Musings on Mark: Mark 4 and Psalm 107

John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 160-161.

Especially significant [to Mark 4:35-41] is Ps 107:23-32 (LXX 106:23-32), which Mark’s narrative virtually paraphrases. According to that psalm people “went down to the sea in ships” and “saw the deeds of the Lord” (v. 23). When God raises a strong wind that lifts up the waves (v. 25, kymata; see Mark 4:37) the mariners cry out to the Lord (v. 28; see Mark 4:38), and the Lord “made the storm be still [see Mark 4:39, “be still”], and the waves of the sea were hushed.” The psalm draws on the ancient portrayal of the sea as chaotic power, often the habitation of monsters, a motif that is deeply rooted in earlier Canaanite myths of creation where a storm god defeats the sea. While in the psalm it is YHWH who both stirs up the waves and calms them in response to the prayer, in Mark Jesus sleeps at the onset of the storm but afterward calms the waves as YHWH does.

Book Review: ‘The Case for Miracles’ by Lee Strobel, part 6

“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19, NRSV).


To view all posts in this review series, please go to its index.

Strobel’s volume has taken us on a journey beginning with skepticism (a la Michael Shermer) all the way to a consideration of the fine-tuning of the universe (a la Michael Strauss). And now we come to what is perhaps the most important miracle in all of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To discuss such a pivotal event, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace, a homicide detective turned pop-apologist.

INTERVIEW #6 – J WARNER WALLACE

Wallace is no doubt familiar to many Christians and non-Christians due to his books which include Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. His work in law-enforcement has left him with the impression that he is qualified to rigorously examine the Gospels of the New Testament to check their validity. And his claim of a youthful atheism gives him a degree of “street cred” with the apologetic community. Beginning at age thirty-five, Wallace “subjected the gospels to months of painstaking analysis through various investigative techniques, including what detectives call ‘forensic statement analysis'” (190). His investigation led him to the conclusion that “Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt” (190).

Examining the Gospels

As Strobel begins his interview with Wallace he is given a Bible that Wallace had marked up during his investigation of Christianity. “I went to the gospel of Mark,” Strobel writes, “and saw that it was thoroughly annotated” (193). According to Wallace, he used forensic statement analysis to analyze the Gospels and with regard to Mark’s Gospel he “was looking for the influence of Peter” (193). The examination of the Gospel accounts took six months and at the end Wallace concluded that “the gospels recorded true events” (193).

“But that presented a problem for me.”

“Why?”

“Because they talk about the resurrection and other miracles,” he said. “I could believe the gospels if they said Jesus ate bread, but what if they said the loaf levitated? C’mon, I couldn’t believe that. I didn’t believe miracles could happen, so I rejected them out of hand.” (193)

But Wallace was able to do away with his anti-supernaturalism by simply considering the origin of the universe and the existence of absolute moral values. With that removed, it became far easier to believe that a dead man came back to life.

Wallace notes that he tested the Gospels “through the analysis of eyewitness testimony” (196) and asserts that each of the Gospels have eyewitness testimony standing behind them in one way or another.

“There’s good evidence that John and Matthew wrote their gospels based on their eyewitness testimony as disciples of Jesus. While Luke wasn’t a witness himself, he said he ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning,’ presumably by interviewing eyewitnesses. According to Papias, who was the bishop of Hierapolis, Mark was the scribe of the apostle Peter – and my forensic analysis of Mark’s gospel bears that out.” (196)

In addition, the Gospels were all written relatively early which means they are reliable. “I’ve seen witnesses in cold cases say their memories from thirty-five years ago are like it happened yesterday – why? Because not all memories are created the same,” Wallace tells Strobel (197). We may forget some dates but others stick out more than others and that is apparently what we find recorded in the Gospels.

Strobel asks Wallace what he thinks about the discrepancies between the Gospel accounts. “[D]on’t they cast doubt on the reliability of the eyewitness testimony?” he asks (198). Wallace doesn’t think so. Rather, if they were all in absolute agreement we would have grounds for suspicion. If the Gospels “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198).

