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The Gospels according to Mathew, Mark, and Luke are mostly referred to as synoptic gospels, because they contain same stories arranged in similar sequence. The three Gospels stand out as distinct in comparison to the Gospel of John. The similarity in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke indicate a certain aspect of interdependence when it comes to the content, language and even arrangement. Theologists argue that Mathew and Luke may have heavily borrowed from the Gospel of Mark in writing their ones. On the same note, it is likely that Gospels of Mathew and Luke also drew information from certain hypothetical documents in order to develop their stories. This essay looks into synopsis of Christ’s crucifixion and death as presented by the three Gospels. All of them give details of what Jesus went through during His crucifixion until His death (Goodacre, 2015). However, the manner of writing seems to indicate interdependency and similarity.
The narratives in the three Gospels about the deriding of Jesus Christ at the cross, the Two Thieves and the Crucifixion are major components of Christ’s mission on earth. The stories are presented in Mathew 27:38-54, Mark 15:27-39, and Luke 23:35-48. The three Gospels show what Christ goes through when He is arrested and taken for crucifixion; however, each of the writers comes out distinctively with the language and presentation. Comparing the three passages, it comes out that the most common feature is the fact that they all speak of a similar story of Jesus Christ, especially the passion. However, the Gospel of John is different synoptically from the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke.
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However, each of the three Gospels has distinct addition to the material shared with other writers. This means that each of the Evangelists saw the need to add information depending on the time they lived. Additional material may have also come from the need to reach specific audiences. An analysis of the basic features of the three texts indicates that more than half of Gospel of Mark (76%) is common with almost half of Gospels of Mathew and Luke. The similarity is evident in the content and the sequence. The common content in all the verses assumes the same sequence, indicating same origin. The stories present in all the three Gospels have been categorized in what is known as triple tradition. As much as the wording may be slightly different, the narratives seem to follow the same sequence. Relating the three Gospels in parallel indicates that more than half of the wordings are similar.
Relating the three Gospels, it comes out that Mathew and Luke may have relied on Mark’s writings in order to develop their stories on Jesus’ crucifixion and death. As noted above, more than half of the words in Mark’s narrative are present in the other two Gospels. For example, when Jesus is on the cross, Mathew 27:42 says that an elder mocked Him, saying, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross and we will believe Him”. The next verse continues to elaborate on the mockery. In Luke 23:35, it is said that, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One”. In Mark 15:31 one can read, “He save others, He cannot save Himself”.
According to the above texts, it is clear that the story of the reviling and mockery is present in all the Gospels; however, the Gospel of Mark seems to be shorter than those of Mathew and Luke. According to Goodacre (2015), original narratives seem to be shorter than the later versions. Mark presents very short accounts of events, straight to the point, devoid of many elaborations. A similar situation is with the passage about the two thieves crucified with Christ, who also reviled Jesus. Mark simply presents what he may have observed in verse 32b that... “...those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him”. Mathew 27:44 goes further to identify that the two people crucified with Jesus were robbers. On the same note, Luke elaborates that only one of the criminals crucified with Jesus reviled Him. This means that Mark simply presented an observation to the audience; however, the other two Evangelists go further describing in detail the observations made by Mark.
Death of Jesus also presents a scenario when Mark documents the reaction of the Centurion. In Mark 15:39, when the Centurion saw that Jesus had breathed his last, he said that, “truly this Man was the Son of God”. In Mathew 27:54, the Evangelist writes about earthquake occurring the moment Jesus died and the awe that the Centurion experienced that time. Mathew then goes further to use the exact words by Mark that, “truly this Man was the Son of God”. The Gospel of Mark documents the Centurion’s reaction but does not use the exact words. Instead of using the Son of God, he says that, “certainly this man was innocent”. He concludes in the following verse (Luke 23:48) by documenting that the people who came to see what happened returned to their homes beating their chests in anger.
It seems that Mathew and Luke could have also relied on other outside sources in order to write their narratives. The fact that the two Gospels contain common material present in the Gospel of Mark means that they could have relied on it to develop their stories. However, the additional information seems to have come from other sources, as there are some details other than what Mark wrote. With such additional materials, Mathew and Luke elaborated on their stories, giving more information on the occurrences during the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This also proves that Mark could have been the first to write the Gospel, because he simply states the observations, unlike the other two Evangelists, whose Gospels, despite having certain similarities, contain more details. The double tradition helps categorize some of the information shared between Mathew and Luke but absent in the Gospel of Mark. This is also known as the Two Source Hypothesis.
