If to fear God is the beginning of wisdom, then to not fear
is the beginning of freedom. You can be wise and
afraid or wise
and free, but you cannot be free and afraid. - Michael Armstrong
Theological Bias of Synoptic Gospels
In contrast to the two eyewitness Gospels of Jesus public ministry and
message, the Synoptic Gospels are compilations of second, third, or later
hand accounts that were gathered together some twenty to forty years after
the fact. This was done because the information about what Jesus had done
and said was being lost with the passage of time and the passing of the
people with the memories of either the events or the stories of the events.
The Gospel of Mark was clearly the first effort to document some of the
basic content, and evidently this content was copied and distributed to a
extent. The compilers of Matthew and Luke in Rome clearly used the content
of Mark as a starting place while gathering additional material to
It has already been mentioned that such content as is in the Synoptic
Gospels would not be allowed in a United States court of law, and would be
thrown out as unreliable hearsay. The
decades of time lapse, the human chain of the verbal retellings, the fading memories, the
general or extensive loss of context, the natural predisposition to
embellish and exaggerate, etc., make it sound like this material is
practically worthless. Actually, considering all this, it wasn't that bad.
Evidently there was a special awareness if its significance, and some serious attempt to stay faithful to the genuine
meaning, although an understanding of the true meaning was often lacking.
The final results are far from perfect: there are many discrepancies, much
loss of context, loss of sequence, loss of critical accuracy in some places,
rephrasings, some embellishments, some fabricated aspects or accounts, some
jumbled together or otherwise sgarbled statements, etc. All of the flaws in a wide variety of
communications that took place two decades earlier and passed down verbally
by memory are there.
Yet, what is far worse than the above list is the fact that neither these
compilers nor the retellers of the sayings and the accounts were personally
close disciples who had been exposed to the full-blown radical contrast in
the life and message of Jesus versus the
ancient paradigm based on God the lawgiver and the legalism that infuses it.
The compilers and retellers were not necessarily "converted" adequately to
the vision given by Jesus, but generally were Jews that had not fully or completely
divorced themselves from this traditional and legalistic thinking.
That the material in the Synoptic Gospels is just not suitable for the
development or delineation of critical theological issues and positions
should be an easily reached conclusion. Just as easy should be the
realization that the Synoptic Gospels have a built-in bias for a
watered-down version of legalism.
So, when we deal with passages like Matthew 5:25,26 it is not made clear
that Jesus is not fostering gifts at the altar, and that he is not speaking
legalistically but was probably giving advice and/or an illustration of what
can happen in that legalistic society. Such a situation could never arise
with true believers.
"If then you offer your gift at the altar, and there remember
that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before
the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and coming, then
offer your gift. Quickly be fair with your adversary, while you are on the
way with him, lest your adversary hand you over to the judge, and the judge
to the officer, and you be thrown into prison; truly, I say to you, in no
way will you get out until you pay the last penny."
Given that Jesus did NOT say anything at all about a hundred or more of
and issues that concern us in our lives, it is feasible to challenge this
whole passage as not being genuine. See:
Why Jesus Didn't Say. In fact, much of
Matthew 5 & 6 is very hard to reconcile with the greater message of Jesus,
and it is telling that none of it is found in Mark. It generally sounds like
a school master lecture, is negative and not inspiring at all. Probably,
much of this material did not originate with Jesus at all, but was delivered
to the compilers by some self-appointed embellisher.