How do we account for difference between the Gospels?
Michael Licona, in his book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (2017) argued that the Evangelists would have been acquainted with, and would have utilised, compositional devises that were ‘practically universal in ancient historiography’.
transferal (attributing words spoken by one person to another),
displacement (placing something spoken in one context to another),
conflation (combining elements of two different events or people as one),
compression (describing events as taking place in a shorter period of time than actual),
spotlighting (focusing attention upon a particular person),
simplification (omitting details in order to focus attention),
expansion of narrative details (the creative reconstruction and free composition of plausible circumstances),
paraphrasing (creative retelling of an event to emphasize a point),
the law of biographical relevance (the addition or omission of biographical information according to the purpose of the author)
Robert Stein (from whose review the above list has been taken), comments that a number of these are not only uncontroversial, but by no means limisted to ancient Greco-Roman historiography (we find just such spotlighting in the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon and others. …
The story of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life (‘Holy Week’, or ‘Passion Week’) is told in great detail in the four Gospels.
But there are some apparent discrepancies which sceptics seize on in order to undermine the historical accuracy of the narrative.
For example, Judith Redman supposes that she is speaking for many when she states that ‘scholars who have looked at what we can know about the historical Jesus from the Gospels have generally decided that the answer is “not much”.’…
Matthew 12:30 – “Whoever is not with me is against me.” (Also Luke 11:23)
Mark 9:40 – “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted) asks: ‘Did [Jesus] say both things? Could he mean both things? How can both be true at once? Or is it possible that one of the Gospel writers got things switched around?’
Ehrman has failed to notice that these are not two versions of the same saying, but rather two distinct sayings uttered in different circumstances and for different purposes. …
Luke 2:39 So when Joseph and Mary had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
This statement is held to be at variance with that of Matthew, which states (Mt 2:14) that they took Jesus to Egypt. But there is nothing implausible about the historicity of an intervening journey to Egypt, given that Matthew and Luke each offer independent and highly selective accounts.
Blomberg notes that ‘the next two verses in Luke summarize twelve years, a period of time much longer than we would suspect if it weren’t for verse 42 specifying the interval.…
Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted, p44) argues that the gospels become progressively anti-Jewish and pro-Roman from Mark through to John. This, of course, assumes, with mainstream scholarship, that Mark was the first, and John the last, of the Gospels to be written.
It is significant that in John’s Gospel, on three occasions Pilate expressly declares that Jesus is innocent, does not deserve to be punished, and ought to be released (Jn 18:38; 19:6; and by implication in Jn 19:12).…
Mark 6:45f ‘Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the crowd. After saying good-bye to them, he went to the mountain to pray.’
There is a puzzle here, because Lk 9:10 seems to say that the feeding that Mark has just related took place at or near Bethsaida. Mark, on the other hand, appears to say that the disciples made their way to Bethsaida after the feeding miracle. …
In Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know about Them), Bart D. Ehrman writes about one of his ‘favourite apparent discrepancies’ in John’s Gospel:-
It ‘comes in Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” the last address that Jesus delivers to his disciples, at his last meal with them, which takes up all of chapters 13 to 17 in the Gospel according to John. In John 13:36, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?”…
‘Only the family tombs of the relatively wealthy would have disk-like round stones closing the entrance which need to be rolled away (and there are more and more examples of these being excavated year by year); the entrances are often quite low, so you would indeed need to stoop down to see the inside (John 20.5) and the space (unlike a modern ‘tomb’) can indeed be ‘entered’ (Mark 16.5).…