Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Expositional Fragments - The gospels and the history textbooks

A couple of weeks ago on Easter Sunday I had the very great privilege of preaching on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In my study and prep for the message, I chose to read all of the gospel accounts starting with the triumphal entry through to the end of each gospel.  This was a great practice in and of itself.  Like any four people writing accounts of the same thing, each writer has his purposes, themes and emphases that inform his writing and there is much rich material for reflection in what each writer chooses to emphasize, especially when compared with the others.  But what is not so common or typical is the amazing level of unity in these four unique accounts of the same events.  This shouldn’t surprise the faithful student of the Scriptures.  After all, it is our conviction that each of these four authors were Holy Spirit-inspired as they recorded their accounts.  If the Holy Spirit was working in and through each of these four individual writers, then we ought to expect a high degree of agreement.  And yet because the Holy Spirit was working in and through four different authors, and not in such a way as to nullify those author's own "voices", we ought to expect these four accounts to be unique in obvious ways. 

Many modern-day skeptics attempt to show all the contradictions of Scripture.  They work through the Bible on a superficial level with highlighter in one hand and a red pen in the other and scour the pages for so-called contradictions.  They take great delight in finding the order of certain events different between the gospel accounts, or finding differences in what was said in a given conversation, for example.  But imagine if everyone applied the same standard of necessary uniformity to other books of history (while the Bible is certainly more than a book of history, it is not less) that skeptics typically apply to the Bible. 

I am a bit of a WW2 history buff.  I have read several books about WW2 in general as well as on particular episodes or major characters in the war.  Rarely do four scholars completely agree on the bare facts (time, key people, order of events, etc.) of all that happened during a particular episode of the war.  It is even more rare to find complete agreement between four scholars on exactly what was said, what causes brought about what effects, what motives stood behind certain actions, etc.  And this is an event that happened well under a century ago and was arguably one of the most well documented events in all of history.  To see this truth demonstrated, one only has to read four biographies of Winston Churchill by different authors!   

If any historian today found four different manuscripts from four different sources that were speaking of the same historical event, and if those four documents had even half the degree of unity on the event they were reporting that the gospel writers have on the life and ministry of Jesus, the history texts would already be in the process of being rewritten. 

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