Harmonizing the Gospels 101 - Part II


Click Here for Parts I, II and III - Harmonizing the Gospels 101

Section 3 picks up from where we left off last week in Part I.

Understanding, as best we can, how Scripture was faithfully transmitted will help us to see why the Full Inerrancy/Moderate Harmonization Approach may be the most realistic view to hold.
• All of the variables relevant to the faithful transmission of God’s Word can be said to be either what I call:
    o Divine Stewardship or Human Stewardship
• We will briefly cover Divine and then the Human.

Divine Stewardship in Transmission:
The following verses make clear that there was a divine “chain of custody” in the transmission of God’s word.
• Just as crime scene evidence is tagged and bagged so that it is not contaminated.
• God provided a way to transmit His word through the NT writers so that it was not “contaminated”.

(1) First Link in the Chain of Custody – God the Father.
• John 14:10 (ESV) — 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
• John 12:49 (ESV) — 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
    o Jesus identifies that the authority and source of His words comes from the Father.

(2) Second Link in the Chain of Custody – Jesus Christ.
• John 17:8 (ESV) — 8 For I [Jesus] have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
    o Jesus reveals that he gave the words he received to the disciples.
    o Therefore the authority and source rooted in the Father remain uncorrupted as Jesus Himself transmits the words to the disciples.

(3) Third Link in the Chain of Custody – Holy Spirit
• John 14:26 (ESV) — 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
• John 16:13–14 (ESV) — 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
• Matthew 10:20 (ESV) — 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
• 1 Corinthians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
• Acts 6:10 (ESV) — 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
    o These verses reaffirm the source and authority of the words as coming from the Father.
    o They also reaffirm that Jesus Christ transmitted the Father’s words to the disciples.
    o And, additionally, they make clear the role of the Holy Spirit in “protecting” and overseeing the transmission of Jesus’ words to the disciples.

So the Divine Stewardship found in the “Chain of Custody” of God’s Word works as follows:
• Father – Source and Authority of His Word and Gave it to Jesus
• Jesus – Given the Words and Authority by the Father and Passed them on to NT writers
• Holy Spirit – Protected and Gave the words spoken by Jesus to the NT writers
• NT writers – Received both their Words and Authority from Jesus with the aid of the Holy Spirit

It is therefore clear that the words spoken (and written down) by the disciples had a divine chain of custody that began with the Father, flowed through the Son, and then flowed through the Holy Spirit, and dwelled with them.

The Absolute Inerrancy/Harmonistic Approach would almost see no need to go any further.
• God’s stewardship of His Word, they might say, guarantees that all problem texts can be harmonized with the information we have.
• However to go no further would be to overlook the fact that there is no evidence that God overrode the personalities of the writers and human avenues of transmission.
• God wrote Scripture not in spite of human authors and their culture but using them as a means of transmission; ordaining the whole process.
• The Bible did not drop down from heaven having already been written.

Luke put it like this:
• Luke 1:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

And so we must move on to how Luke and the other Gospel writers “undertook”, “compiled”, “delivered” and “ordered” their “narratives” and “accounts” they received from the “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word”.
• This is what we are calling Human Stewardship.

Human Stewardship in Transmission:
• The methods of Human Stewardship are many and have both an oral and written dimension.
• To better understand harmonization (and advocate for the Fully Inerrant/Moderate Harmonization Approach), we are going to focus on Oral Tradition as discussed by Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
o For info on the written dimension, see the Textual Culture section of my Why is the Bible Reliable article.

Summary of Bauckham’s View:
• At the outset, Bauckham notes the following about oral tradition:
• “Whether or to what extent a society intends to preserve a tradition faithfully must be investigated with regard to each type of tradition in each given society, as must the means employed for faithful preservation and the success achieved when faithful preservation is attempted” – Bauckham.

He then goes on to argue that the Christian tradition was one that was faithfully and successfully preserved.
• The reason for this is at least threefold.

Specifically, Bauckham argues that the transmission of Jesus’ sayings and narratives were seen by the first Christian’s not as simply oral tradition but more specifically as oral history, and as such had a formally controlled framework for their transmission which was overseen and informed primarily by the eyewitnesses noted in the Gospels.

We will give a brief overview of the oral history, the formally controlled framework and the eyewitness testimony elements of his argument.
• It is important to understand these because they lead us directly to a realistic (and I would suggest, Scriptural) understanding of how we should view harmonization.
• And understanding these things also will demonstrate why the Full Inerrancy/Moderate Harmonistic Approach is closer to what Scripture would ask of us.

Oral History:
It is important to point out that A.N.E. cultures made a distinction between history and other oral traditions such as tales and legends (as well as Polynesian oral cultures he cited).
• Unlike tales and legends (fiction), the accurate, faithful preservation of Oral History (“truthful accounts of the past”) was highly valued.
• And as Oral History, certain expectations were brought to bear by the oral culture.
• Namely, in line with even the secular oral histories of the period, the Christian Oral History was to consist of “…eyewitness accounts about events and situations which [were] contemporary, that is, which occurred during the lifetime of the informants” – Jan Vansina.
• In other words, unlike today, a history was actually written using first hand, eyewitness accounts.
• As a result of this expectation of “oral societies” to have contemporary, eyewitness accounts, the historical accounts that make up the oral history are treated “…differently and in such a way that the latter are preserved more faithfully” – Richard Bauckham.

