A Critical Paper Discussing the Differences in Liberal and Conservative Approaches to Understanding the New Testament

A Critical Paper Discussing the Differences in Liberal and Conservative Approaches to Understanding the New Testament. Sources used: Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, First Fortress Press 1997 & Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan 2003.

1.      Looking at Pregeant p. 134, answer questions 4 and 11.

4) What criteria do scholars use in determining the authentic teachings of Jesus (or the earliest level of the Jesus tradition)?  Are there any problems entailed in the use of these criteria?

 It is obvious that Pregeant has a specific fieldof study in mind when he uses the term scholar.  This is one who works with the viewpoint that the historical understanding of Jesus is not immediately obvious in the Scriptures as we have them.  These scholars then must try to determine a more accurate understanding by properly reading the passages.  This student has read the works of others, who are nonetheless scholars, but who are not likewise convinced.  However, to answer the above question, this student will use the definition ofscholar as seemingly employed by Pregeant, while encouraging the reader to recognize that there are other approaches in understanding who Jesus was that are no less valid.

Pregeant lists five criteria that scholars use for determining the authentic teachings of Jesus.  Listed below, and briefly defined, they are:

Environmental Appropriateness – Using this method some scholars rule out passages that provide information or material that is not factually appropriate to the time and place where Jesus lived.

Dissimilarity – Some scholars rule out material that reflects influences of Jewish beliefs, or of the early Church’s developing tradition of Jesus.  Whatever material is distinctive from both is retained because it is thought to be authentic.

Embarrassment – This criterion recognizes that if some passages had not been recognized by the early Church as authentic, then they would have been edited due to the Church’s embarrassment over them.  Therefore, some scholars view those passages as authentic.

Coherence – By first establishing the distinctiveness of Jesus’ teaching, a scholar employing this method would include various sayings that are consistent with that distinctiveness but that might not meet the criterion of dissimilarity.

Multiple Attestation – After identifying the various source materials behind the Synoptic Gospels, a scholar might use this method to accept those passages that the varied sources appear to agree upon.

The critical reader will recognize some problems with the employment of these tactics.  These problems are discussed below.

One assumption of the Environmental Appropriateness method implies that the scholar has entire knowledge of first century behavior and custom.  This assumption means that he or she knows all that there is to know, and that no further study or discovery will shed additional light upon the subject.  The critical reader will quickly recognize the shortcoming of this assumption.  Obviously, the historical and archeological record is not closed, and an additional discovery could provide us with knowledge that changes our understanding of a selected passage.  At its very best, this criterion should cause a scholar to hold in abeyance a questionable passage while waiting for all information to be made available.

A noteworthy example of the failure of this type of criticism is found in a once-held controversy over Acts 17:6.  The writer of Acts used the Greek word politarches to describe the leaders of the city of New Testament Thessalonica.  Since that word had not appeared anywhere in known literature some critics discredited the passage.  In 1835[i] a discovery of an inscription was made in Thessalonica that bore a form of that word.  Since then, additional discoveries of the word have been made.[ii]  The results of the discoveries suggest that the writer of Acts had more knowledge of his contemporary events than did his later critics.

It should also be noted that in the instance of Environmental Appropriateness, Pregeant cites an example.  (Within the five methods that he discusses, this is the only time he provides an opportunity for the reader to objectively test his concepts.)  The example he notes is Mark 10:11-12.  In that passage we read how Jesus addressed the issue of a woman divorcing her husband.  Pregeant notes that in Jesus’ time, Jewish law would not have permitted women from divorcing their husbands.  Therefore, he concludes that we cannot regard this section of the passage as authentic.  This student suggests that the following two possibilities represent equally valid theories in understanding the passage in question:

