Passion of Christ, I (in the Bible)

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This article, concerned primarily with the story of Christ's Passion and death as told in the four Gospels, is composed of four main sections: the ancient, common basis of a Passion narrative prior to the four written Gospels; the development of the Gospel tradition about the Passion; characteristics of the four canonical Passion narratives; the use of the OT in the Passion accounts. A specific treatment of the Resurrection is not included in this article, although the realization of the unity of the one redemptive mystery, Passion-death-Exaltation, is basic to the discussion (see resurrection of christ, 1). For the theological significance of Christ's Passion, see expiation (in the bible); redemption (in the bible); salvation.

Pre-Gospel Passion Narrative. The Passion narratives in the present Gospels (Mark ch. 1415; Matthew ch. 2627; Luke ch. 2223; John ch. 1819) differ from the rest of the Gospel material in that they seem not to have been compiled from individual, self-contained units or stories, but present a unified, sequential account of the final events in Jesus' life and ministry. Recognizing the very different character of these stories as continuous narratives, the adherents of the form-critical school have acknowledged the very ancient tradition upon which they are based. Modern Biblical scholarship agrees that there was a primitive narrative; but there are divergent opinions on the genre, content, and milieu of the formation of that narrative. Only as a whole could the story answer the question, "How could Jesus have been brought to the cross by the people who were blessed by His signs and wonders?" To counter this scandal of the cross, individual incidents from the Passion would not do; the entire purposeful narrative, giving exact geographical and temporal data, was seen to be necessary. (see form criticism, biblical.)

Several arguments from literary criticism support the hypothesis of such a primitive narrative. More than any other part of the Gospels, this section has the nature of a connected historical account. Although the first ten chapters of Mark, for example, comprise separate blocks of material loosely connected and without continuous chronological or topographical coherence, with the beginning of the Passion story, we find a definitely sequential account. Among all four Gospels there is substantial agreement regarding the course of events of the Passion. Although chronological arrangements in earlier parts of the Gospels reflect more freely the particular interests of the writers, the events of Holy Week seem to have been so fixed in the tradition and so respected as the record of the climax of Jesus' life that the order could not be freely changed; it might be abridged, expanded, or supplemented, but its general order was retained. J. Jeremias observes that John's Gospel rarely shows parallels to Mark's account in the description of Jesus' ministry, but beginning with the entrance into Jerusalem, the Johannine narrative agrees with the Marcan rather broadly until the arrest, and then quite strictly after that. These parallels are striking, for the substance of the narrative is the same, even though details and wording may differ and even though religious and doctrinal interests are more obviously present in John than in Mark. This similarity of structure in the Passion accounts of all four Gospels has a natural explanation if there was such a basic narrative, traditional before the written Gospels.

At present critics do not express complete agreement about what the pre-Gospel narrative comprised, but most include the following incidents, which can be distinguished more easily in Mark: the plot of the priests (Mk 14.12); judas' treason (14.1011); the last supper (14.1725); the arrest of Jesus (14.4352); the trial before the chief priests (14.5372not admitted by all as part of the primitive narrative) and before pilate (15.115); the crucifixion with some of its concomitant events (15.2141); and the burial (15.4247). These episodes are the ones referred to in Christ's own prophecies of the Passion (Mk 8.31; 9.2930; 10.33) and in the earliest apostolic preaching (e.g., Acts 3.1316; 13.2731). From an analysis of Semitic expressions in Mark, V. Taylor proposes that Mark utilized the Greek Passion narrative current in Rome and that he expanded this with certain personal reminiscences of Peter. X. Léon-Dufour, however, maintains that an examination of Semitisms in Matthew indicates that the first Gospel also witnesses to an

older, more primitive narrative, of which Matthew and Mark would represent two recensions, the one Semitic (Matthew), the other Roman (Mark).

Development of the Gospel Tradition. While there is essential agreement among the four Gospels on the important events of the Passion, each of the accounts is a unique composition with its own literary characteristics and theological viewpoint. Even Mark's presentation, though barely more than an outline, has singular features and theological interests. Present-day understanding of the NT emphasizes the benefits to be gained by appreciating the differences for what they are: signs of the individual view of the Evangelist, the needs of the particular audience addressed, and the literary style of the author. The passion narratives can best be understood as salvation history (Heilsgeschichte ), i.e., history with a theological intent. In order to appreciate the narratives fully, one must be alert to the theological, missionary, and liturgical factors that influenced their formation.

