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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

COMPARING THE GOSPEL WRITERS

GROWING UP AS A child, I knew of two bibles in my house. One was King James Version which our first son used to take along for Sunday evening Bible Study. The characters are very small and it has no picture. I never liked that bible. Lol! There was another one, Revised Standard Version with a beautiful red back cover. Inside it is a table with an inscription, how the bible came to us.

I never cared to read this information on how the bible came to us but I liked the artistic work. I later used this bible in either primary 5 or 6. But alongside these two bibles in the house was My Book of Bible Stories. It contains selected stories from the bible simplified for children. We were not able to read the texts but the beautifully illustrated pictures alone could tell us the stories. This publication by the Jehovah Witness was enough bible for us. In fact, it enjoyed the status of a bible in my life. I respected it even more than the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version in the house. It was the bible closer to me. Today, I have about fifteen versions of Bible in English, Igbo, Hebrew, Greek and German and no longer know where that My Book of  Bible  Stories  is. That is my journey so far with the Bible.

I am not alone in this journey. For those who read the Bible with a critical mind, some questions have been arising. One of them is on the necessity of having four gospels instead of one. A follow up to this is on the differences existing among the three so called synoptic gospels namely Matthew, Mark and Luke. They are called synoptics because they look alike and can make parallel and comparative readings. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. Even among them abound differences in the similarities. For example, how come that Mark says nothing about the birth of Jesus and important themes such as the beatitudes and the Lord´s Prayer are not found in it? Why are there some factual differences in episodes that appear in the three? For example, what Jesus experienced in the synagogue in his hometown which appears in Mt 13:54-58, Mk 6:1-6 and Lk 4:16-30. In Matthew they described Jesus as the carpenter´s son whose mother is Mary, in Mark Jesus is described not as the carpenter's son but as a carpenter himself. In Luke he is described as Joseph´s son. In Matthew and Mark, the brothers of Jesus are mentioned as James, Joses, Judas and Simon while in Luke nothing was said of them. In Matthew and Mark, the consequence of their rejection of Jesus was that he did not do much miracles there while in Luke it almost resulted to lynching. It is also in Luke alone that we are told that Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.  These are some of the questions one encounters especially JAMB students. Sometimes the outline differs. For example, in Mt 3-5 we have the following as an outline; preaching of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, his temptation, Galilean ministry, call to discipleship, the spread of his fame, the beatitudes, and other teachings. A similar block is found in Mk 1-2; the proclamation of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, his temptation, the Galilean ministry, call to discipleship, healing miracles, tour round Galilea, healing miracles again, another call to discipleship, teachings. In Lk 3-6 we have the proclamation of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, his genealogy, his temptation, Galilean ministry, his rejection in Nazareth, healing miracles, teaching, call to discipleship, healing miracles again, another call to discipleship, teachings, choosing of the twelve, beatitudes and other teachings. The differences which the three outlines  could also be problematic to a critical reader of the Bible.  From the religious aspect of it, one has asked me that if the Bible is the Word of God, why those differences but they are not really as serious as we take them to be if only we understand the successive stages that led to the emergence of the Gospels and the factors at play. The discussion of this problem is not new and scientifically it is called a Synoptic Problem. In explaining this problem, I take my audience as one who is not an expert in Biblical Science but wants to understand what is at stake.

The Gospels as we have them did not fall down from the sky; they were not dictated by the angels and further they were not even written at the time of Jesus. They earlier existed in an oral form called kerygma or proclamation. The written Gospels started coming into existence like 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now as regards the differences that abound, let us begin with those themes that are lacking in Mark such as the Infant Narrative and the Lord´s Prayer. In addition to the better language used by Matthew and Luke, it is believed that Mark was the first to write and Matthew and Luke made use of Mark. This is called Marcan Priority. Matthew and Luke perfected the language of Mark. In addition to bettering the language of Mark, Matthew and Luke while relying on Mark used other sources and one of them contains these themes found in both but lacking in Mark. This is called Q source. Q stands for Quelle - a German word for source. Hence Q source is a tautology. 

It is good to note that Mathew and Luke are not exactly alike even in their "disagreement" with Mark. For example, the Lord´s Prayer in Matthew and Luke are not exactly the same. This suggests that even where they used a common source, they did it independently. Among the two evangelists, one also notices that there are things found in Luke but are not in Matthew and vice versa (cf. the parable of the prodigal son Lk 15:11-32, and the parable of the ten virgins Mt 25:1.13). These have come to be known as L source and M source respectively where L stands for Luke and M for Matthew.

Also, interesting to know is that each evangelist had his audience and his audience determined his theology and his theology affected his use of available sources. Even though they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit did not use them as slaves without freedom. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they remained creative writers making use of their sources in dialogue with the milieu and limitations. The differences notwithstanding, the crux of the message remains the same, namely the proclamation of Jesus Christ the Son of God in his deeds, teachings, death and resurrection. Today, a synchronistic reading of the gospels is suggested by many an exegete such as in films. This is actually what My Book of Bible Stories did for us then. Instead of discouraging people from a critical reading of the bible, we should take them along this path, illumining and addressing the problems with and for them.

 


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