 9th hour

Before proceeding to the main points in the second scene, it is worth considering the symmetry of this episode:

With this structure in mind, I will briefly examine each element of the scene.

a. The Darkness (v. 33)—”darkness came to be upon the whole land” (Matthew: “all the land”). This is an essential image of God’s judgment against the earth—against this particular land and its people. Cf. Exodus 10:21-23 and the motif common in the Prophets—Jer 33:19-21; Amos 8:9-10; Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:2, 10, 31, etc. Often the reference is to the eschatological “Day of YHWH”, a day of judgment/darkness, which can be expressed in terms of the day becoming like night (cf. Deut 28:29, etc). In the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter 15, this motif is more explicit in the description of the crucifixion scene—i.e. darkness held Judea at mid-day.

b. Jesus’ loud cry (vv. 34, 37)—The first loud cry (lit. “great voice”) by Jesus is accompanied by a quotation from Psalm 22:1 [2]. Here the historical tradition in the Gospel has preserved the Aramaic (or Aramaic-Hebrew mix) of Jesus’ quotation. It is given a reasonably literal translation in Greek: “My God, my God, unto what [i.e. for what purpose, why] have you left me down (behind) [i.e. forsaken me]?” Many attempts have been made to interpret Jesus’ words, often reading in theological and Christological aspects which are essentially foreign to the Gospel tradition here. The natural explanation is that Jesus, in his suffering, pain and distress, is identifying with the sentiment and feeling expressed by the Psalmist. Indeed, the entire Crucifixion scene alludes to Psalm 22—not only the cry echoing verse 1, but also the mocking taunts of the onlookers (vv. 7-8), the dividing of the garments (v. 18), and the overall crucifixion setting (v. 16).

The words of the cry, with the sentiment expressed, is similar to Jesus’ prayer in the earlier Gethsemane scene (Mk 14:34-36ff par). The second loud cry at the moment of his death echoes this first cry, as he breathes out his last breath. It is a simple and powerful evocation of a human being experiencing the moment of death in the midst of extreme pain and suffering. It is hard to imagine a more direct testimony to Jesus’ own identification with the human condition (cf. Hebrews 5:5-8ff).

c. The association with Elijah (vv. 35-36)—In the context of the narrative, the historical tradition involves wordplay between the underlying Aramaic °E~l¹hî (“My God”) and °E~lîy¹hû (“Elijah”). Critical scholars have found certain historical and linguistic difficulties with this, but there can be no doubt that the Gospel tradition draws upon it for the important Messianic association with Elijah that is reflected throughout the early tradition. It is related to the identity both of John the Baptist and Jesus. The principal Scriptural reference underlying the Messianic tradition is Malachi 4:5 [3:23], a passage which establishes the connection between Elijah and the coming Judgment. The mocking by the crowd, parallel to that in the prior scene (cf. above), could indicate that Jesus was recognized by some as a Messianic Prophet in the manner of Elijah. The figure of Elijah was especially associated with the working of miracles, including the raising of the dead, and the crowd’s taunt calls on Jesus to work a miracles and to “come down” from the cross. For more on Elijah, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

d. The Temple curtain (v. 37)—The rending of the Temple curtain (katape/tasma), like the darkness, symbolizes the Judgment by God—only from a religious standpoint, as it involves the sacred Place (the Temple) in Jerusalem. Probably this refers to the curtain at the entrance to the innermost shrine (“Holy of Holies”), cf. Hebrews 6:19; 9:3; 10:20. The motif of Judgment would seem to be confirmed by the structural parallel with the darkness (cf. the outline above)—darkness over the whole land, the curtain torn from top to bottom. The passive form of the verb (e)sxi/sqe, “was split”) should be understood as a divine passive, with God as the implied actor. For Old Testament and Jewish parallels, cf. the departure of YHWH’s glory from the Temple in Ezekiel 10, also the imagery e.g., in 2 Baruch 6:7; 8:2, and Testament of Levi 10:3. Possibly there is here an allusion to the act of tearing one’s clothes in mourning (2 Kings 2:12); such an act is associated with the destruction of the Temple in the Talmud (b. Mo’ed Qatan 25b).

The letter to the Hebrews allows for a different sort of interpretation to the motif. Through his sacrificial death, Jesus (as High Priest) gives believers access, in a symbolic/spiritual sense, into the innermost shrine of God, effectively ‘splitting’ or removing the curtain (Heb 6:19-20; 9:3ff; 10:19-20). This makes for a beautiful application of the tearing of the curtain in the Passion narrative, but there is no real indication that such was in the mind of the Gospel writers. A more likely allusion, in the context of the Gospel narrative, is to the splitting of the heavens (using the same verb sxi/zw) at the Baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:10 par), when the Spirit (of God) comes unto/into/upon Jesus at the Baptism. In a similar manner, the Temple curtain is split at the time of Jesus’ death, when his own spirit (i.e. life breath) goes out of him (15:37b).

e. The Centurion’s words (v. 39)—The declaration by the centurion (“Truly this man was [the] Son of God”) is the climactic moment of the entire Passion Narrative. It is parallel to the question by the High Priest (14:61 par), and must be understood here in the context of the Judgment on the land (cf. above). A certain kind of irony is contained in this verse—a Gentile Roman confesses what the Jewish religious leaders are unwilling (or unable) to accept. Indeed, the centurion’s confession stands in stark contrast to the mocking taunts of the Jewish people and leaders at the scene (vv. 29-32). Occasionally commentators have tried to determine, at the historical level, what such a confession might have meant for such a Gentile Roman—that is, in what sense he might have understood the expression “Son of God”. While this is interesting speculation, it is generally irrelevant to the purpose of his confession in the context of the Gospel narrative. For the writer and his readers, as well as for all Christians today, the declaration is understood as a confession of belief in Christ’s true identity as Messiah and Son of God.

For several of the references given above, and for a detailed critical analysis of this episode in the Passion Narrative, cf. R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1994), pp. 1031-1198.