In Acts and in the Pauline Epistles evidence is found of the focus on Jesus' death and Resurrection in the early preaching and doctrinal development. Christ's death on the cross determined the conception not only of messianic salvation, but also of God's entire revelation through the OT. In Paul's early Epistles it can be seen how the first missionaries overcame the tremendous stumbling block of the cross by their Christological interpretation of the OT. The apologetic necessity of answering objections to a crucified Messiah led them to seek and achieve profound religious and theological insights into the meaning of the event. From saying that Jesus was Messiah despite the Crucifixion (Acts 2.23,36; 3.1315, 1718; etc.), they came to say that He was Messiah in virtue of the Crucifixion because this was the fulfillment of the will of God (Gal 3.1013; 6.14; Rom 4.25). Liturgical influences on the Passion narratives include the celebration of the Eucharist, the administration of the Sacraments, and what may be called the "liturgy of the word."

While the kerygma (preaching) is the core of the apostolic preaching, the Passion narrative based on it is chiefly didache (instruction); that is, it is an illustration and an elucidation of the basic proclamation of salvation (see kerygma). To retain all the many deeds and sayings of Jesus was not possible (Jn 21.25); so the primitive community and the Evangelists preserved certain ones by a selective operation. Evidence of this is seen in the preservation of incidents from the Passion that prove that Jesus, Messiah and God's Son, foreknew His Passion and freely chose to suffer for our Redemption. The three Synoptic writers stress Christ's prophecies of the Passion, and John underlines the same truth in the parable of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10.1118). To stress the innocence of Jesus, the tradition emphasizes the guilt of the Jews, while in comparison it seems to mitigate the responsibility of Pilate. The Evangelists achieve this emphasis, however, only by leaving out some things that would tend to exonerate the Jews and not by inventing anti-Jewish stories; at the same time, they present the Passion as the fulfillment of God's will, so that both the Jews and Pilate are but instruments in God's redemptive design (Lk 24.4547).

Particular Characteristics of the Gospel Narratives. A study of similarities and differences among the four Gospel Passion narratives deepens appreciation of their significance and also reveals much about the way in which the early Christian community and the Evangelists understood them. Mark may be taken as the basis for comparison because it is simplest and earliest. Mark presents a historical view of Jesus' ministry and emphasizes the themes of hiddenness, secrecy, and lack of understanding about Jesus and His mission. The narrative of the Passion itself makes up a substantial part, approximately one-fifth, of the entire Gospel. For this reason, some critics have described Mark's Gospel as simply a Passion narrative with an introduction. Its purpose is more comprehensive than this, however; it seeks to elucidate the doctrine of Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Son of God. This basic theme is highlighted in three key places: in the opening statement (1.1); at Caesarea Philippi, the turning point of the Gospel (8.29); and at Jesus' death (15.39). The Passion narrative is an integral part of this total plan; as Peter's confession prepares the way for the narrative of the Passion, so the words of the pagan centurion (15.39) provide the final comment on it. Immediately after Peter's confession (8.29), Jesus' new teaching on the necessity of suffering is introduced.

In their account of the trial of Jesus, the Synoptic writers imply what John states explicitly: that the issue for which Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin is His teaching of His divinity (Mk 14.6162; Mt 26.6364; Lk 22.6671; Jn 18.1921). Before Pilate, however, the Sanhedrin attempts to indict Jesus on political charges, knowing well that blasphemy is not a charge that will win a death sentence from the Roman governor. The religious issue central to the trial is evident when the Jews insist: "We have a Law, and according to that Law he must die, because he has made himself Son of God" (Jn 19.7). Under pressure from the chief priests and the mob, Pilate fears an insurrection, so he delivers Jesus to be crucified (Mk 15.15). The connotation of παραδιδόναι (to deliver, to hand over), so frequently used in the accounts, is that ultimately it is God's will that is being fulfilled, the human agents being but instruments (cf. Rom 8.32; Acts2.23; Is 53.4). Significant of the restraint of the Gospel accounts is the fact that the cruel torture of the scourging is described with a single Greek word (Mk 15.15).

