Reconciling the Gospels Is Easy, If you Just Think about It.
Non-believers, and frankly…many Christian believers, often have a hard time understanding why the gospels don’t match up word for word, or at least thought for thought when comparing various events mentioned by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For the non-believer, these “discrepancies” serve as literary soap boxes to refute the voracity of God’s word. For believers that haven’t invested the time to understand what these variations are about, it’s enough that they believe. This is not a bad thing, to have a strong faith that allows you to take God at His word and trust what He says. However, it does mean there is less ink in your apologetics pen when you need it.
Do You Seek Truth About the Gospels?
Not every baby boomer is a bible nerd that will take the time to get entrenched in a good study bible. Nor will every Christian read works like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”, or hundreds of other books that resolve to explain the concept of the four gospels. For the digital-only crowd, despite there being millions of hours of fantastic, expository preaching available as podcasts and other media, having that knowledge readily available to inquisitive seekers isn’t always easy.
Lately, I’ve felt compelled to have a story on the tip of my tongue for the occasion of reconciling the gospel stories in an easy, heartfelt way, should anyone ask. Perhaps it’s driven by my second oldest son’s recent church attendance and participation in the church choir. Should his faith journey continue in the direction I hope, I want to be able to answer his questions.
Truthfully, a part of this desire to create is also a more selfish reason to increase my own knowledge and faith. When we recite, rehearse, or otherwise remember truth, it grows our faith.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
Romans 10:17 – ESV
To that effect, I’ve created a scenario…a story, a parable…if you will, that anyone can relate to. My hope is that in understanding this simple story, a believer’s faith in the gospels might be increased, or a non-believer’s doubt might be similarly decreased.
A Starting Point
Before we begin our little story. We should have a simple basic understanding of the original authors of the gospels. Biblical scholars and early church fathers of all denominations alike agree on the basic persona’s of each of the original gospel writers. Matthew was a Jew who targeted a Jewish audience as was one of the original 12 apostles. Mark was a gentile who targeted a mostly Roman, gentile audience. A friend of Peters, Mark’s gospel picks up when John the Baptist appears on the scene, completely ignoring Jesus’ early life. Luke was a gentile as well. An educated Greek and a physician, he targeted a broader audience with his lengthy, detailed gospel, directed toward his friend Theophilus. We get the bulk of our beloved Christmas stories from Luke. Finally John, who was also one of the original 12 and shared a special bond with the Savior, writes a loving gospel that includes but differs from the previous gospel efforts, of which he would have been acquainted with at the time.
In our parable, you will find parallels between our characters and these writers. This is intentional. They won’t be exact matches, that’s not the point of a parable. In fact, the point here is not to see our characters in those writers, but rather to look back at those writers with our characters in mind and see them in a new light.
The Gospels Parable – Grocery Fender Bender
Mike and Sonya were headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner. It was an early spring Saturday afternoon, and steaks and sweet corn on the grill sounded great to both of them. After purchasing their groceries, they headed out of the parking lot and onto the busy street. An 18-wheel delivery truck was starting a left turn in front of them, just as the light changed to yellow. Unseen by Mike, who was driving, a vehicle from the opposite direction had slid in behind the truck to try and beat the light.
Mike’s light turned green as the truck was in mid-turn. Mike inched into the intersection, anticipating the completion of the truck’s turn. As he began to accelerate through what should have been empty space, the vehicle tailgating the truck suddenly came into view. Though Mike stopped in time, the driver of the other vehicle panicked and attempted to swerve back into the other lane, instead of just following the truck. The vehicle clipped Mike and Sonya’s driver’s side front fender. Both vehicles were able to pull into an adjacent parking lot where they called emergency services and waited for police, along with the 18-wheeler driver.
Below are the interviews of the key players, as told to police.
So Mike and I were going to the store to get steaks for the grill. We went to the store on 7th street because they always have better corn this time of year. They also have a much better meat department. Mike’s not a huge steak fan, but he’ll eat good flank steak if I can find one.
We got checked out. The store was busy, but we didn’t have to wait in line very long. They still actually bag groceries and take them to your car at this store, which is another reason to go to the one on 7th street. The main street store is so dingy, and getting a place to park always seems like a challenge.
Anyway, we drove out of the parking lot and at the first stop light this boy in a red car hit us.
