Problem: A man's ear is cut off before or after Jesus is seized
Verses: Mark 14:45-47, Luke 22:47-54, others; Status: Serious

An anonymous reader sends me this. In Mark, after Jesus is seized by the soldiers, one of Jesus' followers attacks with a sword. This is Mark 14:45-47:

And when he [Judas] came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. (ESV)

Matthew 26:49-51 agrees, and is even more explicit about the order. However, when Luke retells this story, he can't present things in this order, because he wants to mention that Jesus healed the man (a detail only found in Luke). Thus, he reorders events so that Jesus is still free when the man's ear is cut off. (Of course, this is troubling, because it casts doubt on the truth of Luke's version of the story.) This is Luke 22:47-51:

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" And he touched his ear and healed him. (ESV)

It seems clear enough that, in Luke's version, Jesus hasn't been seized yet. And indeed, Luke tells us later (verse 54) that the men seized Jesus at that point. For what it's worth, John 18:4-12 also agrees that Jesus had not yet been seized when the man's ear was cut off.

In searching for solutions, my first thought was that perhaps Jesus was seized, but broke free to heal the man, and then was seized again. However, John presents the soldiers as being unwilling to come near Jesus until after Simon Peter attacks, which seems to make this harmonisation impossible.

Updated: 2016-11-03

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