In the synoptic gospels, Jesus’ death is accompanied by the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom. This curtain was a barrier between the Holy of Holies, God’s dwelling place which only the High Priest could enter, and the rest of the temple. It’s tearing symbolised the reconciliation between God and man accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross. There is a discrepancy between the accounts, however, concerning whether the temple curtain was torn before Jesus died, or at the moment that Jesus died.
Luke’s account clearly describes the temple curtain being torn in two before Jesus died. The curtain is torn, then Jesus cries out, and then he breathes his last:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. [Luke 23:44-46 (NRSV)]
Matthew, equally clearly, has the temple curtain tear at the moment that Jesus dies:
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. [Matthew 27:50-51a (NRSV)]
Mark is less explicit, but seems to agree with Matthew, placing the tearing of the temple curtain at the same time as Jesus’ death:
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. [Mark 15:37-38 (NRSV)]
So was the temple curtain torn before, or at the moment of, Jesus’ death?
N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.
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