“Think of this: the early believers could have destroyed all but one of the gospels in order to eliminate any differences between them. But they didn’t. Why? Because they knew the gospels were true and that they told the story from different perspectives, emphasizing different things.” (198)

Recalling the work of Michael Licona in his book Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels?1 Strobel notes that when it comes to the various discrepancies in the Easter stories it seems that the authors are using a technique known as “literary” spotlighting whereby

an author focuses attention on a person so that the person’s involvement in a scene is clearly described, whereas mention of others who were likewise involved is neglected, the author has shined his literary spotlight on that person….In literary spotlighting, the author only mentions one of the people present but knows of the others.2

And there is also the phenomenon of “undesigned coincidences” when independent eyewitnesses offer details that explain other independent eyewitnesses. Wallace offers the calling narratives in Matthew and Luke as evidence of such a coincidence with the latter answering the question as to why Peter, Andrew, James, and John so quickly abandoned their livelihoods in the former. “When the testimony is put together,” he tells Strobel, “we get a complete picture” (201).

Wallace comes to the conclusion that the Gospels are reliable and if they are reliable then it means that Jesus must have been raised from the dead. But there are two issues that must be addressed before coming to a sure conclusion on Jesus’ resurrection: the death of Jesus and the appearances of the risen Jesus to the disciples. Doing away with various hypotheses of Jesus not dying upon a Roman cross, Wallace concludes that the crucifixion of Jesus and his death upon the cross is “virtually unanimously accepted” by scholars (204). He also does away with any notion that Jesus was not buried in a tomb following his death, a claim made by some scholars including historian Bart Ehrman,3 or that there was some conspiracy among the disciples to steal Jesus’ corpse or lie about it. In fact, it is surprising to Wallace that the disciples were willing to die for their belief in a resurrected Jesus.

“[T]hey had no motive to be deceitful. In fact, we have at least seven ancient sources that tell us that the  disciples were willing to suffer and even die for their conviction that they encountered the risen Jesus.” (206)

Why would they die for something they knew to be false? Of course not. “They knew the truth about what occurred,” Wallace tells Strobel, “and my experience is that people aren’t willing to suffer or die for what they know is a lie” (206). Wallace also dispels the idea that the disciples hallucinated a risen Jesus, telling Strobel that “groups don’t have hallucinations, and the earliest report of the resurrection said five hundred people saw him” (207). Furthermore, the person who was the least likely to have a hallucination of Jesus was the apostle Paul yet he records that he was the recipient of just such a visit by the risen Jesus (207).

What does this add up to for Wallace? It is all evidence against philosophical naturalism and for supernaturalism. Since “the gospels passed all the tests we use to evaluate eyewitness accounts” it forced him to believe that Jesus had indeed been raised by God from the dead (208).

“The more I understood the true nature of Jesus, the more my true nature was exposed – and I didn’t like what I saw. Being a cop had led me to lose faith in people. My heart had shriveled. To me, everyone was a liar capable of depraved behavior. I saw myself as superior to everyone else. I was cynical, cocky, and distant.” (208)

But Wallace’s faith in Jesus changed him into something altogether different.

Before ending their time together, Strobel asks a question that Michael Shermer asked him during his interview: why don’t the Jewish people accept the idea of resurrection? Wallace offers Strobel three reasons. First, they feel they are too smart for it. Second, there are emotional issues having to do with conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Finally, they are proud of their following of the Torah (209). “Humans love works-based systems because they can measure their progress and compare themselves favorably with others,” Wallace said (209). But a true investigation into the claims of Christianity reveals that Jesus did indeed rise from the grave in Wallace’s estimation. And some Jews have discovered just that (210).

Wallace’s Assumptions

It should go without saying that Wallace’s take is devoid of any serious scholarship. Wallace himself is nothing more than a pop-apologist who seems to think his experience in law enforcement has made him something of an expert on the New Testament. Consider his claim that he used “forensic statement analysis” on the Gospel of Mark (193). Forensic statement analysis examines the language a person uses to determine their proximity to an event. One law-enforcement consultant agency describes it as

a process by which a person’s own written or spoken words are scientifically analyzed to determine truth and deception. Given the opportunity a person’s words WILL betray them, in spite of their prior training, education and best efforts to avoid detection.4

But this rests on the assumption that a person is an eyewitness to something. This is simply not what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Nowhere do we ever get the impression in Mark’s Gospel that his account is either that of an eyewitness or even based upon eyewitness testimony. As Luke Timothy Johnson observes,