Note of the Day – April 17 (Mark 15:1-20 par)

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The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before Pilate

Mark 15:1-20; Matthew 27:1-31; Luke 23:1-25

When we turn to the Roman “Trial” of Jesus—that is, his interrogation/examination before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate—we note immediately the parallelism between this episode and the earlier Sanhedrin scene. This comes out most clearly in the Synoptic version, as represented by Mark and Matthew. There is a basic similarity of structure/outline:

Even more precise is the structure of the interrogation scenes:

  • Testimony given against Jesus—14:56-59
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—14:60-61

    • Question: “Are you the Anointed One…?”—14:61b
      —Jesus’ answer: “You said (it)”—Matt 26:64a (cp. Mk 14:62a)
    • Question: “Are you the King of the Jews?”—15:2a
      —Jesus’ answer: “You say (that)”—15:2b
  • Testimony given against Jesus—15:3
    —Interrogator asks: “Do you answer nothing?” / Jesus is silent—15:4-5

There can be little doubt either of the close relationship between the titles “Anointed One” (i.e. Messiah) and “King of the Jews” in the questions asked by the High Priest and Pilate, respectively (they are connected in Lk 23:2). Both refer essentially to the same (Messianic) idea—of a ruler from the line of David who will appear (at the end-time) to deliver God’s people (the faithful of Israel) and bring Judgment on the nations. Any claim of kingship would have been viewed by the Roman government as a direct challenge to imperial authority in the provinces (of Judea, etc). The Gospel of John develops this theme of Jesus as “King of the Jews” considerably, as will be discussed in a separate note. It is also only in John’s account that the religious/theological charge emphasized in the earlier Sanhedrin scene is brought out again in this episode. These two aspects, the two halves of the Council’s question—Messiah/King and Son of God—define the structure of the Roman trial/interrogation in John’s version.

With regard to the Synoptic tradition in Mark/Matthew, the structure has been outlined above:

  • The Interrogation of Jesus by Pilate (“Are you the King of the Jews?”)—Mk 15:1-5
  • The Judgment, pronounced by the people/crowd—Mk 15:6-15
  • The Mocking/Mistreatment of Jesus (“Hail, King of the Jews!”)—Mk 15:16-20

There are here two important themes: (1) the motif of Jesus as “King of the Jews”, and (2) the emphasis on the crowd (i.e. the Jewish people) as the ones who pronounce judgment on Jesus. This latter theme is as clear in the Gospel (and early Christian) tradition as it is uncomfortable for most Christians today. There was a decided tendency by early (Gentile, non-Jewish) Christians to mitigate Pilate’s role in the death of Jesus, casting him as a sympathetic figure and placing the responsibility squarely on the Jewish leaders and people as a whole. The extent to which this is manifest in the Gospels is controversial and continues to be debated. Generally, however, the later Gospels (esp. Matthew, cf. below) seem to show evidence of this tendency in developing the tradition. Even in the (earlier) Gospel of Mark, the central role of the crowd in this episode is clear enough (15:8-15). It also helps to explain the prominent inclusion of the historical tradition regarding Barabbas. The Gospel writer goes out of his way to explain that Barabbas was a violent rebel who has committed murder (v. 7; Lk 23:19 [Matthew is less precise]). When given a choice between a murderer and Jesus, the people choose the murderer!

The sympathetic portrait of Pilate indicated by Mk 15:8-10ff is developed considerably in Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes two important additions:

  • The introduction of Pilate’s wife who refers to her auspicious dream (declaring Jesus’ innocence, 27:19), and
  • The vivid exchange between Pilate and the crowd in vv. 24-25; the crowd’s climactic declaration is ominous indeed:
    “(Let) his blood (be) upon us and upon our offspring!”
    No thoughtful Christian can read this today without, I think, feeling a bit uncomfortable about its inclusion in the Gospel.

Luke’s version (23:1-25) is more complex, with a number of important differences between the Synoptic account in Mark/Matthew:

  • The interrogation scene (vv. 1-5) includes more precise accusations about the danger Jesus poses to Roman authority and the peace of the region, involving both political (v. 2) and religious (v. 5) charges.
  • Luke is unique in including the tradition that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, to be judged (or examined) as one under Herod’s jurisdiction (vv. 6-12). In Luke’s version the mocking is done by Herod’s, not the Roman, soldiers (v. 11). Ironically, it is stated that this exchange resulted in friendship/reconciliation between Pilate and Herod (v. 12).
  • In the judgment scene (vv. 13-25), it is the group of Jewish leaders—representatives of the Council (v. 13)—and, apparently, not a crowd of the people as a whole, who demand Jesus’ death and the release of Barabbas. This emphasis, along with the inclusion of Herod (together with Pilate), is probably intended by the Gospel writer to bring Psalm 2:1-2 to mind, and is surely influenced by that Scripture (cf. Acts 4:25-28).

A significant point in the Synoptic versions is that the interaction between Jesus and Pilate is limited to the brief exchange in the interrogation scene (Mk 15:2-5 par), which, as noted above, was consciously shaped to match the Sanhedrin interrogation scene precisely. The situation is quite different in the Gospel of John, which records an extended dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, including some of the most memorable and striking verses in the entire Gospel. Because of this unique situation, I am devoting a separate note in this series to a discussion of John’s version of the Roman “Trial”.

Supplemental Note on the Sanhedrin “Trial”

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As was discussed in the recent daily note in this series, there are three different versions of the “Trial” (or examination/interrogation) of Jesus before the ruling authorities of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin). In each of these versions there is a distinct order and arrangement of traditional material:

In Mark/Matthew, there is a night session of the Council, assembled quickly, it would seem (Mk 14:53), soon after Jesus’ arrest on the evening beginning the Passover (Nisan 15). It is presented as a formal trial, with witnesses and announcement of sentence. The central scene has the High Priest (identified as Caiaphas by Matthew, 26:57) questioning Jesus directly (Mk 14:60-62). A second session (consultation) is mentioned in 15:1, after which Jesus is sent to the governor Pilate, where the Council would present their case (and the criminal charge) against Jesus.

In Luke, by contrast, there is only one session of the Council recorded, corresponding to the night session of Mk 14:53-65 par, but Luke has it set specifically in the morning (“as it came to be day”, 22:66). This fits with the Lukan order of events, which has the session take place after Peter’s denial.

