How Does an Intellectually Struggling Christian Deal With the Seeming Concrete Differences Between the Synoptic Gospels?
The following is an edited transcript of the audio.
How does an intellectually struggling Christian deal with the seeming concrete differences between the Synoptic Gospels?
It's been so long since I read books about that. But when I was moving through that period of my life, encountering for the first time to what degree the Synoptics—that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke—depend upon each other, and how then, in that interdependence or telling the same story in different ways or with different words, how to manage all that, I was very helped by George Ladd's book on criticism called The New Testament and Criticism. It's 40 or 50 years old now, I suppose.
Some things you work through—like "What about the evidences for the resurrection?" or "What about how the Synoptics relate?"—and you work it through and you get it to your satisfaction, and then you don't go back to it much anymore. And that's the case with me. There are things being written today that I'm sure are as good or better as George Ladd that are in the same vein.
Bottom line is I don't think that the Synoptic Gospels contradict each other in what they say happened, but that they compliment each other.
They're like portraits. This is a portrait, and another person has drawn another portrait. And you look at the two, and they've both drawn the same person, but the two who drew the portraits drew them very differently.
So that if you have Jesus say "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in Matthew 5, and in Luke 6 "Blessed are the poor," period, do you say, "Which of those is right?"
I don't say, "Which of those is right?" I say, "Either at the same time or at different times Jesus said these things. And inspiration, for me, means that Matthew, understood according to his intention, is absolutely right in communicating the mind of Christ. And Mark, understood according to his intention, is absolutely right according to the mind of Christ. And when they say things in different ways they are not contradictory but mutually illumining."
So it has a great deal to do with the intention of the writers. But I would just encourage you to poke around and find the best evangelical scholar. For instance, Craig Blomberg, and others.
Once you go out there and just poke around you'll find books. This is for those of you who are really rigorous and want to dig down deep into how it actually works out in particulars.
But in principle I want to say that it helps me to think in terms of portraits. Portraits are different than photographs. Portraits are drawn in order to let the artist make the lips curl just a little bit, like Mona Lisa, so that it says something. And another portrait has the eye tilt a little bit differently, and that says something. And those two things are very different, but not contradictory.