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Answering the Accusation that the Variations in the Parallel Passages in the Gospels make the NT unreliable

New Testament

ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PRACTICES OF ANTIQUITY

I had said that the CONSENSUS of scholars(an agreement of at least 95%)believe Matthew and Luke copied from Mark.

Luke copied some 50% and Matthew 90%.When one examines the parallel passages you notice there are differences, some minor, others not. There are several reasons:

1. MARK wrote in bad Greek, it is obvious he was an Aramaic speaker. Many times the changes are due to Luke and Matthew IMPROVING the sentences of Mark.

2. The historians of the time, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, all of them, accepted the practice of PARAPHRASING a person’s words, changing his words. Luke did this on several occasions.

Why did they do that?

Why did they it? Because at that time it was an acceptable historical practice to paraphrase as long as the new words gave an accurate idea or EXPLANATION of the original meaning.Essentially,it was due to the 90% illiteracy of the people and lack of tape recorders,cameras,etc.

ANCIENT HISTORIANS ALSO INVENTED SPEECHES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE

Ask any history professor and he will confirm it. Thucydides, who is considered the greatest Greek historian of all time lived from 460-395 BC. He wrote the ” History of the Peloponnesian War “. It is about the war between Athens and Sparta and during the course a great plague broke out in Athens, killing many, including the son of the great and famous Athenian leader Pericles. Pericles made a famous speech. Now Thucidydes in his book tells us he got some idea of what was said from others but they could not remember the exact words, so Thucydides invented the speech based on what he thought Pericles had most probably said.

In other histories historians who lived many centuries after Alexander the Great invented speeches for him based on how they thought he would have spoken to his troops. The great Roman historian Livy (59 BC-17 AD)who wrote a massive ” History of Rome ” invented speeches for the famous generals based on how he thought they would have spoken.

WAS THE SPEECH BY JESUS IN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND THE ONE CALLED THE SERMON ON THE PLAIN INVENTED?

I highly doubt it was invented. First of all Jesus had been preaching for more than 3 years with his disciples. He would have told the same sermons and parables over and over again many times in each village. That does not mean that every time it would have been said exactly but the essence would have been the same.

So the 2 Different Sermons are:

1.Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5:1-7:29.

2.Sermon on the Plain

Luke 6:17-49(alot shorter)

Only 15 Minutes

The sermon on the Mount only lasts 15 minutes(read the sermon and it takes 15 minutes to finish). You don’t expect a preacher to only talk that short. You expect him to speak at least half an hour, so by logic he would have also said alot of parables when speaking.

It was Not a One-Time Event

Also there is a difference. The speech by Pericles was a one-time speech. He never repeated it again. It was like the speech by Abraham Lincoln called the Gettysburg Address in 1863 during the American Civil War of 1861-65. But Jesus would repeat his message over and over again and so sometimes he would speak with more detail and at other times be briefer.

What Sermon did Jesus really say?

There is the skeptical question: what sermon did Jesus say? That of the one on the mountain or on the PLAIN? First, it is obvious that they are 2 different sermons, even said in 2 different places. And one is longer than the other. Since the speech was NOT a one-time thing he would have modified it as need arose but maintained the essence of his teaching. So Jesus said both sermons.

Hearing it Over and Over Again for 3 Years

Also Western children, in Europe for example, learn a series of  fairy tales that they have heard many times and so they practically know them by heart, by memory like:

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, the 3 Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, etc.

When one retells them one does not use the exact same words every time but the essence is always the same. So in the SAME WAY, the disciples of Jesus had heard over and over  again the sermons and parables of Jesus for more than 3 years in village after village and they could repeat it by heart.

THEY ALSO PRACTICED EXACT QUOTATION

One could do like today, give an exact citation, followed by an explanation, read John 21:18-22. That is the practice followed today by historians.

THE PARTS PARAPHRASED BY LUKE

This is to answer a question often posed by Muslims and others. LUKE copied from MARK but there are parts that Luke has changed. So the accusation is: the NT has been corrupted, it can not be trusted. If one showed that to an ancient Greek he would have said: ” Is the change in words FAITHFUL to the ORIGINAL meaning?” And if the answer had been YES then he would have said: ” Then what is wrong with what Luke did, it is an acceptable practice by historians. ”

THE PARAPHRASES OF LUKE:

The Trial of Jesus

Mark 14:60-64:

” Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ” Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, ” Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One? ”

I AM, ” said Jesus. ” And you will see the Son of Man ( Messiah ) sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. ” The high priest tore his clothes. ” Why do we need any more witnesses? ” he asked. ” You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think? ” They all condemned him as worthy of death. ”

Commentary

As shown by many saying you are the Messiah or the son of God is not blasphemy. SON OF GOD for a JEW simply meant HOLY MAN man or ANGEL. But Jesus answered by pronouncing God’s name in the first person, which in Hebrew is Ehyeh ( I am / I will be,read Exodus 3:13-15) ). That was the BLASPHEMY, he identified himself as God.

