Note – Peter has extended comments related to this post, see previous in the series here
Last time we looked at the interpretational challenge of more than one “author.” Now, let’s see another challenge:
2. More than one “account” of the event. What are we to do when we find the same story told in two, three, or even all four gospels? Perhaps like me you were taught the analogy of the car accident? A solution to the “problem” of multiple, but not identical accounts, this explanation goes like this:
The Car Accident. A car is involved in a crash, so the Police come to the scene and take eye-witness accounts of what occurred. The person standing at the traffic light saw it one way, but the person coming out of the shop saw it differently. Same event, different accounts. Hence we have four gospels, problem solved.
But as with all such analogies, this one falls short. It doesn’t take into account that each “eye-witness” statement was written under inspiration and with theological intent. The gospels were not transcripts of history intended to give chronological exhaustive accuracy. Rather, they are historically accurate, but they are primarily theological writing skillfully arranged to convey four specific and distinct messages.
So what do we do?
1. We should compare multiple accounts of the same event in order to check for accuracy in our understanding of what transpired (you wouldn’t want to preach factual error because you didn’t read Mark’s account).
2. We should compare multiple accounts in order to recognize the emphasis given in the particular text you are studying (i.e. what is John emphasizing here?)
3. We should resist the temptation to preach a composite harmonization of the event itelf, but rather preach the text. The text is inspired, not the event. So study them all, but if your text is in John, preach John. If your text is in Mark, preach Mark.
eg. The feeding of the 5000 has different emphasis in each gospel, so don’t preach a composite of John’s “bread of life” theology with Mark’s “kingdom feast has come” theology.
eg. The stilling of the storm in Matthew 8:23-27 is in a sequence of three miracles emphasizing Jesus’ authority. In Mark 4:35-41 it stands as a lesson to the disciples after teaching on the unstoppable nature of the kingdom, and begins a series of four stories emphasizing the fear/faith theme.