BTW – Theological concerns were also a significant factor that would have warranted faithful preservation.

There was also a framework in which Oral History was transmitted which speaks to the reliability of transmission.
• This framework, what Kenneth Bailey calls “formally controlled”, is the one Bauckham suggests is applicable to the Gospels.

Formally Controlled Framework:
“It is formal in the sense that there is a clearly identified teacher, a clearly identified student, and a clearly identified block of traditional material that is being passed on from one to the other. It is controlled in the sense that the material is memorized (and/or written), identified as ‘tradition’ [oral history] and thus preserved intact” – Kenneth Bailey.
• In other words, there were “specific practices employed to ensure that tradition was faithfully handed on from a qualified traditioner to others” – Bauckham.
• One of the most important “practices employed” in this framework was what Bauckham calls “Frequent Rehearsal”.
• Frequent Rehearsal is simply the repetitive performance of oral history.
• This was common in the oral societies of the A.N.E. (and today).
• The result of this practice would be that the sayings of Jesus would “…have been relatively fixed in the eyewitness’s memory after only a short period of frequent rehearsal.”

Biblical Examples of this Formally Controlled Framework:
Bauckham argues that Paul’s letters are “unequivocal evidence” of this formally controlled transmission.
• 1 Corinthians 11:2 (ESV) — 2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
• 1 Corinthians 11:23 (ESV) — 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
• 1 Corinthians 15:1 (ESV) — 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
• 1 Corinthians 15:3 (ESV) — 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
• 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV) — 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
• 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV) — 6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

Biblical Examples of the success of this Formally Controlled Framework:
(1) First Example:
• Luke 22:19–20 (ESV) — 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
• 1 Corinthians 11:23–25 (ESV) — 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
• Luke depicts the Last Supper narrative with Jesus’ words.
• Paul’s context is not as much a recounting of the narrative in a historical context, but a concern with properly partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
• And it is easy to see that the two versions of Jesus’ words are almost identical (especially in the Greek).
• “Only strictly memorized oral tradition (memorized in Greek) can explain the high degree of verbal resemblance” – Bauckham.

(2) Second Example:
• 1 Corinthians 7:12 (ESV) — 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
• This example shows that Paul made an effort to distinguish between the teachings of Jesus and his own.
• This demonstrates the care taken within the Formally Controlled Framework to not conflate Jesus’ material with the “clearly identified” teacher’s material.

(3) Third Example:
• John 12:16 (ESV) — 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.
• This example shows that John, in spite of the embarrassment of the admission, kept the pre-Easter narrative with its confused disciples separate from their post-Easter understanding (his included) that shed light on the event.
• As with the others, this demonstrates once again both the effectiveness of the Formally Controlled Framework and its existence.

And in addition to the formally controlled framework used in the transmission of the Gospel material, there was another factor that aided the accuracy of transmission within this framework.
• In oral societies, teachers deliberately “formulate their teachings so as to make them easily memorable” – Bauckham.
• Scholars point out that Jesus taught in such a way that His sayings were easily remembered.
• Specifically, Jesus was “poetic, especially employing parallelism, and many have posited Aramaic originals rich in alliteration, assonance, rhythm, rhyme, and wordplay” – Bauckham.
• “These teaching formulations were certainly not created by Jesus ad hoc, in the course of his teaching, but were carefully crafted, designed as concise encapsulations of his teaching that his hearers could take away, remember, ponder, and live by” – Richard Bauckham.

And so we have thus far seen that with the Gospels, we are dealing with oral history that was transmitted via a formally controlled framework.
• Now we come to the role of the eyewitnesses in this process.

The Eyewitnesses:
• In our definition of the formally controlled framework, Kenneth Bailey mentioned the “clear identified teacher” and “student”.
• “The ‘clearly identified’ teachers would be, in the first place, eyewitnesses, and their ‘clearly identified’ students would be community teachers authorized as tradents because they had learned the tradition from the eyewitnesses. They passed on the tradition as the eyewitnesses’ testimony, to which in many cases the names of the individual eyewitnesses remained attached” – Bauckham.
• In other words, the eyewitnesses were the “qualified traditioners”.
• They were the clearly identified sources of the material “being passed on from one to the other”.
• The eyewitnesses were those that taught it and passed it on intact.
• The eyewitnesses were the “living and active guarantors of the traditions” – Bauckham.

There is a powerful implication of this:
• “The continuity of the Gospels is with the testimony of the eyewitnesses, not via a long period of community transmission but through, in many cases, immediate access to the eyewitnesses or, in other cases, probably no more than one intermediary” – Bauckham.
• Mark, for example would have been just “one intermediary”.
    o His source was the eyewitness, Peter.
• Even the church father Polycarp (a contemporary of Papias), Bauckham argues, would have been one of those “one intermediaries” in contact with an eyewitness.
    o In Polycarp's case, John.
    o Bauckham even suggests that Papias could have had contact with Philip's daughters (the prophets in Acts).

