May 28, 2024

In today’s podcast, Kurt discusses the differences in the gospels with Dr. Michael Licona. Topics discussed include skeptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, the debate of inherency, literary spotlighting, and more.

Listen to “Episode 2: Gospel Differences” on Spreaker.


Kurt: Hello and welcome to Veracity Hill, where here we’re striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Today, we’re going to be discussing Gospel differences, why it is that the Gospels at least appear to have differences and ways in which scholars have different approaches to understanding these differences. So I’d like to share with you a little bit of my intellectual background and story about how I’ve dealt with this issue and a little bit later on in a few minutes we’ll be joined by Dr. Mike Licona who’s a New Testament scholar at Houston Baptist University and looking forward to what he has to share with us today, and if you have a question either for me or for Dr. Licona, you can give us a call at 505-2STRIVE, that’s 505-278-7483, and you’ll be talking with us live. You can share a comment, some of your own thoughts perhaps, or if you’ve got a question for one of us, go ahead and give us a call.

So I’m interested in Gospel differences because it was when I was first in college actually that I realized that the Gospels, the four Gospels, there are differences when you sort of lay them out chronologically next to each other. If you were to try to put them chronologically side by side, sort of a 4 by 4 chart of sorts, you would recognize that boy, some things are out of order, and look, someone said person A said this but in another Gospel it’s person B. So how is it that we can understand these things?

Also, and I’m sure Dr. Licona will share a little bit about this, it seemed that some things were too stretched, some interpretations were too stretched, so one of those examples for instance is the death of Judas, where he went and hung himself, but another account says that he died by falling down a hill, a rocky hill. So how is it that we can really understand both of these at the same time? Well, some scholars say he first hung himself and then he fell off of the rope and went down the hill. You know, it just seems a bit too stretched for my liking, but maybe there’s a different way to understand what the Gospel authors were doing, so at any rate, that’s why I’ve got this topic in mind today on Gospel differences and before we speak with Dr. Licona, let me tell you about an opportunity in the Chicago land area. Two weeks from today it’s “Love God With Your Mind: The Defenders Conference.” We just put out a promo video, Defenders Media put out a promo video this past week and so here’s the audio for that.

Video plays

So the conference is August 5th and 6th. It’s gonna be held at Christchurch of Oak Brook in Oak Brook, Illinois. We’ve got a great line-up of speakers, some other names out there in the clip, Cisco Cotto, a radio personality here in Chicago, Khaldoun Sweis, he’s a philosopher at City Colleges of Chicago I believe is the official title, and some others, and it’s gonna be a real fun time. Free Chick-Fil-A as well. We’ve got Chick-Fil-A as a sponsor, they’re donating chicken sandwiches for us to eat. It’s gonna just be a blast. It takes months and months to prepare these things and then it’s over before you know it. If you want more information you can go to where there’s a link there for you to register and get more details about the event.

Okay. So Gospel differences, how is it that we can understand these apparent differences in the Gospels and joining me now is Dr. Mike Licona. Dr. Licona, are you there?

Mike: I am Kurt.

Kurt: Hey! Thanks for coming on the show today.

Mike: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Kurt: Yeah! So now, before we get going here why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your story as to how you got into this topic and especially your current research on Plutarch.

Mike: Well, I just turned 55 years old a week ago and I became a Christian at the age of 10. Didn’t grow too much spiritually during my teens, but I went to college and went to Liberty University, a conservative Christian university and it was just a great atmosphere for me. I grew a lot in my Christian faith during this period of time. I had a strong Christian influence in my family, but it was the first time I’d really been in a strong Christian environment, much more so than the church that I had attended up to that point and it was just great so I just grew in the Lord and wanted to get real deep into the Word and I’d buy other translations and I’d buy commentaries and when it came to the New Testament there was so much in there that the commentators talked about how the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written would shed great insights and so I decided to learn Greek and I went to graduate school for that and was loving it, reading the New Testament in its original language and then one day I just asked myself “How do I know if this stuff is true?” I believe it’s true and I think I have this intimate relationship with God, but haven’t Mormons said the same thing? How about people of other religions? They think they’re right just as much as I do so could it be that I have brainwashed myself into thinking this? This really started to bother me so these doubts got me into looking at the evidence and Christian apologetics.

I’m very thankful for Gary Habermas, philosophy professor at Liberty at that point. I never had him for a class but I went and saw him and because of that, I remain a Christian. I don’t know that I’d be a Christian today had it not been for Gary Habermas. He’s become a best friend, a hero of my life, so anyway I’ve always been one that would second guess things and it didn’t matter what it was in my life, whether it was “Did I buy the right car? Did I marry the right woman? Did I buy the right watch? Did I buy the right cologne?” Things that were very important, things that were not at all important. I would second guess everything and so therefore it’d just be common or expected that I would second guess the truth of the Christian faith and especially because of its importance so that led me to look further in-depth with the difficult questions but not just to find answers but to find real answers because discovering and following truth is really the most important thing in our lives.

If Christianity isn’t true, we want to know it so that we can find the right truth out there, the real truth. So it was this authentic looking into the evidence that led me to do an in-depth study of the resurrection of Jesus and I never thought I’d do a Ph.D. but I ended up doing that on the resurrection and it took me five and a half years.