The wife and I went to the grocery store to pick up some grub for dinner. I wanted to get the grilling done before the hockey game started, there’s nothing like playoff hockey you know. So we got our stuff and the kid brought it out to the car. I let him wheel it out there, but no way I’m letting him throw stuff in my trunk, so I said thanks and sent him on his way. Felt like I should tip him or something, but the store had signs that said I shouldn’t…weird.
Anyway, after sitting behind someone that apparently didn’t know how to make a right turn, I finally pulled onto the main drag. We got up to the intersection just as the light turned yellow. I think about pushing through, but I see this 18-wheeler making a left turn into the grocery store parking lot, so I stop at the light.
The guy was doing his best to get that big rig in there without taking out their sign, which was too close to the road. Didn’t those people think ahead when they designed this, or did they think the big trucks were just gonna fly in there somehow? The light turns green and he’s just getting through. I inch into the intersection ready to hit it when he’s clear. As I finally start to hit the gas, I see this young man and a pretty girl in a red, mid-2000’s Grand Prix. Frankly it’s a travesty to even call those things a Grand Prix, it’s just another econobox with a lousy 4-banger.
So the kid is probably paying more attention to his girl than the road. He realized his mistake and tried to overcorrect by trying to cross back over to his lane. Unfortunately, inexperience prevailed and he didn’t make it, hitting me instead. It probably doesn’t matter, but I noticed on his front, driver’s side he had that stupid little spare donut tire installed. Probably got a flat and put it on. You aren’t supposed to drive on those things very far. This one wasn’t shiny or anything, like he had just changed it. It had definitely been on the car for a while.
Panicked Driver and Passenger
Me and a friend from school were headed out to get a bite to eat after a late study hall. It wasn’t really a date, we were just both studying and both hungry, plus she needed a ride home. We were behind some truck that was turning into the parking lot. We figured we’d follow it in since there is a cool coffee hangout in that same strip center that we wanted to check out.
I don’t really know what happened. All of a sudden we were in the middle of the intersection and this car was coming towards us. I tried to get back to the other lane but…I don’t know. Somehow we hit that old guy. I’m hoping my parents don’t kill me.
Well, Trevor and I were going on our first date. We were going to try that new coffee shop. Trevor was driving. I was looking at my phone, trying to see how long you can drive on one of those little donut spares. My Dad always told me to get it fixed immediately. I know for a fact it was on Trevor’s car last week when he “coincidentally” drove by my house the other day.
Anyway, I felt him swerve and looked up just as we hit this lady and her husband. They were cool. She was all apologetic and stuff, even though it was obviously Trevor’s fault. That was probably our last “date”.
I was making a left-turn into the parking lot. I hate delivering to this location because some idiot put the sign too close to the turning lane. The front wheel always rides the curb no matter what you do. They need to put in a truck entrance or something. Anyway, I hit it right at the yellow. I figured the guy in front of me would honk at me or flip me off, but he was cool. He looked like he was on a mission, like he needed to get home for a hockey game or something.
The kid behind me must have been riding me close because I didn’t see him in my mirrors until I started turning. He had a girl with him, a cute one too…out of his league. So I’ve almost completed my turn, hockey guy is inching into the intersection, and the kid inexplicably stops following me and swerves into the intersection and hits hockey guy. I’d check the kids car out if I were you, I think the donut spare on the front may have failed. I don’t know why people drive around on those things.
He looked pretty shaken up. Hopefully he has good insurance and understanding parents. His girl was trying to comfort him, but she was giving off “last date” vibes.
Explaining The Parable
The parable itself doesn’t really need explanation. It’s quite clear what happened, and what everyone’s response is. What we do hope to explain here is that although everyone’s story is slightly different and each person highlights different events, there is no doubt that they are all accurately describing the same story.
Much like the Gospels, the difference is the focus of each person. While in this particular story the audience is the same for all, a police officer interviewing witnesses, their backgrounds and point of view reflect the details that are important to them as they relay their story.
As the combined entirety of the Gospels, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents a single, unified picture of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the same way the entirety of these interviews present a unified picture of this accident.
The finished and submitted report by the officer in charge of the accident investigation will serve as “canon” for what happened on this unfortunate Saturday.
Just as you could read each of these viewpoints and walk away with certainty that you know exactly what happened, the same can be said about God’s Word. Imagine if each of these traffic accident witnesses had told the same exact story, word for word. Belief would give way to accusations of collusion and cover up. God’s Word has stood the test of time of millennia. Here’s hoping you will continue to study and understand the truths expressed in the gospels.