The Gospel of John has nothing corresponding to the Synoptic episode, but instead records a separate interrogation of Jesus (by the Chief Priest Annas, described as the father-in-law of Caiaphas, 18:13). There is very little in common between this scene and the Synoptic account, except a general similarity of outline with Mark/Matthew—questioning, Jesus’ response, mistreatment (striking) of Jesus. Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene, indicating that they are taking place simultaneously.

For those concerned with harmonizing the Gospel accounts, it is relatively simple to blend Luke’s version together with that of John, but extremely difficult to reconcile either Luke or John with the order/arrangement in Mark/Matthew. Consider how the events in Luke and John might be put together:

  • NIGHT-TIME
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the house of the Chief Priest Annas where he is held in custody—Jn 18:12-14
    • Peter is waiting the Chief Priest’s (Annas, not Caiaphas) courtyard outside—Jn 18:15-16; Lk 22:54-55
    • Peter’s First denial, while he waits—Jn 18:17-18; Lk 22:56-57
    • Jesus is interrogated by Annas—Jn 18:19-21
    • While this is going on(?), Peter’s second and third denials take place outside—Jn 18:25-27; Lk 22:58-62
    • Mistreatment/abuse of Jesus by the “police” holding him in custody—Jn 18:22-23; Lk 22:63-65 (details differ between the two at this point)
    • Jesus is bound and sent to Caiaphas—Jn 18:24
  • MORNING
    • Jesus is question by the Council, led by the High Priest Caiaphas (to be inferred, cf. the Synoptic account)—Lk 22:66-70
    • [This may include witnesses/testimony as in the Synoptic account, cf. the wording in Lk 22:71]
    • Determination that Jesus is worthy of being sentenced to death—Lk 22:71
    • Jesus is bound and taken to the governor Pilate where the Council will present its case—Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28a

Insofar as it is possible to get back to the historical level of the tradition, in an objective sense, this would probably be a fair reconstruction. The problem lies in evaluating the Synoptic evidence of the Council session held at night (which Luke sets in the morning). Most critical scholars would hold that the Lukan order is almost certainly more accurate, and that, in many respects, John’s account, with its wealth of unique local detail (cf. Jn 18:10b, 12-13, 15b-16, 26, 28b, etc) may be closest to the original historical tradition. The reasons for preferring John’s chronology, in which all these events occur on the day before Passover (Nisan 14), rather than on Passover itself, have been discussed in an earlier note. At the same time, it is hard to explain the curious inclusion of the Synoptic Temple-saying report if it were not part of the historical tradition regarding an accusation/charge brought against Jesus by the Council. If Luke were aware of this tradition—which would be the case if he made use of the Gospel of Mark (cf. also Acts 6:14)—one can only guess as to why it was left out in his account. Perhaps the similarity of language and thought with portions of the speeches by Stephen (7:48-50) and Paul (17:24-25) in Acts prompted him to omit the “false” report of the saying (= a false saying by Jesus?) in Mk 14:58 par.

Note of the Day – April 16 (Mark 14:53-72 par)

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The Interrogation (“Trial”) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin

The “trial” of Jesus, which the Gospel Tradition preserves in two episodes—(1) an interrogation by the Sanhedrin and (2) and examination by the Roman governor (Pilate)—has been one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Passion narrative, primarily in terms of the historicity of the differing Gospel accounts. I will not be dealing extensively with all the historical-critical questions, but will address certain points related specifically to the Sanhedrin episode in a supplemental note.

There would seem to be three primary lines of tradition preserved:

  1. What we may call the core Synoptic tradition, represented by Mark and Matthew
  2. The Lukan version, which only partly follows the Synoptic, and
  3. The Johannine, which differs considerably in various ways

Even though many critical scholars feel that John preserves the most accurate historical detail and ordering of events, I will continue the method in this series of beginning with the Synoptic Tradition, represented primarily by the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:53-72; Matthew 26:57-75; Luke 22:54-71

The Markan outline of the episode is as follows:

  • Vv. 53-54—Introduction, establishing the two scenes:
    • (a) The assembly of the Chief Priests, Elders and Scribes—i.e. the Council (Sanhedrin), v. 53
    • (b) Peter waiting outside in the courtyard of the High Priest, v. 54
  • Vv. 55-65—Jesus before the Council (sune/drion), which may be divided into three parts:
    • The (false) witnesses against Jesus, with a report of the “Temple-saying” (vv. 55-59)
    • The question by the High Priest, with Jesus’ response (vv. 60-62)
    • The judgment against Jesus, with the subsequent mocking/mistreatment of him (vv. 63-65)
  • Vv. 66-72—Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus

I will be discussing the scene of Peter’s denial in more detail in an upcoming note (on the Peter traditions in the Passion and Resurrection narratives). It is important to emphasize two facts:

  • The essential outline of the three denials, and the basic setting/location, are common to all four Gospels, indicating an extremely well-established and fixed tradition. The three-fold denial can be assumed (on objective grounds) to derive from a reliable historical tradition, since a single denial surely would have been sufficient in terms of its place and value in the narrative.
  • The specific details with regard to how each denial took place—where and when it occurred, who was involved, etc—differ considerably between Mark/Matthew, Luke and John. Even between Mark and Matthew, otherwise so close at this point, there are key differences. This indicates that the precise details surrounding the denials were not nearly so well-established, and remained fluid in the way they were presented by each Gospel writer. For a convenient comparative chart showing the many differences in detail, see R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 29, 29A (1970), pp. 830-1.

Each Gospel writer understood the dramatic power of the denial scene, and felt free to explore and express this creatively. Consider the slight but significant difference between the introduction in Mk 14:54 and Matt 26:58—the description of Peter in the courtyard is very close, except for the final words which set the dramatic tension:

  • Mark creates a vivid visual picture:
    “…and he was…warming himself toward the light [i.e. in front of the fire]”
  • While Matthew has a more psychological orientation:
    “..and he sat… (waiting) to see the completion [i.e. how things would end]”

The rooster crow of the original tradition is also extremely evocative, indicating that Peter suddenly awakes to realize what he has done. The effect is emphasized by his sudden weeping (in remorse/regret); Matthew and Luke share a detail in common here, specifically stating that Peter went away (outside of the courtyard): “…and going outside he wept bitterly” (Matt 26:72; par Lk 22:62). The rooster crow, together with Peter’s reaction, is the climactic moment of the episode in Mark/Matthew.