Luke 22:66-71:

” At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. ” If you are the Christ,” they said, ” tell us. ” Jesus answered, ” If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God. ”

They all asked, ” Are you then the Son of God? ” He replied, “You are right in saying I AM. ” Then they said, ” Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” ”

Commentary

Notice that Luke changed the words for Theophilus, the book for who it was written. Luke includes the famous “I AM”(one of God’s names in the OT) but since he knew for a Greco-Roman mentality the phrase ” son of God ” or ” son of a god ” meant DIVINITY, then he changed the way the sentences were ordered.

What did the Centurion say at the Crucifixion?

Mark 15:38-39:

” The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ” Surely this man was the Son of God. ” ”

Commentary

The centurion certainly did not mean by son of God God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. As a Roman he would have understood as denoting real divinity but maybe not, since LUKE, who says in his introduction that he has researched on the matter, puts it as meaning simply HOLY MAN. So for Luke the centurion in Palestine also picked up the Jewish meaning of the term.

Luke 23:47:

” The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ” Surely this was a RIGHTEOUS MAN. ” ”

The Resurrection

Mark 15:5-7:

” As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ” Don’t be alarmed, ” he said. ” You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” ”

Luke 24:4-8:

” While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ” Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. ”

About the Last Words of Jesus

We have 2 versions, that of LUKE and that of JOHN. Which is correct? One idea is that they can be combined, only that one writer chose to emphasize one part and the other the other part. But since Luke paraphrases considerably it is most probable that ” It is finished ” by John were the real last words. Probably Luke thought ” it is finished ” would mean to some that his work had been in vain.

Now in Mark, known by Luke, Jesus says ” My God why have you forsaken me?” quoting from PSALM 22 which begins in despair and ends in triumph and joy. And then in MARK Jesus gives out a “loud cry and dies”.

The Loud Cry contined the Last Words of Jesus

The loud cry would be the last words of Jesus. Now Luke would have understood ” it is finished ” as ” it, my life is ending ” so we have:

John 19:30:

” When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ” It is finished. ” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. ”

Luke 23:46:

” Jesus called out with a loud voice, ” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. ” When he had said this, he breathed his last. ”

BUT DID NOT JOHN ALSO PARAPHRASE ALOT?

The way Jesus speaks in John is different from the way he does in the Synoptics.Scholars have said John paraphrased Jesus. That would be true to a certain extent but not 100%. The reason is:

The Qmran Documents

They are from the ESSENES and they lived in the time of Jesus. BEFORE it was claimed that the way Jesus spoke in John was not the way ANY Jew of Palestine would speak. It was a “Hellenistic” and “pagan-like” way of expression. But in the Qmran documents the Essenes use a terminology SIMILAR to that of Jesus in John showing Jesus could certainly have spoken that way.

The Case of Q

It is what is believed to have been a written record of many sayings of Jesus making up 230 verses/50 sayings that are found in both Matthew and Luke, but missing from Mark. The sayings are the same or very similar in both authors. Now Q is considered to be from 50 AD, though some put it at 60 AD. There is one famous passage in Q that is very similar to the way Jesus speaks of in the gospel of John.

It is about the Father-Son relationship that is often found in John. In other words Q and the Qmran documents show that Jesus did indeed speak like in John, at least sometimes.

To read the Q sayings go to:

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/q.html

THE Q PASSAGE COMPARED TO JOHN:

Q passage shared in Matthew 11:26-27 and Luke 10:21-22:

” Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. ” All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to who the Son chooses to reveal him. ”

Example 1:

John 5:19-23:

” Jesus gave them this answer: ” I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to who he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. ”

Example 2:

John 14:23-24:

” Jesus replied, ” If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. ”

Or read Mark 10:17-18 and Matthew 19:16-17 ( here Matthew paraphrases or puts an interpretation of what Jesus said:” Why do you call me good? No one is good but God” )

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