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Jesus’ Death in Mark and Luke: Why Don’t They Agree?

In my previous post I tried to show how Mark and Luke portray Jesus very differently in his final moments before his death: in Mark he is deeply disturbed and seemingly in doubt, in Luke he is calm, confident, and in control.  But why would they each chose to portray Jesus in the way they do?   It is easier to show *that* they differ than to explain why.  Still, there are some good, plausible views of the matter.  I’ll start with Mark.

In Mark Jesus appears to be in shock, is silent the entire time, seems not to understand why this is happening to him, up to the end, when he cries out asking God why he has forsaken him.  And then he dies, never having received an answer.  What is most striking is that even though Mark’s Jesus may not know why, when it comes to the time, he has to suffer like this, the reader …

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Gospel Questions and Problems
The Calm and Collected Jesus



  1. Avatar
    drkdowd  September 10, 2020

    The success of Christianity has always been the adaptability of its’ message, because the Gospels and letters represent various communities trying to understand what the life and death of Jesus meant in relation to their lives. Pope Gregory understood this, and allowed his missionaries to adapt the message to suit the Pagan communities they preached to, as long as the Pauline fundamentals were kept.
    It continues to the present day. Never has this been better parodied than in ‘The Book of Mormon’, when Arnold adapted the story to suit the philosophy of the African people he was trying to convert.

  2. Avatar
    Britt  September 10, 2020

    Bart, it sounds like both Mark and Luke wanted to tell their respective audiences not to worry, but did so in opposite ways?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 11, 2020

      I suppose the same reason people have different approaches to giving advice today, e.g., about not stressing, or not being too upset by some kind of suffering, or — most anything.

  3. Avatar
    brenmcg  September 10, 2020

    For Matthew and Luke its the events that occurred at the crucifixion that cause the centurion to make his exclamation. For Mark its just seeing how Jesus died.
    In Matthew Jesus is taunted on the cross for claiming to be the son of god. When the centurion sees all the events during the crucifixion fears greatly and admits that truly this was the son of god.
    In Luke the the criminal on the cross fears god and claims Jesus is an innocent man. The centurion sees all the events and admits that truly this man was innocent.
    Luke excludes the earthquake and the dead rising, which in Matthew makes the centurion to confess, but he moves the centurions confession closer to the darkness covering the whole land, so his confession is linked to this.

    Isn’t it far more likely that Luke is editing Matthew’s version? and isnt Mark’s “truly this man was the son of god” just an amalgamation of
    Matthew’s “truly the son of god was this” and
    Luke’s “truly this man was innocent”

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  September 10, 2020

    Were Matthew and Luke supplementing Mark or superseding him? I understand the problem of authorial intentions but what is your intuition?


    • Bart
      Bart  September 11, 2020

      I don’t think they thought of it like that. I think they wanted to write an account of what Jesus said and did, had seen and heard lots of stories, including Mark’s entire Gospel and what we now call Q, and simply went about producing the best one they could for their own community.

  5. Avatar
    rjackson@cscos.com  September 10, 2020

    Thanks for the post! So is it your position that the crucifixion stories are purely didactic? In other words is it wrong to suppose that Mark’s Jesus was scared and confused because he really was confused and scared and the writer of that account (being the first and earliest account) hadn’t turned him into a smooth god figure who was totally in control of his own fate? Im thinking of the principal of contrary intent….it does serve the authors intent to make the messiah scared and confused so it might just be a fact that didnt get edited out?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 11, 2020

      I’m not sure what you mean by purely didactic. I certainly don’t think they were written simply to teach the facts, but are telling the stories for theological reasons, to explain why Jesus was killed, to defend the fact that he was the messiah, to encourage their readers in the midst of their own sufferings and probably for other reasons.

  6. Avatar
    Neurotheologian  September 11, 2020

    Dear Bart, it is very reasonable to make the point that for the readership purposes you suggested, Mark emphasises Jesus being ‘deeply disturbed and seemingly in doubt’ and that Luke emphasises Jesus’s being clam, collected and in control. However, I don’t think it is fair of you to suggest that Mark portrays Jesus as having no understanding of his destiny and purpose in suffering and dying. There are many passages in Mark, where Jesus is portrayed as being well aware of his destiny from an early stage (Mark 8:31 & Mark 9:12) and well in control at a late stage (Mark 14:18; Mark 14:21; Mark 14:24; Mark 14:27; Mark 14:30; Mark 14:36; Mark 14:41-42; Mark 14:62). Mark was also aware of the prophetic fulfilments of the crucifixion (Mark 15:28 and Mark 15:34 – Psalm 22:1).
    In splicing the accounts together into one big mega-account (as I did in my comment on your previous post https://ehrmanblog.org/the-calm-and-collected-jesus/ ), I was not rejecting what each Gospel has to say, rather, I was including all the different perspectives. I would argue that it is you that is rejecting what all the Gospels have to say.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2020

      You’re misreading me. I’m saying Jesus appears to feel that at the *end* when the moment comes.