Luke (22:54-71) treats the scene differently in the way he has ordered events, placing it first in the episode, ahead of the interrogation of Jesus. The effect of this is two-fold:

  • It makes Jesus’ response to the Council (vv. 66-71) the climactic moment of the episode, and
  • It joins Peter’s denial to betrayal of Jesus by Judas (vv. 47-53 + 54-62), just as the author does in the Last Supper scene. In the earlier episode this appears to have been done, in part, to emphasize the theme of true and false discipleship, by connecting the prediction of Judas’ betrayal (vv. 21-23) to the prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) with a short block of teaching (vv. 24-30) between.

In contrast to the accounts in Luke and John, Mark and Matthew portray the scene of Jesus before the Council in terms of a formal trial, with witnesses and the delivery of a sentence. This portrait informs the structure of the scene, with its three parts.

Part 1—The Witnesses against Jesus (Mk 14:55-59; Matt 26:59-62)

The Synoptic tradition here records that the Council desperately sought to find witnesses against Jesus (to support a sentence of death), but they could find no reliable testimony. The only charge brought against Jesus was a report of a saying regarding the Temple (the so-called “Temple saying”); interestingly, Matthew and Mark differ in the wording of this (as it was reported in the narrative):

“I will loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine made-with-hands, and through [i.e. after] three days I will build another (house) made-without-hands” (Mk 14:58)
“I am able to loose down [i.e. dissolve/destroy] the shrine of God, and through [i.e. after] three days to build (the house again)” (Matt 26:61)

Mark and Matthew both state that this report was made by false witnesses, presumably implying that the report was false (i.e. that Jesus never said any such thing). The closest we come in the Synoptics is Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction in Mark 13:2 par. However, the Gospel of John records a saying by Jesus rather similar to that which is reported by the “false” witnesses:

“Loose [i.e. dissolve/destroy] this shrine and in three days I will raise it (again)!” (Jn 2:19)

If we accept this as an authentic saying by Jesus, occurring at the time of the Temple “cleansing” scene (located close to the Passion narrative in the Synoptics), then the report of the “false” witnesses could certainly reflect the memory of such a saying. The Gospel of John, of course, specifically interprets the saying in 2:19 as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus himself (vv. 21-22)—an interpretation most appropriate in the context of the Passion narrative. For more on the Temple saying (and cleansing) traditions, cf. my earlier notes and article on the subject.

Part 2—The Question by the High Priest (Mk 14:60-62; Matt 26:62-64)

The initial question by the High Priest (identified in Matthew as Caiaphas) relates to the testimony of the “false” witnesses, and to this Jesus gives no answer (Mk 14:60-61a). The second question is central to the episode (and the entire Passion narrative), as well as serving as the climactic statement regarding the identity of Jesus within the Synoptic Tradition. In Mark, the exchange is:

  • High Priest: “Are you the Anointed One [o( xristo/$], the Son of the (One) spoken well of [i.e. Blessed One, God]?” (v. 61b)
  • Jesus: “I am—and you will see the Son of Man sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the Power and coming with the clouds of Heaven!” (v. 62)

For more on this saying, see my earlier notes and the article on the title “Son of Man” in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. The Son of Man saying here is an allusion both to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1—Scripture passages which were enormously influential in shaping early Christian thought regarding the nature and identity of Jesus. As I have argued elsewhere, in the Son of Man sayings with an eschatological orientation, Jesus appears to identify himself specifically with the heavenly figure called “Son of Man” (from Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, 7:13)—who will appear at the end-time to deliver God’s people and oversee the Judgment on humankind. Early Christian tradition associated it specifically with the image of the exalted Jesus seated at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56, etc).

Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying (26:64) is close to that in Mark, but the question by the High Priest shows signs of development—i.e., it has been shaped to echo the confession by Peter in 16:16:

  • Peter: “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God”
  • Caiaphas: “I require an oath out of you, according to the Living God, that you would say (to us) if you are the Anointed One, the Son of God!”

For more on the differences in this scene, cf. below.

Part 3—The Judgment and mistreatment of Jesus (Mk 14:63-65; Matt 26:65-68)

The reaction to Jesus’ response—in particular, the identification of himself as the heavenly/divine “Son of Man”—results in the charge of blasphemy, i.e. that he has insulted (vb. blasfeme/w) God by claiming divine status and attributes. This is the basis for their decision that he is one who holds on him [i.e. against him] the (grounds for) death (e&noxo$ qana/tou e)stin). The mistreatment of Jesus is parallel to the more expanded tradition of his being mocked by the Roman guards (Mk 15:16-20 par), and would certainly be seen as a fulfillment of the Passion prediction in Mk 10:32-34 par.

Luke 22:54-71 and John 18:12-27

As noted above, Luke has the scenes in reverse order from that of Mark/Matthew, resulting in three distinct parts:

  • Peter’s Denial (vv. 54-62)
  • Mistreatment of Jesus (vv. 63-65)
  • Jesus before the Council (vv. 66-71)

The question of whether Luke has the more correct historical order of events will be discussed in the supplemental note on the Trial episode. I mentioned the significance for the author of joining together the failure of the two disciples—Judas (the Betrayal, vv. 21-23, 47-53) and Peter (the Denial, vv. 31-34, 54-62)—to bring out the theme of true discipleship, found in vv. 25-30 and the double exhortation of the Lukan Prayer scene (vv. 40, 46). The unique detail of Jesus turning to look at Peter following the rooster crow (v. 61a) probably should be taken as parallel to the words of Jesus to Peter in vv. 31-32—a sign of care and concern. The connection also serves to enhance the dramatic moment when Peter realizes what he has done, and how it had been foreseen by Jesus (v. 61b).

