Adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas!

The four gospels cannot be combined into one coherent narrative

Adding the gospels together and pretending the result makes sense is like adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas!

Some writers of yesteryear attempted to combine the four gospels into one coherent narrative, as if they TRUTHFULLY describe the same events from only slightly different perspectives. They do not; their perspectives are VERY different.

For a start, most of the material in the Fourth Gospel is not found in the other gospels, and most of the material in the other gospels is not found in the Fourth. From the opening passages about the pre-existence of the ‘Word’, the contrast could not be greater. Yeshua, the reluctant Messiah of the Synoptics who taught the coming of the Kingdom of G_d, has been replaced in the Fourth Gospel with an other-worldly ‘Christ’ figure making extravagant claims about his own identity. And that isn’t the only difference.

In the Synoptics, Yeshua ministered in Galilee for less than a year before heading south to Jerusalem to confront the authorities. In the Fourth Gospel, his ministry lasted 3-4 years and Galilee is barely mentioned.

The sequence of events is also different. For instance, the well-known incident in which an angry Yeshua drives the moneychangers from the Jerusalem temple takes place in the second chapter of ‘John’, but in his final week in the Synoptics.

There is no birth story in the Fourth Gospel, and no mention of Bethlehem; Yeshua is explicitly described as coming from Nazareth. Nor does it say what happened to the risen Yeshua after he had appeared to the disciples.

That’s why adding the gospels together and pretending the result makes sense is like adding apples and oranges and calling them bananas. There are too many contradictions!

©David Lawrence Preston, 22.5.2019

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Chinese Whispers

Nowadays if you wanted to write a biography of someone who died half a century ago, like Dr Martin Luther King, Sir Winston Churchill or President Kennedy for instance, you would search the internet, visit a library and bookstore and look for film clips and old newsreels. You could even try to make contact with people who knew him, although they would either be in their dotage, their memories faded, or very young at the time in question.

This is the situation that faced the New Testament gospel writers. The earliest gospel, ‘Mark’, is dated around 70 CE, forty years after the crucifixion of Yeshua, the Christian prophet and allegedly Son of G_d. ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’s’ gospels were written around 75-85 CE, and ‘John’s’ around the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries. Scholars are quite clear that the authors could not have known Yeshua personally – they doubt that three of them ever visited Palestine. They would, of course, been quite elderly, and bear in mind, the average seventy year-old today is much fitter than they were in the 1st Century.

Imagine. It’s forty or fifty years since Yeshua’s death – two or three generations in those times – and you’re writing a biography of him. You live in Syria, Turkey or Rome, hundreds of miles from Palestine. You’ve never visited Galilee or Jerusalem and know little about the area. You have never lived as a Jew in a predominantly Jewish region, so are not as fully steeped in Jewish culture as were Yeshua and his disciples. You don’t speak his native language, Aramaic. All his family and close companions (except perhaps one elderly disciple who is blind) are dead and they don’t speak your language, Greek. You try to piece together his teachings, but have no recordings of his actual words, intonations and gestures. His followers share anecdotes with you, based on what they’ve heard, but you have no reliable way of checking whether their versions are correct.

Today we know exactly what Dr Martin Luther King said at the Washington Monument in 1963 or President Kennedy at the Berlin Wall that same year. We can even go back to recordings of Churchill’s wartime speeches and his warnings about the Soviet threat in the 1950s. Their content is beyond dispute. But we can never know, for instance, what was said during Yeshua’s trial or the Sermon on the Mount; if they ever took place at all, which is highly unlikely.

Now jump forward to the present day. You obtain a partial biography of Yeshua written more than nineteen centuries ago – it’s called a gospel. It’s been copied, miscopied, edited, added to and translated many times. It’s been amended many times by people with vested interests to ensure it’s ‘on message’. How reliable is it as a factual account? And yet, incredibly, a third of the people in the world live under political and religious systems based on these writings!

Wherever people gather and tell stories, the Chinese Whispers effect is present. Always was, and always will be!


Copyright David Lawrence Preston, 23.8.2016

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The gospels differ significantly over Yeshua’s trial

The gospels differ significantly over the details of Yeshua’s trial and committal:

  • In the First Gospel (‘Mark’), they took him to Caiaphas, the high priest’s, house where the Jewish governing council (Sanhedrin), had assembled. The Jewish leaders gave false and conflicting testimony; Yeshua remained silent. Then Caiaphas asked him if he was the Messiah. Previously he had refused to claim the title, but this time he answered, ‘I am.’ ‘Blasphemy!’ exclaimed the Jewish leaders, ‘The punishment is death.’ But the Jewish authorities had no power to execute a prisoner, only the Roman Prefect could do that, so Yeshua was sent to Pilate. ‘Mark’ claims that Pilate was unconvinced by the evidence and told the Sanhedrin to prosecute Yeshua themselves since blasphemy was not his concern. The Jewish leaders then accused Yeshua of claiming to be a king; this could be seen as sedition, a capital offence under Roman law. Still Pilate could find no reason to execute him. Finally he caved in, had him flogged and then sent for crucifixion. (Mark 14:53-15:15)
  • In ‘Luke’s’ Gospel, and only ‘Luke’s’, he was also sent to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, who questioned him but took no action and returned him to Pilate.
  • ‘Matthew’ added a further dramatic gesture – Pilate washed his hands to signify that he was innocent of Yeshua’s blood.
  • And typically the Fourth Gospel added several lengthy passages of preachy dialogue at all stages of the proceedings.

What are we to make of this? Is it enough to say it’s true if you believe it’s true? Is any of it true? Which parts? Or none? Only you can decide.

©David Lawrence Preston, 11.3.2016

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Informed ideas for discussion and debate.