Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Harmonising the gospels?

My friend Adrian Reynolds cautions against the practice of harmonising the gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I want to heartily agree. It's noble to try and fit the pieces together, and as he notes it's useful to demonstrate consistency between the eyewitness accounts.

The message can however become blurred if we combine all the accounts. We hear noise and obscure the intention of each author to show us a different angle on Jesus. There is another way! The beauty of the gospels is partly they they give four consistent but diverse accounts to lead us to belief in Jesus. Each has particular emphases to show us about the person and work of Jesus because only looking at one facet of a diamond never reveals its true beauty.

So, assure yourself that they're consistent and coherent (by reading them).

And then come and enjoy the differences. Earlier this year as students across the country dug into the Uncover Luke's gospel I set them an exercise on the cross (inspired by Goff Hope). We armed ourselves with highlighter pens and looked at Matthew, Mark and Luke's accounts of the crucifixion to identify what was common to them all and what was distinctive in each. John's angle is substantially different so the process of comparison isn't needed to see what he says.

Doing this enabled us to isolate Luke's particular message and emphasis, in the material that is unique to Luke and the subtle differences in phrasing that he uses in other places. This proved to be an incredibly fruitful way to hear Luke's voice concerning the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus. It was also a very tangibly engaging way to read the Bible.

There are moments that might raise questions... Can we reconcile this or that difference in the account?  Questions about the thieves only being reported to mock in one gospel and one being converted in another? A cry in one gospel that's given words in another gospel...  It's a brilliant way to get God's ink on your face.

Why not try it? Here's the example we did.... Pick up some highlighter pens and give it a go!

 E-sword's gospel harmony tool lines up all the parallel passages in the gospels enabling the same exercise to be done throughout the gospels to hear each voice clearly and therefore see Jesus more vividly.

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