This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague,
FPCE director of communications.
As a new believer, back in the 1980s, I found myself desperate to understand how the various books of the New Testament had come about. In particular, I felt I needed to be able to explain how the four Gospels related to one another, and why there seemed to be some glaring inconsistencies between these foundational documents which claimed some measure of authority over believers.
A classic example of such inconsistency is the differing Palm Sunday accounts.
The Gospel of John (Chapter 12) says, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it…” as he entered Jerusalem.
The Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 21) tells the story somewhat differently:
“The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Vv. 6-8)
In the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 19), another element is shared:
33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus, and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
And what about the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 11)? His account (considered the oldest of the Gospel writings) doesn’t refer to a conversation with the colt’s owner, but rather “bystanders” who questioned them. And, like Matthew, says cloaks were spread on the road along with leafy branches.
My newly forged faith was shaken by such misalignment. Was it a colt or a donkey? Was it one donkey or two? Were the disciples confronted by its owner or not? Did the cloaks go on the road along with the branches or not? If the Bible was trustworthy, why would there be such disagreement? Wouldn’t the authors of the Gospels each agree on which details were important?
My friend Larry, who had shepherded me to faith in Jesus, recommended the book “Evidence That Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell. Originally published in 1972 and revised multiple times since then, the book was intended to answer many of the difficult questions about Christianity through scriptural examination and in its collection of theological and historical research.
McDowell, who came to faith in Jesus as a young man after attempting to disprove the validity of the Scriptures, wrote that the inconsistencies between the accounts are the very reason we might more readily trust them. For each of the Gospels, the writers (understanding the importance of the task before them) sought to get the facts, details, realities and truths of their story exactly right as they recalled or as they were related to them.
In the 2017 edition of his book (this one co-authored with his son, Sean McDowell, PhD), McDowell quotes New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg’s view of inconsistencies in the Gospels:
“We may affirm that the Synoptic Gospel writers would have wanted to preserve accurate history according to the standards of their day, that they had every likelihood of being able to do so, and that the overall pattern of widespread agreement on the essential contours of Jesus’ life and ministry coupled with enough variation of details to demonstrate at least some independent sources and tradents [scribes, translators, commentators, preachers and teachers of the Biblical text] on which each drew makes it very probable that they did in fact compose trustworthy historical and biographical documents…”
We live in an age where many people deny even the historical existence of Jesus as being anything more than the lead character in a powerful work of fiction.
McDowell, agreeing with Blomberg, points to the very existence of multiple Gospels as powerful evidence for why we should begin with the assumption that Jesus really did live. By looking at the Gospels and their intent, we can move beyond any historical question of Jesus’s existence to the far more important issues of what his life means for us.
“The authors of the four gospels present Jesus in a manner that assumes his existence. Though they want the reader to know their accounts are reliable (e.g., John 21:24), the writers are not primarily attempting to prove he existed. Instead, they are trying to convince readers that the man Jesus whom they knew is God and should be followed.”
Since the beginning of 2023, we have been looking, as a church community, at how we can live like Jesus did and reflect that in how we relate to him with our heads, hearts, and hands. We have been reminded, each week, that believing in Jesus means seeking to grow in relationship with him and becoming more like him.
Sunday, we celebrate the Palm Sunday story while looking ahead to Holy Week and marking the betrayal, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Join us, if you are able, at 9 a.m. in Raymond Park for an ecumenical multi-church processional (complete with live donkey), followed by our worship service in the Sanctuary at 9:30 a.m.
Excited to participate in God’s purposes for First Pres,
FPCE Director of Communications