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Ecce Homo: Only one Jesus

I've referred before to a 19th-century book on the Gospel of John by Stanley Leathes and, in particular, to a section of that book laying out similarities between Jesus as seen in John and Jesus as seen in the synoptics.

We need a catchy name for the argument that Jesus is the same man in all four of the Gospels, with the same personality, modus operandi, and even tricks of speech, and that he can be seen to be the same man very strikingly by attending to the texts. This was an argument known to those old 18th and 19th-century guys. J. J. Blunt discusses it. (Undesigned Coincidences, pp. 287-289.) William Paley has a section on it (Evidences of Christianity, Part II, Chapter IV "Identity of Christ's Character"). And as I say, Leathes shows it as well. And C.S. Lewis repeatedly talks about the Boswellian nature of the Gospels as memoirs of Jesus and the sense that one has met a very particular and vivid Person through these accounts.

I propose that this be called the Ecce Homo argument. Behold the man. When we look at Jesus in one Gospel and then in another, we see the same man, over and over again. "Critical scholarship," in its typical myopic fashion, obscures this fact by talking ad nauseum about the "Jesus of" Matthew, the "Jesus of" Luke, the "Jesus of" John, but in fact, an unprejudiced and attentive reader will come to see that there is really just one Jesus in the Gospels.

Here I will give just a few examples of Ecce Homo. Some of these I noticed independently and then found later in Leathes.

The first example concerns the tone of bitter irony that one finds occasionally in Jesus in both the synoptics and in John. Consider the following two very different sayings. In John, we have Jesus pointing out to the crowds that he is merely representing the Father and that all his glory comes from the fact that he is the Son. He is not, in other words, a mere man trying to gain personal aggrandizement:

But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. (John 5:42-43)

If one reads the verse often one might miss the harshness of the prophecy in vs. 43: "If another comes in his own name, you will receive him." It is quite plausible that Jesus is thinking here of the probability (or, when we assume genuine prophecy, certainty) of later messianic claimants. Simon bar Kokhba would be an example. In other words, Jesus realizes that the people would actually prefer a more self-aggrandizing and less doctrinal character than he himself is. It is not humility they are looking for! His statement that if another comes in his own name, they will accept that man has an undeniable edge of bitter harshness when one stops to think about it.

The same tone is evident in an entirely different saying in the Gospel of Luke:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:31-33

"It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem." Ouch! The quotation marks, of course, are added by later editors, and it isn't clear that Jesus was telling the Pharisees to pass on that particular statement to Herod. I myself would be inclined to close the quotes of the message to Herod after the phrase "finish my course." But if they did pass it on, one wonders if Herod remembered it when Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to him later (Luke 23:7).

But what sarcasm to find in the mouth of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild." A bruised reed he shall not break, but he has plenty of sharp words to say. Prophets always have to die in Jerusalem, you know!

Yet at the same time, this is the same man who goes on in the very next verses to lament:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.

Jesus had no illusions about Jerusalem and could move in a single breath from a tone of bitter reproof to that of love rejected. Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones them who are sent, it is this Jerusalem whom he would gather under his wings and who refuses.

Ecce homo. I submit that the same Jesus who (speaking in Jerusalem, as it happens) in John 5 says that the people will accept one who comes in his own name is the Jesus who says to the Pharisees, "It is impossible that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem."

By the same token, the same Jesus who says (in Matthew 11:28-30), "Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" is the Jesus who stands up on the last day of a feast in John 7:37 and cries out, "If any man is thirsty, let him come unto me and drink!" And this same Jesus who cries out thus in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths is the Jesus who agonizes over the city, "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not."

My next example concerns Jesus' statements about Moses. Compare:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.... Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)

And, in a different context altogether, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ Luke 16:28-31

In both, we have the appeal to Moses, the statement that those who will not hear Moses will not heed anything else. And I do not think we should question for a moment that Jesus was also thinking of his own resurrection from the dead when he put that phrase about someone's rising from the dead into Abraham's mouth in the parable he was telling. Hence, Jesus is also reflecting in Luke that those who will not hear Moses will not hear him, despite all his signs, including the greatest sign of the resurrection. ("Neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" is also an example of the bitterly reflective tone noted earlier.)

Ecce homo. It is the same turn of mind. The same example that comes to his thought and comes out in his teaching in different places and different forms.

Finally, consider this parallel:

In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman with an affliction that makes it impossible for her to stand up. He heals her on the Sabbath, and this causes a dust-up, as is so often the case. The ruler of the synagogue, perhaps afraid to tackle Jesus directly, launches into a little tirade to the people, berating them for coming to be healed on the Sabbath. "There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day."