Kurt: And it’s a prolific work.

Mike: It’d take a little while to read…

I was obsessed with it so whereas in grad school, it was a nightmare for me to write a 20-page double-spaced paper with a few footnotes. My dissertation ended up being well over 500 pages single space with more than 2,000 footnotes and it’s not just because I’m brilliant. It’s because I got obsessed with it. I had to get to the bottom line. Once I was able to judge the evidence and against all the other competing hypotheses and come to the conclusion that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then it seemed like all these other questions that are posed to Christians or even by Christian become peripheral.

Kurt: mhmmm.

Mike: And relatively unimportant for the most part, most of them do, they become relatively unimportant. So you know, you have someone like Bart Ehrman that comes along and just like many others before him, questioned the historical reliability of the Gospels based on a number of reasons, the primary one being Gospel contradictions, and again I believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, but once you realize that Jesus rose from the dead, if there were errors in the Bible, several errors in the Bible, there were contradictions, it’s just no longer a big deal to me because I know Christianity’s true.

Anyway, that’s what got me into it and I’ve talked long enough about so how about if you have some follow-up questions.

Kurt: Sure! Yeah! No, yeah, that’s great! You’ve bought a lot. Boy. Yes. So let’s take a few steps back. You’ve mentioned Dr. Ehrman and inerrancy, I want to get into that, but first, perhaps for some people, and you’ve alluded to this a little bit, they believe that “Oh. If there are differences in the Gospels, therefore they must not be true.” You said you affirm inerrancy. How is it that if there are differences that it can still be true?

Mike: Well, that’s a good question, a fair question. I think we have to look at what is a difference. There’s differences, there’s errors, there’s contradictions. An example that I will give is to say I come home from a trip and my wife says “Hey. You missed it. Half an hour ago some guy shows up at the door and says he’s from Publishers’ Clearing House and says you’ve won!” and gives me a check for 15 million dollars and then a half hour after that she’s talking to her Mom and says “You won’t believe what happened here an hour ago. Two guys showed up at the door and they told me that I’d won Publishers’ Clearing House, gave me a check for 15 million dollars, and the other guy who’s video taping it said ‘Yeah. You’re going to be on TV.’ “ That’s a difference because I could say “Well in the first example my wife said one guy came to the door whereas in the second she says two.” That’s not a contradiction. She didn’t just say just one guy. She only mentioned one.

Kurt: Yeah

Mike: By the way that’s something I call literary spotlighting when it’s found in literature and it’s the most common literary device that I’ve found Plutarch using and we find the Gospel authors using it as well, especially in things like even the resurrection narratives. We find them using it a few times. That’s a difference. Now a contradiction would be something like, and this is a true story, when the Titanic sank some of the survivors said that the Titanic broke into two just prior to sinking and others said no, they saw it. It went down in one piece. So how do you get that right? Well one of thems wrong. That is a contradiction. They both can’t be right. So there are differences, there are contradictions, so yeah. So that’s how you can have a difference without it being a contradiction or an error.

Kurt: Yeah. And even in the story of the Titanic there was a contradiction. While that specific fact we may not have certain knowledge about, there are still other facts as part of the broader story such as the Titanic sank.

Mike: That’s right. Nobody’s going to question the Titanic sinking.

Kurt: Right, right, and then if they really did we’ll just have them go scuba diving.


Kurt: See for themselves.

Mike: You know it’s interesting. Someone sent me something or maybe they posted it on my Facebook page, I don’t know. I think it was the latter whereas the shooting in Germany that occurred, what was it yesterday? The initial reports were that there were three people that people saw with guns.

Kurt: And then there was only the one guy.

Mike: But the final conclusion was that there was only one, so you had these contradictory reports. Well no one’s concluding that there wasn’t a shooter or people weren’t killed.

Kurt: Right. Right. I’d like to get into the compositional devices and more about Plutarch in a little bit, but first you brought up Dr. Ehrman. For our listeners who may not know Dr. Ehrman is a New Testament critic who teaches at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and his story, and correct me if I’m mistaken Dr. Licona. He was an evangelical. He even went to I think Trinity.

Mike: Wheaton.

Kurt: Oh did he go to Wheaton? Okay.

Mike: Wheaton. Yeah.

Kurt: And for him it seemed that inerrancy played a large role and you can even see this in some of his criticism, almost like in some of his debates he’s trying to get people to reject inerrancy more so than rejecting the reliability.

Mike: Yeah.

Kurt: And so maybe that’s because, and it’s certainly true there are some evangelical scholars, they uphold inerrancy as such a big doctrine, I mean almost on par with the core beliefs of Christianity, that they have to interpret the Gospels in a certain way that there couldn’t possibly be a difference and so sometimes with different events you see that they think that those events happened multiple times. Right? Or you see certain stretched interpretations, one that I had mentioned previously is the death of Judas. Perhaps you could comment a little bit about that, the idea of inerrancy and how it played a role in Dr. Ehrman’s deconversion if you will and how some evangelicals may behold it as too important of a doctrine.

