Why the gospels can be very different…

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fourgospels

Matthew 28:After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

This morning I’m struck by how different is Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus from Mark’s version. Mark’s version was the basis for my sermon on Easter Sunday. The fundamental story is the same, but lots of the details are different. Here there were two women at the tomb, not three as in Mark. The one awaiting the women at the tomb is clearly named as an angel in this version, but was described as a “young man dressed in white” in Mark. In Mark there’s no mention of an earthquake or Roman guards as there is here. I could go on.

With this many differences we might be tempted to think the writers were making some of this stuff up, but it’s pretty common for people to share an experience, then describe that experience quite differently later – particularly when many years pass as was the case here. The gospel accounts are thought to have been written some 30+ years after the events they describe. That’s a long time for memories to get a bit fuzzy.

That said, I find great integrity in the fact that the original compilers of the New Testament did not feel the need to clean up the gospel accounts to make sure they agreed with one another. They allowed the differences in the four gospel accounts to remain, trusting that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ was intact – which it is. If anything, the fact there are differences in details of the accounts lends greater authenticity in my opinion, not less.

Heavenly Father, it’s true that the four gospel accounts differ in a number of ways. After all, the authors were not robots, but human beings. Give us grace that we might not be distracted by minor discrepancies, but receive the fundamental truths these accounts contain. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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