Friday, September 14, 2007

Gospel Harmony

From Bartolomeo's 'Christ and the Four Evangelists' (c. 1500)By Nathan Busenitz @

This is the sixth installment in our series on the trustworthiness of the New Testament gospels. In case you’ve missed any of the discussion so far, here are links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Sixth, the picture of Christ and His ministry is consistent/harmonious within the four gospels.

Though penned by four different individuals (and thus from four different perspectives), the biblical gospels present a picture of Jesus Christ that is consistent. This is critical, because if the gospels did not agree with one another, they could not all be regarded as historically reliable sources of information.

In the gospels we learn about Jesus’ human lineage, both His legal ancestry through Joseph (Matt. 1:1–17) and His physical genealogy through Mary (Luke 3:23–38). We also learn about His heavenly preexistence (John 1:1–5; 14–18). As records of Jesus’ life, the gospels tell us about His birth, baptism, temptation, teaching, miracles, confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders; and ultimately His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

Matthew presents Jesus as the King (Matt. 2:2), Mark as the Servant (Mark 10:45), Luke as the Savior (Luke 19:10), and John as the Son of God (John 20:31). Yet, in spite of their different emphases, the presentation of Christ in each is consistent with the rest. In all four, Jesus is the Messiah, the miracle-worker who preached with divine authority and called the world to turn from sin and follow Him (e.g. Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 12:26). In all four, He came to bring salvation to sinners by laying down his life on the cross and conquering death through His resurrection (e.g. Matt. 1:21; Mark 16:16; Luke 19:10; John 3:17). Though written from different perspectives, not unlike four different news reporters writing about the same news story, the biblical gospels combine to form a powerful and coherent account of the life and ministry of Jesus.

Though critics point to apparent contradictions within the gospel accounts, their allegations ultimately fall short. Satisfactory explanations for such “difficulties” are readily available.[1] In fact, “the large number of common-sense explanations available for almost every so-called contradiction that has ever been pointed out must surely be considered before glibly dismissing the NT as hopelessly contradictory.”[2] Often the supposed contradictions are nothing more than the same event being paraphrased or described from a different point of view. Thus, as Craig Blomberg notes:

Once you allow for the elements . . . of paraphrase, of abridgement, of explanatory additions, of selection, of omission—the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it’s fair to judge them. [For that matter,] if the gospels were too consistent, that in itself would invalidate them as independent witnesses. People would then say we really only have one testimony that everybody else is just parroting.[3]

Critics tend to point first to alleged contradictions between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the gospel of John—as though the presentation of Jesus given by John is incompatible with that of the other gospel writers. But such accusations ultimately stem from the imaginations of liberal scholars, and not from a straightforward reading of the text itself. In the words of New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce,

Whatever difficulties some scholars have felt, most readers of the Gospels in all ages have been unaware of any fundamental discrepancy between the Christ who speaks and acts in the fourth Gospel and Him who speaks and acts in the Synoptics. Many have testified that John leads them into an even deeper and more intimate appreciation of the mind of Christ than do the other three.[4]

In the end, liberal accusations about John’s gospel just do not hold up. Though most of John’s material is unique to his gospel, there is “nothing in John contradicts the synoptics, and vice versa.”[5] Once we understand that John’s gospel was written after the other gospels, as a supplement to them, we find that there are no irreconcilable contradictions between the accounts.

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[1] Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, or any good conservative commentary on each of the gospels, discusses interpretative issues and resolutions.

[2] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 208.

[3] Craig Blomberg, cited by Stroebel, Case for Christ, 41.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Gospels: Are They Reliable?

[5] John MacArthur, The Gospel of John, vol. 1, introduction.

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