This will be the last post in the hiatus I have been taking from responding to Craig Evans’s critique of my view of Jesus’ burial. I had thought this hiatus would be one, maybe two posts; but as often happens on this blog, once I get going on something I realize that I have to say more — or else what little I have to say will not make much sense. So my couple of posts have turned into four, all on the question of whether the historical-critical approach that I take to the Gospels is “trashing them,” as a lot of people seem to think, or if, instead, it is a valuable tool for understanding what these books really are – literary attempts to teach important theological lessons about Jesus based on stories about his life – rather than what they are not – historically accurate, objective biographies of the things that Jesus said and did.
In the last post I argued that the two portrayals of Jesus going to his death in Mark and Luke are radically different, and that recognizing this radical difference is of utmost importance for understanding what each author is trying to say. The in-shock, silent Jesus of Mark, who is betrayed, denied, abandoned, and mocked by everyone, who wonders at the very end why God himself has forsaken him, simply is not the same as the calm confident Jesus of Luke, who knows God is on his side, who understands what is happening to him, and who knows what will happen to him after it happens to him: he will wake up in paradise.
A deeper understanding of each Gospel seeks to understand the portrayal of Jesus found in each and every one of the Gospels, but also asks what each account is actually trying to *teach* by making that kind of portrayal. This is where matters get more speculative, and this is where both theology and preaching start getting interesting. I realize (oh so well) that I am no longer theologically driven or involved with preaching, but to conclude this hiatus-of-a-thread, I do have to say what I think each account is trying to say.
Let’s imagine – it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination, actually, even though there is not concrete evidence behind it – let’s imagine that each of these Gospels is written to Christians who are experiencing real suffering in their lives. Possibly it is a difficult persecution. Possibly it is the animosity of friends and family and neighbors and co-workers and everyone else who is opposed to their new-found faith in Jesus. Or possibly it is hardship in the world that seems unbearable. Suppose both Mark and Luke, writing at different times (say 15 years apart) in different parts of the world, are both confronted with some such situations. Why would they portray Jesus going to his death the way they do?
Here’s what I think. You’re welcome to think something else!
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