Passion-Resurrection Narrative

I. Introduction

Imagine that, in the summer of 50 CE, you owned a merchant ship loading wheat at Alexandria destined for Rome's port of Ostia Antica. For several years, you lived a quiet life as a Christian. On the Sunday morning prior to embarking for the imperial capital, you gathered with the other faithful at dawn to celebrate the Lord's Supper. After the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine, you sit with the others around the community elder to hear the story of your Savior's death and resurrection. While the leader related the narrative many times before, he infused it with an energy and enthusiasm that made it seem fresh. Indeed, the leader claimed he heard the story second hand from the apostle Thomas.

Six weeks later, you just concluded your business in Rome. The port workers successfully offloaded the grain, your business associates at Ostia paid you for your services and, in turn, you settled accounts with your crew. At the end, you made a tidy profit. Now you desire to thank God for your good fortune. On the following Sunday, you gather with local believers to share the Eucharist. And, just like your experience back home, a church elder stood up to tell the story of the Passion and Resurrection. While he told the familiar scenes in order, he related new material with a new emphasis. You turned you head and stared at the elder in amazement. After the meeting, you sought an aside with the leader. "Did Peter really deny the Lord three times?" you asked. "Yes," he replied. "I heard the story from Peter himself. The great apostle wanted everyone to know that, if the Lord could forgive his closest friend, he can forgive anyone, even the apostate."

In the heady days of the mid-first century CE, missionaries like St. Paul spread the Good News across the Mediterranean basin, forming small church communities as they went. While they preached from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (like the Septuagint), they did not have the luxury of writing down the life of Jesus. Instead, they felt an urgency to convert as many as possible in the face of an immanent Second Coming. Besides, living witnesses to the Passion-Resurrection proclaimed what the Nazarene said and did; the people they brought into the movement retold the stories of Jesus with a greater fervor than any gossip could sustain. The energy and enthusiasm of the faithful created a thirst to hear more about the Lord.

In time, the end did not arrive and the eyewitnesses passed away. And with the changes, the urgency and enthusiasm of the early days waned. The communities needed new touchstones to remember the stories about Jesus, especially his death and resurrection. Hence, four writers penned four different gospel to four different audiences with four different views of the Lord. Yet, if we peer into the New Testament, we can see hints of the dynamism the early Church possessed in telling the story of the Passion-Resurrection, how the story gained some details and how Mark, Matthew, Luke and John used the same framework to create four different views of the events at the end of Jesus' life.