Mike: Yeah. I’m glad you raised that Kurt because what you’ve just raised is I think extremely important. There are some evangelicals on the far right, the very far right, who I think put too much of an emphasis on the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and it’s like if the Bible has a single error in it the whole house of cards collapses and they will typically use a syllogism, the structure of a philosophy and logical argument that says:

God cannot error

The Bible is the Word of God

Therefore, the Bible cannot error

And that is the main argument for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy so the argument goes “Well if there’s an error in the Bible then it can’t be the Word of God and then we can’t trust anything in it,” and because of that you have people like Bart Ehrman who looks and he sees what really appears to be an error in the Gospels.

Kurt: Yeah.

Mike: And then so he throws out the whole house of cards in his mind. It just collapses. He doesn’t give up his faith at that point, but his evangelical faith, his entire trust in the Bible, everything just goes “boop:, right down the drain because of that, and it doesn’t need to be that way. There are many problems with that syllogism that we can unpack if you want to get into it.

Kurt: Yeah.

Mike: Okay.

Kurt: I was gonna say

Mike: You wanna do that now?

Kurt: Well yeah, I’m a little bit curious. I think the point we would probably have agreement in is that sort of definition of error. It seems like some people sort of assume what an error is. They think it deals with the historical record. Right? So they want the Gospels to be like biography as we do it today. Would you say that’s correct?

Mike: Absolutely. Those on the far right who say if there’s any error in the Bible we can’t trust any of it, yeah. They want us to read with the kind of precision that we use in modern biographies. That’s correct.

Kurt: Yeah. So you said that you affirm inerrancy and I would as well. It all just sort of depends on what means and how one interprets the Biblical passages so we can’t be, to use the logical term, so we can’t be begging the question as to what the interpretation is.

Mike: That’s correct. I think when we’re looking at things like divine inspiration, there was something that Ben Witherington said in one of his books. He said “What does divinely inspired Scripture look like? It looks like what we find in the Bible.” You don’t define it and then look at the Bible and try to make it fit that definition.

Kurt: Right.

Mike: You have to look at the Bible, see what we have. There’s a different way I put it which I’ll get into in a moment, but you see what you have and you do what F.F. Bruce said. You go to the Bible first. You see what you have and then you develop your theology from that. You don’t do the reverse and that’s what a lot of people do, they do the reverse. God cannot error. Now we can’t prove that for sure that God cannot error. For all we know, He could, but I think that we would believe, but I think many Christians would accept that God cannot error. The problem I have is with the second premise, and it’s not the statement that the Bible’s the Word of God. I do believe the Bible’s the Word of God, but the problem I have with this is they’re assuming that that means a certain thing.

Kurt: Right.

Mike: And I think we have to ask “What does it mean to say it’s the Word of God?” and in order to come up with an answer to that we have to look at the process of divine inspiration. What does that process look like? You have the Islamic view that says an angel, the angel Gabriel dictated it word for word to Muhammad, the Koran in Heaven, and Muhammad dictated it to his followers who wrote it down and preserved it and so it’s a dictation view. Well most Christians would say that the Bible is divinely inspired through a dictation view, but how was it? And they’d say “It’s not dictation because you can notice the different personalities, the different vocabulary, writing styles, educational levels. You can notice it quite clearly in a lot of the literature throughout especially the New Testament which is where I focused my study. So then we have to say “What did the process of divine inspiration look like?” Sometimes people will appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture’s God-breathed.” Okay. I’d buy that. What does that look like? Can you tell me what it looks like when God breathes something? What about 2 Peter 1:20-21? Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation or an act of human will….

Kurt: Mhmmm.

Mike: But men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Okay. What does that look like? To be moved along by the Holy Spirit?

Kurt: Right. Right.

Mike: And you know, yeah, that’s a deep one. I don’t know. I say okay. I agree. So when we talk about the Bible being the Word of God and since the Bible doesn’t tell us how God did it, let me give you two models here.

Kurt: Okay.

Mike: Just two models, and you tell me which one best fits those two verses. The first model is that God insures that every single word is exactly the way He wants it, every single detail is accurate, correct, every detail every word, even the grammar, the position of the words, they’re all exactly how God wanted it.

Kurt: mhmmm.

Mike: Now that would certainly go along with, you know, being God-breathed and men moved along by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God. Here’s the second model. God looks and He says “Okay. I’m going to preserve my Word and I’m going preserve this through humans so there will be a human element. What I’m going to do is I’m going to bring to their recall, things that occurred and messages that Jesus taught, I’m going to bring that to the recollection and I’m gonna insure that they get the concepts and the teachings right. I’m not too concerned about every last detail,” God says in the second model. “I’m not so concerned about every detail, but I’m going to make sure they get right what needs to be right.”

Kurt: Sure.

Mike: Now the second approach God took, would that fit in with being God-breathed and then men moved along by the Holy Spirit?

Kurt: mhmmm. No. Yeah. I think it does fit along with inspiration. Yeah.

Mike: I think that flows along every bit as much as the other one so then what you gotta do is you gotta look at Scripture and say “Okay. Well when we observe Scripture, which one fits in more with it?”

Kurt: Mhmmm.

