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The Problem of Apparent Chronological Contradictions
in the Synoptics

By Joe Botti, Tom Dixon, and Alex Steinman

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PART I: INTRODUCTION

A quick glance at a side-by-side ordering of the gospel accounts is enough to reveal how closely the Synoptics follow each other as they recount the life and teaching of Christ. The relationship between these accounts has been, on the one hand, an assurance to believers of the historical validity of the Gospels. On the other hand, such comparisons have given rise to a multitude of questions about which Gospel was written first, whether subsequent authors borrowed from each other, and why there are differences in wording, style and order as the authors report the same events. All these issues form the Synoptic problem.

Taken at face value, the Gospels seem to intend a sequential account of Christ's life: they progress through his birth, baptism, temptation, ministry, passion, death and then resurrection. A closer comparison of the order of their accounts reveals several points at which they differ over the sequence of events. Matthew places the healing of the centurion's servant before the disciples' controversial plucking of grain on the Sabbath and Jesus' healing of the man's withered hand. Luke, however, places the healing of the centurion's servant after these same events. Matthew places the clearing of the temple immediately following the triumphal entry, before the cursing of the fig tree. Mark places the clearing of the temple on the day after the triumphal entry and after the cursing of the fig tree. How are we to understand such apparent chronological problems?

The goal of this paper is certainly not to attempt some broad solution to the synoptic problem. Rather, this paper will focus specifically on the question of whether apparent chronological discrepancies in the synoptic gospels threaten the doctrine of inerrancy. Can solutions be offered to these discrepancies? How should the believer in inerrancy harmonize these apparent sequential contradictions?

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PART II: POSSIBLE APPROACHES

Rigid Chronology
One approach Evangelical Christians have taken is to assume that all of the pericopes contained in each of the Gospels were arranged chronologically. It is clear that in the general outline of the synoptics, all follow the same chronological pattern (see Appendix A). For instance, no evangelist places the temptation before Christ's baptism or in the middle of his ministry.

But some also feel that to be faithful to the doctrine of inerrancy, every teaching and event recorded in the gospel accounts must be chronologically ordered. Because of this, well-meaning Christians posit absurd theories to explain gospel phenomena that conflict with their view that the gospels are chronologically arranged. As a result, Jesus is claimed to have raised Jairus' daughter twice from the dead, was twice crowned with thorns, was denied by Peter six or more times, and so on."[1] 

Topical Arrangement
However, most Evangelical scholars have taken a different approach. While they still believe the accounts to be historically accurate and, in their general outline, chronologically accurate, the events and teaching of Jesus' life are not necessarily arranged chronologically but along topical or thematic lines. Today, this has become the accepted definition of a Gospel - that it is more than a sequential arrangement of data, more than a biography. Consider the following statements from noted evangelicals such as D.A. Carson, Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock:

"Though these texts present a general outline to Jesus ministry, the choices involving arrangement of material reveal how difficult it is in some cases to determine an exact sequence. At some point, each evangelist covered Jesus' teaching on a topical, not a chronological basis."[2] 

"We can avoid some of the difficulties created by the slightly differing ordering of events from one gospel to another by recognizing that chronology was not the only criterion for the arrangement of the gospel materials."[3] 

"Some of the material is organized along thematic lines, some according to a loose chronology, still other pericopes are linked by some combination of catchwords, themes, OT attestation, genre, and logical coherence. The result is not exactly a history, biography, theology, confession, catechism, tract, homage, or letter - though it is in some respects all these. It is a 'Gospel,' a presentation of the 'good news' of Jesus the Messiah."[4] 

Yet the Topical Argument Doesn't Completely Solve the Problem...
To understand that thematic emphasis played a role in structuring the Gospel accounts alleviates some of the historical or chronological difficulties--but not all. There are passages that seem to make chronological assertions that cannot be easily attributed to a thematic approach. Evangelicals need to approach such passages with more tools than just the broad appeal to topical rearrangement.

Let's examine one text that Bock offers as a case of topical arrangement. Both Matthew and Luke record the raising of Jairus' daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage, clearly a one-time event. Yet these authors place it at different points in their gospel narratives: Matthew places this story after Jesus' discussion with John's disciples on fasting and Luke places it after the healing of the Gadarene demoniac. For Bock and most other scholars, this is simply a case in which one or both of the authors have placed this account in their gospel not according to strict chronology, but may have reordered to emphasize a certain point. If pressed, then, at least one of the Evangelists would have to admit that the raising of Jairus' daughter did not actually occur at the point they placed it in their gospel.