  • It seems true that Jewish law would not have permitted a woman to divorce her husband.  However, Jesus’ first century Jewish audience would have been familiar with the practice since the Roman society, which they were immersed in, allowed it.[iii]  One might argue, however, that Jesus was not addressing a Gentile audience in the passage, and, therefore, it would not seem likely that he would contend with Roman law.  However, the passage in context suggests that Jesus’ audience was not even familiar withJewish divorce law.  It should not seem unthinkable, then, that if Jesus found his audience so ignorant in the fundamentals of their own laws, that He might address other ideologies that could be influencing their thought.
  • It might also be considered that Jesus was contending with Roman law.  John the Baptist had condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias, who had divorced Philip.  If John the Baptist could make a statement against Herod’s sin (Mark 6:18), why can it not be considered that Jesus could be addressing Herodias’ sin?  Admittedly, Jesus does not name Herodias in the passage.  But, his audience would have been aware of this famous case, and, therefore, may have immediately understood Jesus’ inference.

There is no obvious explanation for why Pregeant discredits the passage, rather than explore ideas such as those set forth above.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it is possible that it was an editing oversight.  Or, he may not be familiar enough with scripture to consider other pertinent passages.  However, as the other criticisms within the paper would suggest, this student suspects that Pregeant’s critical thinking process has been overwhelmed by his own prejudices.  In any event, for the Environmental Appropriateness method, the critic should remember the dictum of Aristotle, who wrote: The benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself.[iv]

The critically-minded student will note that the Dissimilarity method rides upon at least four significant assumptions.  These assumptions are not unanimously enjoyed today by all scholars, and the Gospel authors never claimed them to be true.[v]  These assumptions are as follows:

  • That the Gospel writers were significantly altering the historical account of Jesus to accommodate their differing beliefs or prejudices
  • That there was a marked distinction between the early Church’s growing tradition of Jesus, and what Jesus actually taught
  • That the early Church was altering the record reflecting said distinctions
  • That the critic has access to all knowledge to make a valid distinction between the imported traditions and themes of the early Church, and the actual teachings of Jesus

Now, one may argue that the above-listed assumptions are not assumptions at all – but are established facts driven by unbiased critical study.  If that is the case, then the critical reader must wonder why Pregeant does not walk his readers through the chain of logic which will empirically lead to said conclusions.   Perhaps he assumes his readers are already familiar with the logic.  Or, for the sake of brevity, mayhap Pregeant chose not to engage in what might have been a lengthy, pragmatic dissertation.  It should be noted that this student has been reading the scriptures for over three decades and has not reached the assumptions stated above.  Furthermore, this student has engaged numerous pastors, scholars, and teachers, who have also claimed to have read the scriptures, but who have not developed the same assumptions.  This does not mean that the stated assumptions cannot be gained by reading the scriptures.  However, it may imply that they are not universal or even widespread among many circles of Christianity.  In any event, if there are logical reasons leading to these conclusions, the critical reader is not provided with them, and, therefore, would not be in error to conclude that they are simply assumptions.

Regarding these assumptions, it is interesting to note that Pregeant uses a type of circular reasoning in his book.  That is: he believes his assumptions are correct and then applies that presupposition to his reading of scripture in order to prove his own point.  A good example of his circular reasoning is found on pp. 153-156.  In this section, Pregeant argues the theory of the expansion of the Jesus tradition by first intending to provide “concrete examples” of the expansion. The examples turn out to be anything but concrete.  Pregeant cites Biblical passages that do not in themselves claim to be part of a later tradition.  Furthermore, he introduces no extra-Biblical evidence by which to examine them.  All that he does is simply import his prejudices into the passages to make them coincide with his worldview in an extremely unconvincing manner.

It is this student’s opinion that the critical scholar of the Bible will lay aside her or his preconceived notions before approaching Scripture.

Regarding the Embarrassment criterion it is true that some passages of scripture might have caused the early Church to be uncomfortable.  And, it might even be argued that the Church should be commended for properly translating those passages.  However, this method presupposes that the early Church was in the habit of arbitrarily editing segments of scripture.  In this instance, logic would indicate that that could not have been the case.  For, if the early Church had been employing the practice of removing embarrassing material known to be untrue; and the authentic teachings of Jesus were known to be lost by their traditions (an embarrassment), then the inaccuracies would have been removed, and the critics would not have found them.  This criterion implodes upon itself causing the critical thinker to wonder if the scholar who promotes it is more concerned with a personal agenda then with intellectual integrity.