Like John, both Mark and Matthew associate a mocking and spitting scene with that of the scourging (Mk 15.1519; Mt 27.2630); and like the fourth Evangelist, also, they emphasize the royal caricature of the "King of the Jews." Luke, on the other hand, in a scene proper to his Gospel, separates the mocking and scourging; he attributes the mocking to the court of herod antipas, where Jesus is treated with contempt because of His claim to royalty (Lk 23.11). In the third Gospel the scourging alternative proposed by Pilate follows closely upon this scene at Herod's court. Luke's special source has apparently given him information about the dealings between Herod and Pilate, for the other Evangelists do not seem to know of Jesus' appearance before the Tetrarch of Galilee (see also Acts 4.2430). As the mercenaries of Pilate took their cue from the official accusations at the trial and mocked Jesus as a political pretender, so also earlier, the attendants at the court of the Sanhedrin had taken their cue from the charges of that court, ridiculing and maltreating Jesus as a religious pretender, taunting Him to exercise now His powers of prophecy (Mk 14.65). John associates maltreatment of Jesus with the questioning before Caiphas (Jn 18.2223); indeed, this unofficial hearing is more likely than the official meeting of the Sanhedrin.

Mark, followed by Matthew and Luke, tells of Simon of Cyrene's part in carrying the cross. For John's theological purpose, the incident of Simon's help seems unimportant, and he chooses instead to emphasize that Jesus goes freely to His death carrying the cross Himself and fully in charge of His destiny (Jn 19.17). In keeping with the Roman custom, the plaque announcing the deed for which He was being executed was posted on the cross above Jesus' head. All four accounts report this, but in four slightly different wordings, an interesting example of the way in which the primitive tradition preserved the substance, but not necessarily the exact details, of the events.

Old Testament in Passion Narratives. In Jesus' own teaching regarding His Passion, one of the most striking elements is His use of OT allusions and His interpretation of the Scriptures in function of His own person and mission: in God's salvific plan, He is the climax toward which all of Israel's history has been moving. His doctrine is so firmly rooted in scriptural thought that one can have little understanding of it unless one knows the significance of the OT references made. Especially in the Servant of the Lord oracles in Deutero-Isaiah and in Psalms 21 (22) and 68 (69), the early Church and the Evangelists saw delineated clearly the prefiguring of the Just One who suffered vicariously for His people (Mk 15.23, 34, 36; Mt 27.4243; Lk 23.34, 3537; Jn 19.24, 28, 29). Jesus Himself had consistently taught that He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures and had identified Himself with the Isaiah Servant. The Apostles and first Christians, meditating upon these passages, were impressed with the great similarities between the sufferings of the Isaian Servant and of Christ. Their desire to stress prophetic fulfillment was an important influence upon the formation, selection of events, and manner of narration of the Passion story. In the tradition we find preserved especially those things that show the fulfillment of prophecy, while more profane information may be omitted. Not merely the Passion as a whole, but also many individual happenings are seen as the fulfillment of Scripture and God's foreordained will, e.g., the betrayal by Judas, the arrest of Jesus, the flight of His disciples, His being raised up on the wood of the cross, and His shameful death as a criminal. The use of the OT by each of the Evangelists provides some unique insights into the meaning of the Passion.

Mark. The chief OT theme developed by Mark is that of Christ as Suffering Servant (cf. Is 52.1353.12). In Mk 14.21 the Gospel points out that Jesus, the Son of Man, "goes his way" to death "as it is written." Mark seems to allude to Is 53.7 in his description of Jesus' silence before the high priest and before Pilate (Mk 14.61; 15.5). The description of the mistreatment of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Mk 14.65) recalls the language of Is 50.6. On Calvary, Jesus' Crucifixion between the two thieves (Mk 15.27) recalls a passage from Isaia (53.12).

Matthew. The account in Matthew likewise emphasizes Jesus' role as Servant of Yahweh, but it reveals a particular interest in showing a literal accomplishment of prophecy. The language of Matthew is noticeably Biblical, e.g., in 26.35, 1416, describing the plot of the Jewish council against Jesus and perhaps recalling Ps 30 (31).14 and Ps 2.12. His account of Judas' betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver recalls Zec 11.1213, which he later cites explicitly in telling of Judas' fate (Mt 27.910). The derision by those standing about the cross recalls the words of Ps 21 (22).9, and their resemblance to the words of Wis 2.1220 is even more striking.

