June 21, 2011
The Harmony of the Gospels
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) often present parallel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the parallel accounts do not contain word for word similarities. Some people jump to the conclusion that when the words do not match, the Bible writers did not accurately report the very words of Jesus, but rather only communicated the meaning of His message. Consider the following example.
Passage One Parallel Passage
|Matthew 12:49 “And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers!”||Mark 3:34 “Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!”
|Matthew 12:50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”||Mark 3:35 “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”|
As you can see from this comparison, most of the wording is very similar. Even so, one Sunday School teacher used this passage to proclaim the gist theory of inspiration. He said that the two passages differ, so that one report did not contain the very words of Jesus, but rather the “gist” of His remarks. If you believe that God always tells the truth, and that the Bible writers reported facts truthfully, then you can rely upon the truthfulness of God to report the exact words Jesus spoke. The “gist” theory of inspiration cannot be true, because God communicated not the “gist” of the words of Jesus, but the exact words of Jesus. So also here in both of these passages Jesus spoke the exact words recorded in both passages.
Notice in the Matthew 12:49, page 1522, Jesus was stretching His hand out towards His disciples. With them, Jesus referred to “My Father who is heaven.” In Mark 3:34, page 1563, Jesus was looking about at those sitting around Him, and referred simply to “God.” Numerous explanations can account for the different terms: “My Father in heaven” and “God.” We know that the Bible does not record every word spoken by Jesus: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, page 1698). Jesus often spoke for hours at a time, and even kept His audience for more than a day (Matthew 15:32, page 1529). During His message, Jesus could have spoken both phrases, one to His disciples and another to the group at large sitting before Him. Think about this verse (Luke 12:41, page 1625): Peter said, “Lord, are you addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” The disciples knew that Jesus was speaking at times to multitudes, and at other times only to them. Consider also two other verses (Matthew 13:10-11, page 1522): “And the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Why do You speak to them in parables?’ Jesus answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to them it has not been granted.'” Jesus directed His remarks to different audiences, and told and taught His disciples things He did not speak to the multitudes. In the Mark passage about His family, Jesus said for disciples, “My Father in heaven.” For those sitting around Him, He refers to “God.”
“My Father in Heaven” and “God”
The gist theory of Inspiration glosses over the differences with words because it seeks only the “gist.” Yet, the “gisters” deny that inspiration means that the Bible accurately reports the exact words of Jesus. For them, the doctrine of inspiration only means that God approved the written product, and it did not always report the exact words Jesus used. In other words, for the “gisters,” God approved the final product because it contained the “gist” of the message and meaning of Jesus. Such thinking, however, undermines every word in the Bible because the gist theory of inspiration relegates words to a category of truth mixed with lies. For the “gisters,” the words of Jesus have been lost forever. They maintain that the Bible writers accurately reported some of the words Jesus said, but those same writers also placed words into the mouth of Jesus which He never said. Although attorneys today often try to place words into the mouth of a witness, we should recognize the “gisters” use the same artifice. They opine that Jesus never said some words attributed to Him as direct, verbatim discourse. When two similar passages contain different words, how can the “gister” know which words were actually spoken by Jesus, and which words were merely attributed to Jesus by the writer? In fact, the “gister” cannot really know which were original and which were merely attributions without a factual basis. They have truly lost the very words of Jesus forever. In contrast to the “gist” view, the Bible actually causes us to praise God that His Word has been recorded miraculously and the Bible writers accurately reported every fact, including the words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Consider how radically the “gisters” miss the message of Jesus in the passages above. When Jesus used the term “My Father in heaven,” He described a particular relationship He enjoyed with God as His Father. The word “Father” means something very different from “God” and using the term “My Father” means a very special relationship with God. At another time, Jesus elaborated upon His relationship to God as His Father and also claimed the title of God for Himself. The Jews listening to Jesus discuss His relationship with the Father took up stones to kill Him when they understood He claimed to be Yahweh of the Old Testament (John 8:48-59, pages 1672-1673). No one can seriously maintain that Jesus, in this passage above, meant the term “God” to communicate the same meaning as the term “My Father.” In this comparison of family relationships, Jesus emphasized: (1) His divinity and (2) His family relationship with both His heavenly Father and His earthly spiritual relatives. Jesus spoke both phrases, and revealed something different with each phrase. We should always keep in mind that when we read parallel passages, and the words do not match exactly, we should recall that differences in words mean that God was making different points in each passage. Both passages are true, and need to be examined to understand how they harmonize with each other.
So we learn about the inspiration of the Word of God today.
● The Word of God means that God spoke His very words through the Bible, and every word God inspired.
● The Word of God means that when we see apparent discrepancies in parallel passages, we need to look more closely at the audience, and seek to harmonize the passages, before we dismiss differences as errors. Both passages may contain the actual words of Jesus, spoken at different times to the same audience, but at different time.
● The Word of God means that when two passages contain different information, we should not immediately dismiss one passage as untrue. In fact, it may be impossible, following this theory, to know which passage actually contains the truth. The best approach will always be to analyze both passages, and consider every possibility that both passages contain the truth of God. Jesus declared every word of His Bible to be true, and we should follow the teaching of Jesus.
Application for Today
When we read the Bible, we should hear what Jesus says to us. We should believe that Jesus only tells us the truth, and rely upon His word as truthful. Will you be reading God’s Word and expecting to read His truth today?