Recently I discovered what I believe to be a notable feature of the description of Jesus’ trial before the Jewish leaders in the Gospel of Luke as I was reading through it in Greek. An attentive reader of a translation could also pick up on this, but reading it in Greek simply made it stand out to me more — as I find so often happens. This is the text that initiated my observation:
καὶ ἕτερα πολλὰ βλασφημοῦντες ἔλεγον εἰς αὐτόν. (Luke 22:65)
“And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.”
I noticed that Luke the Evangelist does something remarkable in telling the story of the trial of Jesus before his crucifixion compared to the other Synoptic Gospels. Bear with some relevant observations below.
In Matthew and Mark, they tell how the High Priest —upon hearing Jesus’ own testimony during his first “trial” before the Jewish leadership where he claimed that he was the Son of Man— tore his garments and said:
“What further witness do we need? You have heard his blasphemy (τῆς βλασφημίας). What is your decision?” (Mark 14:63b-64a)
“He has uttered blasphemy (Ἐβλασφήμησεν). What further witness do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy (τὴν βλασφημίαν). What is your judgment?” (Matthew 26:65b-66a).
Keep in mind here that the text reports to the reader that Jesus is the one being accused of blasphemy.
It is clear from context that the Jews here are picturing blasphemy as an offense specific to God as its recipient. While there are occurrences of blasphemy elsewhere in Scripture which are simply directed toward another human or even angelic beings (Jude 8), the context tips the balance here in favor of understanding this to be blasphemy of the divine. They were premising their accusation on Jesus’ identification with the divine Son of Man (Matthew 26:64), and calling for judgment on the basis of the Law of Moses which declares that those guilty of the specific crime of blasphemy against God should be killed (Leviticus 24:16).
Given that context, let’s observe what Matthew goes on to say and then compare his account to Luke:
“They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:66b-68).
In Luke’s account we see an amazing “reversal” take place in what is reported. He omits something Matthew includes in 26:65, but also includes something Matthew did not in 26:66-68.
Firstly, observe what is absent as Luke reports a summary of the agreement of what all of Christ’s accusers said (“they said” vs. 71), instead of specifically reporting the words of the High Priest: “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (Luke 22:71). No mention of Caiaphas’ accusation of blasphemy is given here, as Matthew had reported. Secondly, look where we notably do find an indictment of blasphemy in his account instead. Luke adds a comment that Matthew did not: “They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him (βλασφημοῦντες)” (Luke 22:64-65).
Luke has intentionally reported his account in such a way that he reveals that Jesus is clearly not the blasphemer, but rather that it is the Jewish leaders and their associates who are blasphemers. Compared to Matthew especially, this is an opposite portrayal or “reversal” (so to speak) of what is reported about blasphemy; even though it would be clear even to the readers of Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was not blaspheming either, since he truly is the Danielic Son of Man that he claimed to be.
Also, significantly, the statement that Luke makes in 22:65 has one further major implication: Jesus is God. Blasphemy against the Son of Man (Luke 22:22, 48, 69) denotes speaking against God. As mentioned above, the context of Jesus’ trial makes it clear that blasphemy is divine blasphemy (blasphemy against God). It was Jesus’ very identification with the Son of Man before Caiaphas that led him to accuse Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:64), because of that title’s association with divinity. Yet in Luke, where we see this reversal of the assertion of blasphemy, it carries with it the implication that Jesus is truly divine; thus, that they are the ones blaspheming him as God. I had never before noticed this passage as a testimony to the divinity of Jesus, yet as I examine it closely: there it is.
The revelation that the Jews were blaspheming their divine Messiah is a remarkable thing for Luke to highlight, which is worth pondering on. It leads his readers to more intentionally draw their thoughts to consider whose claims truly dishonored, offended, and misrepresented the true God during Jesus’ passion. Luke is crystal clear: it was not Jesus’ claims and actions which were amiss but rather those of his accusers.