Behind the Multiple Attestation method rests the question of whose testimony of the Gospels holds greater weight – modern-day scholarship or the early Church Fathers.  That is because an assumption of Multiple Attestation holds that the writers could not have furnished any firsthand testimony to their accounts (see Pregeant pg. 99-100).  The critical reader will ask, however, whether the developments of modern scholarship are more accurate than the reports of early Church Fathers; who have linked the Gospel writings to apostolic authorities that were capable of providing firsthand material not included in other available sources.  Is modern scholarship more proximate to the truth than were the early Church writers?  In answering that question the critical thinker should recognize that the Synoptic Problem is not a recent discovery, but has long been recognized by the Church – and has been addressed throughout history by a number of different theories.  The critical reader will explore all possibilities without prejudice or assumption.

 11) Does the earliest tradition present the Rule of God as present or as future?  As individual or as communal?  Does it present that Rule as the “end of the world”?

 Pregeant suggests that some may recognize a difference between “the earliest tradition and the historical person Jesus.”[vi] However, for the purposes of his book he invited readers to consider the two ideas as synonymous.[vii]  Therefore, this student will answer the above question by considering that the earliest tradition is also what Jesus believed, taught, and that which is found evident in the Gospels.

As I understand the passages of the New Testament, Jesus indicated that the Rule of God was a reality that was both present and future for His listeners.  The writer of Mark recorded that Jesus began His ministry by preaching that God’s timing had been fulfilled, and that the kingdom of God was “at hand” (Mark 1:15 NKJV).  According to Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Dictionary the Greek word translated “at hand” (eggizo) means “to make near.”[viii]  It is often used in a context showing physical proximity (e.g. “they drew near Jerusalem” Matt 21:1).  Therefore, in that sense the presence of the Messiah in Israel could be understood as a physical closeness of God’s Rule.  However, it is also used to show chronological proximity (see Matt.21:44 & Luke 21:8).  Therefore, the Rule of God seems to have been presented as something that was being introduced in the time of Jesus.

The Rule of God can also be seen in the Gospels as something that expands through the future.  Gabriel, in speaking to the mother of Jesus in Luke 1:33, prophesied that the Kingdom of Jesus (Rule of God) would not end.

The Rule of God can also be seen as something that is future.  In Matt. 25:34 Jesus intimated that the Rule had been prepared in the past for some to participate in at a time yet to come.  (Future not only for Jesus’ listeners, but as I exegete the passage, it is future for us as well.)

Certainly there is a sense of individual participation in the Rule of God.  Jesus frequently invited individuals to partake in the kingdom, and taught that the repentance of the person must be inward and genuine.

Regarding communal participation I believe the earliest tradition would reject the notion if it is understood as participation based upon one’s relationship to a larger group.  Jesus warned against the Jewish worldview that encouraged the belief that it was inherited because they were simply part of a particular body of people.[ix]  But, Pregeant introduces a different definition of communal participation offered by futurists who feel that it means it will be a publicly displayed one.  In that sense I think the earliest tradition would agree – with the stipulation that it is also recognized as a present reality.

2.      According to Pregeant on pp. 150-156, in what ways was the Jesus tradition expanded in the postresurrection community?  To what extent do Fee and Stuart agree? (See especially their Chapter 7.)

 As already noted above, Pregeant writes with the scholarly viewpoint that the story of the historical Jesus is embedded in the modern-day Gospel records, and must be sifted from its inaccuracies.  He suggests that the true historical record underwent significant changes before it was translated into our modern accounts.  He cites several ways in which this change took place:

The early Christians, Pregeant writes, were unconsciously inclined to attribute sayings, quotes, prophecies, and stories to Jesus, if they were consistent with their understanding of Him.  Pregeant also writes that some scholars believe that from outside the mainstream of Christianity there was also an expansion of the Jesus tradition.  Gnosticism is cited as an example of this type of non-mainstream expansion (as evidenced in the Gospel of Thomas).

