Wednesday, 27 February 2019

A Closer Look at Apparent Discrepancies Among the Gospels (Part 3)

The Anointing at Bethany 

A few days after Jesus arrived in Bethany, not long before his arrest and crucifixion, he was in the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). Lazarus and his sisters were also present, and Mary is identified as the one who anointed the Lord with very costly spikenard oil (John 12:1-8). According to Matthew and Mark, she anointed Jesus’ head (Matt. 26:7; Mark 14:4), whereas John reports that she anointed his feet (John 12:3). 

Rather than an “either-or” discrepancy, the combined accounts provide a “both-and” narrative. As a sign of honor and/or blessing, the customary practice was to anoint the head (Psa. 23:5; 133:2; Luke 7:46; cf. Ex. 29:7; Lev. 8:12; 21:10), which Mary did as reported by Matthew and Mark. John, however, focuses on the extended act of humility and reverence in the anointing of the Lord’s feet (perhaps a prelude to 13:1-17), although the other writers also include a reference to his anointed “body” (Matt. 26:12; Mark 14:8). Instead of merely reiterating the twice-documented, customary head-anointing in the earlier Gospels, John fills in the detail of the less conventional feet-anointing elsewhere unreported.1

A similar account is found in Luke 7:36-50, but this appears to have involved a different woman on a different occasion in another place. In Luke’s record the host is Simon the Pharisee, not Simon the leper, living in Galilee instead of Judea, and the incident occurred about a year into Christ’s public ministry rather than at the end. In contrast to the subsequent event, Luke describes “a woman in the city who was a sinner,” shedding tears, kissing the Lord’s feet, and receiving forgiveness. Luke also reports the disgust of the homeowner, whereas the other occasion involved the indignation of the disciples (Judas in particular). 

Words Spoken from Heaven?

In Matthew’s record of Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven is quoted as saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Mark and Luke, however, record the statement as follows: “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Was the voice speaking in the third person about Jesus, as Matthew reports, or in the second person to Jesus, as Mark and Luke report? 

Matthew’s account highlights the onlookers perspective, as they hear words of recognition and affirmation that Matthew’s Jewish readership needed to understand as well. The other accounts take notice of Christ’s vantage point, as he receives a message of support and reassurance. As Greek translations of what was probably spoken in Aramaic, the respective renderings capture the essence of what was said.

Order of the Lord’s Supper?

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Matthew and Mark note that he first broke bread, followed by offering the cup of the fruit of the vine (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25). Luke, however, says Jesus took the cup first, then broke bread, followed by offering the cup again (Luke 22:14-20). 

Rather than being confused about how to observe the Lord’s Supper, we just need to consider the context. Jesus and his disciples lived under the Mosaic Law and faithfully observed its rituals and regulations. It was in the context of the Passover feast that Jesus instituted the sacred memorial of his impending death. According to the Mishnah (an ancient record of Jewish traditions), during the Passover meal celebrants were to drink four times from the cup (Pesahim 10.1). Whatever relevance this might have to the earthly life of Jesus,it helps us realize that Luke simply provides additional information about the observance of a Jewish convention, whereas Matthew and Mark limit their focus to the Lord’s Supper itself.

In 1 Cor. 11:23-26, long after Jewish feasts were rendered obsolete under Christ’s new covenant (cf. Gal. 4:9-11), Paul delivers to his Christian readers what he had received from the Lord concerning the bread and cup, eliminating potential confusion.3  

--Kevin L. Moore

     See The Triumphal Entry
     “This literature must be read with discernment since it does not always reflect perspectives contemporary with NT times; nonetheless, it provides a wealth of material useful in interpreting various NT texts” (J. B. Green and L. M. McDonald, The NT World 4).