The Lukan version of the Council scene, though clearly drawing upon the same basic tradition as Mark/Matthew, is presented in a very different form. Apart from the morning setting (v. 66a, cf. the supplemental note), Luke’s version has the following differences:

  • There is no reference to the witnesses or Temple-saying (cf. above), thus removing the sense that this is a formal trial.
  • Luke presents the Council as a whole questioning Jesus, rather than the High Priest specifically (vv. 66b, 70a [“they all said…”]). The Council plays a similar collective role in Luke’s version of the Roman trial scene (23:13ff, 18ff).
  • The question involving the titles “Anointed One” and “Son of God” is divided into two distinct questions, separated by the Son of Man saying by Jesus (vv. 67-70):
    • “If you are the Anointed One, say (it) to [i.e. tell] us” (v. 67)
    • Jesus: “…but from now on the Son of Man will be sitting out of the giving [i.e. right-hand] (side) of the power of God” (v. 69)
    • “Then you are the Son of God…?” (v. 70)

Historical considerations aside, this arrangement may be intended to make a theological (and Christological) point—namely, that Jesus is something more than the Anointed One (i.e. Messiah) as understood by the traditional figure-types of an expected end-time Prophet or Davidic ruler. The allusion to Psalm 110:1 reminds us of the interesting tradition, set in the general context of the Passion (the last days in Jerusalem), in which Jesus discusses the meaning and significance of this verse (Mk 12:35-37 par). For more on this, cf. my earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed” (esp. Part 8, and Part 12 on the title “Son of God”).

While the form of the Son of Man saying is relatively fixed between the Synoptic Gospels, that of Jesus’ initial answer to the question(s) by the Council differs markedly. In Mk 14:62, Jesus gives a clear affirmative answer: “I am”, while Matthew’s version (26:64) is much more ambiguous—”You said (it)”, and could be understood in the sense of “You said it, not me”. Because Luke records two separate questions, Jesus gives two answers:

  • To the question “If you are the Anointed One, tell us”:
    “If I say (it) to you, you will (certainly) not trust (it), and if I question you (about it), you (certainly) will not answer.” (vv. 67b-68)
  • To the question “Then are you the Son of God?”:
    You say that I am.” (v. 70b)

The second Lukan answer seems to combine both the Markan and Matthean forms—truly an interesting example of variation and development within the Gospel tradition.

John 18:12-27

John’s account of this episode differs again from the Synoptics (its relation to the Lukan order/arrangement of events will be discussed in the supplemental note). The two main points of difference are:

  • There is no scene of Jesus before the Council, as in the Synoptics; rather we find different interrogation scene in the house of the chief priest Annas (formerly the High Priest A.D. 6-15). The introductory notice (18:13) states that Annas was the father-in-law of the current Chief Priest Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36). Verse 19 is ambiguous, but the reference in v. 24 indicates that Annas is the “Chief Priest” interrogating Jesus (cf. also Luke 3:2).
  • Peter’s denial is intercut with the interrogation scene:
    • Scene 1—Jesus is arrested and let to Annas (vv. 12-14)
      —Peter’s First Denial (vv. 14-18)
    • Scene 2—Jesus is interrogated by Annas (vv. 19-24)
      —Peter’s Second and Third Denials (vv. 25-27)

Clearly John’s Gospel is drawing upon a separate line of tradition. The interrogation scene in vv. 19-24 is surprisingly undramatic, compared with the Synoptic version, but it fits the essential portrait of Jesus in the Johannine Passion narrative. As I discussed in the earlier note on Garden scene, the depiction of Jesus’ calm and commanding authority is set in contrast to Peter’s rash and violent act with the sword. The intercutting in verses 12-27, I believe, serves much the same purpose—to juxtapose Jesus’ calm and reasoned response to the interrogation (vv. 20-21) with Peter’s reaction to the ones interrogating him.

It is hard to tell how much development has gone into the tradition recorded in vv. 13-14, 19-24. We do find several Johannine themes present in Jesus’ response:

  • His presence in the world, speaking (the words of the Father)
  • His public teaching in the Synagogue and Temple, which reflects the great Discourses of chapters 6-8 and 10:22-39.
  • The emphasis on his followers (disciples) as those who bear witness to him

Overall, however, the development would seem to be slight, compared with the dialogue scenes between Jesus and Pilate in 18:33-38; 19:9-11 (to be discussed).

Supplemental Note: On Passover and the Passion Narrative

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On Passover and the Passion Narrative

One of the most certain traditions regarding the Passion Narrative is that the arrest and death of Jesus occurred around the time of the Passover festival. This is confirmed by multiple lines of tradition—in both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, as well as in subsequent Jewish tradition (e.g., the Talmudic baraitha in b. Sanhedrin 43a). However, there is a distinct difference between John and the Synoptics in the precise dating and relationship to the day of Passover (Nisan 15).

According to the Synoptic Tradition, the “Last Supper” shared by Jesus and his disciples was a Passover meal which took place on the evening (after sundown) which begins the day of Passover (Nisan 15). This is stated explicitly in Mark 14:1, 12, 14, 16 par. The dating makes clear that we are dealing with the day of 14/15 Nisan—prior to the feast after sundown, on the daytime eve (of the 14th), the Passover lambs would be sacrificed (Mk 14:12; Luke 22:7).

However, according to the Gospel of John, the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-17ff) occurred some time before the day of Passover proper. This is indicated specifically by:

  • The introduction to the Passion narrative and the Last Supper scene in 13:1:
    “And before the festival of Pesah [i.e. Passover]…”
  • Jn 18:28 and 19:14 make clear that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus both took place on the day of Passover eve (Nisan 14), before sundown and the start of Passover. On the 15th of Nisan Jesus was already dead (and buried).

This creates an obvious chronological discrepancy between John and the Synoptics. Commentators have tried to solve the issue in a number of ways, none of which are entirely satisfactory. Many critical scholars would simply admit that two different (variant) traditions regarding the precise dating, in relation to Passover, have been preserved. For those interested in determining the “correct” historical tradition, or in harmonizing the two lines of Gospel tradition, there are several possibilities which must be considered:

  1. Either John or the Synoptics record the “correct” dating, while the other has adapted and interpreted it, giving the association with Passover a special theological or Christological application.
  2. Both traditions, in their own way, are giving a specific interpretation (or application) to the original historical tradition which generally recorded Jesus’ death as occurring around the time of Passover.
  3. Each tradition is following a different way of dating Passover—i.e. is using a different calendar.