Pregeant also believes that the tradition of Jesus was expanded upon by Jewish/Christian influences, the influence of apocalyptic writings, the emerging role of the New Testament prophet, and the evangelistic value of the retelling of miracles and stories of Jesus.

Because Fee & Stuart seem to write from a different theological worldview, it is difficult to find a point of agreement in this particular area.  However, like Pregeant they note the Synoptic similarities and differences.  They note that the sayings of Jesus in one Gospel account might be provided within a different context in one or two of the others.  Or, they point out that the historical setting of a passage may be the same in the all of the Gospels, yet the sayings of Jesus in them differ slightly.

Fee & Stuart would agree with Pregeant that the historical setting in which Jesus ministered, and in which the Gospels were written, had an influence on the final product. The authors would agree that the reasons why each Gospel was written likely varied, and had an influence on what was recorded. Fee & Stuart also note some of the apparent discrepancies and contextual oddities among the Gospel parallels.  But where Pregeant seems to suggest that the oddities were add-ins by the Church, Fee & Stuart intimate that an understanding of these passages reveals how they came to be implicated by the Church “in new contexts.”[x]

3.      Explain what Pregeant means by “the narrator” and “the reader.”  Why does he say that readers “are active participants in the story?” (pg. 170)

Pregeant defines the narrator as whoever it is that is telling the story.  He writes that literary critics do not necessarily mean the author of the story, and it may or may not be a character in the story.

The reader is defined by reader-oriented critics as a self-constructed person of their own devising who is following the leads of the narrator and of the story.  The critic uses this putative reader to heighten his or her awareness and overture of the story.

By becoming an active participant in the story, the literary critic will recognize that there is a process going on within the reader while reading the story.  For example, within reader-response criticism (where the conjectured reader is unfamiliar with the story) the reader will recall events of the story and begin to formulate possible outcomes.  The reader will draw conclusions regarding the characters, possibly having affinity for one, and disregard for another.

4.      In discussing the parables, to what extent do Pregeant (pp. 106-118) and Fee & Stuart (chapter 8) agree and to what extent do they approach parables differently?

A firm area of agreement between these two authors is their belief that not all stories in the Bible that we might call parables are indeed parables.  Both note that some of these might better be labeled allegories.  An allegory is defined as a story that contains specific elements representing specific details of something not named in the story, but which the story is about.

Both authors also seem to agree that true parables engage the hearers, and call for some type of response.  Although Pregeant did not say so in his section on parables, his general writing would seem to coincide with Fee & Stuart’s work suggesting that a parable can be understood when we begin to understand the original audience.  This historical context is something that both books labor to teach.

They both also seem to agree that whenever an element is introduced as being like the Rule of God, that we should consider the entire parable as a factor of that Rule – not just the single element.  One example of this is the Parable of the Mustard Seed which begins, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed …” (Matt 13:31 NIV).  Both authors would object to limiting our understanding of the Rule of God to just that of the mustard seed.

One area where both authors would likely differ is in their overall approach in accepting the authenticity of the parables.  Pregeant writes that many of the parables we have today “have been altered through transmission,”[xi] and must be reconstructed first to understand them.  Fee and Stuart do not seem to begin with that same understanding (or, if they do, they do not clearly express it).

An example of these different approaches – and therefore of their final exegesis of the parables– can be illustrated in their dealings with the Good Samaritan passage.  Pregeant implies that the introduction of the parable (the question asked by the Pharisee about the identity of his neighbor) and conclusion of the parable (Jesus’ command to the Pharisee) represent an effort by the author to fit the story into his own agenda.  Therefore, he does not consider those sections part of the original teaching, or part of his final understanding of the parable.  Fee & Stuart, on the other hand, consider the introductory question throughout the parable, and finally conclude that Jesus destroyed “the question rather than answer it.”[xii]

5.      Looking at Pregeant pp. 281-282, answer questions 1 and 9.

1.      In what specific ways does Luke 1-2 prepare the reader to understand the role of Jesus?  In what ways does this material encourage the reader to connect Jesus to the history of Israel?  In what ways does it point beyond historical Israel?