Luke. For his Passion narrative, Luke uses not only the Mark-Matthew tradition, but other sources as well. He includes incidents and OT allusions that contribute to the themes of his Gospel, including Jesus as the Chosen One of God, the Messiah (Lk 23.35). Luke's stress upon Jesus' fulfillment of the Servant prophecy is apparent, for he includes the allusions of the other Synoptics; and he makes a special point of emphasizing the realization of Is 53.12, "And he was counted among the wicked," by alluding to it in three different verses (Lk 22.37;23.3233). On Calvary Jesus' last words as recorded in Luke express the filial obedience of the Redeemer, the Chosen One, as He cries in the words of Ps 30 (31).6, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23.46).

John. In his use of OT allusions, the fourth Evangelist presents a developed, refined theology of Jesus' redemptive death. John omits many of the Synoptic details (e.g., Simon of Cyrene, the weeping women, the jeering of the onlookers, the darkness, the tearing of the Temple veil) and selects other incidents in which he sees special significance. Deep reflection on the meaning of Jesus' life and mission enabled John to see profound and sometimes subtle symbolism in the circumstances of the Passion. He conceives of Jesus' Passion as the beginning of His Exaltation, the supreme revelation to the world of His universal kingship and His divinity. John alone mentions the seamless tunic; his intention here may be to stress that Jesus dies as high priest of the New Covenant; for according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the robe of the Jewish high priest was a seamless one, described by Ben Sirach as a "glorious robe" (Sir 50.11). John concludes the description with another citation of Psalm 21 (22); here is an interesting example of the personal way in which John employs data from the apostolic tradition. Matthew and Mark cite the opening words of this Psalm in their description of the Crucifixion; John, however, sees Jesus' Passion primarily as the beginning of His glory, so he omits this seeming cry of desperation and prefers to point out (Jn 19.24) the fulfillment of those other words in the same Psalm: "They divided up my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots" [Ps 21 (22).19].

The typology of the Paschal Lamb is paramount in John's account. John stresses that Jesus' sacrifice takes place at the same time as that of the paschal lambs in the Temple (Jn 13.1; 18.28; 19.14, 31). When the sacrifice has been accomplished, and the Divine Lamb hangs dead upon the cross, John points out the significance of the piercing of His side (19.3437). The meaning of this event is explained by two texts of Scripture: the blood attests to the reality of the sacrifice, and the water, symbol of the Spirit (Jn 7.39), its spiritual fecundity. Many Fathers of the Church, with accurate insight into John's teaching, have seen in the water the symbol of Baptism, in the blood that of the Eucharist, and thus in the two Sacraments, the sign of the Church, the New Eve being born from the side of the New Adam. John's citation (19.36), "Not a bone of him shall you break," presents a composite picture of the Savior as Servant of Yahweh and Paschal Lamb [cf. Ex 12.46; Ps 33 (34).21]. Thus John sees the consummation of Jesus' Exaltation realized even at His death. He applies the citation of Zec 12.10, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced," not only to the piercing there on Calvary but also to the compelling, attracting power of the crucified, exalted Jesus (Jn 19.37; see also 3.14; 8.28; 12.32). His sacrifice accomplished, Jesus, the Paschal Lamb whose sacrifice wins universal redemption, draws all men to Himself so that with Him and through Him, all return to the Father.

See Also: trial of jesus.

Bibliography: x. lÉon-dufour, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 6:141992, with detailed bibliog.; "Mt et Mc dans le récit de la Passion," Biblica 40 (1959) 684696; "Autour des récits de la Passion," Recherches de science religieuse 48 (1960) 489507. k. h. schelkle, Die Passion Jesu in der Verkündigung des N.T.: Ein Beitrag zur Formgeschichte und zur Theologie des N.T. (Heidelberg 1949). a. m. ramsey, The Narratives of the Passion (Contemporary Studies in Theology 1; London 1962). v. taylor, "The Narrative of the Crucifixion," New Testament Studies 8 (196162) 333334. m. judge, The Passion Narratives in the College Sacred Doctrine Courses (Doctoral diss. microfilm; CUA 1963), bibliog. 267280.

[m. judge]