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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