Ok, not really.
Promises of shocking revelations and untold stories of well-known events get people to buy books and read gossip magazines, so if you’re reading this, the same trick got you to read my blog and feed my constant need for attention… So, mission accomplished.
But, it’s not entirely a trick… just a slight exaggeration.
Anyway, let me explain—
I didn’t have a home church to go to last year on Easter and I didn’t feel like trying out a new church amid the crowded influx of nominal Christians making their yearly check-in, so I stayed home to reflect on the resurrection on my own by reading through each of the Gospel accounts, flipping back-and-forth between them in an attempt to get the full picture.
I just so happened to have recently been reading John Shelby Spong’s abominable work of liberal theological propaganda Resurrection: Myth or Reality?, in which, among other lines of argument, he accounts for the supposedly irreconcilable differences and discrepancies between the four accounts (well… five, if we count Paul’s account from 1 Corinthians 15) by reiterating the standard position of modern biblical higher criticism, which is that that the New Testament accounts of Jesus, particularly of his resurrection, represent various stages of legendary tradition layered over a few small kernels of truth in the form of scant authentic memories of the actual Jesus of history.
My reasons for rejecting that argument and for accepting the New Testament accounts as reliable accounts of history were explained at length in my last three entries, but it still gave me a hankering (yes, I had a hankering) to see a single “official” version of events, without the apparent discrepancies between the four Gospels. I wanted to know what really happened—not just several witnesses’ separate versions of what happened.
Just to clarify—Spong and his fellows have a few valid points…
For instance, Matthew, Mark, and John all mention a trip to Galilee, where they saw the risen Jesus, yet Luke has Jesus explicitly telling them to stay in Jerusalem until the events of Pentecost. That at least seems to be a pretty major contradiction.
Also, one version has the women seeing a single angel outside the tomb after an earthquake, another has the angel inside the tomb with no mention of an earthquake, another has it as two angels, and another has no angels—just an empty, unguarded tomb discovered by Mary Magdalene before she runs to the disciples. That version has her encountering the risen Jesus later by herself, while another version has him appearing first to all of the women as a group. Paul said Peter alone was the first witness to the risen Jesus, yet the Gospel accounts seemingly have Peter seeing Jesus alive again for the first time with most of the other apostles with him.
And so on and so forth….
If we already know it’s all just legend and magical nonsense from the get-go, there’s no great mystery here: they just made up different stories about the resurrection. Case closed.
Except… (as discussed in my last few entries) that explanation just doesn’t account for the known and incontrovertible facts about the origins of Christianity.
There is every possible indication that the original Christians thought of the resurrection as an actual event of history. And not just an actual event in history, but an event they experienced.
They didn’t have our “progressive,” postmodern understanding of religion as a man-made convention made up of interchangeable, subjective narratives (at least, not as it related to their own religion). Deliberately making stuff up about God just wasn’t, well… kosher. We think of religion today almost as a form of art—as a form of collective, cultural self-expression. Whatever validity there may or may not be to that understanding, that isn’t how the apostles and early Christians, as Jews (or Gentile converts), understood their own religion. They saw it more as a rigid science, and its laws and traditions were immutable, authoritative, and non-negotiable—you just didn’t mess around with what God commanded. In fact, one of Jesus’ biggest problems with the religious leaders of his day was that they tended to mistake their own traditions for God’s. So, when the first Christians offered their different accounts of the resurrection, they weren’t offering “their own interpretation of an emerging tradition,” but their own remembered experiences, or in the case of Luke, other people’s remembered experiences:
“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Beloved of God, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
The fact that there are differences and, even, discrepancies between the four Gospels doesn’t in any way undermine their credibility as historical witnesses. If anything, that bolsters their credibility—it shows that they didn’t conspire together to get their stories straight. Remembering events differently just means they were remembering, not fabricating.
Obviously, there are nuances to this beyond what I’ve addressed here, and I don’t want to get too far into a critique of modern biblical higher criticism, rehash what I’ve written about it in previous entries, or get into another lengthy apologetic treatment of the resurrection. I only bring it up to say that I had some of these considerations in mind last Easter as I began to read the Gospel accounts, and it made me want to resolve them into a single, comprehensive account.
So, being the reclusive nerd that I am—and not knowing at the time that somebody else already beat me to the punch a couple thousand years ago, I commenced to spend the rest of the day combining the different resurrection accounts into a single narrative, arranged according to the general chronology provided by Paul.
And I have to say, despite unknowingly reinventing the wheel, it was a pretty worthwhile and edifying exercise.
For one thing, I resolved (to my own satisfaction, at least) most of the seeming contradictions… at least, those that could be resolved. The discrepancies that couldn’t be resolved, though, don’t really matter. Granted, they frustrate modern conventional ideas of “biblical inerrancy,” but apart from that consideration, they’re inconsequential, and from an historical standpoint, they actually strengthen the Gospels’ credibility as authentic memories.
More importantly, though, it cast the resurrection in a new light for me.
Not to say that the individual accounts are inadequate or lacking in themselves, but (to me, at least) that single combined narrative is of greater value than the mere sum of its parts. Each individual account is like a different number in a coordinate, and combining them offers a more textured and nuanced, multi-dimensional picture of what happened and of the people involved.
If you’ve seen the movie Contact, a good analogy (perhaps ironically) for what I’m getting at would be when they finally figured out to look at the blueprints for the alien construct as a single three-dimensional diagram instead of as individual two-dimensional images. Themes and conflicts emerged that I hadn’t seen before, and the reality of it sank-in in ways it hadn’t quite previously.
I don’t want to ruin it by getting into specifics, in case people want to read it for themselves. It’s just been sitting on my computer all year since then, and since Easter is coming up, and since I just finished explaining why I believe the resurrection to be a knowable, provable fact of history, it seemed appropriate to put this out there for anyone inclined to read it.
I would have just pasted it directly into a blog template, but I color-coded the text to show the seams between its constituent parts and their respective source. I thought it was important to preserve that, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that within the blog template, so I’ve just attached it as a Word document here.