The current favor accorded Mark began with pioneering literary-redactional studies. They showed that Mark’s peculiar emphasis on Galilee (esp. 14:28; 15:41; 16:7) was a theological symbol. Likewise, Mark’s anachronistic use of the term “gospel,” euangelion, revealed a self-conscious awareness of the multilayered theological nature of his narrative (see 1:1, 14, 15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9). As a result, Mark’s Gospel was seen less as a direct witness to the life of Jesus or to the period of oral transmission than as a witness to the Christian communities of Mark’s day.5

We must also note the literary artistry the Markan author used when composing his Gospel. For example, we find throughout Mark intercalations or “sandwich stories” wherein the author begins a story, interrupts it with another, and finishes the story that he had begun. Such a technique “serves to create suspense and also either to contrast one narrative with another…or to interpret one narrative by another.”6 We also find chiastic patterns, triads, and much more.7 In other words, Mark is trying to tell a story. No doubt, it is a story in which he finds meaning and even truth but it is a carefully constructed story nonetheless and it cannot be considered “historical” in any modern sense of the word.

A Test Case on Eyewitness Testimony

We can put his claim that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony to the test. Consider the Markan and Johannine Passion narratives. In the Gospel of Mark, heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that Jesus had been abandoned by his followers. Not only does he predict it will happen (Mark 14:27-31) but it becomes part of the narrative itself when Jesus is arrested at Gethsemane (14:50-52) so that when he is crucified he is utterly alone with only his female followers “looking on from a distance” (15:40). But not so in the Gospel of John. While Jesus does predict that the disciples will desert him (John 16:32), at the crucifixion “the disciple whom he loved” is there are the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother (19:26-27). If Mark’s account is based upon Peter and John’s account on John, how could they get this all so wrong? Was Jesus all alone as in Mark or was “the disciple whom he loved” present as in John?

And on what basis does Wallace make the assertion that in Mark’s Gospel “Mark’s first and last mention of a disciple is Peter, which is an ancient bookending technique where a piece of history is attributed to a particular eyewitness” (196). Why should that be the case? All such an inclusio would suggest is that Peter plays an important role in the narrative of the Gospel, which he does. To assert that this means Peter was behind the Markan narrative is a non sequitur. It may also show Petrine importance in the Markan community, i.e. that he was a known leader of great importance. Again, there is no need to assert then that Peter is behind it all.

Gospel Discrepancies

Wallace thinks that if the Gospels had “meshed too perfectly, it would be evidence of collusion” (198). That is ironic considering that over ninety percent of Mark’s Gospel is reproduced in Matthew’s. If that isn’t collusion I don’t know what it is. But the discrepancies between the Gospel of Mark and Matthew at times reveal their two differing agendas. For example, the Markan Jesus forbids divorce (Mark 10:1-12) despite the allowances made in the Torah. But in Matthew’s redaction of Mark, there is no total prohibition of divorce but rather an exception in keeping with the Torah (Matthew 19:1-19). This is because Matthew’s Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). But the Markan Jesus, though an observant Jew, feels to free to do away with some of the Torah’s demands (see Mark 7:19) so that Gentiles need not follow the law.

What About the Resurrection?

Yet none of this means that Jesus did not rise from the grave. It does mean that getting to whatever historical event that lies behind the resurrection narratives of the Gospels requires peeling back layers of tradition and literary elements. This is what Wallace fails to appreciate or even acknowledge. The Gospels are not impassioned retellings of what really happened but rather they are stories about what those events meant. Often they are based on nothing more than a block of tradition whose origin can hardly be traced. Were they based upon an actual resurrection? Or were they based upon visions of a risen Jesus? Or both? Or neither?

Whatever the case might be, if it did happen, the resurrection of Jesus would be undoubtedly a miracle that would cause even the most ardent skeptic to sit up and take notice. Or at least it would me. Yet nothing in Strobel’s interview of Wallace gave me pause to consider that Jesus is alive.

I suppose pop-apologetics just doesn’t do it for me.

NOTES

1 Michael R. Licona, Why Are There Differences Among the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017).

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), 157. Ehrman writes,

The point of crucifixion was to torture and humiliate a person as fully as possible, and to show any bystanders what happens to someone who is a troublemaker in the eyes of Rome. Part of the humiliation and degradation was the body being left on the cross after death to be subject to scavenging animals.

