Do Mark and Luke Contradict on the Death of Jesus?

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  • - 04/15/2009
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The day before Good Friday on The Colbert Report Bart Ehrman attempted to demonstrate that the Gospels of Mark and Luke stand in hopeless contradictions to one another with respect to the death of Jesus Christ.[1] Ironically, Tom Krattenmaker notes Ehrman’s claims on this same issue in USA Today on April 13th, 2009.[2] Ehrman makes the following charge: “In Mark’s Gospel, for example, Jesus goes to His death in deep agony, over what’s happening to him, and doesn’t seem to understand why it’s happening to Him.” Conversely, says, Ehrman, “When you read Luke’s Gospel, He’s not in agony at all.”[3]

Well, has Ehrman discovered the crux of the matter? Are Mark and Luke irreconcilable at odds with respect to the death of Jesus Christ? I think not. To suggest that in Mark’s account of the crucifixion Jesus doesn’t seem to understand what is happening to Him is more than a little baffling. Even a child reading through Mark’s words knows better than to think such a thing. Who can forgot Christ’s poignant defense of Mary after she’s broken an alabaster jar and poured perfume on the head of Jesus Christ. “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” says Jesus (Mark 14:8). Or His anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36).

 

Indeed, as Mark’s gospel makes crystal clear, Jesus knew precisely what would happen to Him and, of course, He knew precisely why. As He explained it during the last supper, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” (Mark 14:24), or as He put it just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Son of Man came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus had in fact repeatedly predicted His suffering, His life, His death, His resurrection, and to say otherwise is both a insult to Christ and common sense.

 

Furthermore, it’s almost beyond belief that a scholar with the kind of prestige that Bart Ehrman has wrestling with the text of Scripture would conclude that Christ in Luke’s Gospel—as Ehrman put it on Colbert—is “not in agony at all.”[4] As documented by Doctor Luke, Christ’s torment started in the Garden of Gethsemane after the emotional Last Supper. There Jesus experienced a medical condition known as hematidrosis. Tiny capillaries in His sweat glands ruptured, mixing sweat and blood. As a result, Christ’s skin became extremely fragile.[5] As Luke’s gospel says, “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”(Luke 22:44) Subsequently He’s arrested, He’s beaten and He’s executed in grotesque and humiliating fashion. The Roman system of crucifixion has been fine-tuned to produce maximum pain. In fact, the word excruciating (literally “out of the cross”) had to be invented to fully codify its horror.[6] To tell Colbert and vicariously the world that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is not in agony at all, takes more than just a little gall on the part of Ehrman.

 

Finally, allow me to drive a nail into the heart of Ehrman’s methodology. Unless biographers such as Mark and Luke say exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, Ehrman stands ready to crucify them on the pretext of contradiction. Here’s how he restates the shop worn charge on the television broadcast; “And what people have done, is they’ve taken Mark’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel and combined them together to one big Gospel, which is unlike either Mark or Luke.”[7] That is, of course, precisely what biographers do and for good reason. The very nature of biography is to pick and choose elements of a congruent story that one wishes to emphasize. As such no single biographer captures every detail of a subject’s life and experience. Indeed one of the most amazing realities with respect to the composite biography presented through the Gospel writers is that they were empowered to present a living portrait of the most interesting, complex, and significant being who has ever walked among us and that without contradiction or the possible charge of collusion and they do it with such eloquence and eradiation.

 

Well to answer the question, was Jesus in agony on the cross as per Mark and not as per Luke? The answer is there is no contradiction. Together the accounts along with John and Matthew give us the whole story wonderfully balanced, eradiate, glorious, and ultimately a story by which we can be saved.

 

We live in an epic of time in which our faith is being systematically attacked, vilified, ridiculed, and marginalized. In this epic of time we are going to continue to make it known on the Bible Answer Man radio broadcast, the Christian Research Journal, and our Website, www.equip.org, that the Bible is not hopelessly contradictory but it is indeed divine as opposed to merely human in origin. We thank all of you who stand with this ministry prayerfully and financially so that we can go out to the world each and every day countering claims that contradict and denigrate the Bible. For further information on supposed Bible contradictions, please see my Complete Bible Answer Book.

[1] Bart Erhman interview on The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central, April 9, 2009.

 


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[3] Ehrman, Colbert Report

[5] All medical data and descriptions concerning Christ’s suffering are adapted from C. Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus: The Passion of Christ from a Medial Point of View,” Arizona Medicine (March 1965): 183-187; and William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On The Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” The Journal of the American Medical Association  (21 March 1986): 1455-63.

[6] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ  (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1998), 197-198.

[7] Ehrman, Colbert Report

 

 

 

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