The last of these has been a favored way of solving the problem, especially for traditional-conservative commentators eager to harmonize John and the Synoptics. The idea is that two different calendars were in use in Palestine at the time of Jesus—for example, a 364-day solar calendar, along with a lunar (or lunar-solar) calendar. According to this theory, popularized by the work of A. Jaubert (accessible in English as The Date of the Last Supper [Alba House: 1965]), the Synoptics, along with Jesus and his disciples, are following the solar calendar, by which the Last Supper was celebrated, as a Passover meal, the evening beginning Nisan 15, while Jesus would have been crucified and buried on Nisan 17/18. John, by contrast, is following the official lunar-solar calendar, whereby the Last Supper occurred on Nisan 12. Evidence for use of an alternate (solar) calendar has been found in the Qumran writings (Dead Sea Scrolls)—e.g. 1QpHab 11:4ff and 11QPsa 27—as well as in other Jewish writings such as the book of Jubilees. Nevertheless, despite its attractiveness and convenience, this theory has fallen out of favor somewhat in recent decades, largely because commentators do not see any real evidence (apart from our desire to harmonize the accounts) that there are two different calendars used in the Gospels.

Options 1 and 2 above posit the alternative view that either John or the Synoptics (or both) have made the dating specific so as to bring out a particular theological/Christological connection with Passover:

  • In making the Last Supper unquestionably a Passover meal, the Synoptic tradition, which records Jesus’ words of institution (of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper), associates the impending sacrificial death of Jesus with the sacrificial offering(s) drawn from the Exodus narratives (Exod 24:8), by which the Covenant with God’s people was established. Jesus’ own body and blood (i.e. his death) will similarly establish a (new) Covenant with believers.
  • John identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb (19:31, cf. also 1:29, 36), which is why the Gospel writer dates the crucifixion to Nisan 14, when the lambs are prepared for slaughter (19:14). The mention of “hyssop” (19:29 MT) may also be an allusion to the ancient Passover tradition (Exod 12:22). Paul offers a similar identification of Jesus with the Paschal Lamb in 1 Cor 5:7 (and cf. also 1 Pet 1:19).

We should perhaps consider a fourth option, which, while it does not solve all of the chronological problems, may offer a simpler way of harmonizing the two lines of tradition. It is possible that Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover meal—or a meal with Passover characteristics—ahead of time, i.e. on Nisan 14, or even earlier. Several details in the Gospels could be cited in favor of this solution:

  • The dating of the Last Supper in John 13:1ff.
  • The Synoptic tradition which records that the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) did not wish to have Jesus arrested on the feast of Passover, indicating that they would have done this before sundown on Nisan 14/15 (cf. Mark 14:1-2 par).
  • It has always seemed somewhat implausible that the Sanhedrin would have met to interrogate Jesus on Passover. This removes the difficulty, preserving the (accurate) information in John 18:28, 39—i.e., that the trial and execution of Jesus took place prior to sundown Nisan 14/15.
  • The language and wording of Luke 22:15 could be taken to indicate that the meal is prior to Passover.

The main argument against this view is the specific dating indicated by Mark 14:1, 12. It would end up as a variation of option 1 above, implying that the Synoptic Gospels redated the historical tradition in order to make the Last Supper more clearly a celebration of Passover.

Supplemental Note on Judas Iscariot

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Special attention should be given to the traditions involving Judas Iscariot in the Passion Narrative. He features variously in the first three episodes, as has been discussed in the prior notes of this series. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is one of the most secure traditions in the entire Narrative, and its authenticity as a historical tradition is all but certain (on objective grounds). The reasons for this are:

  • It is preserved in multiple lines of tradition, evidenced at multiple points in the Synoptic and Johannine lines, as well as Acts 1:16-20.
  • Early Christians are unlikely to have invented the idea that Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers, nor would it have been readily accepted if it did not derive from a strong and reliable historical tradition.
  • Indeed, there are signs that early Christians (including the Gospel writers) were uncomfortable with the idea and felt the need to explain it (on this, cf. below).

To this we must note that Judas scarcely appears in the Gospels at all apart from his role as betrayer in the Passion Narrative. He is associated exclusively with the betrayal, and there are indications that the fact of his betrayal had a profound affect on early Christian tradition. Consider that in the calling of the Twelve (an early/authentic tradition, to be sure), with the associated list of names (Mk 3:13-19 par), specific information is provided for only two of the Twelve disciples—the first (Simon Peter) and the last (Judas). The reference “Yehudah Ish-Qiryah [i.e. Judas Iscariot], the (one) who gave (Jesus) over…” was a familiar formula among early Christians, some version of which is found in the Gospels practically whenever his name is mentioned.

The Passion Narrative

Within the Passion Narrative itself, Judas appears at several key points, each of which is associated with a distinct tradition. I cite the Gospel of Mark as the simplest version among the Synoptics:

  • Mark 14:10-11 (par Matt 26:14-16; Lk 22:3-6):
    “And Yehudah Ish-Qiryah {Judas Iscariot}, one of the Twelve, went (away) from (there) toward the chief sacred-officials [i.e. chief Priests], (so) that he might give him [i.e. Jesus] along to them. And hearing (this) they were delighted, and gave a message upon (it) to [i.e. announced they would] give him silver.”
    In Mark/Matthew, this passage functions as an excursus between the first and second episodes. In Luke, it follows the introduction and similarly precedes the Passover meal episode.
  • Mark 14:18-21 (par Matt 26:21-25; Lk 22:21-23; also Jn 13:21-30):
    The prediction of betrayal, and the identification of the betrayer by Jesus, which includes a declaration of woe (Son of Man saying). This is part of the Passover meal episode, discussed in earlier notes.
  • Mark 14:43-46 (par Matt 26:47-50; Lk 22:47-48; also Jn 18:2-5):
    Judas comes with a crowd to arrest Jesus; he approaches to kiss Jesus. This is part of the Gethsemane/Garden scene, discussed in the previous notes. Mention should also be made of the declaration by Jesus which climaxes the previous Prayer scene (Mk 14:41-42 par): “…the hour came [i.e. has come]! See, the Son Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)…See, the one giving me along has come near!”