The peculiar role of Jesus can be first glimpsed as the reader notes the supernatural events surrounding Jesus’ birth.  First, an angel appears to one of Jesus’ relatives, who together with his wife, is past typical child-bearing age, and announces that God is causing him to sire a son.  The angel shares that this son will be highly favored by God and set apart for God’s service.

The reader next sees how an angel comes also to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  And as if the angelic visit is not unusual enough, the angel announces to Mary that she will conceive supernaturally and bring forth a son – the long awaited Messiah – who is recognizably greater than the son born to Elizabeth.

The reader is introduced once again to angels who announce Jesus’ birth – not to King Herod, the high priest, or the religious leaders of the day, but to simple shepherds working in their fields.  This is perhaps one of the most telling ways in which the writer prepares the reader to understand the role of Jesus – that the Rule of God is not a respecter of class, education, or of earthly power.

The reader is encouraged to connect Jesus to the history of Israel by first noting that the major characters are all Jewish.  The birth of John the Baptist to elderly Jewish parents who are past the age of fertility is reminiscent of several Old Testament stories.  Both Mary and Zechariah sing of God’s fulfilled promises to Abraham in their soliloquies.  The angel Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will reign as from the throne of David over the house of Jacob.

Moreover, as the story moves to chapter two the reader sees how Jesus’ family performs ceremonial functions in keeping with the Jewish law.  At the temple, they meet a prophet and a prophetess who speak words over Jesus with heavy Jewish overtones.

The reader is also equipped to see Jesus’ role as extending beyond Israel as the angels announce to the shepherds that Jesus birth is a great joy “to all people.”   Simeon adds to this concept by prophesying that Christ’s salvation was prepared before “all peoples,” and that He would be “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.”

9. What specific links can you find between Acts 1 and Luke 24?

Acts 1:3 mentions Jesus presenting himself alive with “many infallible proofs.”  This can likely be linked to Luke 24 where we find record of Jesus presenting Himself to the two walking to Emmaus, and to the eleven disciples and others in the upper room.  It may also be linked to Jesus offering proof of his physical reality by eating fish and honeycomb in the presence of his disciples.

In Acts 1:3 we also find its author writing that before His ascension Jesus talked with His disciples about the kingdom of God.  This might have a link to Luke 24:45, wherein Jesus “opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures” – which has every evidence of occurring before the ascension.

In Acts 1: 4-8, the writer records Jesus promising His disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.  This has a direct link to Luke 24:49 where Jesus is found making the same promise of power.

In Acts 1:9 the writer describes Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  This has a direct parallel in Luke 24:51, which describes the same event.

Acts 1:12 records the disciples returning to Jerusalem after the ascension.  This has a direct parallel in Luke 24:52, which describes the same event.

6.      Compare Peter’s Pentecost Speech (Acts 2: 14-39) with Paul’s synagogue speech (Acts 13: 16-41).  List any statements or themes that occur in both.

 The following table represents similar statements or themes:

Peter’s Speech

Paul’s speech

Peter called for the attention of Jews and anyone else living in Jerusalem (vs 14). Paul called for the attention of Jews and Gentile believers (vs. 16).
Peter appealed to Jewish history by referring to the prophet Joel’s words and then used them to point to Jesus (vs 17-22). Paul told a very brief history of the Jews, introduced David, and then linked Jesus to the Davidic line (vs. 17-23).
Peter indicates that his primary Jewish audience crucified Jesus (vs. 23 & 36). Paul stated that the people of Jerusalem and its leaders (Jews) condemned Jesus to death having not recognized Him (vs. 27).

Peter (cont.)

Peter indicated that Jesus’ death was according to God’s purpose and foreknowledge (vs. 23).

Paul (cont.)