      • Avatar
        Neurotheologian  September 13, 2020

        Ahem! Bart, in your post above you said: “In Mark Jesus […..] seems not to understand why this is happening to him, *up to* the end, when he cries out asking God why he has forsaken him. And then he dies, never having received an answer”. Therefore, I don’t think that I mis-read you. Furthermore, it is clear in Mark that the ‘Eloi Eloi….’ cry (Mark 15:34) was not at the end (it was at the ninth hour), but rather, Mark narrates a second cry at the end (Mark 15:37) which accords with Luke 23:46 and with John 19:30. This may come across as nit-picking, but I want to correct a misleading idea that you give that Mark’s Jesus ‘seems not to understand why this is happening to him’………….

        • Bart
          Bart  September 14, 2020

          When he made those other predictions, it was NOT when “this is happening to him”. My point is that during the final episodes he manifests doubt, when the events are actually transpiring

          • Avatar
            Neurotheologian  September 14, 2020

            Agreed 🙂 Jesus was manifesting doubt in his final hours! But that’s a less strong statement than seeming not to understand why this is happening to him. Manifesting doubt makes him human, like the rest of us, rather than being a purely divine being gliding around on earth, calm, collected and in control – a point you have made extremely well in your writings. However, manifesting doubt and, within the same limited time frame, also manifesting trust in God and in his mission as ‘the son of man’ that must complete his mission of suffering as a ‘righteous servant’ is not a contradiction, but rather a realistic series of human thought processes. And he did quote from Psalm 22 when this was happening and if we accept John and the idea that this was a qutote from the last line of Psalm 22 – ‘Asssahh!’, it is all suggesting there was indeed a sense of mission

  7. Avatar
    AstaKask  September 11, 2020

    Maybe Luke also wanted his readers to know that the rest of the world was going to a terrible future (weep not for me but for yourselves) and that they should be forgiving of those who persecuted them (father forgive them…)?

  8. Avatar
    Syed Masood  September 11, 2020

    I have listened to many of your (Dr. Ehrman’s) lectures and debates and read a couple of your books. I would, however, be interested to know your views on the effects of the Roman-Jewish Wars on the content/Christology of the synoptic gospels? I mean, they couldn’t have been written in a complete vacuum without any consideration of the catastrophic events taking/having taken place. As an example, it seems to me that Christ having died for everyone’s sins seems comforting to Jesus’s (Jewish?) followers after the destruction of the second temple.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2020

      I’d say it’s hard to know. The Gospels do know about the destruction of Jerusalem, but there’s not much to indicate that the war affected the author’s Christological views per se. It’s probalby important to realize that hte authors were not living in Israel and were not directly affected by the war; my sense is that two of them (Luke certainly; Mark probably) weren’t even Jews. By the time the Gospels were written, most Christains in the world were gentile, living elsewhere, and the message of salvation never seems to be closely tied to the destruction of the Temple, so far as I can see.

      • Avatar
        Syed Masood  September 14, 2020

        Wow. I’ve always wondered who wrote the Gospels but never really considered that they were written anywhere other than in modern day Israel.

  9. Avatar
    jeffmd90  September 11, 2020

    If we consider the context of Mark’s readers, if Mark was written very soon after the end of the Jewish Revolt, the anguish of Jesus in his final moments on the cross and the ending with an empty tomb but no appearance of Jesus. We have the women running from the tomb in fear, not telling anyone what had transpired, because they were afraid. I think the audience who read Mark were still in shock from the aftermath of the failed revolt, trying to work out why things has turned out the way they had, why Jesus had not returned. Perhaps the ending reflects this, but is an encouragement to hope, not to give in to despair.

  10. Avatar
    jonas  September 11, 2020

    What kind of “suffering and persecution” do you imagine these early Christian communities to have been facing at the time Mark and Luke were written? From Jewish authorities? Or from their pagan neighbors?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2020

      The communities were not Jewish, and so I assume it was opposition from neighbors and possibly local authorities.