Mike: And if you can come up with an answer, great. I mean, I have certain leanings on that, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t think we have to know. The thing that we look at here is we can say “Look. God could inspire it according to one or two. If it’s according to two then we can say that the Scripture, even if it had a few errors in it, it is without error, it is inerrant in all that it teaches, all that it affirms. This is the kind of thing that the Lausanne Covenant and a number of other definitions of inerrancy can take into consideration.

Kurt: Yeah.

Mike: So in that way you could say it is inerrant in all that it teaches and it wouldn’t have to be inerrant in every detail.

Kurt: Yeah. Down to every single little scribal mark.

Mike: And if Ehrman had adapted a definition of inerrancy like that, then he wouldn’t have had problems from those things and he might be an evangelical today.

Kurt: Yeah. Perhaps.

Mike: I don’t know, but one other thing I’d put out here, even the great Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig says that the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy is a tertiary doctrine. It is not a fundamental doctrine or an essential doctrine. It’s not even a secondary doctrine. It’s a tertiary doctrine.

Kurt: Yeah.

Mike: And I agree with him on that.

Kurt: Yeah. It’s really a sort of conclusion based on a survey of the text itself. It’s not the starting point. Yeah. So then that leaves us with the question “Okay. Well if we’ve come at the Bible and specifically the Gospels as a historical document, we’ve got to ask ourselves, well what are they? What sort of genre is the Gospels and perhaps, could you talk a little bit about the contribution that Richard Burridge has made to that conversation?

Mike: Sure. In the 20th century, almost for the entire 20th century, or at least the first three quarters of the 20th century, scholars believed that the Gospels were written of a unique genre or sui generis is how they would say it, the Latin term there. So it was a unique genre, unique literary type. There’s none others like it. Then in the 1970’s you had a scholar named Charles Talbert and he wrote a book about the Gospels and in that book he contended that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography. The name of that book is What is a Gospel? The Genre of the Canonical Gospels and he contended that they were Greco-Roman biography. Shortly after that you had David Aune and he said that he agreed based on his studies that the Gospels are Greco-Roman biography but he says that Talbert used all bad reasoning. All his reasons for concluding that were wrong, but he came to the same conclusion.

Richard Burridge was trained a lot in the classical literature and he said “You know what I’m going to do in my dissertation? I’m going to do it on the genre of the Gospels and these guys Talbert, Aune, and others who have written on it? They’re all wrong. The Gospels are not ancient biographies. They are a unique genre.” And so he did this rather large research project on it and he came to the conclusion that the Gospels are indeed Greco-Roman biography and his book that resulted What are the Gospels? I think it was written in 1992 and in 2003 I think it was, the second edition came out, and that volume has so largely influenced New Testament scholars that the majority of them, even evangelicals today, agree that the Gospels are either Greco-Roman biographies or they share a lot in common with Greco-Roman biography and so would operate by many of the same rules.

Kurt: mhmmm. Yeah. Wow. Great. This has been great and I want to continue our discussion after a short break from our sponsors. We’re going to be getting into Dr. Licona, your research in Plutarch and sort of learning about compositional devices and then seeing maybe a couple of examples you could bring up that we see in the Gospels that can help us really understand that we don’t need to smash the Gospels together to make them fit so we’ll go to a short break from our sponsors and we’ll be right back.

commercial break

Kurt: Well I’m here with Dr. Licona, Dr. Mike Licona of Houston Baptist University and the president of Risen Jesus, a ministry that defends the historical case for the resurrection and today we’re discussing Gospel differences, but before we get back into that discussion, it’s time for a segment, a new segment of the show called rapid questions. This is a segment where we ask short light-hearted questions and Dr. Licona, we’re hoping that you can give us fast responses. This is the first time we’re giving this a shot and we hope that it will be a lot of fun. Are you ready?

Mike: Yep. You bet.

Kurt: Okay. So we’re going to start a timer here and we’ll get through as many questions as we can. Okay. Here we go.

Kurt: What is your clothing store of choice?

Mike: laughter Probably LL Bean.

Kurt: LL Bean. Alright. Taco Bell or KFC?

Mike: KFC

Kurt: Okay. What school did you go to?

Mike: University of Pretoria.

Kurt: Where would you like to live?

Mike: Wilmington, NC

Kurt: Favorite sport?

Mike: Baseball

Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?

Mike: laughter Probably a grape because my brain is so small.

Kurt: Your favorite movie?

Mike: The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.

Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?

Mike: Occasionally.

Kurt: What’s the one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you were stranded on an island?

Mike: My Greek New Testament.

Kurt: Okay. Greek New Testament. Alright. Very nice. Our timer’s run out, but I’ve got one more question. The hokey pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena?

Mike: laughter Neither

Kurt: Okay. None of them. Alright. Well thank you so much. That was our first segment of rapid questions. Alright. That’s great. Got a little bit more light-heartedness there.

Mike: That’s funny.

Kurt: Good. Well I’m glad you had fun. So we’re gonna get into a little bit of discussion here about Plutarch and before we get into that, we want to get some callers lined up. If you’re listening, if you’d like to give us a call and you’ve got a question for Dr. Licona the number is 505-2STRIVE, that’s 505-278-7483. We’ve got Plutarch. For our listeners, they’re like “Well who’s Plutarch?” Tell us a little bit about your recent study in him.

