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Monthly Archives: April 2008

The Significance of Jesus’ Death as Interpreted by Luke and John

It is common within our churches during Bible study and around Easter to harmonize the gospel narratives, creating a synthesis that incorporates sometimes conflicting details into a single account.  However, if we view the gospels separately, each according to its own merit, very different interpretations emerge regarding the significance of Jesus’ death.  For example, by examining only the metaphors used within Luke and John, two distinct images appear, each with its own significance.  While both accounts proclaim the good news of salvation, the agency involved is quite different.

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Barabbas and the Messiah as Heard by Matthew’s Church (Matthew 27:11-23)

Modern biblical scholars are in general agreement that Matthew’s gospel was written for an audience of early Jesus followers who were primarily of Jewish origin.  Thomas G. Long proposes that Matthew’s audience was struggling with questions of identity as newly formed Jesus people. Wondering whether they should abandon their Jewish faith and heritage, Matthew’s Gospel presented them with a Jesus who is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Long 2).  With his audience in mind, Matthew constructed his gospel from original Markan and Q source materials and added his own unique content including about 40 quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures (Davies and Allison I.29).  Many of his innovations, while meaningful to his original audience, were lost on later Gentile Christians and, sadly, often remain hidden to the majority of Christians even today.  Among these passages is the scene in which Jesus is tried before Pilate, Barabbas is released and the people demand the crucifixion of Jesus with the notorious cry, "His blood be on us and on our children!" This haunting scene has been used for centuries to justify anti-Semitic violence perpetrated by Christians.  But how might Matthew’s Jewish church have heard this passage?  [Instructor’s comment: well phrased]

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Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark

W. Paul Jones reminds us that though there are those in every generation who try to figure out who Jesus "truly" was, their findings end up saying far more about them as searchers than about the subject of their inquiry (53).  Our experiences not only provide the lens through which we perceive Jesus, but also inform the contours of the very questions that we ask.  The same can be said for the authors of Mark and Matthew and the faith communities for which they wrote.

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