This, as you can imagine, doesn't go over well with Jesus, and he shoots back:

“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:15-17)


Notice, what no doubt added to the piquancy of Jesus' victory, the play on words. (The ancient Jews loved rabbinic plays on words.) They will untie an animal on the Sabbath to lead it to water, but they attempt to forbid his untying this daughter of Abraham on the Sabbath, though she has been bound for eighteen years.

Now compare the account of a completely different episode in John. In John 5, Jesus heals a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. He tells him to take up his pallet and walk, and subsequently the Jewish leaders complain both because the man has performed "work" by carrying his pallet on the Sabbath and because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath. Jesus, so far from trying to calm them down, implies his equality with the Father and the Father's approval of his miracles in verse 17, which only makes them angrier and determined to kill him.

Commentators and harmonists are divided as to when this healing took place as far as the time of year. John 5:1 says that Jesus was in Jerusalem for a feast but does not specify which feast, and pretty much every possible feast in the Jewish calendar has been suggested. The feeding of the five thousand in John 6 occurs shortly before Passover, and Jesus is once again up north in Galilee. (It appears that he may not have gone to Jerusalem for that particular Passover or, if so, that no Gospel records the visit, not even John.) By John 7:10 Jesus is back in Jerusalem again for the Feast of Booths, which is celebrated in the autumn. (I am inclined to think this was the autumn before his death the following April.) It's hard to tell exactly how much time has passed between the healing of the lame man in John 5 and the visit in John 7, but Jesus mentions the event to the people and expects at least some of them to remember it.

Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

Here, on the same topic but in an entirely different incident, is the same turn of thought and the same rhetorical flare found in Luke 13. Here is the same savage wit. Jesus again uses a play on words to make his point about the Sabbath. If the eighth day of a boy's life happens to fall on the Sabbath, the leaders approve of circumcising him in order to keep the law. That does not count as work, they deem. Thus it is permitted to make a man's body "un-whole" on the Sabbath. But when Jesus made a man's entire body whole on the Sabbath by making him walk, this caused anger.

Ecce homo.

It is in such indications that we see the texture of reality in the Gospels, the portrait, and the reportage. The goal of the evangelists was to show us one man, standing out in stark relief. To see that they are all showing us the same man, without fudging the picture to make him what they want him to be, we need only break free of the constraints of critical scholarship and read the memoirs with fresh, human eyes.

Comments (3)

Take a public figure. Send out 2 good, honest reporters to follow him day in and day out for 3 years at the height of his career. Have them wait 10 or 20 years to write up their accounts of him. Then detail 2 more good, honest reporters to live with friends of the public figure for years, allowing them to interrogate / question them at length and in detail. Have those 2 reporters write up their accounts years later.

Now compare the 4 accounts. What picture emerges of this famous man? Are they all the same? Do they all sound the same? Do they all tell the same details? Do they all focus on the exact same facets of his most famous events?

Does the famous man sound the same in all of his speeches and acts during the 3 years? Does he always sound meek, if he is meek, or does he sometimes sound meek and sometimes assertive? Does he sometimes sound angry - even though one would not typically characterize him as "an angry man"? Is he sometimes pensive, sometimes berating, sometimes direct and sometimes subtle?

Does he sometimes seem to contradict what he said earlier? [Do you sometimes seem to contradict yourself? Do you sometimes ACTUALLY contradict what you said earlier, not remembering or not realizing the past connection to what you are saying today?] Does he sometimes use a turn of phrase that he has never used before? Does he on occasion allow a personality trait to show that he usually keeps more hidden?

The notion that you could establish that the Jesus of Mark and the Jesus of John are "not the same Jesus" from the testimony of such reports is ludicrous. Perhaps even more to the point, the notion that you could tell for sure which details Mark or Luke left out of their accounts by design rather than by accidents of (a) not having been there for that event, or (b) not remembering a detail clearly, or (c) having a different focus and not thinking the detail was significant / important to recite, or even (d) knowing that someone else covered it, is, let us say, highly imaginative (or ludicrous, take your pick).

Ah, well, I'm sure if we all just read the Gospel of John several times in Greek we would be blinded by the light and see immediately that the "Jesus of John" speaks radically differently from the "Jesus of Mark." It's called "Greek magic" and happens to real scholars. But not to hoi polloi. Only for some inexplicable reason it doesn't seem to happen to all real scholars. But believe me, Greek magic is a real force, and if you cannot read Greek or have not read John *several times in Greek*, then you haven't given Greek magic its proper chance to convince you of the irreconcilable "accent" of the "Jesus of John" with the "Jesus of the synoptics."


I'm sure if we all just read the Gospel of John several times in Greek

Yes, because Greek, unlike every other language in the world, prevents a person from being ambiguous, precludes a person from showing one side of himself here and another side there, forces a person to use the same small set of tones of voice in all circumstances, and obliges every reporter to pick up and transmit every facet of your speech and behavior.

Greek voters must have it easy with a language like that, because they must always know everything about every person running for office.

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