The most difficult thing that I have had to grapple with lately is this issue of “differences” in the gospel accounts. How are we to approach these “differences”? How do they effect our understanding of what Scripture is, as well as how we are to interpret Scripture?
The Gospels are records of historical events. But were they intended to be the records of an “Ideal Chronicler”, a person who records for us everything perfectly just as they happened down to the smallest detail, AS THE EVENTS WERE TAKING PLACE? This kind of record would be but a bare skeleton of a record, only recording the “brute facts.” Jesus went to Galilee. He performed a Miracle. People tried to kill him. Then he went to Capernaum… etc, etc. The Gospels do record events. But the beauty of the gospels is that the events that are recorded were written down in a text after the event had happened, and after a whole lot of other stuff had happened.
These events that take place in space time history CHANGE IN MEANING as time goes on, and as the interpreters of the text in which the events were recorded, learn more about the significance of that event.
Jesus was crucified. This was a historical event. But by itself it is a brute fact, with no meaning attached to it. Only when we understand the story of redemption as previously laid out for us in Scripture do we begin to understand the significance of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion. The event stays the same, but the meaning of the event changes with time.
The meaning of the event also changes because of the purposes of the story teller. Interpretation is ALWAYS a part of texts. The Gospels are recorded interpretations of historical events. Inspired, Infallible, Inerrant, interpretations of historical events. The gospels do not give us just brute facts, but built into the text of Scripture, are interpretations, as well as literary creations, which in and of themselves, help shape the meaning of the text, and the events that the text is interpreting.
The more we learn about the text of Scripture, i.e. the gospels, the more we learn about the evangelist’s interpretations of the events of Jesus.
Now, is the Holy Spirit allowed to record for us 4 different accounts of historical events, and give us 4 different interpretations of those events in order that we might understand the significance and meaning of the historical events more deeply and more thoroughly?
I think that this is what the debate is about.
All we have is access to texts, not to the “in space time history” events. Our main task is not to try to “get behind the text” and find the “real Jesus”, but rather, look to the text, in all its variations, and find the Jesus that the Holy Spirit presents to us. It is this Jesus, the Jesus that is revealed in the Text of Holy Scripture, that God wants us to know.
Jesus is the exegesis of the Father. But Scripture is the Divinely Inspired interpretation of that exegesis. It is our duty and responsibility to interpret the Interpretation, and to exegete the Interpretation, in order that we might come to an interpretation which is closer and closer to God’s interpretation.
Technically this is an impossible task, since Holy Writ is inexhaustible, but it is a task that God saw fit to give to us. May we do it for His glory, and the good of the Church.