THE ACCURACY OF THE GOSPELS (1). On examination of passages arising in the four Gospels, i

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THE ACCURACY OF THE GOSPELS (1). On examination of passages arising in the four Gospels, it can be seen that the narrative is composed to suit the theological viewpoint of the evangelist. When comparing a narrative with its parallel in another Gospel, or when a narrative only appears in one Gospel, it becomes obvious that the evangelists had their own beliefs and attitudes, and these sometimes become obvious. It is clear that the authors of the Gospels shaped, remoulded, selected and adapted the material available to them to suit their purpose. From this it can be seen that the evangelists selected and adapted the material available to them, so they could write with a special purpose and objective in mind. Matt's author, using Mark as a source, wanted to show Jesus' mission was to the Jews, as their own messiah, but the author of Luke, also using Mark as a source, wanted to picture Jesus in a way that his Hellenistic readers would understand and relate to. The author of John, possibly using Mark or a Ur- Markus, as a source, or the source of Mark for some of his information, wrote from a highly individual viewpoint and in this Gospel, the writer's personal interpretation and authorship becomes most apparent. Before the resurrection in Matt however, Jesus is shown as being solely for the Jews; Jesus is pictured as the Jewish messiah, the descendent of Abraham and the Son of David; his life fulfilled the OT prophesies and expectations. On occasions the OT texts are wrestled from their context and used very artificially in Matt. Whilst pro-Jewish, the author writes against certain Jewish groups which he felt particular hostility towards. In Luke, Jesus is the saviour of the world - to Jew, Samaritan and Gentile. Luke's author makes it clear that from the very beginning, not only Israel, but the world was blessed by Jesus' appearance on earth. (2:l4,32). In Luke, Jesus' coming was vital in world history and history, both past and present had to be shaped around the years of Jesus' life on earth. Jesus' coming in Luke influences history as is shown by Jesus' comment in Luke l6:l6 that the law and prophets were only 'until John'. From this point a new phase in history begins. Luke's author was clearly sympathetic to the poor and outcast; he includes material that teaches this and which is only found in Luke, eg. the woes against the wealthy (6:24,25), the story of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke l6); there is one case where Luke is detailing the same material as Matt, but a clear change is made to uphold his view towards the poor - "Blessed are the poor in spirit....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt 5:3,6) but in Luke this is "Blessed are you poor....Blessed are you that hunger now..." (6:20,21). Here, as can be clearly seen, the evangelist has deliberately changed the wording to suit either his spiritual theology (Matt) or his social theology (Luke). In Luke there is the call by Jesus to care for the outcast with the promise of reward for doing this (l4:12-l4), and there is also Jesus' teaching that the despised classes (in this case a tax collector) were more sincere and pleasing to God than the so-called religious teachers (l8:l0-l4). It has been argued that the Gospels contain 'pillar passages', ie. statements that conflicted with early church theology and belief which created problems for the early church, but despite this, the fact that these were included shows that the evangelists faithfully recorded these and that they wrote a reliable account of Jesus' life. One such passage is Mark 3:21 where it is stated that Jesus' family went out to 'seize him' because of the accusations of insanity. At first sight this does appear that the author has included something that puts Jesus' family in a bad light and it certainly clashes with the church's belief that Jesus' family later became members of the church (eg. Acts l:l4) and were later held in high esteem. However, some commentators believe this is not necessarily connected with mental instability, and furthermore, the author may have had in mind the 'prophesy' of Isa 53:3 that the servant would be despised and rejected of men; indeed Jesus does remind the disciples that he would suffer contempt (9:l2). In Mark there is the statement that Jesus could not work miracles because of unbelief (6:5) and indeed Matt (l3:58) modifies this, and Luke omits it altogether, but this is not necessarily a passage that reduces Jesus' stature; Mark repeatedly emphasises the need to believe in Jesus for his power to be able to manifest itself - eg. Mark 5:34, l0:52. Because some passages were included in the Gospels and these may have embarrassed the church does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the evangelists recorded an accurate historical account of Jesus' life; this is particularly so in view of the situation in the early church which was not uniform and was very fluid. The principal motive of each evangelist in producing a 'Gospel' was for the preaching of the early church; the Gospels were not intended to be for general and public circulation and reading. It is clear that they did write as theologians and not historians and therefore they cannot be viewed as trustworthy (ie. reliable and accurate) historians. In John, hostility against Judaism reaches a peak; by the end of the first