  11. Avatar
    nikko  September 11, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Can you discuss what was meant by “Today you will be with me in paradise”. My understanding is that Jesus was going to heaven (paradise), where God the Father was. Jesus didn’t promise the thief that he would be entering the kingdom of God when it came to power. He would be going to heaven, right then, to be with Jesus and God and Elijah and Enoch, right? Seems strange. I assume that this is where most of today’s Christians get the idea that as soon as they die they go immediately to heaven.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2020

      Yes, that’s probalby what it means. It’s certainly not the sort of thing Jesus himself would have said, but Luke has already shifted Jesus’ apocalyptic emphasis so that there are rewards and punishments that come to people right after death (as in Luke 16, Lazarus and the Rich man). I talk about all this in mybook Heaven and Hell.

  12. Avatar
    Jumbo  September 11, 2020

    Question on where they agree : Why the betrayal kiss they both (and Matthew) agree happened? If Jesus had caused a ruckus in the Temple and If he was donkey-riding in a cavalcade around Jerusalem and constantly irritating, yelling at and debating Pharisees (and winning Ehrman-style) etc. Why did they need Jesus to be identified at all? Are you inclined to think it is a historical memory of the event or, more a sacred legend to emphasize Judas’ moral repugnancy? You once answered a question of mine (thanks) asking how the Temple guards were able to parade about arresting people outside the Temple proper and, in part, said you were “open” to the idea that maybe Romans were involved in the arrest (as John says they were) … Maybe THAT is why? The Romans had no idea who Jesus was and needed him ID’ed?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 13, 2020

      Yup, I agree. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s why I don’t think Judas betrayed who jesus was or his whereabouts, but something else. I talk about this at length on the blog elsehwere (do a word search for Judas), but the basic line is that I think Judas betrayed Jesus’ private teachings to his disciples, that he was going to be appointed the messiah / king over the new kingdom that was coming.

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 13, 2020

    Great posts about Mark and Luke. Thanks

  14. Avatar
    David91  September 14, 2020

    Wasn’t the gospel of Luke originally adoptionistic or Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2020

      My sense is that both probably thought of the baptism of Jesus’ adoption to be God’s son (only later were Luke 1-2 added)

  15. Avatar
    Michaelprince  September 15, 2020

    Hi Dr. Ehrman.

    Some Christians profess that when Paul declares in 1 Timothy 5:18 – “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.'”, Paul’s writings, reference to “Scripture” means the Old Testament and the Gospels, particularly Luke.

    The second quote is from Jesus that appears in Luke 10:7 and are similar to Matthew 10:10. Paul is referring to both quotations as “Scripture,” meaning Paul is placing Luke’s writing in the same category as the Old Testament: inspired Scripture. Therefore, the argument is that Paul and the Apostles knew they were writing divinely-inspired words. This would date the Gospel of Luke after AD 62, which was the end of Paul’s house arrest in Rome,. It would also date the Gospel of Luke prior to the time 1 Timothy was written, which was approximately AD 64.

    Here are other references to “wages” in the Bible


    I guess the questions are – Was Paul quoting Jesus from Luke? Did Paul consider Luke as part of inspired scripture? Apparently Peter also calls Paul’s writings as ‘Scripture’ as well?

    Kind regards,


    • Bart
      Bart  September 16, 2020

      Yes, it usually is understood as a quotation of Luke. BUT, 1 Timothy is widely considered to be pseudonymous (for good reasons), written some decades after Paul’s death by someone claiming to be Paul (same with 2 Timothy and Titus)

  16. JulieGraff
    JulieGraff  September 17, 2020

    This Post just made me think of a story I just heard on chabad radio, a jewish radio, on the trying to understand the Shoa and G.od’s Love even in that situation!

    The Rabbi (sorry I don’t remember the name to give credit) said as I can recount: Imagine you are an indigenous person living in the outbacks of australia and have never seen modern civilisation… Someday you are uplifted in an helicopter to the landing strip of one of Melbourn’s hospital and are brought to one of the operating room as they are going to do surgery on someone…

    What you see is people looking strange in white coats, putting some strange mask on the persons face and it make’s him unconscious… then they bring out cutting tools and stuff to cut the person open and there is blood everwhere as they cut his toe…

    You run out of the room screaming for help for the person that is being butchered by some strange people …

    Is the person right to go out looking for help … yes… what he saw was real… people being put unconscious, being cut and body parts taken of …

    (Continued in reply as word limits over)

    • JulieGraff
      JulieGraff  September 17, 2020

      What this person did not know is that the people in the O.R. were taking out the person’s toe because it had gangrene and it would have killed him…

      Were you righ in your perspective, yes… was the O.R. people right, yes.. was Mark and Luke right in their perspective, I guess so too…

      And If a rabbi can tell this story about the understanding of the shoa, I suggest we meditate this and suffering and G.od’s existence as we arrive to Rosh Hashana!

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