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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

My Friend Dr. Stanley Mitchell (8 June 1956 – 19 February 2019)

Stan the Man: Assistant Professor of Bible in the College of Biblical Studies at Freed-Hardeman University; educated at Abilene Christian University (BA, MA), Pepperdine University (MDiv), and Regent University (PhD). The son of long-term missionaries Loy and Donna Mitchell, Stan grew up in Zimbabwe and never lost his distinctive accent. As an adult, having served about nine years as a missionary in Zimbabwe, Stan preached for N. American congregations in California, Texas, and Tennessee, most recently the Red Walnut church in Bath Springs, TN. Stan would describe himself as a West Texan, a West Tennessean, and an African American. 

The Freed-Hardeman Years

Stan has taught Bible and missions at FHU since 2005. For the past several years I have been blessed to occupy the office next to his. Every day I have gotten to hear his infectious laugh, a wide variety of music, affectionate phone conversations with his daughter and grandkids, and not a few corny jokes. Stan was the one who kept photocopier paper stocked in our office suite, delivered the mail, turned out the lights and locked the doors (usually the last one to leave). His absence is being felt in many ways.

Every student who entered the foyer of the 2nd-floor GC Bible offices could expect to hear, “Chocolate? Have a chocolate.” It never failed to bring a smile. I would sometimes jokingly say this is why Stan’s office is the most popular, but we all know that’s not the reason. The hundreds of students who frequented Stan’s office left with so much more than confectionery. You’d be hard pressed to find a more approachable, compassionate, encouraging soul than Stan Mitchell, or a professor loved more by FHU students. 

Stan and I shared much in common, including what we considered to be a “sophisticated” sense of humor. We had numerous conversations about biblical doctrine, the current state and future of the Lord’s church, and missions methodology, almost always landing on the same page. About the only thing we disagreed on was tri-nations rugby, particularly with respect to Stan’s SA Springboks and my NZ All Blacks!

Memorable Stanisms

Stan was wise, witty, and funny, always having something clever to say. When asked how he was doing, his typical response was, “Better than I deserve.” Other memorable Stanisms include: “I’ve never lost a beauty contest.” “I don’t take bribes, but I do take coffee: black, no sugar.” “I only like two kinds of coffee: the kind I make, and the kind someone else makes.” At a local hamburger joint Stan asked the waitress, “Do you have anything with cholesterol?” To students taking a make-up test, Stan would say, “Unfortunately, this one doesn’t have the answers.”

Stan’s Loves

Stan loved the Lord, the Lord’s church, and the word of the Lord. This was most obvious in how he lived, how he spoke, and how he invested his time. He dedicated his life to the Lord’s service. 

Stan adored his beloved wife Marj, whom he affectionately referred to as “the tall redhead.” He dearly loved and was enormously proud of the other redhead in his life, his daughter Tracy. But if you really wanted to see his face light up, just ask about his grandkids, Gideon and Gwen. In fact, you didn’t have to ask. He was always ready to share the latest story, photo, or video. In one of the last articles he published, he mentioned his “two grandchildren” and their “sweet lives,” observing: “I pray they will grow to know their grandfather and his faith.”1

Stan also loved his siblings and extended family. He loved his students. He loved his job. He loved his brethren, both local and abroad. He loved to preach. He loved to sing. He loved to write. He authored four books and regularly contributed to brotherhood journals, including Forthright Magazine and their weekly “Reality Check” column <Link>. Since October 2016 Stan has posted weekly articles on his blog, Higher Grounds: Better Living Through Higher Thinking <Link>.2

Stan’s Destiny

Stan has often said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Earlier this year he reflected on that which survives physical death, viz. the soul, spirit, mind, conscience, heart, character, personality. Despite the transformation he has now undergone, I hope his personality hasn’t changed. He writes: “The part we cannot see, the eternal part, is that which we should feed, cultivate and develop. The paraplegic will not roll his wheel chair into heaven, he will be walking and leaping and praising God! No one will be warped and twisted by cancer or arthritis or aging. We will be eternal!”3

Concluding Thoughts

Stan Mitchell leaves behind a massive void that no one but God himself can fill. I’m thankful to have known him. I’m thankful for the impact he has made on this world. I’m sad but thankful he has gone to his eternal reward. About a year ago Stan posted five rules to happiness; the last one reads: “Cherish the people in your life; the day will come (perhaps quickly) when they will be gone.” My dear brother and friend, God bless you. Go with God.

