Herma and Herman Neutics on the Gospels

Why do we have four gospels rather than one? Apparently one gospel was not enough! You see, the gospels are more like portraits than photographs. When we treated them like photographs it made sense to try and blend them all together into in one mega-photo. Tatian, a second-century church leader, tried to do just that with his Diatessaron. We call it a harmony of the gospels. Problem is, you can't make everything in the gospels fit into one! Not without twisting some of the details and data out of shape.

After many efforts at making this one mega-photo, we finally realized there are four gospels for a reason. And we started to read them more like portraits. Portraits attempt the capture the artist's view of the subject. His or her choices of background, use of color, attention to some details rather than others all matter to a portrait. Different artists will do all this differently and will produce an interpretation of the subject that will differ from any other portrait. Attention to the details and themes that each gospel writer give us what we have in the Bible - four different portraits of Jesus. And apparently that what God wants us to have and what we need to follow Jesus faithfully.

So, resist the urge to harmonize the gospels. The differences between them are important. They are not each telling the same story. Same subject, of course. But four different ways of assessing the meaning and significance of Jesus. Value them for the portraits they give us. Don't worry about the differences. Chronological accuracy was not as important to ancient writers as it is to us. Telling the story of  an important person's life was to teach the readers lessons from that life were their chief purpose.


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