Matthew 27-28

Chapter 27

Verses 3-10, about the death of Judas, were absent from Mark. So pay attention to the details – there’ll be another version of it in Luke. From v 6 we get the term ‘blood money’. The elders used it to buy the potter’s field, which is still called the Field of Blood ‘unto this day’ – proving that Matthew was writing long after the events occurred. And this confirms prophesy – well, whaddya know, it’s the same one I cited in the last chapter, from Zech 11. Except here it’s a little different and supposedly comes from Jeremiah. The SAB says Matthew must have gotten a little mixed up on his prophets, since there is no prophesy in Jeremiah that fits here. Wikipedia confirms that, while also mentioning that a couple of passages from Jeremiah have been suggested, one being 32:6-9. I’ve read that and it is completely unrelated – more hokum from apologists desperately trying to prove the bible couldn’t possibly contain a mistake.

Depiction of Judas hanging himself, Cathedrale Saint-Lazare, Autun, France

Depiction of Judas hanging himself, Cathedrale Saint-Lazare, Autun, France

The next section, about Jesus’ trial, is similar in Mark and Matthew, until v 19, which has been added. Again, why? And the only explanation that makes sense to me is that it’s to garner sympathy and emphasize Jesus’ innocence. After that, the versions are the same again until v 24 when Pilate famously ‘washes his hands’ of the whole mess, and the crowd says no problem, ‘may his blood be on us, and on our children’. That’s not in Mark, either, and I tried to figure out why Matthew put it in. My apologist source was no help, merely stating the obvious – that Pilate wanted to dodge responsibility. The crowd’s acceptance of the responsibility is well-known as having been used over the years to justify persecuting Jews, since they are guilty of crucifying Jesus. Could shifting blame off the government and the people and onto the Jews have possibly been Matthew’s original intention when he inserted this passage? Or was he just trying to fit in another OT reference – see Deuteronomy 21:6-9.

In Matthew, the soldiers dress Jesus in a scarlet robe – scarlet??? WTF? Every church I’ve ever seen decorates with purple during Lent because that was the color of Jesus’ robe. I guess majority rules – Mark and John agreed on purple, and Luke doesn’t say.

On to the actual crucifixion. The vile drink that Jesus was mockingly offered is different in all 4 gospels. After nailing Jesus to the cross, the soldiers divided up his clothing by throwing dice. (Remember all the way back to Psalm 22? Another ‘prophesy’ fulfilled.) The death scene, from v 45-50, is the same as Mark. But then Matthew embellishes. Apparently, tearing the temple curtain in two is not dramatic enough, so Matthew adds an earthquake and zombies rising from graves and appearing to the locals all over town. Sounds like a bad horror movie.

This section ends by listing some of the women who watched the scene, but the identities of the women vary between gospels. The description of the burial of Jesus, beginning with v 57, differs a bit from Mark but doesn’t really contradict it. But the last section of the chapter, (v 62) is completely new. I don’t remember ever reading it before – certainly not in church – and I think those guys were pretty smart (v 63-64). But more likely, this paragraph was added as a literary device to set up the scenario for the empty tomb and make the disappearance of Jesus’ body seem miraculous.

Chapter 28

Gospel accounts of the resurrection story vary, so you’ll have to compare each and every detail. Which women went to visit Jesus’ tomb? In Mark, the tomb was open when they got there, but in Matthew, they watched as an angel rolled the stone away. The guards saw the angel, too, and fainted. Did Matthew want to make the story more dramatic? In both books, the women then fled, and that’s the original end of Mark. Matthew continues with Jesus appearing and greeting the women as they ran; whereas Mark’s epilogue has several post-resurrection appearances. It’s all rather confusing, and it’ll get worse – this is only the second of the gospels.

Then Matthew has a follow-up about the guards. Reading it, the reason he added this is obvious – he needed a cover story to explain why Jews don’t accept that Jesus was the Messiah. It’s unfathomable – have you ever tried to get a large number of people to keep a secret? The wording of the last few verses – the Great Commission – is vastly different in Matthew than it was in Mark; probably because Mark’s version was cobbled together incoherently from various sources and added later. Matthew is much simpler – he introduces the notion of doubters (v 17), and the Trinity (v 19), and evangelism in general, and leaves it at that. Note that there is no ascension in Matthew, and no Pentecost in either of these books.

Now that we’ve completed 2 of the 4 gospels, it might be a good time to think about the differences between them, and the evolution of the character of Jesus. Watch this very helpful 11 minute video.

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