Ehrman doubts the burial story of Jesus for a couple of other reasons as well: criminals were generally tossed into common graves and Pontius Pilate wasn’t known to be all that accommodating a prefect. See pages 160-164.

4 Forensic Statement Analysis,” law-tech.net. Accessed 6 February 2019.

5 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Kindle), third edition (Fortress Press, 2010), loc 3334.

6 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina vol. 2 (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 18.

7 See ibid., 16-19.

Musings on Mark: A Closer Look at Mark 6:45-52, part 2

In the last “Musings on Mark” we began taking a closer look at Mark 6:45-52. Today we finish up looking at that passage.

“He Intended to Pass Them By”

We left off in the last post with Jesus seeing the struggle of the disciples as they tried to row “against an adverse wind” (Mark 6:48). This prompts Jesus to make his way to them, “walking on the sea.” But then we read one of the most bizarre statements in the Markan Gospel: “He intended to pass them by.” What in the world does that mean? Let’s begin by briefly considering the Greek text.

Greek (transliterated)

Translation

kai  and
ēthelen he intended
parelthein to pass by
autous them

The main issues here are what the imperfect ēthelen and the aorist infinitive parelthein mean in this context.

The imperfect ēthelen comes from theló, a word we’ve seen before in Mark’s Gospel. For example, in the pericope of the healing of the leper (1:40-45) the infirmed man says to Jesus, “If you choose [thelēs], you can make me clean” (1:40). Jesus responds, “I do choose [thelō]. Be made clean!” (1:41) We also read in the story of John the Baptist’s death that Herodias “wanted [ēthelen] to kill” John (6:19; cf. 6:22). So it seems that theló expresses the idea of desiring, wishing, or choosing to do something. It involves volition. The aorist infinitive parelthein comes from parerchomai, a verb that simply means “to pass by” or “to pass.” It is a word used only here in 6:48 and in 13:30-31 and 14:35. In this instance it clearly refers to Jesus moving past the boat in which the disciples had been rowing.

But why would Jesus “intend to pass them by”? He had seen their struggle, a struggle which prompted him to begin walking toward them on the sea. So it seems pretty cruel to not intervene to help them. So what do we do with those four important words?

Solution #1

One solution to the problem is found in the Matthean and Johannine versions of the story. If you read those two accounts you will quickly notice that neither include this detail. In Matthew’s version one would expect to see it after Matthew 14:25 while in John one would expect to see it in perhaps around John 6:19. But neither Matthew or John chose to include this information. But we are not redacting Mark; we are seeking to explain it. So we move on.

Solution #2 

In his commentary on Mark, R.T. France suggests that “in the narrative context the clause is best seen not as a statement of what was in Jesus’ mind but of how his approach appeared from the disciples’ point of view.”This is certainly an interesting take but is ultimately not convincing. Had Mark intended for the reader to think that it seemed to the disciples Jesus was going to pass them by he could have done so using the verb dokeó. Instead, Mark is intentional with his words. The implied subject of ēthelen is Jesus. And the narrator is offering his omniscient view of the situation in which he knows the intentions of all the characters, including Jesus.

Solution #3 

One of the more compelling solutions is that when Mark says that Jesus intended to “pass them by” he is actually making a reference to the theophanies found in texts like Exodus 33:17-23. There we read how Moses requests to see Yahweh’s glory. Yahweh consents and tells Moses, “I will pass [pareleusomai] before you my glory and will declare my name ‘(the) Lord’ before you” (33:19, LXX; my translation).Similarly, in 1 Kings 19:11 Yahweh tells Elijah, “Go out soon and stand before (the) Lord upon the mountain: behold (the) Lord will pass by [pareleusetai]!” (LXX; my translation) So the language used is similar leading to the conclusion that Mark is being intentional with it. But does Mark intend for his audience to think that Yahweh himself was about to pass by the disciples? Is this a theophany or a christophany?