--Kevin L. Moore

     Stan Mitchell, “Welcome Home,” in Higher Grounds (5 Feb. 2019), <Web>. Last year, before Gwen was born, Stan wrote a letter to his grandson and said, “Dear Gideon, I don’t know if you will grow up to be a preacher, president or policeman. But I do hope, I hope with all my heart, that you grow up to be a Christian, that you will stand tall for what God desires” (Stan Mitchell, “Dear Gideon,” in Higher Grounds [16 Oct. 2018], <Web>).
     Stan’s stated purpose for these articles “is to build God’s church by spreading its borders (encouraging missions), strengthening its members and reaching out to those who are searching for a good God and a loving savior.” His published books are: (1) The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: A Study of the Book of Proverbs, (2) Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, (3) Equipping the Saints for Ministry, and (4) Will Our Faith Have Children. Some of Stan’s audio sermons are available here. You can also listen to his “Life of Paul” podcasts here.
     Stan Mitchell, “What Happens to Us When We Die?,” in Higher Grounds (29 Jan. 2019), <Web>.

Related articles: Ryan Fraser's We've lost a friend, Tracy Watt's A God We Can Trust

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Closer Look at Apparent Discrepancies Among the Gospels (Part 2)

The Death of Jairus’ Daughter

The raising of the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus from the dead is recounted by all three synoptic writers (Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56),but there is an apparent discrepancy in the order of events. Matthew says a ruler approached Jesus because his daughter had “just died” (Matt. 9:18). Mark and Luke provide the name of the ruler (Jairus), whose daughter was reportedly “at the point of death” or “was dying,” and on the way to his house the ruler was informed, “Your daughter is dead” (Mark 5:23, 35; Luke 8:42, 49). The question is, did the girl die before  Jairus approached Jesus or after?

The first clue is the amount of space allocated to the account in each Gospel. Matthew’s entire description consists of just nine verses, compared to Mark’s twenty-three and Luke’s seventeen. In the midst of these reports is the bleeding-woman incident, to which Matthew devotes merely three verses, compared to Mark’s ten and Luke’s six. Thus the amount of space afforded to the raising of Jairus’ daughter is six verses in Matthew, thirteen in Mark, and eleven in Luke. Matthew’s version is about half of each of the others.

Details omitted by Matthew include the location, the multitude, the name of the ruler, that he was a “synagogue” ruler, the daughter’s premortem condition and her age, the report of her death along the way, Jesus’ words of reassurance, the names of the three disciples accompanying Jesus, the girl’s mother, what Jesus said to the girl, the girl’s spirit returning, the girl walking, Jesus’ directives to not publicize it and to feed her, as well as multiple details of the encounter with the bleeding woman.

It is obvious that Matthew gives an abridged version of the story. His purpose is not chronological specificity or elaboration but a concise snapshot of a miraculous event amongst several others. Additional information is provided by the other Gospel writers for a fuller picture. Matthew’s tendency is to convey stories with brevity, while the other Gospels are more likely to focus on details.2

How Many Times Did the Rooster Crow?

Matthew, Luke, and John each records the Lord’s prediction of a rooster’s crowing subsequent to Peter’s triple denial, then confirming its fulfillment (Matt. 26:34, 74, 75; Luke 22:34, 61, 60; John 13:38; 18:27). Mark’s version alludes to a rooster crowing “twice,” the first of which occurred after the initial denial and the second in conjunction with the third denial (Mark 14:30, 68, 72). Nighttime in the ancient Mediterranean world was divided into four periods or watches, and the third (12–3 a.m.) was designated “the crowing of the rooster” (Mark 13:35). Matthew, Luke, and John give a general report of the Lord’s prediction, viz. that Peter will have denied him three times before this period either begins or ends, with an abridged record of the fulfillment. Mark is more specific and detailed with regard to the timing of the events.

