that that by no means the least important aspect of good arrangement is that a
work should begin where nothing can be imagined as preceding it, and end where
nothing further is felt to be required."
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, De Veterum Censura II - In
reference to the
design, crafting, and writing of an historical account.
Gospel Sequence of Events
Let's understand that the ancients did not write casually. They did not
have 25-cent tablets stocked in the drawer and free promotional
ballpoint pens cluttering up the office desktop. Writing was a serious
and generally arduous or tedious and expensive undertaking, and the
ancient writer usually had to have significantly better, stronger motivations than his modern
Sequence less important than impact
Lets also understand that the
ancients did not attach any great importance to the technical sequence
of events unless that was crucial to what they were really pursuing,
i.e., the essence, the effect, the impact, the MEANING of the "history
as story" that they were taking great pains to set in tangible text.
Sometimes, even the facts were somewhat fungible.
When we are first talking to
friends after we return from a long vacation full of significant and
enriching experiences, and they ask us to tell them about our trip, we
don't tell them that we first went to the airport and then flew to
wherever. Rather we tell them that when we were in Rome we found the
answer to the lifelong question of what made Rome great enough to
supplant ancient Greece (It is chiseled on the corner of every ancient
building: SPQR–the Senate and the Public, THAT is Rome). Or, instead of a
mundane account of when we went to the Grand Canyon
and saw its features first hand, we say we became convinced that it was carved
out by an interplanetary electrical discharge in a matter of minutes
instead of being eroded by the Colorado river over millions of years. We
generally want to make sure that we get the highlight experiences mentioned
Thus, we often order the telling of a journey by
the impact and significance of the experiences to us. The sequential order seldom if ever
rises to the level of being taken into consideration, by us or by the
listener. So it is with much of the ancient history as it has come down to us.
The telling of a story also depends upon to whom you are talking.
We wouldn't tell the story in the same way with the same content to
children as we may do to our poker buddies, or to our intellectual colleagues.
So, 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 in their reported sequence,. A close look at the four accounts
actually precludes any assumption of technically correct sequence. Although many have tried diligently, there is
probably no adequate way to provide an absolutely sequential chronology
without divine intervention, and certainly not without violating some of the incidental
sequences and connecting phrases such as "After this, Jesus went...".
There are probably less than
a handful of event accounts where the lack of correct placement in the timeline
of Jesus' life may have even a minimal impact on our thinking. Only one
comes readily to mind. The Temple cleansing comes very early in the
Gospel of John, in the second chapter, and late in the Synoptic Gospel
accounts (Matthew chapter 21, Mark chapter 11, Luke chapter19). Some
commentators interpret this as there having been two Temple cleansings,
one early in the ministry and one late, but this is doubtful. Let the
reader decide, but this author can't come up with much significance one
way or the other to these three options. A case can be made for each.
Lack of context problem
What is far more important is that there should
be no question that long passages of sayings in the compiled Synoptic
Gospels have been strung together
without regard for either context or sequence. The ancient compilers were
trying to salvage the sayings of Jesus for their group, and put down
passages or phrases without regard for context, probably often because they
didn't have any. They had no idea that their material would someday be
canonized with the CANON made into an idol as the infallible word of God instead of the
message of Jesus. Given that Christianity
has gotten the issue being addressed confused or wrong on some of these
sayings, this has proved to be much more troublesome in terms of what Jesus
was actually meaning than the lack of a sequentially correct chronology of events.
Two important points are worth making. 1) The author finds the inability
to capture this sequence to be essentially inconsequential, and 2)
Any attempt by a non-believing naysayer to use these incidental
chronological discrepancies to discredit the authenticity of the life of
Jesus is inept, misguided and shallow.