An analysis indicates that Mathew borrows much from Mark. This is evident in numerous similarities in the discussed texts. For instance, Mathew 27:48 and Mark 15:36a have exactly similar text. The verses document a moment when one of the soldiers ran and dipped a sponge in vinegar for Jesus to drink. Mark uses the exact words, but concentrates on the reviling and giving of the vinegar. Mathew and Mark are also clear on tier accounts of the two thieves. However, Luke goes further to identify them as criminals. He even presents an argument between the two thieves who are crucified with Jesus Christ. However, as indicated above, some passages are similar across the three Gospels. For example, Mathew 27:37, Mark 15:26, and Luke 23:38 have a similar account on the “King of Jews” inscription above Jesus’ head.
According to the story in focus, it seems that the Gospel of Mark is shorter than the Gospels of Mathew and Luke. Much of the elaborations in the latter writings are absent in the former, something that could mean that they could have used Mark as a common reference to their writings. The fact that more than half of the words in the Gospel of Mark can be traced in Mathew’s and Luke’s Gospels means that the former could have been a common source. However, it is necessary to reiterate that the observations by Mark are short and straight to the point, what makes this writing different from the other two Gospels. The added information of what takes place, the characters, and activities in Mathew and Luke may indicate the use of another outside source. Therefore, it is likely that Mathew and Luke could have used another source Q from some Greek documents that have narrations of observations during Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Mark and Source Q could have been the sources of information for writing the Gospels of Mathew and Luke.
Redaction criticism is an important concept that tries to explain the reason for the differences and similarities that may exist in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke. Most importantly, the original text seems to be shorter than the later editions. This comes from the fact that translations require making elaborations and contextualization. Authors and editors mostly rework the original texts in order to communicate the essence of the Gospels to the readers. Therefore, shorter readings seem to be original, not the longer ones. In the normal literary work, editors and translators see the need to add elaborations to the original texts to make them relevant to the current traditions and ways of life. The problem with this is that the original work can likely be distorted.
The fact that the Gospel of Mark is relatively shorter than those of Mathew and Luke does not mean that it covers less information. In fact, it seems to be longer than the other Gospels, because it covers the whole life story of Jesus. It ends at the resurrection of Christ, something absent in the other two Gospels. With this in mind, it is likely that Mark was the original writer because of the simple observations he presents. Mathew and Luke may have used his text to build their stories.
At the same time, it is important to appreciate the reason as to why Mathew and Luke could have opted to add more details to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It is likely that the three Gospels could have been directed to different audiences. For instance, Mathew was a Jew, and he may have targeted the Jewish people. When the by-stander soldiers revile Jesus at the cross, they mock Him to come down from the cross if He was “the King of Israel”. Mathew seems to bring the term in order to present Jesus Christ the King of Jews and the promised Messiah (Samuelsson, 2011). Later when Jesus died, was buried and later resurrected, the Jews understand the authority and power bestowed upon Him by God the Father. The term “King of Israel” is not available in Luke’s parallel text. This means that Mathew and Luke wrote for different audiences. Therefore, the added text in the Gospel of Mathew was meant to appeal to the Jewish audience, presenting Jesus as the promised Messiah sent by God to bring redemption.
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The Gospel of Luke seems very elaborate with more information than the Gospels of Mathew and Mark. Luke provides more details telling of what took place during the crucifixion and death of Christ. His sophistication and research make Luke a writer who targeted a more educated audience like Greeks. His presentation of the conversation between the two thieves in Luke 23:39-40 indicates a serious need for Christ the savior of the lost (Samuelsson, 2011). The other thief tells his friend that they have been crucified for doing wrong, while Jesus is innocent. Later, Jesus promises him he would go to the paradise for accepting Him as savoir. Therefore, redaction criticism helps put into perspective the differences and similarities in the synoptic gospels.
In conclusion, the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke have many similarities as well as differences. As the Gospel According to Mark is more precise and contains less details than the other two Gospels, it is appropriate to state that it was the original source, on which the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are based.