--Kevin L. Moore

     See “The Daughters of Germanicus, Jairus, and Jesus,” <Link>.
     See “Synoptic Confusion,” <Link>. Matthew arranges his material more thematically than chronologically, grouping together a series of brief miracle stories with no attempt at chronological precision (Matt. 8:1--9:34). 

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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

A Closer Look at Apparent Discrepancies Among the Gospels (Part 1)

Rabbi, Master, or Lord?

In recounting the story of Christ’s transfiguration, the synoptic writers employ different words in their respective versions of Peter’s statement. Mark records the title Rabbí (Mark 9:5), whereas Matthew uses Kúrios  [“Lord”] (Matt. 17:4) and Luke Epistátē[“Master”] (Luke 9:33).Which of these words was originally spoken by Peter? Do these differences amount to a contradiction? Does this legitimately call into question the integrity of the biblical record? Studying these passages contextually resolves the issue. 

The original conversation was almost certainly in the Aramaic language, and the synoptic writers provide independent translations for their respective audiences. Contrary to the popular literary-dependence theories of redaction critics, these differences demonstrate independence and serve as separate witnesses to the life of Christ. The word “rabbi” is of Hebrew origin, essentially meaning “master” and used as an honorary title for “teacher.” Luke, writing from a Greek perspective, never employs the Hebraic term “rabbi.” John, a Jewish author writing to a non-Jewish audience, uses the Jewish term “rabbi” and then translates it into Greek as didáskalos (“teacher”) for his Gentile readers (John 1:38). This informs John’s audience of the functional role of the person wearing the title but does not explicitly convey the deep respect inherent in the term. The other Gospels do. 

In the parallel accounts of Christ’s transfiguration, Mark records the original Hebraic title Rabbí (Mark 9:5), while Matthew employs the comparable expression “Lord” [Kúrios] (Matt. 17:4) and Luke “Master” [Epistátēs] (Luke 9:33). These different renderings not only recount in Greek translation (or transliteration in Mark’s case) what was said, but also convey the title’s reverential intent.2

The Crucifixion Inscription

The inscription affixed to Jesus’ cross is variously reported by the Gospel writers: (a) “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37); (b) “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26); (c) “This [is] the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38); (d) “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The wording of the inscription is only partially given by each Gospel writer. The full inscription would read: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Verbatim transcription was unnecessary to convey the essence of the charge. All four accounts collectively provide the full account. This is evidence of four independent witnesses (cf. Deut. 19:15). The inscription, having been written in three languages (Luke 23:38; John 19:20), would have been intelligible to the local Jews (Aramaic-speakers) and Romans (Latin-speakers), as well as all foreign visitors (Greek-speakers).

Abiathar the High Priest? 

In recording Jesus’ response to the Pharisees (Matt. 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5), Mark is the only synoptic writer to mention “Abiathar” in the account (2:26), and there are variations among manuscripts: “in the days [time] of Abiathar the high priest” (ESV, NASB, NKJV) vs. “when Abiathar was high priest” (ASV, N/RSV). While the circumstances involving David eating showbread did occur in the days of Abiathar, it was actually his father Ahimelech who was high priest at the time. Ahimelech was killed soon afterward, and his son Abiathar was then appointed high priest (1 Sam. 22:17-21). As a prolepsis Mark simply describes Abiathar as he was known at the time of writing. 

What to Take and Not Take?

In Matthew’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve, the Lord instructs them not to take “two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs” (Matt. 10:10). In Mark’s account, the Lord instructs them to take nothing “except a staff … but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics” (Mark 6:8-9). In both narratives Jesus assures provision of their necessities, so extra supplies were not needed. Lodging would be available, thus no reason to have an extra tunic for a bedroll or covering for outdoors. They would obviously be wearing sandals (as Mark reports) but no need to “take” another pair (as Matthew reports). Each would have a staff (as Mark reports) but no need for multiple staffs (as Matthew reports).

--Kevin L. Moore

     Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     See K. L. Moore, “The Education of Jesus the Rabbi,” <Link>.

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