Finding Unity in the Diversity of the Synoptic Gospels

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In high school, I ran track. While we were fighting to win sectionals, I prepared for the last event: the 1600m run. As the race began, rain trickled from the dark sky. My mind seemed empty as my focus centered on putting one leg in front of the other, swiftly enough to allow me to qualify for state. Bang! The gun exploded through the silence and so it began. The first three laps of the four-lap race flew by as usual. As the bell rang to signal the final lap, I found myself boxed in by 5 runners to my right and the white line of disqualification to my left. Thankfully, the runner in front of me was my teammate who, upon my prompting whisper, began to pick up the pace, allowing me room to thread my body through what seemed to be the eye of a needle. With my legs heavy as bricks, my lungs burning like wildfires, and my head pounding harder than a toddler hitting drums, I ran with what little might I had left. As I finished along the straightway, I plummeted forward, eating the track with my face instead of gliding above it with my legs. I finished in five minutes and thirty-nine seconds for second place, and a trip to state. 

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This story of me qualifying for state is uniquely my own. My teammate’s story of winning sectionals differs from mine as well as our coaches’ view, and our opponents’ stories. This is similar to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. No one would question the differing stories regarding my high school race, but they do question the different stories of the Synoptic Gospels. They wonder: are the Synoptic Gospels lying? Is one of them more trustworthy than another? How can we embrace these differences in the Gospels? As is found in any criminal witness report and even in the retelling of history, the details of a story will differ depending on a person’s perspective. With this fact in hand, we must not question the differences in the Synoptic Gospels, but embrace them. 

The Synoptic Gospels are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Throughout last semester, my class spent time diving into Scripture and comparing each of these Gospels. To our surprise, many of these Gospels have some dramatic differences. In Mark’s Gospel, to say it ends abruptly would be an understatement; however, to compensate for this, there is usually a longer ending included to explain Jesus’ resurrection. In Matthew’s Gospel, we found a detailed genealogy of Jesus–including both men and women– that leads back to important Jewish figures such as King David and Abraham. In Luke’s Gospel, more attention is given to the Temple than in any other Gospel. We read about Jesus’ circumcision and the details of how Mary, his mother, followed the traditional Jewish law by afterwards giving a purification offering in the Temple. 

In our westernized culture, we often look for the single absolute truth. This ideology led an early Assyrian apologist, Tatian, to write a harmony of the Gospels called the Diatessaron. However, this deprives the reader of the individual writing styles and individual details included by the original authors. The Synoptic Gospels, which are collectively God’s inspired word, are unique for a reason. With each Gospel bringing something unique to the table, we should refrain from cutting out the differences. In order to achieve unity, we need the presence of diversity. We must appreciate the different perspectives, study them in context of their specific Gospel and author, and be thankful for the different textual styles that each author brings. Each Gospel adds new details so that we can have a more robust understanding of Jesus. Embracing and not rejecting the diversity of the Gospels should serve as an example of what unity in the Church should one day look like: all pointing to Jesus and his sacrificial gift of salvation.

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Media by Russell Lamb.

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