The last two traditions are found in all four Gospels, though with certain differences, indicating various ways in which the traditions have been developed. Matthew generally follows Mark closely, but adds certain details, including more direct interaction between Jesus and Judas (26:25, 49-50).

Luke has a different order/arrangement of events in the Last Supper scene (22:17-23), so that the prediction of the betrayal comes after the meal (and the words of institution); otherwise, the author generally follows the Synoptic/Markan account. However, this reordering allows the prediction of the betrayal to lead into teaching by Jesus regarding the nature of true discipleship (vv. 24-30)—that is, in contrast to the “false” discipleship of Judas the betrayer. The nature of this betrayal is brought out by Luke in the “Gethsemane” scene, and the arrest of Jesus, which follows (vv. 39-53), in two ways:

  • As Judas comes near to kiss Jesus, Luke is unique in the record of Jesus’ address to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a (mark of) affection [i.e. kiss]?” (v. 48)
  • The concluding declaration—”this is your [pl.] hour and the authority of darkness!” (v. 53)—alludes back to verse 14, as well as v. 3, where it is stated that “(the) Satan came into Yehudah {Judas}…” In the Gospel of John, Judas is similarly associated with darkness and the Devil (cf. below).

Development of the Tradition in Luke and John

Within the Gospel Tradition, two explanations were given for the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest disciples: (1) Judas’ greed, and (2) the influence of Satan. Neither of these are found in the core Synoptic tradition represented by Mark’s Gospel, though there is perhaps an allusion to the first in Mark 14:10-11. Luke’s version at this point (22:3-6) may bring out the idea of Judas’ desire for payment, but only slightly (compared with Matthew’s version, cf. below). However, both Luke and John record specifically the diabolical nature of the betrayal, and the influence of Satan over Judas. In Luke, this is indicated by verses 3 and 53, mentioned above. The presentation in the Gospel of John requires a closer look.

John does not include a specific tradition of the calling of the Twelve such as we see in the Synoptics (Mk 3:13-19 par), but there is a similar sort of reference in 6:66-71, where Jesus declares:

“Did I not gather out [i.e. choose] you the Twelve—and (yet) out of you [i.e. among you] one is a devil!” (v. 70, cf. the author’s explanation in v. 71)

Judas appears again in chapters 12-13, especially the Last Supper episode of 13:1-30. Note the role of Judas here, in comparison with the Synoptic tradition:

  • V. 2: “And (with the) dining coming to be, the Devil [lit. one casting (evil) throughout] already had cast (it) into the heart that Yehuda Ish-Qirya (son) of Shim’on should give him along [i.e betray him]”—the Greek is somewhat ambiguous, but it should probably be understood that the Devil cast the idea/impulse into Judas‘ heart, i.e. that he should betray Jesus.
  • V. 10 (Jesus’ words to his disciples at the foot-washing): “…and you are clean—but not all of you!” (and the author’s explanation in v. 11, compare with 6:70-71, above)
  • V. 18 (a similar declaration by Jesus): “I do not say (this) about all of you—I know (the one)s whom I gathered out [i.e. chose]—but (so) that the Writing may be fulfilled…” (a citation of Psalm 41:9 follows).
  • Vv. 21-30—the expanded role of Judas in the scene of the betrayal prediction:
    • Jesus gives special information to the ‘Beloved disciple’ that he will identify the betrayer by giving him a piece of bread dipped in the dish (vv. 25-26a)
    • Jesus gives (shares) the piece of bread with Judas—described by the narrator (v. 26b)
    • At the moment that Judas eats the bread, it is stated that “then the Satan came into that one [i.e. Judas]” (v. 27, compare Lk 22:3)
    • The exchange between Jesus and Judas (vv. 27b-29), followed by Judas’ exit, i.e. his departure from the the room and the circle of Jesus’ (true) disciples (v. 30a)
    • After Judas’ leaves, we have the simple (symbolic) statement by the author: “And it was night” (v. 30b, cf. Lk 22:53)

In addition to the Satanic influence over Judas, the Gospel of John also indicates his greed, expressed through a distinct development of the Anointing tradition (Jn 12:1-8)—the person who objects to the ‘waste’ of expensive perfume (Mk 14:4; Matt 26:8-9) is identified as Judas (v. 4). Moreover, the author goes out of his way to explain that Judas, despite his noble-sounding objection, really did not care for the poor; rather, he simply wanted to preserve the money in the disciples’ common purse, since he was a thief and often would filch from it (according to the best sense of v. 6b). In 13:29 we find again the tradition that Judas held the common purse of money.

The Development of the Tradition in Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew has developed the Synoptic traditions regarding Judas in a distinct way, at two points:

  • Matt 26:14-16—Judas takes the initiative and asks the Priests “What are you willing to give me…?” (v. 15). Also a specific amount of money is indicated (30 silver-pieces). Both details emphasize the motif of Judas’ greed.
  • Matt 27:3-10—The reaction of Judas to Jesus’ arrest, etc, culminating in his suicide. This is a tradition completely unique to Matthew, and it partially undoes the negative portrait of Judas, by showing him to be repentant/remorseful over his actions. At the same time the suicide (hanging) depicts him as coming to a terrible and wicked end. The idea seems to be that his (apparent) repentance cannot completely undo the evil effects of his betrayal. Yet, the Gospel writer is not so much interested in Judas’ psychology, as in his actions as the fulfillment of Scripture (the difficult citation in vv. 9-10).

The tradition of Judas’ death in 27:5-8 is partially confirmed by Acts 1:18-19, though the specific details differ. The manner of Judas’ death in the latter passage, with its more grotesque description, seems to be in line with other early Christian treatments of Judas which tend to depict him in increasingly evil and ugly terms.