Paul said that the Jews carried out the things that had been written (prophesied) about Jesus (vs. 29)

Peter claimed that God raised Jesus from the dead. (vs. 24 & 32). Paul claimed that God raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 30).
Peter claimed that he and the other apostles were witnesses of the resurrected Jesus (vs.32). Paul claimed that for many days the resurrected Jesus was seen by his disciples (vs 31).
Peter referred to the writings of David in Psalm 110 (vs. 25-28). Paul referred to the writings of David in Psalm 2 (vs. 33).
Peter referred to the death of King David (vs. 29). Paul referred to the death of King David (vs. 36).
Peter, referring to Psalms 16 spoke that God would not allow Jesus to see decay (vs. 27). Paul, also referring to Psalms 16 preached that God would not permit Jesus to see decay (vs. 35).
Peter said that God made this Jesus they crucified the Christ (vs. 36). Paul inferred that Jesus was the Christ by calling Him the Savior through whom God promised David (vs. 23).
Peter preached that his listeners could be forgiven their sins by repenting and being baptized (vs. 38). Paul told his listeners that through Jesus forgiveness was being preached to them. (vs. 38).

7.      Look at Luke 3: 1-14 in Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., Gospel Parallels, and list the most important differences between Luke and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark.  What do these differences indicate about the special concerns and interests of the author of Luke?  [Note: You can find Gospel passages inGospel Parallels by looking at the index pp. xxxiii-x1.]

§ 1 – Luke 3: 1-6 – John the Baptist:

Differences between Luke and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark in this section:

  • Luke provides a backdrop of historical data; referencing Jewish & Roman leaders
  • Luke cites a larger section of Isaiah than do Matthew and Mark
  • Luke omits information regarding John the Baptist’s appearance and lifestyle

Regarding the historical data, Luke seems concerned with providing a framework of time and place to help orient his reader.  The fact that Luke records information about Gentile rulers could indicate that his worldview is not limited to Jewish thinking.  Or, it might indicate that he is aware of his intended reader’s orientation, and in providing both Jewish and Gentile information he is challenging his reader to consider matters beyond that orientation.  It is also interesting to note that after Luke presents the long list of governing figures, he seemingly suggests that God’s word bypassed them all, finally coming only to “John son of Zechariah.”  By this inference it may be that Luke intends for his reader to see how God’s Rule may not always come to the mighty, powerful, and elite.

Regarding the Old Testament reference, Luke cites a larger section of Isaiah than does Matthew and Mark.  This larger passage makes reference to “all [of] mankind” seeing God’s salvation.  Again, Luke appears to have an interest in having his reader see beyond the limits of Jewish separatist thinking, and may in fact be preparing the reader to understand God’s redemptive plan for the Gentiles.

Since the physical description of John the Baptist resembles that of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, a Jewish audience might find that information helpful.  However, because Luke omits that information it might be considered that Luke knew that his reader would not be as familiar with Elijah, or he may not have been able to appreciate the similarities.

§ 2 – Luke 3:7-9, John’s Preaching Repentance:

Differences between Luke and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark in this section are listed below:

  • Luke has John the Baptist delivering his diatribe to “the crowds,” whereas Matthew reports that John spoke the same words to the “Pharisees and Sadducees”
  • Mark does not provide a parallel passage

If Luke had access to Matthew’s writing – or Matthew’s sources – then the question must be asked: Why did he change the wording to include a broader audience?  One possibility is that Luke wanted his reader to see John’s call to repentance (and the Rule of God) as a wider invitation, rather than something reserved only for the religious leaders.  Or, perhaps Luke wanted to share the message of John’s discourse with the crowd (Luke 3:10-14), and so he changed the wording to make an easier segue into that passage.

However, it is equally plausible to consider that Luke had no special interest or concern in mind when he used the word “crowds.”  Considering that he had “carefully investigated” the Gospel story (Luke 1:3 NIV), it might simply be that the witnesses he consulted recalled John speaking to the crowds – of which Matthew tells us included the religious leaders.

This idea of there being no special interest can be illustrated this way: this student has worked professionally for 22 years as a Fraud Investigator – 14 of those years as a Licensed Private Investigator.  Over the years I have interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and have often compared independent accounts one to the other. I have found that it is not uncommon to discover differences in the testimony of two or more witnesses who are describing the same event.  Although it may be the case that a difference in testimony represents an inserted interest of a witness, the unbiased investigator would never assume that a difference always represents an inserted interest.

