Why Did Jesus Not Carry His Own Cross?

A reader writes:

I’m writing to ask for something to be clarified from an article which Jacob wrote and that was published in the Moriel Quarterly ““ December 2009, The Road to Emmaus.

On page 13 under the section for “The Corporate Solidarity of Simon Cyrene” it quotes Luke 23:26 and then the article goes on to ask, “Why did Jesus not carry His own cross?” and the response to the question was to allude that to do so would be an admission of guilt and He wasn’t guilty.

Can you explain to me, in the light of what has been said about Jesus not carrying His own cross, what the explanation for John 19:17 might be please?

Your explanation would appear correct in the light of Matt, Mark and Luke as they all seem to agree with it, and in my Bible there were no cross-references to say He did actually carry His cross, but John 19 seems to say quite clearly that He did. And if He did, how does this then affect the allusion that to do so, would be an admission of guilt?

Thanks very much for your time.

Jacob Responds:

Thank you for your question.

To reply at length would necessitate a detailed explanation why John’s Gospel and the synoptic Gospels differ from each other in content while the synoptics only differ marginally in comparison.

The details included or highlighted in each gospel reflect the doctrinal emphasis each author was inspired to highlight and the readership it was oriented toward at the time. While the doctrinal content applies to all believers at all times, issues of author’s intent and immediate readsership must be first taken into account in order to properly establish what it means for us. John (like Matthew) for instance was writing to Jews while Luke was not. John’s gospel was written with an evangelistic aim (John 20:31), while the synoptics (particularly Luke) were written with more of a historical aim (Luke 1:1-4). It is not possible to even attempt to make an exhaustive effort to address these issues of theme, readership, and author’s intent by email, but bear in mind it is such considerations that account for the textual differences and variations in content, etc.

The Greek term in John 19:17 for He “went out” is “ekalthen” which simply means that He carried the cross out of the immediate presence of Pilot (where He was condemned on our behalf). It does not mean that He carried it all the way to Gogaltha. There is also a translation difficulty in some versions; “that He carried His own cross” is better translated “He carried it out Himself”‘.

John is not concerned with the public procession of the condemned is his theme or aim. John is writing for another reason and so omits those details; Luke includes them. It is in the public procession to execuition that Jesus does not carry the cross because it could be misconstrued as a public omission of guilt so God providentially arranges for the episode with Simon of Cyrene.

The public procession to execution is however, theologically important because it fulfills in part the ritual typology of the scapegoats (“seir azazel“) on The Day of Atonement/Yom Kippur which we read about in Hebrews and Leviticus. Here lies another difference: John’s Passion Narrative is more concerned with showing Jesus as the Messianic fulfillment of the Spring holy days in Leviticus 23-25, particularly the Paschal or Passover aspects.

In the synoptic passion narratives there is a greater emphasis on alluding to Christ as fulfilling the Autumn feast of the scapegoat while John is more fixed on Jesus as the Paschal lamb. The Day of Atonement theme is not absent from John (e.g. one goat would die and one go free) represented also in John by Barabbas. Likewise the Paschal theme is not absent from the synoptics. But john puts emphasis on the Paschal theme and imagery (e.g. John 19:36 from Exodus 12:46) while the synoptics have greater emphasis on the atonemet theme. Under divine inspiration each spotlights different aspects of these same events and include the historical details they require to so illustrate this typology accordingly.

It is much more involved than this, but the prohibitions of time and the limitations of email prevent me from commenting further. Nonetheless, I trust this helps clarify the matter for you.

Blessings In Jesus,

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