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Matt. 27:46,50 (see also Mark 15:34): "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?' that is to say, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' ...Jesus, when he cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost."
Luke 23:46: "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, 'Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit:' and having said thus, he gave up the ghost."
John 19:30: "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished:' and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."
Do we have different and contradictory stories here? We refer the reader as usual to our essays on Harmonization. Before declaring error or contradiction, there are a number of issues of perspective to consider:
- What is the effect of oral tradition and/or literary selection?
- Could John know things the others did not because he was near the cross (John 19:25), and in a position at that time to hear things that people farther away - which would include perhaps Matthew, or people interviewed by Matthew and Luke - did not?
- Is John supplementing the Synoptics and therefore purposely reporting different things?
- What is each writers' purpose? Might they not have selected from a wide range of things Jesus said? If Jesus spoke from the cross at all it is hardly unlikely that he said more than one sentence.
Here's a sensible reconstruction. Matthew is in red, Luke in blue, John in green. Matthew/Luke equities are in maroon. Matthew/John equities are in black. (Mark reports more or less the same thing as Matthew.)
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."
Jesus said, "I am thirsty." A jar of wine vinegar was there, so (i)mmediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink (MT)/ they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips (JN). The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."
When he had received the drink Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (JN)/And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice(MT)/ Jesus called out with a loud voice (LK)/"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last(LK)/gave up his spirit(MT).
So by reasonably equating John's "giving up" of the spirit with total event of the final cry, the problem is resolved. We need only recognize that John is focusing on what Jesus said that was not shouted publicly - the plea of thirst, the statement of completion, and the turning over of responsibility for Jesus' mother to John. This fits in with his station at the foot of the cross.
Let's now consider some rather uneducated objections from a source that will remain deservedly anonymous.
Why would Jesus cry out that God had forsaken him and then just a few moments later say that he had committed his sprit to God?
This objection fails to grasp Jesus' purpose in alluding to Psalm 22. It is not a literal statement that God has forsaken Jesus, but an indication that Jesus is re-enacting Psalm 22, including the triumphant declaration of vindication at the end. In that sense, hearers who saw Jesus' crucifixion as a rejection would understand him to be saying that he would, rather, be vindicated. It is not a cry of dereliction, but of triumph.
Why would he say “It is finished” in climactic finality, but then say more later?
Here again, we have a sorrowful case of contextual cluelessness. The assumption is that what Jesus is saying is "finished" is, "all my speaking." The context of John 19 is such, however, that was is clearly meant is that prophetic fulfillment is finished:
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
It takes some rather wooden thinking to apply "it is finished" to the act of Jesus speaking.
Combining the Gospel accounts like this ruins the Gospel authors thematic motifs!
That it does. But this misses the obvious point that the Gospel authors created their motifs precisely by selecting from available material and discarding what did not fit their motif. Appealing to the idea of "different opinions," as though each writer simply made up things to suit their motifs, begs the question. In my work today, one could easily assemble a vareity of "motifs" by selection: You could depict me in Cartooon Artist Motif, or in a Research and Writing Motif, or in a Domestic Tranquility Motif, simply by selecting various events of my day while ignoring others.
Needless to say, such an answer presupposes a rather one-dimensional understanding of how life works.