Bearing that in mind, the critical reader will consider the possibility that where the Gospels vary, the writers may or may not have had any special interest in mind.

§ 3 Luke 3:10-14, John’s Preaching To Special Groups

Differences between Luke and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark in this section:

  • Luke’s account in this section is wholly distinct from Matthew and Mark because there is no parallel passage in either Gospel.

Here is one possible theory regarding Luke’s interests and concerns in this section: Because there are no parallel passages for this section, one can conjecture that Luke strayed from the manuscript sources and created a scenario between John and the crowd in order to introduce some of his own special interests.  This motif would suggest that Luke was concerned with people showing their repentant lives by radically changing their attitudes and actions.  The theme of the resulting conversation would appear to be in keeping with Christian thought and doctrine.

The above theory, however, collides with a number of notable arguments.  First, it is inconsistent with the objective, internal evidence in Luke.  Luke claimed that he had conducted a careful investigation of the things he was writing about, and that he was writing so that his reader “might know the exact truth”of his faith (Luke 1:3 NASB, emphasis mine).  Purposely disguising his own thoughts as John the Baptist’s words does not properly align with Luke’s claim of exactness.  Second, it cannot be supported by any claim Luke made in his account.  That is, Luke never informed us that the historical account was being altered to accommodate his beliefs.  Third, it is inconsistent with the objective, external evidence of archeology, which continually lauds Luke as a superbly credible and reliable historian.[xiii]  Fourth, it is inconsistent with the high moral standards of Christianity (which Luke’s Gospel was setting forth) to exploit the trust of the reader in order to promote one’s own agenda.  Fifth, it must be considered that Luke may have written his account while many witnesses were still alive, and who could have challenged any errors contained within the account. Lastly, in addition to these obvious inconsistencies, the above theory lacks objective textual support elsewhere in scripture.  It can only be reached if one imports the idea to the text.

An explanation that is consistent with all of the arguments set forth in the paragraph above is: the sources Luke interviewed, or had accessed to, relayed this account of the people’s response to John’s preaching, and he judged it reliable to include.  It seems likely that Luke included the dialogue at this juncture as he was planning soon to turn his attention from John the Baptist to Jesus.

8.      Look at Luke’s account of the death of Jesus in Luke 23:44-49 and, using Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels, compare it to the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark.  List the most important differences between Luke and the other two Gospels.  How do you account for the differences in describing the same event?

§ 250 Luke 23:44-49, The Death On The Cross

The significant differences between Luke and the other two Synoptic Gospels in this section:

  1. Luke describes the tearing of the temple veil just before Jesus died.  Matthew and Mark describe the tearing of the veil to have occurred just after Jesus’ death.
  2. At around 3 p.m. Matthew and Mark record Jesus crying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  They record that someone filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick and gave it to Him to drink.  Luke does not record this information.
  3. Luke records Jesus crying out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” just before dying.  Matthew and Mark do not record that statement.
  4. Luke does not record the opening of tombs or the observation of resurrected saints in Jerusalem (nor does Mark).
  5. Luke records the centurion saying “certainly this man was innocent.”  Matthew and Mark agree on a different quote – though Matthew records it being said by the “centurion and those with him.”
  6. Luke records that the crowd that had gathered for the crucifixion returned home “beating their breasts.”  Matthew and Mark do not include that information.
  7. Luke mentions that there were women present, but he does not identify them as do Matthew and Mark.

This student’s accounting for the differences (in respective order):

  1. It is this student’s opinion, based on the investigative experience of the student, that the difference in this instance bears the characteristic emblem of eyewitness testimony.  It is not uncommon for witnesses of an event (especially traumatic ones) to rearrange the fine order of that event.  For example one witness may recall hearing a scream just before the tires screeched, while the second witness will reverse that order.  Although the difference in testimony would not in itself eliminate or exonerate either witness, it can lend to the authenticity of their statements. What is uncommon is for witnesses to provide a verbatim account throughout testimony – which will alert the investigator to possible fraud or deception.

