I was as close to being born an evangelical Christian as anybody can be, and I still find myself fascinated with the origins of Christianity. A number of questions interest me. What did the earliest Christians believe? How did the doctrines develop? How did the bible come to us? How do the four gospel writers tell their stories, and how do they compare with each other?
So it was that, with Good Friday and Easter approaching, I decided to read the four gospel crucifixion narratives to see how similar or dissimilar they might be. I did not make this into a painstaking academic effort. I merely read the accounts twice, jotting a brief outline as I read. I then listed my findings in four parallel columns to facilitate comparison.
I found that the story is told most completely in the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – but John's later account also follows a similar outline, leaving some things out and adding others. There is no question that the narratives agree that Jesus is betrayed and sent to the high priest and then to Pilate before being crucified. Some events are omitted in some of the gospels, and I do not, necessarily, consider omissions to be discrepancies as you and I would likely tell the same story differently. I do think there are also actual discrepancies, however.
Following, is the gist of the story as more or less agreed to by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and sometimes John. I am telling it clinically in brief précis form, trying to stick to the common facts (which is sometimes difficult to do). I am not attempting to conflate the four accounts into one narrative as is usually the case when telling the crucifixion story, but I am trying to highlight the points on which they agree. Therefore, it becomes quite a 'bare bones' recounting. Even trying to stick to the common points, I sometimes find myself writing that such and such occurred in just some of the gospels because it seems necessary to avoid huge gaps in the account. I am also assuming in that most people are familiar enough with the narrative that I can be terse in the way that I lay it out.
Here is my summary.
A Last Supper was kept, probably in an upper room, during which Jesus ceremoniously broke bread and offered wine in the tradition that churches still, more or less, follow today. Jesus also predicted his impending betrayal by Judas although he was not named, but seemingly implied in Matthew. After the supper, Jesus and His followers went to the mount of Olives. It was here that Jesus predicted Peter's denial in Matthew and Mark, although Luke has Him declaring this earlier, at the supper. John also recounts the denials and the cock crowing , but he doesn't mention an earlier prediction.
In the garden, Jesus went apart from Peter, James and John to pray that "this cup" would pass from Him. Matthew and Mark have him praying and returning to the sleepy disciples three times. Luke doesn't mention the number of times that Jesus went back and forth, but He does have Jesus sweating blood and an angel appearing to Him.
In all of the gospels, Judas appears with a gang of the high priest's men to arrest Jesus, and he indentifies Jesus by kissing Him in each of Matthew, Mark and Luke. An unidentified someone cuts off the ear of one of the priest's men in three gospels (Peter did it in John), but only in Luke does Jesus, seemingly, re-attach it.
Jesus is then taken to the High Priest where He, apparently, chooses to say little. He does say enough to irritate Caiaphas, however, so he has Jesus flogged and beaten. It is during this time that Peter was asked three times about his connection with Jesus in all of the accounts. He denied it each time, and when the cock crowed (twice in Mark, and once in the other gospels), Peter became understandably upset when he realized what he had done.
Jesus was then sent along to Pilate and said very little according to the synoptic gospels but had a bit of a conversation in John. In all gospel accounts, Pilate offers Barabbas before giving Jesus over for beating and mocking, which included a robe and the crown of thorns in all versions except Luke's. He is taken to be crucified at Golgotha (named in three accounts). There was a sign placed over His head, and He was crucified alongside two men, identified as thieves (or at least bad guys) in three gospels. He, eventually, cries out and dies, whereupon a centurion expresses a certain wonderment. This occurred in unnatural darkness in Matthew and Mark, and these two gospels also report that the veil in the temple was torn in two.
Joseph of Arimathaea collected the body and laid it in a sepulchre.
I will attempt to highlight the differences among the four accounts in my next post.