The Death Narratives
To Christians today the death of Jesus unequivocally proves Jesus is God and the messiah. There are many proponents who like to use the gospels accounts of Jesus’ death to prove that he was and is the messiah promised in the Old Testament. One of the biggest and loudest proponents is none other than Dick Rueben. I remember not too long ago watching a video of him using the gospels to show that Jesus is the messiah. He would use a little of Matthew then skip to a verse in Luke and then compare those to Mark and tie all those together with John and voila, you have Jesus as the promised messiah. I was astonished that it could just be that easy. I began asking my self, “How’d he do that?” So I hit the internet right away and began researching. I got a couple books from my library and set out to see if this guy was right and if it was just that easy or if he was totally misinformed.
After strenuous research and countless books it became clear to me that it wasn’t that easy but at the same time he wasn’t misinformed. He had his facts right, the Bible did say those things. But it became clear to me he was picking and choosing what he wanted to use as facts to make something up that actually wasn’t there at all. I like to call it selective reading and understanding. He picked the parts that fit his ideology and just decided to leave the rest out.
After all my research and reading I began to realize that all four gospels were very different in the way they told the story of Jesus’ death. I picked up a book by Dr. Bart Ehrman who challenged my way of reading certain stories in the Bible and the death narratives were one of those stories. You see the way that Pastor Rueben decided to read them is vertically and then picked out the parts he liked. Dr. Ehrman’s way of reading is horizontally. In other words, you take the four accounts and you read them side by side comparing them, not just one story at a time.
After reading all four gospel accounts this way I began to see there were a myriad of differences between them all. I will lay out the main points that Pastor Rueben and most Christians missed.
The Synoptics vs. John
As you have read earlier John’s gospel differs from the synoptics tremendously. But if you have forgotten what some of those differences are, I will lay out some basic bullet points.
No reference to the birth in Bethlehem.
No virgin birth or reference.
No mention of being baptized.
No temptations from Satan in the wilderness.
Never casts out demons
No last supper.
No trial before a Jewish council.
No miracles (they are called signs and there are seven of them)
The “I Am” sayings.
The story of Nicodemus.
John is the only gospel where Jesus is explicitly said to be God; no other gospels agree to this bold statement.
So with all of this information now fresh in your mind let’s move on to the difference between John and the Synoptics.
After countless hours of studying and reading the biggest difference or discrepancy between John and the Synoptics is the when and how Jesus died. What most Christians and pastors know and use is the story in John. John has Jesus die on the day of preparation for the Passover around noon. But if you read the gospel of Mark, Mark has Jesus die on the day of Passover morning at nine o’clock in the morning. So which is it? Well unfortunately no one knows the answer to that and even more unfortunate is we see evidence that John changed his date and time to prove a theological point. That Jesus is the Passover lamb. Case and point is that John is the only gospel to refer to Jesus as the “lamb of God”. In no other gospel is Jesus called the “lamb” or even eluded to be. So what is the significance? We all remember the story of the exodus of the Israelites in Egypt right? Where God told every one to put the blood of a lamb on there doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over there homes and not kill there first born. Well John is making this connection by having Jesus killed on the day of preparation of the Passover where all the priests are slaughtering the lambs for the Passover feast. So easier yet, John is telling us believe in Jesus and his blood will save us just as it saved the Israelites. Unlike John’s strong avocation of eternal life, Mark is more about the direct connection between God, the Jews, and the gentiles now that the veil is spilt in two. So why is the veil story absent from John and presented so vividly in Mark? It is because John wants to show us that belief in Jesus as the Passover lamb brings us eternal life (John 3:16). While Mark wants to show us that Jesus was an atonement for our sins, the sins that separated us from God but Jesus paid the price so we can have a personal relationship with god. So what is the conclusion of all this? It is pretty simple to see that we have two different authors and books with two polarizing meanings.
Torn Between Answers
One of the most popular stories from the death narratives is the story of the veil that separated us from the holy of holies. Jesus dies on the cross and there is a great earthquake that shakes the whole area. It quakes so violently that it rips the veil, in the temple, right in two. But like I said before this story is absent from John’s gospel, so where is this story found? It is located in the Synoptic gospels. Why are they called the synoptics you might ask? Scholars and theologians call them the synoptics because of their similarity in content, order, and statement. So with this said let’s compare these three gospels since they are so close in there content about Jesus’ death.
Just like before selective reading and understanding plays a huge role in the popular version of this story told in most churches. Most people only know the story that is found in the gospel of Luke, that the veil was split in two after Jesus dies but according to the gospel of Luke that’s not quite accurate. In Luke’s gospel the veil splits while Jesus is still alive! So what does this mean? It is obvious just like John and Mark before that Luke and Mark are at odds because each other understand what happens differently because of their ideology and theology. So what are they trying to tell us? Well I already showed you what Mark meant by his version but to me it is very unclear why Luke would have the veil torn while Jesus was still alive. So my conclusion is still pending but here is how I understand it. Atonement in Mark but no atonement in Luke; peculiar? To me, yes, but you decide.