Mike: Well Plutarch, this is not the guy in the Hunger Games, but it was a biographer, a philosopher, a guy who’s Greek, grew up in Chaeronea in present-day Greece and he was born around the year 40 and died just after the year 120. He wrote a lot of things of which there were more than 60 biographies of which 50 have survived. There are many who would say that much of what we know about the ancient world comes from Plutarch. He’s really a delight to read. He’s a good writer. That’s who Plutarch was. Of those 50 biographies there were nine of them that involved figures, Roman figures, that led to the fall of the Roman Republic. Those are the ones that I focused on because many of these people knew one another, most of them did, and they participated in the same event so as a result Plutarch is going to tell the same story in a number of different biographies like the assassination of Julius Caesar he tells in four of these biographies. The Catiline conspiracy are mentioned in seven of those biographies. So this presents a unique opportunity for historians. It’s unique in that we can do it with Josephus. We can do it in just a small degree in others. But we can do it with a larger degree in Plutarch where we have the same author writing the same story using pretty much the same sources and we can access those different accounts for differences.

Kurt: mhmmm. Yeah.

Mike: We notice these…

Kurt: I was gonna say with the Gospels we have four different perspectives on one person and sometimes we can do that with other ancient figures from antiquity where we take four different perspectives or multiple perspectives on one person but in the case of Plutarch you’re saying that there’s one author writing multiple accounts about the same person, is that right?

Mike: The same event? Yep. Same people. Same event. Even the same sources.

Kurt: Do you see differences then within the same author?

Mike: That’s right. The same kind of differences we find in the Gospels. Isn’t that interesting?

Kurt: Yeah. So what sort of things have you noticed in your research on Plutarch. I think you call them compositional devices? What sort of things have you seen?

Mike: One I mentioned is a little early was literary spotlight so imagine you’re at a theatrical performance and you’re watching the play and all of a sudden all the lights go out and a spotlight comes on and shines on one of the actors. Now you know that there are several on stage, because you’ve just saw them a second or two ago, but you only see one because that’s all the spotlight is shining on at that moment as they break out into song. So just like that spotlight blinds you to the others and you only see one but the others are there, ancient authors could use literary spotlighting and that is where they know others are present, others are participating, but they don’t mention them for any number of reasons so I’ll give you one example. I could give you second because like I said, this is the most common compositional device I found in Plutarch, at least the ones that I’ve looked through, the biographies I looked through.

It was 63 B.C. and there was this Roman senator named Lucius Sergius Catiline and he wanted to become the leading Roman in the land which was a consul, just like in the United States we have the president. They had a consul, but there were two consuls who served together. They only served for one year. I wish we kind of had that here in the U.S. He wanted to become consul and he lost and so he ran again the next year and he lost so he was bitter about it and he decided what he was going to do was he was going to get a bunch of conspirators together, he’s going to torch the city, kill all the Senators, and then start over and he would be the leader. The conspiracy’s found out, Catiline leaves Rome and they find some of the conspirators who remained and they brung them up for trial and what should we do with these, and Cicero that year is the lead consul and Cicero says “What should we do?” and Julius Caesar who has not come unto his own yet, but still a fairly popular and powerful guy, he’s a senator, he gets up and he says “Well let’s just put these guys in prison. Let’s confiscate the property and we’ll wait to destroy Catiline and then we’ll put these guys up for trial and punish them legally according to our laws.”

At that point, Catulus and Cato get up and say “No. No. We know these guys are guilty. We need to come down hard on them. We need to execute them right now so that if there are any other conspirators here in Rome they will know they will face the same fate and this conspiracy will be over.” They persuade the Senate and the conspirators who had been arrested were executed. Now that is how the story is told by Plutarch in his life of Caesar, and we know that’s the way it happened because of other ancient historians who write on it, but when we come to Plutarch’s life of Cato, he only mentions Cato. After Caesar gets up his proposal, Cato gets up and proposes that they execute these guys now and for the same reasons. What Plutarch does there is he shines his literary spotlight on Cato because that’s the main character of his biography and that’s really all that matters at that point. Catulus is just a minor figure compared to the major figure of Cato there. That’s literary spotlighting. He knows others are present, but he only mentions the one, and we see this in the Gospels like for instance in Matthew and Mark, in the resurrection narratives you’ve got one angel mentioned whereas in Luke and John there are two angels mentioned. I think that based on the fact that literary spotlighting was so common it’s highly probable that what Mark and Matthew only mention the angel who announced the message that Jesus was risen because that’s the important thing, just like if I came home and my wife said “Hey. There’s a guy that came to our door and gave me a $15 million dollar check. She’s spotlighting because that’s the important guy, the guy that has the check in his hand and is giving it to her, not the guy videotaping it.

We find when the women come back and announce that the tomb is empty, according to Luke Peter gets up and runs to the tomb, but according to John, Peter and the beloved disciple get up and run to the tomb. Well which one is it? How many women went?