Biblical Examples of the Eyewitnesses:
The following verses demonstrate a reliance on eyewitnesses.
• Luke 1:2 (ESV) — 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,
• Acts 16:4 (ESV) — 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.
• John 19:35 (ESV) — 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.
• John 21:24 (ESV) — 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
• Hebrews 2:3 (ESV) — 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard

Here is a partial list of some of the specific eyewitnesses named in Acts:
• “Peter, James, John, the sons of Zebedee, and the rest of the original Twelve, Matthais, James the Lord’s brother, and the other brothers, Barnabas, Joseph Barsabbas, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mnason, and Silas” – Bauckham.

Additionally, Bauckham argues the following concerning those named in the Gospel accounts.
• “I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions.”
• Some of these eyewitnesses are Cleopas (the road to Emmaus), Jairus (daughter was resurrected), Lazarus, Simon the Cyrene and Joseph of Arimathea to name a few.

Interestingly, with respect to the disciples as eyewitnesses, we have an example of Jesus telling them to remember what He said.
• Luke 9:43–44 (ESV) — 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples [the eyewitnesses], 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”
• So we know that Jesus promised the disciples the Holy Spirit to help them remember, and it also appears He put demands on them to remember.
• This demand gives one further reason why Jesus intentionally designed His sayings to be remembered.

Summary of Human Stewardship:
• So we have seen that the Gospel traditions were considered oral history and as such, would have been faithfully preserved.
• We have seen that the framework within which this preservation took place was a formally controlled one which facilitated the faithful preservation of Jesus’ narratives and sayings.
• And we have seen that the “clearly identified teachers” which formalized and controlled the oral history were the eyewitnesses.

Now we need to look at the extent to which oral history transmitted through a formal controlled framework was allowed to vary.

Variations in Transmission:
• In any oral society, there are core teachings that are seen as off limits for variation and there are more peripheral teachings that are allowed to be varied by the “clearly identified teachers”.
• Given the testimony of Scripture itself (and research of Kenneth Bailey), Bauckham argues that the Christian oral culture was no different.
    o 1) Jesus’ Sayings – “exact wording is much more likely to be preserved”
    o 2) Narratives about Jesus – “variation was evidently freer”
• He calls this dynamic a relationship between “fixity and variability”.
• The Gospels are a collection of an accepted mix of “fixity and variability”.
• Bauckham argues that “fixity and variability” should not be “considered in tension with each other”.

And importantly, it was this “fixity and variability” that actually provided us with a more thorough, historical Jesus.
• It is in “their diversity as well as their commonality” that the Gospels “portray for us and enable us to know” four valid perspectives of Jesus – Bauckham.
• And a “function of the plurality of the Gospels is to keep us constantly aware of” the fact that Jesus is “more than any of the Gospels” – Bauckham.

Important Consideration in the Variations:
Bauckham adds to this discussion on variation, however, a very important point.
• Jesus taught for 3 years.
• It is unlikely every saying or teaching He uttered was designed to be memorized.
• In other words, some of his teaching was likely to be discursive – “fluent and expansive rather than formulaic or abbreviated”.
• And so, there was a mixture of memorized sayings and the discursive teaching that the eyewitnesses were exposed to.

So the question arises, what does a disciple/eyewitness do who has a collection of memorized sayings yet wants to convey some of the knowledge he learned from Jesus’ discursive teachings?
• Bauckham thinks they would have very naturally, within the context of their oral culture, interlaced the discursive knowledge within the memorized sayings.
• “When the writers of the Synoptic Gospels wished to represent the discursive teaching of Jesus they mostly had to use collections of these [memorized] sayings” - Bauckham.
• In other words, they would mix the memorized stuff and the discursive stuff together.
    o Similar to how we mix the wise men in with the shepherds in our Nativity scenes.
    o This is a form of this mixing called time compression.
• Moises Silva likens the use of Jesus’ memorized sayings as a vehicle for expanding on Jesus’ discursive teachings as “preaching a sermon”.

Summary of Divine and Human Stewardship:
In light of the Divine and Human Stewardship, and especially the nuances of Human Stewardship in an oral society, we can now understand the options available to us in our efforts to harmonize.
• And it should be clear that if the Gospel writers operated within the oral culture as described above, they would not expect the Gospels to be harmonized to modern standards – the Absolute Inerrancy/Harmonization Approach.
• The Full Inerrancy/Moderate Harmonization Approach truly seems to be the most contextual and realistic.

Given the Divine Stewardship of the NT, we can be 100% confident that God ordained that we have exactly what we do.
• And if He ordained it and made provision for its production via the “chain of custody” (His Divined Stewardship), then He approved it!
• And if He approved it, we can approach the task of harmonization with much less stress.

Next week we will finally get to the harmonization options available to us given all that we have discussed the past two weeks.