The Misunderstood Markan Jesus

To answer that question we need to understand who Jesus is in Mark’s Gospel. Whereas both Matthew and Luke included extensive genealogies and birth stories, Mark does not. It is almost as if Mark 1:1-11 serves as Jesus’ origin story for the Markan community. He isn’t born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem. Rather, he is “from Nazareth of Galilee” (1:9). In other words, Jesus is just a regular guy. He came from a tiny town where everyone knew everyone else (see 6:2-3). He wasn’t a scribe or a teacher; he was a tektón, a man who worked with his hands for a living (6:3; NRSV, “carpenter”). But that changed when he was baptized by John. It is then that he becomes the messiah, the heir to David’s throne, God’s “Son, the Beloved” (1:11).

So what we find in Mark 6:48 isn’t a theophany so much as it is a christophany couched in the language of a theophany. Jesus in Mark 6:48 was seeking to reveal who he was and to answer the question the disciples had asked during the previous miracle on the Sea of Galilee – “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41) He’s the Messiah, the Son of God! But the disciples don’t understand this. When they see Jesus walking on the water they think he is a ghost and cry out in fear (6:49-50). Jesus immediately tells them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (6:50). The opportunity for the revelation of who he is as messiah is thwarted by their fear and by their lack of faith. For when Jesus gets in the boat and the storm then ceases the disciples become “utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (6:51-52). The disciples’ inability to fully grasp what is before them is a recurring theme in Mark’s Gospel. Even when the disciple Peter gets it right (8:29) he gets it wrong (8:31-33). And in the end, they all abandon him (14:27-31, 50) despite seeing all he had done.

Jesus had intended to reveal himself more fully to them (i.e. “pass them by”) but the fear of faithlessness of the disciples wouldn’t allow him.

NOTES

R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (Eerdmans, 2002), 272.

The future tense form of parerchomai is pareleusomai.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Kyle Keefer: Utter Dullards

Kyle Keefer, The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008), 25-26.

The characterization of the disciples in Mark’s gospel is shocking in its condescension; the disciples are complete and utter dullards. One scene in particular makes this point. Mark narrates two stories of Jesus’ miraculously feeding a crowd of thousands. The first, in Mark 6:30-44, includes 5,000 men (plus presumably, commensurate numbers of women and children), and they all get their fill from five loaves and two fish. After the meal, the disciples gather up twelve baskets of leftovers. In 8:1-10, presumably a short time later, Jesus does it again. This time he feeds 4,000 people with seven loaves and “a few” small fish (whatever “few” means, there must be more than two). This seemingly repetitive story serves primarily to point to the disciples’ woeful comprehension. Three times in the first story, the place where the crowd gathers is described as deserted. In the second story, Jesus subtly urges the disciples to remember the previous feeding: “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way” (8:2-3). This statement cries out for the disciples to say, “Why don’t you feed them the way that you did that other crowd.” But instead they say “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” (8:4). The syntax of their question amply demonstrates their cloddishness. A reader of the text wants to say in response, “The same way that one fed those people back in chapter six with the other bread in the other deserted place!”

Musings on Mark: Mark vs Matthew vs John on Jesus Walking on Water

One of the few stories shared by both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John is the story of Jesus walking upon water. (Well, almost all of the Synoptics – Luke omits it.) Each version is different in one way or another.

The Markan Version

The Markan version (Mark 6:45-52) comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44). Jesus forces the disciples into their boat and tells them to head to Bethsaida. He then dismisses the crowd and heads up to a mountain to pray. When evening comes and while he is still on the land, Jesus sees that the disciples are having difficulty crossing the lake due to adverse winds. He then walks towards them on the sea and intends to pass by them. The disciples think he is a ghost and cry out in terror. But Jesus tells them to not fear and identifies himself. He then gets into the boat with them and the wind died down. The scene ends with the classically Markan motif of the disciples’ inability to grasp what they’ve just witnessed and grounds that inability in their hardened hearts, especially with regards to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus and the disciples end up in Gennesaret (6:53) and not Bethsaida.

The Matthean Version

The Matthean version (Matthew 14:22-33) also comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (14:13-21). Jesus forces the disciples into their boat to go to the other side of the lake. He then dismisses the crowd and heads up to a mountain to pray. When evening comes and while he is still on the land, the boat is far from the shore and the disciples are having difficulty with adverse winds. Jesus then walks towards them on the sea. The disciples think he is a ghost and cry out in terror. But Jesus tells them not to fear and identifies himself.

