The Harmony Of The Gospels by St. Augustine
Chapter XXII.--Of the Question Whether the Evangelists are All at One on the Subject of the Narrative Regarding Joseph, Who Begged the Lord's Body from Pilate, and Whether John's Version Contains Any Statements at Variance with Each Other.
59. Matthew proceeds as follows: |Now when the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple: he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.| Mark presents it in this form: |And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable councillor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if He were already dead: and, calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether He had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.| Luke's report runs in these terms: |And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a councillor; and he was a good man, and a just (the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them): he was of Arimathea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.| John, on the other hand, first narrates the breaking of the legs of those who had been crucified with the Lord, and the piercing of the Lord's side with the lance (which whole passage has been recorded by him alone), and then subjoins a statement which is of the same tenor with what is given by the other evangelists. It proceeds in these terms: |And after this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.| There is nothing here to give any one of them the appearance of being in antagonism with another. But some one may perhaps ask whether John is not inconsistent with himself, when he at once unites with the rest in telling us how Joseph begged the body of Jesus, and comes forward as the only one who states here that Joseph had been a disciple of Jesus secretly for fear of the Jews. For the question may reasonably be raised as to how it happened that the man who had been a disciple secretly for fear had the courage to beg His body -- a thing which not one of those who were His open followers was bold enough to do. We must understand, however, that this man did so in the confidence which his dignified position gave him, the possession of which rendered it possible for him to make his way on familiar terms into Pilate's presence. And we must suppose, further, that in the performance of that last service relating to the interment, he cared less for the Jews, however he tried in ordinary circumstances, when hearing the Lord, to avoid exposing himself to their enmity.