The Jesus we know from the Gospels and other New Testament books--almost our
only source for his biography--is a Jesus described and interpreted by the
early church, a community of believers who looked backward in time to clothe
the historical personage in post-resurrection glory. What Jesus actually
said as opposed to what the church thought or assumed he said is to the
Biblical scholar a matter of conjecture. - Harris, Stephen L,
Understanding the Bible, Mayfield Publishing Company, Palo Alto, CA,
Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels
In the light of the quote above being especially applicable to the Synoptic
Gospels, the premise and claim is that by judiciously combining the duplicated
accounts of the Synoptic Gospels, little if anything significant is lost and
something more or greater is gained.
It is intellectually irresponsible to consider these gospels as reliable or eyewitness
accounts. They are collections and compilations of stories that came down
through a chain of unreliable storytellers and previous scraps of
writings gathered over the course of 20 to 30+ years. Almost none of the
material included in the compilations even came from a secondhand account
much less an eyewitness. No material in a Synoptic Gospel would even be
allowed in a USA court of law, but would be excluded on the basis of its
Normally, over the course of a couple of dozen years retellings of
anecdotes, conversations, and stories would significantly drift away from
the original, but in this case we are talking about crucial religious
material where there was an inherent motivation to cherish the material and
remember it. On the other hand in the retelling, there was also a strong tendency to
inject personal thinking and belief, and to
embellish and or exaggerate to make the stories and anecdotes more
impactful. Also, there is the normal erosion of accuracy and clarity through
loss of memory, summarizing, and interpreting the meaning in the personal
words of the source through each step.
All of this is on display in the actual text as it has come down
to us, and is indicated by the many hundreds of relevant differences,
discrepancies and contradictions. Where these variations occur, one can
often select the one that seems to make the most sense and or is the most
reliable. Thus, at least theoretically, more can be gained than lost by a
careful attempt to combine these accounts without losing anything. It
certainly cuts down on irrelevant duplication and volume of content.
Before we go any further, let's ask some-important question to keep in mind:
- WHY did compiler compose his Gospel?
- Why did he wait so long?
- For whom did he produce it?
Initially in the developing Christian community there was thought to be no reason to write anything down
Why would you do that? There was celebration and rejoicing that Jesus was
coming back tomorrow or too soon to consider chronicling what was said and
done to just preserve it, and there was no thought of doing it for
dissemination to distant cities or lands. The very eyewitnesses were alive
and constantly reiterating the words and deeds.
At some point there was a dawning realization that something was wrong
with their expectation, and they had to quit celebrating and return to the
business of life. Some of the disciples began to go their separate ways, and
some began to die or be killed. The history of Jesus activity and
communication was being lost.
Many have noted that the three Gospel compilers seem to have a different
agenda and a different emphasis shown partially by their introductory
passages and different material that was included. Some scholars have
seen the Matthew is portraying Jesus as the Messianic king, Mark as the servant, and
Luke as the man.
It is well established
that the first Synoptic compilation that we have in the New Testament
resulted in the Gospel of Mark, which was
evidently copied and circulated within the wider Christian community. Having
read that or heard it read, many noted that important or cherished material
was left out, and thus the Christian community commissioned the
more extensive compilation--probably in Antioch--that was named after the disciple Matthew, and a
learned physician in Rome set about to do the same thing, which resulted in
the Gospel called by his own name, Luke. It is noteworthy that both Matthew
and Luke incorporate material form a hypothetical earlier collection called
the "Q" document, and include 90% of the Gospel of Mark, but not the exact same 90%.
However, between them there is only one verse in Mark that is not included.
As to the actual sequence or chronology of the various events and
sayings, we can have no confidence in the various Gospel compilers
always being correct. Although many scholars have tried diligently to
reconstruct a chronological sequence, there is
probably no adequate way to provide an absolutely accurate chronology
without divine intervention nor without violating some of the incidental
connecting phrases such as "After this, Jesus went...".
And there should be no question that long passages of sayings have been strung together
without regard for either context or sequence. The site author finds
this to be much more troubling than the lack of a correct chronology of
events, and thus finds the inability to capture the precise sequence to be inconsequential.
Double entendre intended!
The Synoptic Gospel compilers
were no doubt "Christians" who did NOT understand their subject, his
character, and his message, and they often mischaracterize Jesus and his
words and actions in a tiresome way.
It should be noted that the first dozen passages in the combined Synoptic
Gospels are all Luke's creation, with no supporting material from the other
Gospels, and it would be very hard to think that Luke didn't take a lot of
poetic license in composing them. The spiritually mature believer is free
to critically challenge any material to see if it is credible, and to ascertain its relevance or importance.