Matthew’s version includes a scene not found in the Gospel of Mark. While in the Markan version Jesus gets into the boat upon identifying himself, in Matthew’s Gospel Peter responds to Jesus’ identifying of himself and asks to come out onto the turbulent waters. Jesus tells him to join him but as soon as Peter notices the strong wind he becomes afraid and starts to sink. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus takes his hand, turning the episode into a lesson about faith. Jesus and Peter then get into the boat and the wind died down. The scene ends not with a statement about the disciples’ inability to grasp what they’ve just witnessed but with worshipping Jesus and declaring him to be the Son of God.

Jesus and the disciples then end up in Gennesaret (14:34).

The Johannine Version 

The Johannine version (John 6:16-21) also comes on the heels of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand (6:1-14). Following that miracle, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king and so he heads up to a mountain so he can get away from them (6:15). When evening comes, the disciples head down to the sea and get into their boat to head to Capernaum. As they are on the sea, it becomes dark and a strong wind begins to blow. When they are three or four miles into their journey, they see Jesus walking on the water and coming toward them. This terrifies them. But Jesus tells them not to fear and identifies himself. The scene ends with the disciples wanting to bring Jesus into the boat and the boat “immediately” reaching the shore near Capernaum.

Jesus and the disciples then end up in Capernaum (6:24-25).

So Many Differences!

Reconciling these stories is an impossible task and here are some reasons why:

  • The Markan version ends with the disciples not understanding what they had just seen (Mark 6:51-52) but the Matthean version ends with the disciples worshipping Jesus and declaring him to be the Son of God (Matthew 14:33).
  • The Matthean version includes a story about Peter (Matthew 14:28-32) that neither the Markan or Johannine versions have.
  • In the Markan version, only Jesus gets into the boat with them (Mark 6:51) whereas in the Matthean we are told that “they got into the boat” since Peter was outside of it due to the added narrative (Matthew 14:32). And in John it doesn’t seem that Jesus gets into the boat at all, merely that the disciples wanted him to get in and that it was apparently unnecessary since they were already at the shore near Capernaum (John 6:21).
  • In the Markan version, Jesus “intended to pass [the disciples] by” (Mark 6:48; a topic we will discuss in a future post). But this detail is omitted by both Matthew and John.
  • In the Markan version, the disciples in their boat are apparently close enough to shore that Jesus can see them struggling against the wind (Mark 6:48) but in the Matthean version the boat was “far from land” and there is no statement about Jesus seeing their struggle (Matthew 14:24). The Johannine version makes this more explicit by stating that the disciples were three or four miles into their journey (John 6:19).
  • In the Markan version, the disciples were to go to Bethsaida (Mark 6:45) but end up in Gennesaret (Mark 6:53) whereas in John they are headed to Capernaum (John 6:16) and end up in Capernaum (John 6:24-25). In Matthew the disciples are to go to “the other side” of the sea (Matthew 14:22) and end up in Gennesaret (Matthew 14:34).
  • In the Markan and Matthean versions, Jesus dismisses the crowd and heads up to the mountain alone to pray (Mark 6:45-46, Matthew 14:22-23). But in the Johannine version he goes up the mountain to escape the crowd trying to make him king (John 6:15).

It is clear then that these are not stories intended to be read as complimentary to one another. They can’t be. But what this does teach us is that the Gospel writers were not giving us literal history. Rather, they were painting their own portraits of Jesus. If the details in their version contradicted previous versions, who cared? They were intended to address the community of which they were a part, not anyone else’s.

And that should only bother the inerrantists.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bart Ehrman: Miracle Workers in the Greco-Roman World

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (OUP, 2016), 46.

What is remarkable is that [Apollonius of Tyana and Jesus] were not the only two persons in the Greco-Roman world who were thought to have been supernaturally endowed as teachers and miracle workers. In fact, we know from the tantalizing but fragmentary records that have survived that numerous other persons were also said to have performed miracles, to have calmed the storm and multiplied the loaves, to have told the future and healed the sick, to have cast out demons and raised the dead, to have been supernaturally born and taken up into heaven at the end of their life. Even though Jesus may be the only miracle-working Son of God that we talk about in our world, he was one of many talked about in the first-century.