Note of the Day – April 13 (Mk 14:32-52 par)

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The Garden/Gethsemane Episode

The next (third) episode of the Passion Narrative is the scene in Gethsemane, so identified as the location in the Synoptic tradition (Mark/Matthew). In this episode, Jesus’ suffering (his Passion) truly begins, climaxing in his arrest. For the basic outline and treatment of the Synoptic tradition, we begin with the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 14:32-52

The outline of this episode is quite simple, being comprised of two scenes:

  1. The scene of Jesus in Prayer—vv. 32-41b
  2. The Arrest of Jesus—vv. 43-52

The declaration of Jesus in vv. 41b-42 is at the center of the episode, joining both scenes and effectively announcing the beginning of his Passion:

“…the hour came—see, the Son of Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)! Rise (up)! we should lead (ourselves) away—see, the (one) giving me along has come near!”

With the aorist form of h@lqen (“came”) Jesus may be telling his disciples “the hour came i.e. while you were sleeping” (cf. verses 37, 40-41a).

The arrest of Jesus itself can be divided into two portions:

  • The arrival of Judas and his kiss identifying Jesus (vv. 43-45)
  • The seizure (arrest) of Jesus (vv. 46-52), which contains two traditions:
    • A disciple strikes off with his sword the ear of the High Priest’s servant (v. 47)
    • The description of the young man who represents the fleeing disciples (vv. 51-52)

Neither Matthew nor Luke records the tradition in vv. 51-52, and it may be a local detail unique to Mark’s Gospel. However, it seems clear that both traditions, in different ways, are meant to reflect Jesus’ prophetic prediction in verse 27 (citing Zech 13:7). In between these two traditions, a saying (declaration) by Jesus is recorded (vv. 48-49):

“Did you come out as (you would) upon a (violent) robber, with swords and sticks, to take me (in) together? (Day) by day I was (facing) toward you in the sacred place [i.e. Temple] and you did not take (firm) hold of me (then), but (only now so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled!”

When we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we can see that, while the basic Synoptic (Markan) outline is followed, there are certain signs of development in the Tradition.

Matthew 26:36-56

The main differences in Matthew (compared with Mark) are:

  • The form and presentation of Jesus’ words during the Prayer scene (vv. 36-42, cf. below)
  • An expansion of the Judas tradition in vv. 49-50
  • The additional saying of Jesus in vv. 52-54
  • There is no reference to the disciple (young man) of Mk 14:51-52

The differences which appear to be unique to Matthew are in verses 49-50, 52-54:

The Judas tradition—This will be discussed further in a separate note on Judas, but Matthew has ‘expanded’ this scene with additional details not found in Mark:

  • The crowd with Judas is described as a throng/crowd of many [polu/$] people
  • The Chief Priests and Elders are identified as being “of the people” [tou= laou=]
  • Judas’ greeting to Jesus includes the salutation xai=re
  • Jesus’ words to Judas (v. 50a), which could be read either as (a) a statement or (b) a question:
    “(My) companion, (act) upon that which you are along (to do)”
    “(My) companion, upon what [i.e. for what purpose] are you along (here)?”

The Saying of Jesus—Following the violent act of Jesus’ disciple (who is not identified) with the sword (v. 51), Matthew records an extensive saying by Jesus which clearly reflects ethical teaching—not only for Jesus’ disciples, but for believers in general:

“Turn away your sword (back) into its place! for all the (one)s taking sword (in hand) in [i.e. by] (the) sword (they) will destroy (themselves). Or do you consider that I am not able to call my Father alongside and will he (not) stand more than twelve legions of Messengers alongside of me? (But) then how would the Writings be fulfilled (which declare) that it is necessary (for things) to come to be this (way)?”

Luke 22:39-53

In some ways, Luke’s account is simpler and shorter, and yet includes a considerable number of details not found in the other Synoptics. These include:

  • The prediction of Peter’s denial (vv. 31-34) is made part of the Last Supper scene, so the reference to their journey to the Mount of Olives (v. 39) becomes part of the Gethsemane/Garden episode (Luke does not mention the place name “Gethsemane”).
  • The Prayer scene is greatly abridged, especially if one omits the disputed verses 43-44 for which there is considerable uncertainty in the textual tradition (addressed in a supplemental note).
  • Luke, like Matthew, has developed the arrest scene, further expanding and emphasizing the role of Judas and eliminating any mention of the disciples’ flight.

Generally, the arrest scene in Luke is narrated in a simpler fashion, but there are a number of added details unique to Luke:

  • The kiss (lit. “[mark of] affection”) by Judas is not actually mentioned (only “he came near to give Yeshua the mark of affection”). Apparently before Judas kisses him, Jesus, in Luke’s version, says to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a mark of affection?” (v. 48)
  • Before the actual seizure of Jesus, some of the disciples ask him: “Lord, shall we strike (them) in [i.e. with] (the) sword?” (v. 49). This refers to one of the two swords mentioned earlier in v. 38—a violent and improper application of Jesus’ teaching, to be sure!
  • Luke records (a) Jesus’ response to his disciples, and (b) his act of healing the ear that was severed (v. 51), identified specifically as the man’s right ear. Jesus’ words of rebuke are difficult to interpret and translate precisely. It may be understood as a sharp rebuke (i.e. “No more of this!”), or in terms of an explanation as to why they must not act—”Let (things) be (even) until this [i.e. my arrest]!” The tenor of the tradition overall would favor the latter, but the specific teaching in vv. 24-27ff may indicate that Luke has something like the former in mind.
  • Jesus’ address to Judas and the crowd (vv. 52-53) follows the Synoptic tradition in Mark 14:48-49, except for the concluding statement, which is quite different:
    “but (it is so) that the Writings [i.e. Scriptures] might be fulfilled” (Mk 14:49)
    “but this is your hour and the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness!” (Lk 22:53)
    The word “hour” (w%ra) refers to the time of Jesus’ Passion and links back to the start of the Last Supper scene in Luke (v. 14). This time of darkness also reflects the opening of the Passion narrative, in which Luke records that Satan entered Judas (v. 3). For similar associations with the Devil and darkness, cf. John 13:2, 30b. The Gospel of John also uses the word “hour” in a similar way, to introduction the Passion narrative (13:1).

In the next daily note, I will examine the differences in the Prayer scene between the Synoptic versions, and also look briefly at the unique tradition presented in John’s Gospel.