Kurt: You’re touching on a subject we’ve got a question here from a commenter Robert and he’s got a question right on this point. He asks “What is the best resource for recreating the order and accuracy of persons in the first morning after Christ’s resurrection? Who went first? How to explain confusions and cross-referencing the four accounts? So yeah, please tell us more.

Mike: That’s a good question. I think looking at the women, you’ve got Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about multiple women and then you’ve got John who only mentions Mary Magdalene, but when Mary comes back from the tomb she says to Peter and the beloved disciple, they have taken the Lord and WE don’t know where they’ve laid Him. Well who’s we? It would seem that she’s considering the other women there. Then who runs to the tomb? Again in John, Peter the beloved disciple, in Luke, Luke only mentions Peter, but if you look at Luke, eleven verses later, eleven or twelve verses later in Luke 24, you’ve got the women have told the disciples, Peter runs to the tomb, sees it, it’s empty, and he goes on and it’s either 11 or 12 verses later Jesus is talking to the Emmaus disciples and it says that their eyes were kept from recognizing Him and He says “What’s up guys? Why the long faces?” and they say “There’s this guy named Jesus. We thought He was the prophet, the Messiah, He’s going to free us from the yoke of Rome, but just this last Friday the Jews and the Romans had Him put to death, but some of our womenfolk went to the tomb this morning and said they saw angels who said Jesus had been raised from the dead and His body wasn’t there and then some of our own went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said.” Some of our own. It seems like Luke knew it was Peter and at least one more who went to the tomb to see it.

We see literary spotlighting going on probably three times in the resurrection narratives alone. Now in terms of the order of the events, I think that that is a little bit difficult to ascertain at some point. I think in some cases we can. In some cases we can’t. I remember coming to this because it was the final pericope that I swore that I’d be looking at in my book that’s coming out this fall that deals with differences in the Gospels and I came to the resurrection narratives. I thought “This will be easy. I’ve read it so many times. I specialize in the resurrection. I’ll be able to get through this pretty quickly.” Several weeks later I had more than twenty pages of notes written down on the differences in the resurrection narratives and there are some of them that are just really really difficult to harmonize and probably two cases, I don’t know what’s actually going on. Probably it’s some kind of literary device which I’m unfamiliar with that I didn’t find in the sampling that I took from Plutarch, but I discuss that in length in there, but most of the differences in the resurrection narratives are quite easily, easily, explained through the compositional devices that we find ancient historians and biographers using.

Kurt: And then we don’t have to sort of cram them together in different ways that some scholars have done in the past.

Mike: Yeah. I appreciate the attitude, the desire behind them, to harmonize every single difference in them, but I think that that can, it can really get to an extreme. I’ve said in the past that you’re subjecting the test to a hermeneutical waterboarding until they tell you what you want to hear.

Kurt: Yeah.

Mike: John Wenham has written a good book called The Easter Enigma. He’s got some good things in there. He tries to harmonize all the different details and some of them are really good and thoughtful and some of them are real strained. I just don’t think that that’s how they’re meant to be done, especially in light of the compositional devices. You see other biographers and historians of that period. We don’t have to resort to the hermeneutical waterboarding that many evangelicals insist on doing.

Kurt: Could we talk about another device here that I think this is where you do see a lot of them ramming them together. I think displacement, that’s one of the key ones. Could you sort of tell us a little bit about what displacement is and where we may see it in the Gospels?

Mike: Displacement is when an author takes an event out of its true chronological context, he lifts it out of that context and he transplants it in another one. He could do it for any number of reasons. I could show examples in Plutarch where he does this and in some cases you can see why he does this. In other cases you might say “Maybe this was an anecdote that was known about Julius Caesar or whoever and they don’t remember what context in which it actually appears and so they just put it in one, you know, a specific chronology.” Lucian in the middle of the second century, Lucian of Samosata wrote a little book titled How To Write History, the only piece of literature of this sort that has survived.

Kurt: hmmmm.

Mike: You will find some rules in other literature like Polybius and Thucydides and some others, Cicero, but not to the extent that it was written for this specific purpose, how to write history, and at one point Lucian says that a historian should not write their history with just a compilation of disjointed stories, but that the historian should link them together like links in a chain and to use overlapping material when possible. I’ll give you an example where I think we see this occurring and it’s with the woman anointing Jesus just a few days prior to His crucifixion. You have Matthew and Mark say that it occurred two days before Passover. You have John say it happened six days before Passover. Someone may say “Well maybe it was two different anointings.” Consider the following. What comes immediately before the anointing in all three contexts is the Jews took counsel on how they might arrest Jesus and put Him to death and then right after that you’ve got this story of the woman anointing Jesus and she anoints Him and the people present say “Hey. We’re offended at this. Why wasn’t this instead sold and the proceeds given to the poor?” and Jesus responds “Back off, dirtbags. This woman did a beautiful thing for me. The poor you’re going to have with you always, but you’re not going to have me with you always.” So it’s the same thing. Are we really to think then that the Jews took up counsel on how they could put Jesus to death and then the woman anoints and then the people respond and then Jesus says one thing and then four days later the same thing happens, the Jews take up counsel on how they can bring about the death and then the woman anoints, pretty much the same people say the same objection and Jesus gives them the same answer. Is that more believable or does it seem more plausible that displacement has gone on here because if you think about it, it’s John 11 and this is the first mention of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha and it opens up the story by saying about how Lazarus was sick and he was the brother of Mary who had anointed Jesus and so he’s already mentioned Mary. He opens up the story by mentioning her. He tells about Lazarus and so then John looks and he says “You know what? I’ve mentioned Mary here. I’ve got a story about her and this would be a great place to put it.” And so he displaces it from its original chronological context and transplants it right here and there’s overlapping material. It’s Mary. This makes perfect sense, what John is doing in light of the compositional devices and the way to write proper history as mentioned by Lucian in the middle of the second century, so I think that is a more plausible explanation of why the differences than saying there were two different anointings.

