I’ve used the expression “the devil is in the details” often. I’ve also never given any thought to this expression’s origin though. So I googled it. Apparently, the phrase suggests that small details can make a big impact, and if one is careless with these, they can have a big impact down the road. There’s another interesting tidbit about this phrase: according to Wikipedia, the phrase was originally “God is in the details.” I’m not sure I trust Wikipedia, but there it is. There’s no mention of why the switch from God to the devil.
So, details matter, even seemingly small ones. This is most apparent when it comes to the words we choose to describe a thing or an event. As Mark Twain asserted, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Clearly, a little difference here or there can completely change intended meaning.
As each Gospel has a slightly different take on the mostly same set of events involving Jesus, these differences are interesting to note.
Luke places emphasis on the trial Jesus faced in front of Pilate (23:13-25), skips the whipping/flogging at the hands of the Roman soldiers, and devotes more time to Jesus’ walk to the mountaintop where he was crucified. Perhaps Luke had less interest in the violence and more concern for the human interactions?
There are also some other subtle but perhaps rather significant changes while he is on the cross: in the ninth hour he calls out to God; however, unlike Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34), which both state that he asks why he is has been forsaken, Luke states that Jesus instead says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46). So Luke didn’t want to admit that Jesus had a doubtful moment but wanted him to appear confident throughout his ordeal? Perhaps this would have a negative impact on believers if they saw Jesus being human?
What is also interesting is that while Matthew and Mark state that the Temple curtain tore in two AFTER Jesus died (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38), here, the curtain tears right before (23:45). There’s obviously a connection between Jesus’ death and the curtain—it represents the tearing down of a barrier between God and people—the timing seems important. If it happens after, the timing suggests the death caused it. If it happens before, it feels related but not the cause. Would this in any way diminish the impact of Jesus’ sacrifice?
Then there’s how Judas’ betrayal is handled. In Matthew, he asked the chief priests how much they’d give him in silver to betray Jesus—it’s all very business-like and cold, calculated (26:14-15). Obviously, this portrays an awful picture of Judas. Mark’s version is even more straightforward—no dialogue, just a summary of him offering up Jesus (14:10-11). Perhaps this humanizes Judas a bit? Luke, however, also vilifies Judas. Yet unlike Matthew and Mark, he claims that Satan had possessed Judas, suggesting that Judas would not have betrayed Jesus otherwise (22:3).
Given how crucial Judas’ role in Jesus’ demise was, it’s strange that Luke would put this on Satan. I get why—Satan is evil, right?—but that almost lets Judas off the hook. Matthew and Mark’s version avoids this, showing how the weakness of a man leads to a horrible choice for a little bit of money.
I’d been told by a number of people that the Gospels are meant to be read collectively, that they provide merely a different version of the mostly same series of events. But when these differences exist, which one are you to believe? It seems significant what Jesus actually said in his ninth hour. It seems significant whether or not Judas was possessed by Satan. At the end of the day, the plot is the same. But the real message lies in the manner in which this story unfolded. This is the real function of studying history. Here, it looks like if you want to add a little spice to a story or an expression, all you have to do is add the devil to it. I hope it wasn’t just done for effect, however.
Next up: The Gospel of John. Finally, will I get some clarity on why people hold up chapters from this section of the Bible at baseball games?