century, Christianity was no longer deemed to be just a schism in Judaism. By this time there was an official cursing of the Christians ('Minim') in the synagogues. The Gospel of John therefore coincides with the mutual feeling between the Jews and early Christians at the time of being written. In John, the Jews are pictured as slow, dull-witted, aggressive and hypocritical, deviating from the original faith. They are prepared to murder (l2:l0-ll) and are pictured as ignorant of God's word (5:38-40), without God's love (5:42), accused by Moses (5:45), potential murderers (8:40), children of the devil who was a murderer and liar (8:44) and they are even reported as making several attempts to kill Jesus (8:59, l0:31). The author puts words into their mouths which could not have been spoken; the statement of 'We have no king but Caesar' by the chief priests (l9:l5) would have been a denial of all Jewish theology and history apart from the fact that a Jewish leader making this statement would soon encounter the fury of the nationalist Zealots. The author comes very close to preventing Jesus from being a Jew himself when he writes of Jesus speaking to the Jews of 'your father Abraham' (8:56), 'your law' (l0:34). He continues his polemic in having the Jews even asking for leg-breaking after Jesus had died (l9:31) which results in Pilate instructing this even though it conflicts with Mark which describes Pilate as being unaware of Jesus' death (l5:44-45). John also writes about the expulsion of Christians from the synagogues and the possibility of executions (9:22, l6:2), which did not exist in the time that Jesus supposedly lived, but did exist in the closing years of the first century when the Gospel was written (ie. the official cursing of the 'Minim' inserted into the synagogue service under Rabbi Gamaliel, ca. 85 CE). Another indication that the evangelists have composed stories about Jesus without historical foundation is their interpretation of what they considered to be Old Testament 'prophesies'. Because the author of John understood the Hebrew parallelism of Psa 22:l8 as two completely separate actions, he has the soldiers carrying out two separate actions (l9:23-24). The other evangelists who did not misunderstand this, only have one action in the disposal of Jesus' clothes (Matt 27:35, Mark l5:24, Luke 23:34). In the same way, the author of Matt misunderstood the parallelism of Zech 9:9 and had two animals involved in Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (21:2-7) when in fact there is only one animal being spoken about. The other evangelists do not make this mistake and therefore only have one animal - Mark l:2-7, Luke l9:30-35, John l2:l4-l6. These examples show that the evangelists, rather than being historians, were only interested in the theology of what they were writing about. In these two cases they have deliberately introduced details to 'agree' what they felt to be an OT prophecy. One commentator admits that the whole of Jesus' trial is based on O.T. prophesy; therefore rather than the Christian statement that the life of Jesus 'fulfilled' O.T. prophesies (although in reality few are actual 'prophesies'), the very reverse is true - Jesus' earthly life was built up on these 'prophesies'. John gives the picture of the Logos in full control of every situation with his power being considerably greater than the Synoptics, eg. whilst the Synoptics record resurrections of people who had only just died (eg. Matt 9:l8), Jesus resurrects a man who had been dead for four days (ll:l7), the blind man healed was not like the man who had once seen in the Synoptics (Mark 8:24), but had been blind from birth (9:l), Jesus carries his own cross (l9:l7) and does need not this to be carried for him as in the Synoptics (eg. Matt 27:32). Again, the theological view of John's author completely overshadows any desire to present a historical account; his account is to show that Jesus was the Son of God and historical facts are not relevant. In the same way, the author of Matt is keen to show that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, while the authors of Luke and Mark are more concerned with portraying a Jesus who would be acceptable to Gentiles. Mark, almost certainly the first Gospel, includes a number of errors which not only show that the author was not an eyewitness to the events he so vividly describes (and also, was not based on anyone else's account who was an eyewitness), but also that details such as features of the Jewish religion, geography and chronology were only secondary to his purposes. Mark (1:2) has a quotation from Malachi 3:l and Isaiah 40:3, but he attributes both to Isaiah (furthermore he interfered with the poetry by changing the location of the wilderness), there is a chronological error in naming Abiathar as the high priest (2:26), Herod is called a king when he was in fact a tetrach and this is followed by an error about Philip's wife (6:l4,l7), he attributed a custom of the strict Pharisees to all the Jews (7:3), his mention of Dalmanutha in 8:10 indicates he was not very familiar with Palestine, there is a reference by Jesus to women divorcing their husbands, a custom not possible in Palestine (l0:12), together with an error over the timing of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (l4:l,12). On occasions, the author seems to be confused about Palestinian life. The errors contained within Mark were 'corrected' by the authors of Matthew and Luke, and sometimes by