Kurt; So this genre of biography, it’s Greco-Roman it seems, but some scholars believe that the text can be very Jewish and so one commenter asks “How would you respond to Richard Burridge who concludes that John is more Jewish in genre than the other three? Would we still see these devices being implemented even in John?”

Mike: Oh sure. I just mentioned one. That’s in John, the displacement that takes place so some Gospels are going to be a little more Jewish than others, but that doesn’t take away the Greco-Roman biographical qualities of them. The interesting thing to observe here, and I’m not the one that originally observed it. A prominent Jewish scholar said “For some reason the Jews in Jesus’s day did not write biographies of their sages.” If they did, we don’t have any. Not only would we not have any biographies of Jewish sages written around the time of Jesus, but we don’t even have any allusion or mention of them so it would seem they were not writing biographies of their sages. We don’t know why, but all the other Biblical literature is written according to certain genres so you’ve got the historical books of the Old Testament, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles. You’ve got wisdom literature like Ecclesiastes, Proverbs. You’ve got the prophetic books. You come to the New Testament and you’ve got Acts which is historiography. You’ve got the epistles. You’ve got Hebrews which is a homily, a sermon. You’ve got Revelation which is apocalyptic literature much like 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra and so if God used specific genres for every other piece of literature in the biblical literature for which they’d be written, are we to think that when it came to the Gospels He just said “I’m just gonna make it unique here” or is it more plausible to say that since He was using genres contemporary to the authors that He would use a biographical genre to write about the life of Jesus. That would make sense and in that case Greco-Roman biography was the only game in town.

Kurt: We had a question come in earlier this week from a caller pertaining to the day of the crucifixion or the time perhaps so we’ll play it here and we’ll see what you think.

Caller: This question is for Dr. Licona. The last question in your debate with Dr. Ehrman at Midwest Baptist Theological Seminary was concerning a discrepancy in the day in which Christ was crucified in the synoptic Gospels, Mark vs. John. I commend you for your candid honesty at the time of the debate. I’m sure having the full knowledge of you getting some flack for that answer. Today you seem to take a position of what you call narrative elasticity. I would like to know why Alfred Edersheim’s definition of Mark being on Jewish time while John is writing on Roman time is not a good apologetic for this Scriptural discrepancy. Thank you for your answer in advance.

Mike: That’s a fair question and I thank you for it. I said this more fully in my book and I don’t remember the exact answer that I gave. I do deal with it in terms of the different time. I don’t think it works. I don’t remember my specific reasons at this moment for the difference between it’s the third hour, it’s after the sixth hour in John. Something that’s coming to my mind right now and I’m kind of just winging this to an extent, some of what I wrote will come back to me. It seems I remember something that if you’re saying Mark is Jewish time, John is Roman time, the third hour according to the Jewish time, it would start at 6 in the morning and so He’s crucified at 9 A.M., but if you go with John, He’s crucified at the sixth hour and the Roman day would start at midnight so that would be after 6 A.M.

Kurt: Right. So the timing’s off.

Mike: How long after 6 A.M.? Well you have to remember, and I think this is my answer that I have in the book, what has occurred up to that moment. The Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate and He’s examined by Pilate and He comes back out and then he sends them to Herod and He’s at Herod’s palace for awhile. He comes to the city before Herod’s place. He’s with Herod for awhile and then He’s brought back and they examine Him again and He comes to the crowd and at that point it’s just after the sixth hour so you just think about this. If you take Luke into consideration when it was morning the Jewish leaders got together again so when it’s morning, they get together and then they take Jesus to Pilate and then He goes to Herod and then He comes back to Pilate and at that point when He’s brought up to the judgment seat of Pilate it’s just after the sixth hour and it’s at that point that Pilate does his last plea with the Jews and he sentences Him to death. If that’s the case, midnight is when the Jewish day starts, or I forgot which, but if they’re doing it there, all that has to have occurred prior to 6 A.M. Now you have to remember Pilate is this Roman governor. The Roman day starts around 6 A.M. That means they’re getting up Pilate hours earlier than that. I don’t think they’re going to want to provoke Pilate by getting him up at 3 A.M.

