Divergences of the gospelsPosted: December 2, 2008
Question: What is the Divergences of the gospels to the Roman Catholic Church?
Answer: The existence of numerous and, at times, considerable differences between the four canonical Gospels is a fact which has long been noticed and which all scholars readily admit. Unbelievers of all ages have greatly exaggerated the importance of this fact, and have represented many of the actual variations between theEvangelical narratives as positive contradictions, in order to disprove the historical value and the inspiredcharacter of the sacred records of Christ’s life. Over against this contention, sometimes maintained with a great display of erudition, the Church of God, which is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), has always proclaimed her belief in the historical accuracy and consequent real harmony of the canonicalGospels; and her doctors (notably Eusebius of Cæsarea, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine) and commentatorshave invariably professed that belief. As can readily be seen, variations are naturally to be expected in four distinct, and in many ways independent, accounts of Christ’s words and deeds, so that their presence, instead of going against, rather makes for the substantial value of the Evangelical narratives. From among the various answers which have been given to the alleged contradictions of the Evangelists we simply mention the following. Many a time the variations are due to the fact that not one but two really distinct events are described, or two distinct sayings recorded, in the parallel passages of the Gospels. At other times, as is indeed very often the case, the supposed contradictions, when closely examined, turn out to be simply differences naturally entailed, and therefore distinctly accounted for, by the literary methods of the sacredwriters, and more particularly, by the respective purpose of the Evangelists in setting forth Christ’s words anddeeds. Lastly, and in a more general way, the Gospels should manifestly be treated with the same fairness and equity as are invariably used with regard to other historical records.
To borrow an illustration from classical literature, the ‘Memoirs’ of the Apostles are treated [by unbelievers] by a method which no critic would apply to the ‘Memoirs’ of Xenophon. The [Rationalistic] scholar admits the truthfulness of the different pictures of Socrates which were drawn by the philosopher, the moralist, and the man of the world, and combines them into one figure instinct with a noble life, half hidden and half revealed, as men viewed it from different points; but he seems often to forget his art when he studies the records of the Saviour’s work. Hence it is that superficial differences are detached from the context which explains them. It is urged as an objection that parallel narratives are not identical. Variety of details is taken for discrepancy. The evidence may be wanting which might harmonize narratives apparently discordant; but experience shows that it is as rash to deny the probability of reconciliation as it is to fix the exact method by which it may be made out. If, as a general rule, we can follow the lawwhich regulates the characteristic peculiarities of each Evangelist, and see in what way they answer to different aspects of one truth, and combine as complementary elements in the full representation of it, we may be well contented to acquiesce in the existence of some difficulties which at present admit of no exact solution, though they may be a necessary consequence of that independence of the Gospels which, in other cases, is the source of their united power (Westcott).