later copyists, particularly when they involved important theological points. It was the same situation with each of the four evangelists; each one had a particular motive, each one had a specific theological belief and each one had a certain group of people in mind for whom their Gospel was intended. On occasions, the reason for relating a story not found in the other three Gospels, or for making a drastic change in it is not altogether clear. All four Gospels have the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman; Matt (26:6-l3) and Mark (l4:2-ll) have this after the entry into Jerusalem, but John has this before, while Luke has it long before the arrival in Jerusalem during the early ministry (Luke 7:36-50). Whilst Luke has the woman anointing Jesus' feet as does John (l2:3), Matt and Mark have the woman anointing Jesus' head. Other minor differences occur, eg. Jesus tells Peter of his denials after leaving the room where the last supper was eaten, on the way to Gethsemane in Matt (26:30-35) and Mark (l4:26-31), but in Luke (22:33-34/39) and John (l3:37-38/l8:l), Jesus tells him before leaving. In Luke, Jesus is assaulted before the questioning by the Sanhedrin and the questioning takes place the following morning (22:63-71), but in Matt (26:57-68/27:l) and Mark (l4:53-65/l5:l) the assault is immediately after the questioning and this all takes place before the morning. Presumably there was a reason for the differences which occur in all four Gospels, but they have been lost in time. Differences such as these may arise because of the evangelist wishing to convey a particular point which is not obvious, or they may simply arise because of the way the material/tradition was transmitted and reached the evangelist. When certain passages are examined, it can be seen what the evangelist had in mind and furthermore, what he personally viewed as important. The author of Matt wanted to show that Jesus' mission was to the Jews. In l5:21-28, Jesus' objection to healing the Gentile woman's daughter is much more obvious than in Mark (in Mark, the only time Jesus is called 'Lord' is by this woman - 7:28; here Mark has used the story, which in Matt is anti-Gentile, to show that it was a Gentile who recognised who Jesus was). Matt also adds that Jesus said that he had only come 'to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. The author of Luke, not only pro-Gentile, but endeavouring to portray Jesus as humane, omits the whole story. Jesus instructed his disciples not to go anywhere near Gentiles or Samaritans, but to go to 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel' in Matt l0:5-6, but Mark does not include this (6:7ff) and nor does Luke (9:lff). Luke contradicts this by saying that Jesus wanted to enter Samaria. but was prevented from doing so by the inhabitants (9:52-53); also in Luke, Jesus heals a Samaritan (l7:ll-l6), and Jesus' mission to the Samaritans, which is precluded in Matt, goes even further in John when Jesus goes into Samaria and many are converted there (4:4,5,39-42). It is generally accepted that the seventy disciples sent out in Luke l0:l was a Gentile mission. Not only did the authors of Matt and Luke correct the errors in Mark, and the author of John reinterpret the oral and written material that was the basis for the Synoptic Gospel account, they also clearly made considerable changes to Mark. Although some corrections and changes are to make the account more authentic, the principal cause for the changes is clearly theological. This can be traced in all four Gospels, from beginning to end. Matt begins with a genealogy tracing Jesus back to Abraham through David (l:l-16) - to show Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but Luke has this going back to Adam (3:23-38) to show Jesus' coming was to save all mankind and not just Israel. This fact is announced just after the birth in Luke also - 2:28,32. The author of Mark begins his Gospel very abruptly, whilst the author of John begins his Gospel by stating that Jesus was the pre-existent Logos, and it is this portrayal that runs throughout John. To the end of the Gospels, the personal theological belief, manner and motivation of each author still manifests itself; in Mark the resurrection narrative ends as abruptly as the Gospel begins; the resurrection appearances are not detailed possibly because the whole message of Mark is faith (Mark 16:9-20 is generally acceprted to be a later addition to avoid the abrupt ending). In Matt, the last appearance by Jesus to the disciples is on a mountain; this may be an attempt to connect Jesus' departure with Moses' (NB. In Matt, Jesus teaches about the law on a mountain - 5:l,l7-42, which recalls Moses receiving the law on the mountain; in the Lukan parallel, Jesus did not teach on a mountain, but rather 'he came down and stood on a level place' and this did not relate to the law - 6:l7-49; this in itself is an example of how the evangelists adapted material to illustate a theological point). The author of Matt endeavoured to show that Jesus did not come to 'end' Judaism, but was a fulfilment of it. In Luke, Jesus' departure is in the area of Jerusalem where the disciples are to remain, ie. where it all began. In John the emphasis was to instil faith in those who already believed but felt distanced from Jesus by being second or third-generation Christians (20:29,31). What has to be borne in mind is the fact that the evangelists were not only producing their narratives from isolated