A few years ago, on the day before Good Friday, Comedy Central featured bestselling author Bart Ehrman making light of Christ’s agony on the cross. To the delight of his audience, he and host Stephen Colbert ridiculed Mark and Luke for contradicting one another respecting the death of Christ: “In Mark’s gospel, Jesus goes to his death in deep agony over what’s happening to him and doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening to him.” Conversely, “When you read Luke’s gospel, he is not in agony at all.”
First, to suggest that in Mark’s account Jesus “doesn’t seem to understand what is happening to him” is hardly humorous or accurate. As Mark made clear, Jesus knew precisely what would happen to Him and why. Jesus explained during the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (14:24). Or, as He put it just prior to entering Jerusalem, the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). Jesus had in fact repeatedly predicted His suffering, death, and resurrection. To say otherwise is an insult to Christ and to common sense.
Furthermore, only a biblically illiterate studio audience would snicker at the assertion that in Luke’s gospel Christ “is not in agony at all.” As documented by Dr. Luke, Christ’s torment began in the Garden of Gethsemane after an emotional Last Supper. There in the garden He experienced a medical condition known as hematidrosis. Capillaries in His sweat glands ruptured, mixing sweat with blood. Or, as Luke put it, “Being in agony, [Jesus] prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:44 nkjv). Subsequently He was arrested, beaten, and then executed in a grotesque and humiliating fashion. The Roman system of crucifixion had been finely tuned to produce maxi- mum pain. The word excruciating (literally “out of the cross”) was invented to fully codify the cross’s horror. To suggest that, according to Luke, “Jesus is not in agony at all” takes more than a little gall.
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 pretense of contradiction. Here’s how he regurgitates his shopworn charge on Comedy Central: “What people have done is they’ve taken Mark’s gospel and Luke’s gospel and combined them together into one big gospel, which is not like either Mark or Luke.” In sober reality, of course, the very nature of biography is to choose those elements of a congruent story that the biographer wishes to emphasize.
And one of the most amazing realities with respect to the composite biography of Jesus Christ presented by 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 these writers did so without contradiction or collusion.
[Jesus] was withdrawn from [His disciples] about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
Luke 22:41–42 NKJV
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff Has God Spoken? Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011).
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