Throughout my years as a professor and pastor, critics of the Bible have raised various questions with me, such as,
- “Why are there so many differences in the gospel accounts?”
- “Why aren’t the gospels all the same? Why are they are swarmed with obvious difficulties?”
For example, Mark’s gospel reveals two mass feedings of the multitudes by Jesus. Why two? Many people recall only one. Luke and John mention one feeding, right? That’s confusing for some readers. How do we answer the claims of those who read the details of the gospels (or any other portion of scripture) with apparent discrepancies, because immediately, some will opt that errors fill the pages of the scripture? For many, scripture is more novella than it is history. We must, as post-Enlightenment theologian Rudolph Bultmann wrote, “demythologize” the Bible.
The Synoptic Problem
This spring 2020, in a class I am teaching titled “New Testament Survey,” we will unpack each gospel, the personalities of the authors and the set of needs they endeavored to meet with their audience. Scholars call this issue the “Synoptic Problem” and others wonder where does the Gospel of John fit in these issues. One illustration I employ to discern the discrepancies in the gospels corresponds to observing a car accident. For example, if three people watch the accident, one from across the road, another from a hilltop and one from inside the car, you will certainly hear three very different reports of the same accident! With the canonical gospels, as well, the four evangelists report about WHO Jesus is and write for their particular audiences. Why? John’s gospel clearly states he wrote for the purpose that the reader would know that Jesus “is the Son of God” (John 20:31). We western thinkers love our chronological order of life and wonder why the authors did not write in a manner that we comprehend. In the study of the Synoptic Gospels and John, we will commence each class by comparing various accounts in the gospels as we wrestle with the matters that arise from their specific texts.
Studying The Bible
Ultimately, my goal as a professor at Biblical Life Institute is that every student would study the Bible in both a scholarly and devotional manner. In this day and age of existential nihilism, a balanced view of the Bible must embrace both a historical understanding of the text combined with a Holy Spirit inspired application for our lives. Join me Monday mornings, from 9 am-12noon in the upcoming spring semester at BLI as we will entertain these questions and embrace a rigorous study of the New Testament for the serious student of holy writ.