disconnected sayings and stories, many of which had survived down to their time only through oral tradition, their narratives were also related to the Jesus they believed in, pictured through their own personal experience; their account was also shaped for the people for whom it was intended. The Gospels would also reflect the evangelists' own culture and background. They also had to deal with factors which had only emerged during their time, eg. why Jesus had not returned, why Judaism had rejected its Messiah, how Christianity could be related to Judaism, how Christianity could show that Jesus was the one foretold in the Old Testament, and as the church became distanced from the time that Jesus supposedly lived, the rising importance of the disciples/apostles. The evangelists cannot therefore be viewed as trustworthy historians as they saw historical information only as a basis for the 'Good News' they were attempting to declare. This information only served as a background for the story they wanted to tell. As the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus' life, but rather, compositions for preaching and/or to satisfy the need of a particular Christian community, their value as "historical" documents is 'nil'. The source of Matthew and Luke, although there is still disagreement over this, appears to have been a mixture of, (a)the Q document; in fact the authors of Matthew and Luke may not have used the same document, ie. due to difference in time and area, one evangelist may have seen a different (eg. expanded) Q document; the term 'Q' is also used to denote oral as well as written tradition, and, (b)Mark; it appears they most probably used the canonical Mark, and not an earlier edition, and, (c)their own sources. Both Gospels mainly follow the order in Mark. In the case of Luke, more than one-third is material not found in Mark, but almost one-third of Mark is not found in Luke. The non-Markan material is principally inserted into two places in Luke, ie. 6:20-8:3 (the small insertion) and 9:51-l8:l4 (the large insertion) although there is non-Markan material found in the sections that do repeat Mark (eg. Luke 3:23-4:l3, 4:l6-30). In the case of Matthew, half of Matthew is not found in Mark, whilst over a half of this material is found in Luke; the remainder appears to be Matthew's author's own material. This leads to numerous questions, eg. did the authors write, but then expand on them when coming across Mark (Kummel considers this unlikely with Luke due to the Markan omissions), or whether their special material was actually found in Q, but because the other evangelist chose not to use it, this results in it appearing to be material only available to them. It is also argued that the special material in some cases was not written, but oral tradition; some have gone as far as suggesting that the material found in only one Gospel, without parallel in another could even be the author's own thoughts, ie. they composed stories that they believed would teach the readers about a subject they considered important, eg. Luke's story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke l6). A brief examination of both Matt and Luke will show that the authors were sympathetic to certain ideas, and introduced these into their Gospels, either by simply rephrasing or rearranging the material, or by using stories that supported their particular ideas. Matthew's author clearly wished to show that Jesus' mission was only to the Jews (l0:5,6, l5:24); in the case of the Canaanite woman (l5:22-28), Jesus' hostility is far greater in Matt, than in Mark (7:24-30), but Luke's author chose to omit this altogether. In Matt the Gentile mission was really only authorised after the resurrection (28:l9); it is at this point where the pro-Jewish line is concluded; after the crucifixion the Jews are pictured as being particularly hostile - eg. approaching Pilate to authorise a guard on the tomb (27:62-66) and the Jews bribing guards to say the disciples had stolen the body (28:ll-l5); the historicity of both incidents has been questioned. Before the resurrection in Matt however, Jesus is shown as being solely for the Jews; Jesus is pictured as the Jewish messiah, the descendent of Abraham and the Son of David; his life fulfilled the OT prophesies and expectations. On occasions the OT texts are wrestled from their context and used very artificially in Matt. Whilst pro-Jewish, the author writes against certain Jewish groups which he felt particular hostility towards. In Luke, Jesus is the saviour of the world - to Jew, Samaritan and Gentile. Luke's author makes it clear that from the very beginning, not only Israel, but the world was blessed by Jesus' appearance on earth. (2:l4,32). In Luke, Jesus' coming was vital in world history and history, both past and present had to be shaped around the years of Jesus' life on earth. Jesus' coming in Luke influences history as is shown by Jesus' comment in Luke l6:l6 that the law and prophets were only 'until John'. From this point a new phase in history begins. Luke's author was clearly sympathetic to the poor and outcast; he includes material that teaches this and which is only found in Luke, eg. the woes against the wealthy (6:24,25), the story of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke l6); there is one case where Luke is detailing the same material as Matt, but a clear change is made to uphold his view towards the poor - "Blessed are the poor in spirit....Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..." (Matt 5:3,6) but in Luke this is "Blessed are you poor....Blessed are you that hunger now..." (6:20,21). Here, one of the evangelists has deliberately changed the wording to suit either his spiritual theology (Matt) or his social theology (Luke). In Luke there is the call by Jesus to care for the outcast with the promise of reward for doing this (l4:12-l4) and there is also Jesus' teaching that the despised classes (in this case a tax collector) were more sincere and pleasing to God than the so-called religious teachers (l8:l0-l4). On occasions it is inevitable there would be a clash between the two evangelists; whilst it would be possible to argue a certain point that is also argued in the other Gospel, or perhaps omitted altogether, on occasions the beliefs of the evangelists do conflict. Whilst Matt has Jesus telling the disciples to avoid Gentiles and Samaritan towns, but to go only to the 'lost house of Israel' (l0:5,6), Luke has Jesus attempting to enter a Samaritan town, but not doing this only because of Samaritan hostlity due to his intention to reach Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-53). He also heals a Samaritan, and Luke's author elevates the Samaritan by pointing out that he was the only one who expressed gratitude (Luke l7:ll-l9); there is also the story, only found in Luke, about the 'good Samaritan' who is also elevated above the priest and the Levite (l0:30-37). In contrast to the Jewish-only mission of Matt l0, not only does Luke omit mention of the exclusiveness of this mission (9:l-6), but it also has a second mission which is usually understood as a mission specifically for the Gentiles in l0:l-l7 (ie. the number of seventy (or seventy two - as some MSS have) disciples is significant; the Jews believed this was the number of Gentile nations). Luke's author stresses the success of the Gentile mission by having Jesus say that he had seen Satan cast down when the seventy/seventy-two returned (l0:l8). Luke's author also amended the Passion narrative; the assault upon Jesus is made by the prison guards and before his appearance before the sanhedrin which takes place the next morning (22:63-7) unlike Matt's account of Jesus being beaten at the sanhedrin hearing which took place at night. Luke's author rearranged the materal as he saw fit - eg., Jesus' anointing occurs at in the early stage (7:36-50) unlike Matt (with whom Mark and John agree) who detail this in the last days in Jerusalem (Matt 26:6-l3). The trial/death of Jesus in the Gospels looks suspect as although his crime of blasphemy could be punished on a Feastday, there was no permit to execute theives on a Feast day, but the Gospels say thieves were executed with him. Yet more evidence of the ficticious character of the Gospels. Luke's author also makes other changes, eg. the statement by Jesus to the high priest which in Matt 26:64 has Jesus saying that the high priest would see his return is amended to remove any likelihood of this in Luke (Luke 22:69). The cryptic "abomination of desolation" in Matt (24:l5) is made into Jerusalem's fall in 70 AD, but as Jesus' return was supposed to be "immediately" after this (Matt 24:29), Luke introduces a unspecified time-period between the Fall and the Parousia ("the times of the Gentiles" - 2l:20,24). Luke takes on the appearance of a travel narrative (9:51-l9:27), and in this Gospel, the author has the material in a different order (when compared with Matt), and he presumably did this where it would have the most impact and be more appropriate. Here is an example of redaction where the author has consciously adapted his material to suit his theological motive, ie. Jerusalem is the starting point for not only Jesus, but also the church, ie. Jesus' presentation in Jerusalem, his boyhood visit there, his journey there as part of his ministry, concluding with his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension in the area with the disciples being instructed to wait there for the Spirit. It is because of such endeavours, a conflict is inevitable between Luke and Matt, ie. the infancy and the resurrection narratives; where both evangelists had a free hand (ie. before Jesus' ministry began - Mark 1:1 - and after the visit to the tomb - Mark l6:8 - the evangelists were no longer obliged to follow Mark, and at these points the difference becomes the most noticeable. There are other factors which arise in Matt and Luke that show rather than being "historical documents", ie. authentic reliable accounts of historical events, they are compositions where the theological purpose took priority. Matt in not explaining references to Jewish customs indicates it was written for a Jewish audience not requiring explanations; he stresses the importance and validity of the Law and also uses Jewish expressions alongwith rabbinic colouring. Luke however is presenting a Gospel to deal with problems peculiar to his situation; for his Gentile readers, he improves Mark's Greek. He also makes changes where necessary, eg. the attitude of Jesus' family to Jesus, the non-fulfilment of the promise of an imminent parousia. The author of Luke and Acts also developed a picture in his writings that showed Christianity presented no threat to the Romans. Therefore they are not accurate accounts, but are purely personal interpretations and presentations of a new faith. ========================================================

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