One might contend, however, that in a preceding paragraph within this paper, this student stated that Luke claimed to be writing so that his reader knew the exact truth, while the above argument seems to give Luke latitude to write with a margin of error.  These apparent differences can be harmonized by noting Luke’s intent in both situations.  In the earlier argument this student opined that it does not seem likely that Luke purposely provided inaccurate information.  In this situation it appears that Luke’s objective was to provide accurate information.  Whether viewed positively or negatively, Luke’s intent remains intact, and the same level of integrity is maintained.

  1. For reasons known only to its author, Luke did not include this data.  He provides us with no information that leads us to believe Matthew and Mark’s accounts are untrue, nor does he attempt to verify their recollection.
  2.  Matthew and Mark record Jesus crying loudly just before he dies – which is already after the cry, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? What Matthew and Mark could be referring to is the cry recorded in Luke (Father into your hands I commend my spirit).  This seems reasonable since they all conclude that Jesus died immediately following that cry.
  3. Luke gives us no information to determine why he did not record the opening of tombs or the resurrection of the dead at the time of Jesus’ death.  Furthermore, he does not provide us with any information that would disallow the activity reported by Matthew.
  4. The Synoptic writers do not provide us with data indicating that the centurion made only a single statement at the time of Jesus’ death.  Rather, they only record a single statement.  It is quite plausible that the centurion (and those from the crowd) made more than one statement upon Jesus’ death.  The Synoptic writers either selected the statement they desired to record, or they were only aware of a single statement made by the centurion.  In either event the two possibilities do not eliminate each other.
  5. Once again Luke interjects data that does not conflict with Matthew and Mark.  Likewise, Matthew and Mark do not provide us with information leading the reader to believe that Luke cannot be correct in this matter.
  6. Luke identifies the women who were present simply as those who had followed Jesus from Galilee.  Since he does not imply that they were unnamed women, his account correlates well with Matthew and Mark’s, who individually identify the women.

 



 

 

[i] Source: http://larryoverton.com/fs_015.htm, last visited 23 May 2007.

[ii] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc, © 1996, pg. 73.

[iii] http://www.crf-usa.org/bria/bria17_4.htm#roman, last visited 30 May 2007.

[iv] Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Here’s Life Publishers, Inc, © 1996, pg. 61.

[v] Pregeant makes an attempt to press John 20:30-31 into an admission by its author that he was “less

concerned with historical accuracy” than with trying to persuade his readers to believe in Jesus.  (See

Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, First Fortress Press, ©

1997, pg. 99.)  Without the prejudices that Pregeant brings to the passage, I believe it is impossible for

the serious scholar to exegete the verses in that way.  Nowhere does John admit to inaccurate reporting.

What he does admit to is reducing his report of Jesus’ ministry to a fixed amount of data.  If,

as Pregeant appears to espouse, a reduction of data equivocates inaccurate reporting, then Pregeant

actually condemns his own work as unreliable.  This becomes apparent when Pregeant admits that he

reduced certain data “to a bare minimum” for his readers (pg. 168).

[vi] Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, First Fortress Press, ©

1997, pg. 104.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Strongs Greek Dictionary # 1448 eggizo from 1451; to make near, i.e. (reflexively) approach.

[ix] See John 8:39-59

[x] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan ©2003, pg 138.

[xi] Russell Pregeant, Engaging the New Testament: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, First Fortress Press,

1997, pg. 110.

[xii] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Zondervan ©2003, pg 156.

[xiii] Example: Renowned archeologist Sir William M. Ramsay, who studied in liberal circles in Germany in

the mid-nineteenth century, and who began his work with the assumption that the New Testament was

not a historical document, later wrote the following: Luke is an historian of the first rank; not merely are

   his statements of fact noteworthy … [he] should be placed among the greatest of historians. Source: Josh

McDowell, Evidence that Demands A Verdict, Here’s Life Publishers © 1996. pp. 70-71.


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