Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?

by on December 15th, 2010
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In the area of Biblical study there is a general field that we call “Biblical criticism”. Some of it is helpful or constructive; some of it is destructive. The difference is mostly founded on the pre-established notion with which the critic approaches the Scripture. While we must realize that no one comes without a bias of some sort, there are some who do come sincerely, honestly seeking truth. Some, like me, come with the already established belief that the Bible is the very Word of God, true in every regard. There are others who come with the firmly established belief that the Bible is an ordinary book at best or the work of deceivers at worst.

Many critics, both constructive and destructive, spend a lot of time trying to reconcile differences in the Gospel accounts of Jesus earthly life. It seems to me that there is a very good explanation and reason for God giving us four separate and unique accounts of the life of the Messiah. It also seems to me that a better question is why not a larger number of gospel accounts. How can the Savior of the World be fully described in all His facets in four short accounts?

I believe that every book of Scripture, including the Gospels, makes a unique contribution to the revelation of God. There was a divine plan from the foundation of the world for the Creator to reveal Himself to His created beings. Every bit of the production process is the work of the Holy Spirit. When I first began seriously examining the Scripture, I would have scarcely noticed the details that make a particular book of the Bible unique in the overall revelation of God. However, now that I have been seriously studying for many years, I see this uniqueness as significant. I now see that even the smallest of details in selecting what to include and what to omit, grouping of events, order of events, use of idioms and metaphors, etc. are all divinely orchestrated and important. These carefully selected details and the arrangement combine to present a unique and specific facet of the Christ.

The Gospels are different from modern biographies. They often omit many events, they do not adhere to a chronological order, they do not fully introduce other characters, etc. Also, as I have written in an earlier article, each gospel had a different target audience and a different purpose for being written. Each gospel paints a portrait of Christ, albeit from a different side. If I really want to know any object, I better not just look at it from one side. I must look at it from the top, bottom, and every side. The purpose for studying the Bible is not so we will know the Bible but so we will know Christ. It is possible to study the Bible and come away with nothing but facts. In fact, I believe that sadly that is what happens in many cases. The real purpose for studying the Bible is to know God. Most of the space in both the Old and New Testaments is devoted to Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. If we come to the Bible for any other reason, we will learn some helpful truths, but we will miss the main point, which is to know The Truth, Christ Himself. We should not seek to know about Him, but to know Him.

It’s just a thought, but I suggest studying whole books of the Bible at a time, looking carefully for a single theme, for a unique contribution to the revelation of Christ. 1 John 3:2 tells us that we will be like Him when we see Him as He is. Our goal should be to see Him a little better every day.


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