Story vs Chronology

When you compare the Gospels, it doesn’t take long before you realize that Matthew tells a different series of events than Mark or Luke. When certain details are added to the story, we might assume that the other writers either didn’t find it necessary to add that detail, or they didn’t know/remember. The adding of details in certain Gospel accounts is not all that troubling. However, when we can read Matthew 5-7 and find a long Sermon on the Mount, and then we flip over to Mark and Luke to find that both of them have the same words of Jesus dispersed throughout His teaching, it does cause us pause. How is it that one author has clustered all of these teachings together, while the other authors have not done so? Doesn’t this demand that someone is wrong?

Then, we look at the Last Supper up until the resurrection. Once again, the series of events are given different times. We aren’t sure if Jesus was crucified on the Passover, before the Passover, after the Passover, or if that detail was simply something that seemed like fun to throw in. None of the Gospel accounts agree with one another. Did Mary go to the tomb alone or with others? Did the angel appear to the women or not? Did John and Peter run back to the tomb or not? Various details are given here, but not there, and then other details simply leave us baffled at the chronology of events. How is it that there could be such a massive blunder?

It is actually quite simple. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are concerned with stories. There is a point to the story that they are giving. So, they will tell the story and add details, rearrange chronology, leave out what we might find to be important details, and all of these sorts of things that cause us to scratch our heads. The Hebrews were not concerned with chronology. They don’t need to tell us when Jesus died, what exactly happened, how it happened, when it happened, etcetera. Instead, the Hebrew way of explaining is to focus upon the point of the story and explain your account according to the reason that you share.

John is making the statement that Jesus was the Passover Lamb. So, he is going to set up the chronology to display that very point. Matthew is showing Jesus as the Son of God. So, he is going to set up the chronology to make that point. Luke is giving a detailed account to a “Theophilus”, which is comprised of two Greek words: theo – God and philo – loved one (the beloved of God, or the Church). We need to read the Gospels as individual accounts without the cross-referencing of the other Gospels to find contradictions. What is it that Mark is trying to communicate? What is it that Matthew is saying by having these stories and teachings lined up in this manner?

It is when we come out from our view of chronology and into the Hebraic understanding of searching for the point being made in the story that we find a more enriched perception. No longer are we validating the chronology, but instead trying to understand the whole point of the chronology. This emphasis on using stories to make illustrations also gives us insight into why there are some variations in Kings and Chronicles. The author is stressing the intention of the story, not the chronology. It is then a wrong assumption to use variations in chronology as contradictions.

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