Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Version of the Truth

After the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus healed a leper. Or did that happen right after Jesus healed Simon's mother-in-law, or right after getting Fishers of Men? Who knows? The Gospel writers could not figure out exactly when it happened, or at least could not agree on it. According to Matthew, another, more popular miracle followed on the heals of the healed leper...

Another Version of the Truth
Are the Gospel accounts divinely inspired, meaning that God had a hand in guiding and choosing what would be recorded? Are they historical accounts simply recorded to the best that the eye witnesses could remember? Are they both, or none of the above? These are not easy questions to answer, if you are a believer and you study the details across the Gospels. Take the episode of Jesus healing the Centurion's servant, for example.

Matthew 8:5-13, and its parallel in Luke 7:1-10, both have the same basic elements: There is a Centurion with a deathly-ill servant in Capernaum. The Centurion solicits Jesus to save the servant, but tells Jesus not to come into his house to heal the servant, instead believing that if Jesus just says the word then his servant will be healed. Jesus is amazed at the faith of the Centurion, and Jesus heals the servant without going to see him. It sure seems to be the same story, but not so fast...

In Matthew's version, the Centurion himself asks Jesus for help for his servant (Matthew 8:5). The story continues to have Jesus heal the servant only moments later while standing in the same spot (Matthew 8:13).

In Luke's version, The Centurion first sends the town elders to convince Jesus to come to heal the servant (Luke 7:3). Convinced, Jesus heads towards the Centurion's house for some distance (Luke 7:6). The Centurion then sent friends to tell Jesus not to enter his home, but just say the word to heal the servant, and in fact the Centurion did not feel like he was even worthy to meet Jesus face-to-face (Luke 7:6-7).

(You have to wonder why the Centurion did not tell the elders this message in the first place, to prevent Jesus from walking most of the way to his house. The Centurion was too humble to meet with Jesus, but not too humble to waste His time!)

So, right now, you may be thinking; “OK, so the details are a little different. Nobody has a perfect memory. So what?” Well, let us take an even closer look.

When Luke's elders spoke with Jesus, it went down like this in Luke 7:4-5:
When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, "This [Centurion] deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." NIV
So the Centurion loves Israel and the Hebrew religion enough to finance a synagogue. No wonder why Jesus helped him!

But wait. Skip back to Matthew's version. Check out Matthew 8:11-12, what Jesus says after marveling the Centurion's faith:
"I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the subjects of the Kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." NIV
Oh, snap! Jesus is condemning the Hebrew religion and its adherents, “the subjects of the Kingdom,” also known as the Jews in this context.

Luke's version does not mention this stinging, anti-Semitic condemnation at all, instead painting the Jewish elders in a more favorable light. These are two entirely different and conflicting messages set on the same story framework. This contrast is well beyond what should be considered simply different versions from different memories of the same story. These seem more like contrived texts with a specific messages tailored to the intents of the authors.

The tailoring does not stop there. You may remember a previous study in which Jesus seemed to be a reluctant healer; supposedly Jesus' second miracle in the region of Galilee. That tale is from John 4:46-54. Recalling some of the details, see if you notice any similarities:

There is a royal official with a deathly-ill son in Capernaum. The royal official solicits Jesus to save the son. Jesus heals the son without going to see him. The kicker: John 4:53 records that the boy was healed at the exact time when Jesus said that the boy would be healed, just like Matthew 8:13 records that the servant was healed in the very hour Jesus said he would be healed.

John's Gospel never records a story like this about a Centurion. Instead, this appears to be John's version of that same tale. Just like the other two authors, John tailored his version with a completely different message: a rebuke of those who look for miracles in order to believe.

These different and determined versions each speak of a creator, but not a divine one. As we see here, each Gospel was written with a purposeful intent of the author, and that intent was clearly without regards for reporting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This may be one of the earliest documented cases of what we today call “spin.”

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