Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted, p44) argues that the gospels become progressively anti-Jewish and pro-Roman from Mark through to John. This, of course, assumes, with mainstream scholarship, that Mark was the first, and John the last, of the Gospels to be written.
It is significant that in John’s Gospel, on three occasions Pilate expressly declares that Jesus is innocent, does not deserve to be punished, and ought to be released (Jn 18:38; 19:6; and by implication in Jn 19:12). In Mark, Pilate never declares Jesus innocent. Why this heightened emphasis in John? Scholars have long noted that John is in many ways the most virulently anti-Jewish of our Gospels (see John 8:42-44, where Jesus declares that the Jews are not children of God but “children of the Devil”). In that context, why narrate the trial in such a way that the Roman governor repeatedly insists that Jesus is innocent? Ask yourself: If the Romans are not responsible for Jesus’ death, who is? The Jews. And so they are, for John. In Jn 19:16 we are told that Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jewish chief priests so they could have him crucified.
Jonathan McLatchie responds:
Ehrman’s claim here is that, as we move from earlier to later gospels the gospels progressively shift the blame for Jesus’ death from the Romans to the Jews. Ehrman of course assumes the consensus position that Mark was written first, followed by Matthew, then Luke, then John. So let’s see to what extent each of the four gospels fits the pattern that Ehrman claims exists.
Mark, like all of the other gospels, describes the plot of the Jewish leaders and chief priests to kill Jesus. Mark, like all of the Synoptics, also records the plot of the chief priests and the bribe given to Judas to betray Jesus. Like all of the other gospels, Mark tells us that those who arrested Jesus in Gethsemane were sent from the chief priests, and that Jesus was tried by night before the high priest. He also tells us that the Jewish leaders delivered him to Pilate. And in Mark 15:9 and 14, Pilate tries to get the Jewish crowd to allow him to release Jesus. How does that fact square with Ehrman’s claim that, in Mark, Pilate and the Jewish leaders are agreeing on what has to be done?
How does Matthew fit this pattern? Ehrman points out that Matthew reports the Jews saying “His blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). This indeed is a very striking statement. But Matthew comes before Luke and John, and they report nothing of the sort. Thus, the contrast counts when Ehrman desires to show “development” from Mark to Matthew, but is conveniently passed over when Ehrman moves on to discuss Luke and John.
How does Luke fit this pattern? Luke omits the hand-washing scene found in Matthew 27:24-25. Luke 23:27 portrays a great crowd of people weeping and mourning as Jesus is led out to be crucified. This can hardly be considered to be more anti-Jewish than Matthew’s account.
How does John fit this pattern? Besides lacking the hand-washing scene in Matthew 27:24-25, John also omits mention of the Roman centurion who states “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39) or “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47). But John, according to Ehrman’s paradigm, being the latest of the gospel authors, is supposed to be the most pro-Roman. Furthermore, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is mocked by the Jewish leaders (Mark 15:29). But this mockery is not recorded in John. This is very surprising given the thesis that John’s gospel is further along the trajectory of anti-Jewish sentiment.
So, the next time a scholar who holds a PhD and a professorship position at a major University, like Bart Ehrman, attempts to challenge your confidence in the reliability of Scripture, do not be intimidated. Instead tell him that you would like to read his sources for yourself.