Kurt: Interesting

Mike: Or earlier. They’re not gonna want to do that but that’s when that all had to start, 2-3 A.M. in order to get this thing in to make it fit. That just doesn’t seem reasonable to me. I think it’s more plausible to go with Craig Keener’s hypothesis based on the Mishnah that says when the Passover fell on the Sabbath, on Friday, then the burnt offerings which were typically offered at 2:30 in the afternoon, around that time, were moved back two hours to 12:30 in order to accommodate the Passover lamb being sacrificed. Well, if you move it back two hours to 12:30 that’s just afternoon. Right? We find chronological displacement elsewhere in John and I can show you where it’s elsewhere in the Gospels as well. In fact there’s a whole chapter on the book dedicated to synthetic chronological placement in ancient biographies. I show where not only Plutarch but the finest of Roman historians like Sallus and Tacitus, they use it, so we would anticipate the Gospel authors writing according to biographical genre of that day, that they would use it as well and we do see other Gospel writers using it. Why not John then? I think it makes more sense that John changed the day and the time of Jesus’s crucifixion to underscore that Jesus is the burnt offering for our sins and our Passover lamb so He does it for symbolic reasons. It’s true stuff and this is in fact where Paul calls at. He calls Jesus the burnt offering for our sins and he calls Him our Passover lamb so I don’t think we should have any problems with that.

Kurt: Oh great. Well I’m very much looking forward to the book coming out. Is it this fall did you say?

Mike: There are gonna be copies available in November but the official release date is December 1st, I believe it is. In fact, some people have already pre-ordered their copies. You can do it on Amazon and it’s retailing at $35 but it will probably sell for 20% off. They can pre-order for $35, it will probably end up being near $29-28, something like that.

Kurt: We’re running short on time today, but I want to thank you for coming on and discussing Gospel differences with us and if you do have questions for Dr. Licona you can find him on social media. He’s on twitter and Facebook and I think there’s probably a contact form at your web site

Mike: Yeah. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it Kurt.

Kurt: Thank you so much. Have a good one.

Mike: God bless you.

Kurt: You too. By.

Kurt: Gospel differences! There is a lot to say there and some of the way we interpret the Scriptures may depend on our prior beliefs about what it’s already saying. We brought up here the topic of inerrancy and how that can influence the way we interpret the Gospels and I agreed with Dr. Licona. It’s very important that we first approach the Gospels as a historical document and let that inform our beliefs about what we think overall on inspiration and inerrancy. Thanks again to Dr. Licona for coming on the show. We did get a piece of mail this week and so with that it is time to check into our mail bag.

Kurt: So this series of questions comes from Rick who asks “How close do you think capitalism comes to a Christian ideal or whether I think it’s the best political system short of a theocracy.” So this is from last week, I think I talked a little bit about my political views, so how close do I think capitalism comes to a Christian idea? Well, we might be blending categories there a little bit and I think there is a blending properly speaking between those two terms. Of course you could be a logically speaking, the two terms are not mutually exclusive, so you could be a Christian and a capitalist, I think that’s the best system. You could be a Christian and a socialist of course logically speaking. The question is whether we ought to hold to a certain economic view and what does Scripture say about that in what it does say so I wouldn’t say that it comes close to a Christian ideal in as much as I think capitalism is the best machine for growing the wealth in a society and so because it is that we should be advocating for capitalistic policies within our Christian framework. That’s not to say that the free market is unfettered. There are rules to the game. The question is just how many rules should there be. We shouldn’t steal from people or murder people. Those are not Christian things and would not go well in a capitalistic societies, but an exchange of goods and services where it’s a win-win on both sides, I think that fits within capitalism.

Rick also asks “How is it this fits within a fallen world, essentially? Does it foster people sinning?” I think here that capitalism, let me say, there’s sinning in any economic system whether it’s a socialistic one or a more firm stronger communistic system, there’s still sinning. Right? I mean it’s the same amount so interestingly enough I think capitalism is the best mechanism for fostering our sinful tendencies to benefit people for their good so consider the topic of greed. People often associate greed with capitalism, but greed actually harnesses the market system so if someone is greedy and they want to make a lot of money, well they have to sell a good or provide a service at a rate that people want and so even if the person’s greedy, it still benefits other people, but now say in a socialistic system or one where there’s a stronger government intervention in the marketplace if people are greedy, they’re going to utilize political power to acquire great amounts of money using the political system and that abuses power, it raises taxes on people, and you’re not necessarily getting the good or service at the higher quality than you would in the marketplace. We could think of numerous instances where that has happened. I think capitalism, that’s one of the reasons why capitalism is the preferred system, it’s the best of all systems in a fallen world. Socialism sounds all good and fun if people freely agree to do things which is great, but we live in a fallen world where people may try to have political power and influence so I just don’t think it works as well as people would like so given our circumstances that’s one of the reasons why I’m a free market fiscal conservative, but thank you so much Rick for that question. If you’ve got further questions for me to answer you can email me at Alternatively you can call our call-in line any time during the week and leave a message for us, either for myself or for a guest. That number is 505-2STRIVE. Again, that’s 505-278-7483.

That does it for our show today. I’m grateful for the continued partnership with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, and Rethinking Hell. Thank you to our tech team, Chris and Joel, and to our guest today Dr. Mike Licona. Thank you for listening in and striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.

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Michael Chardavoyne

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