Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gospel Analysis

The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all speak about the death of Jesus and have similar renditions of what actually occurred. Reading each gospel as a whole text and comparing the differences may lead to different interpretations than just comparing the details about the death of Jesus. The following analysis will compare only the writings about the death of Jesus, which have quite distinct differences from one another. In comparing these three gospel stories, the differences between them seem to suggest that each writer had a different audience. Each story seems to focus on different aspects of the humanity or divinity of Jesus, with different approaches being necessary to apply to each audience. This analysis will assume that the gospel of Mark was written first, or the point of departure. Assuming that Mark is the point of departure is necessary to apply the argument that Mark wrote his gospel to apply to all audiences, more of a general synopsis of events, whereas the gospel of Matthew speaks to the followers of Christ and LukeТs gospel speaks to non-believers, possibly even non-Jews and Romans.

The gospel of Mark contains six versus about the death of Jesus, which is the middle position, as far as size, between the gospels of Matthew and Luke. The size of the story is an interesting point of comparison. As previously stated, it seems that Mark's rendition of Jesus' death is a general synopsis of events. By writing the original gospel, Matthew and Luke would have to either add or subtract context which is pertinent to their audience. Mark's writings portray Jesus' humanity and divinity. The other gospels focus more attention to Jesus' divinity or humanity. One example of this is Mark 15 v.38, which states: "the curtain temple was torn in two, from top to bottom". This verse is positioned after the death of Jesus. Verse 39 states, "when the centurion facing him saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, СTruly this man is the son of God!". These examples demonstrate a notion of Jesus' divinity. However, Mark does not elaborate on these details as Matthew does. Mark's focus hinges on presenting situations which speak of Jesus' divinity, while not elaborating the facts to hide his humanity. It seems as though Mark wanted to present the facts at hand and let the audience interpret the meanings. Verse 37 states, "Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last". The wording "breathing his last" personifies Jesus' humanity. The story according to Matthew uses different language to showcase a more divine Jesus. Once again establishing the point that Mark was written first and the later gospels added or subtracted details which they felt were pertinent to the accurate representation of Jesus to their particular audiences.

The second point of analysis will be with the gospel of Matthew. Matthew's and Luke's gospel both follow Mark's chronology, but Matthew adds the most to what was originally written in Mark. The gospel of Matthew contains nine verses on the death of Jesus, which is the most out of the three synoptic gospels. The first four verses of Matthew are almost a direct copy of the gospel of Mark. The version written by Matthew takes on its own identity in verse 50, which states, "And Jesus cried up again in a loud voice and yielded up his spirit." The difference from Mark's gospel ("Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last") and Matthew's may seem insignificant. However, the statement "yielded up his spirit" insinuates Jesus in control of his own spirit. Unlike most people who just die, Jesus seems to will it so, hence showcasing divinity. This is one of the examples in the gospel of Matthew which shows a divine Jesus. All three gospel stories mention the curtain of the temple tearing in two. However, the gospel of Matthew encompasses much more than the other two gospels: "the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many". All the italicized words represent additional text that only appears in the gospel of Matthew. The death of Jesus, in this gospel, causes many supernatural events to occur. Luke and Mark contain no text relating to these occurrences. Matthew focuses on the supernatural occurrences to portray the divinity of Jesus.

What audience is Matthew speaking to with his gospel? It is apparent that Matthew focused on the divinity of Jesus. The additional text added, in comparison with Mark, clearly incorporates Jesus as a "supernatural". Matthew incorporates awe in his writing, which leads to the assumption that Matthew is writing to believers in Christ and his teachings. Followers of Christ that view Jesus as the Messiah can relate to the gospel of Matthew because his gospel reinforces the divine in Jesus. Focusing on the supernatural occurrences during Jesus' death gives the followers of Jesus more proof that Jesus of Nazareth truly was divine.

In contrast to Matthew's divine interpretations of Jesus is Luke's gospel version of the death of Jesus. Luke sums up the death of Jesus in four versus, possibly five versus if an earlier verse is considered, which involves details of the death of Jesus. The gospel of Luke is by far the least amount written about the event. The first point of variation is Luke's placement of the temple curtain being torn in two. Luke places this detail early in his version. The other two gospels position this event after Jesus' death. Luke positions this event during the death of Jesus. The other two gospels insinuate that the curtain was torn as a result of Jesus' death, whereas the gospel of Luke incorporates the detail, but does not depict a cause-and-effect occurrence. Luke simply references the event. Luke is pulling the story away from the supernatural occurrences. This version does not deny any supernatural activity; it is just not focused on.

Another difference between Luke's version and the gospels of Matthew and Mark is the quotations of Jesus on the cross. Luke states: "Then Jesus cried with a loud voice, said, "Father into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last". These words depict Jesus speaking to "Father", which the two other gospels do not reference. Jesus speaking to his Father implies a Jesus that is connected to the divine, but also shows deference to a higher power, which connects to Jesus' humanity.

One final analysis on the gospel of Luke is verse 47-48; УNow when the centurion saw what had taken place he praised God, and said, Сcertainly this man was innocent!" And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, retuned home beating their breast." The key word in this verse is innocent. The other gospels quote the centurion stating; "this man is the son of God". Claiming Jesus' innocence speaks to non-followers of Christ. The statement focuses on Jesus' humanity, not his divinity, as does the rest of Luke's version. An audience that was non-Jewish or even Roman could relate better with a story that referenced Jesus' divinity, but focused on his humanity.

In conclusion it is apparent that the synoptic gospels stories share many similarities, but also have quite explicit differences that may be easily overlooked or misinterpreted if not read carefully. Evaluating a writer's audience is very beneficial in helping to interpret text. Different focuses are applied for more effect with particular audiences. Failure to realize this can lead to drastic misinterpretations, which in the matter of religion can be very dangerous. I certainly have never noticed such a dramatic difference in each gospel version before. Trying to determine each writers audience really helped me to zero in on why each writer added or omitted different events. I must mention once again that these interpretations are just on the stories of Jesus' death. Had each gospel been compared in full could lead to extremely different interpretations.

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