Let's look at these texts more closely. In Luke 8:40, Luke asserts that it was while Jesus was returning from the other side of Galilee (where he delivered the demoniac) that a crowd and Jairus approached him.

Luke 8:40-41 "And as Jesus returned, the multitude welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus' feet, and began to entreat Him to come to his house;"

According to Luke, it was as the crowd was welcoming Jesus back from his journey that Jairus approached him. Luke had already covered the fasting discussion back in 5:33-39, well before Jesus' trip across the lake. But notice the text from Matthew: just as Jesus finishes his response to John's disciples concerning fasting, Matthew writes:

Mat 9:18 "While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down before Him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live."

Notice that Matthew explicitly states that it was while Jesus was talking with John's disciples that Jairus approached him. Can we say here that Matthew is being strictly topical? Such a conclusion would bring into question Matthew's explicit assertion of when this event took place. The biblical text states here that it occurred while Jesus was speaking to these people about fasting.

When the text makes no statement about chronology or the ordering of events, it seems reasonable to accept that there may be some reordering of events for topical emphasis. If we accept that the Gospels were written at least in part in order to teach and answer issues of the early church, then it is no problem to the doctrine of inerrancy that the authors would rearrange teachings, or even events, for thematic emphasis. But in cases like the story of Jairus, in which the text itself seems clearly to indicate a chronological sequence, what are we to say? To assert that such cases are topical seems to imply an amount of error or deceit on the part of the Evangelists. As Linneman states, "This pictures an autonomous author who arbitrarily weaves material together that he sets before his readers as a discourse from Jesus' lips. Would a disciple of Jesus handle the words of his Lord and Master in this fashion?"[5]  A better, more complete answer is needed.

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PART III: DID THE AUTHORS INTEND A CHRONOLOGY?

To what extent did each gospel author intend to record the events of Christ's life in a chronological fashion? This is a key question concerning the inerrancy of the synoptics. If we can determine that the authors were deeply concerned with rigid chronological accuracy, then the thematic argument may not be applicable. Or, it is also possible that one author simply had more concern for chronology in his account than the others and this may help us resolve conflicting accounts.

MATTHEW
By Tom Dixon

Arguments FOR Chronological Emphasis in Matthew:

Matthew alone was an eyewitness to most of the events he records.
In constructing his Gospel, Luke relied entirely on other written sources and the eyewitness testimony of certain individuals. Mark may have known Jesus and may have followed him to a greater or lesser extent than Luke, but his primary source for the writing of his Gospel seems to have been Peter. Matthew, however, was one of Jesus' twelve disciples who followed him and knew him closely during his ministry. Goodspeed thus argues that Matthew would have known better than Mark and Luke the sequence of events during Christ's ministry, and he suggests that this concern for accurate chronology was the reason for Matthew's apparent reworking of Mark's material:

"But Matthew is in general not at all bound by Mark's order, from which he departs freely. We remember that Peter had nothing to do with that order; Mark had to develop it himself after Peter was gone, so it is no wonder that Matthew found it unsatisfactory. Yet Matthew's procedure is plainly that of a man who has definite information about the order of events, such as Mark did not have... [Matthew] evidently considered himself better informed as to the sequence and order of the events of the Marcan narrative than Mark was..."[6]  

It is true that because Matthew was an eyewitness, we can be assured that the events and teachings he records are accurate and occurred as he says they did. However, it does not necessarily follow that because Matthew was an eyewitness he recorded the life of Christ on a strictly chronological basis. He may very well have been more concerned with accurately communicating principles or highlighting certain themes of Christ's ministry. In addition, Mat 9:9 shows he was not an eyewitness to the entire ministry - he was called to discipleship in the middle of Jesus' ministry. Thus, his status as an eyewitness indeed assures us of his accuracy, but not of his motives for writing his gospel.

Matthew's duties as a government official had disciplined him in system and accuracy.
Several scholars point out that Matthew, unlike other disciples, was a trained employee of the government, and that he, therefore, understood the value and practice of recording accurately. "Whatever his character, his duties as a government official had disciplined him in system and accuracy and had developed a capacity for orderly thought and methodical writing which fitted him for an immortal task as a biographer of Jesus Christ."[7]  Here again, these arguments secure Matthew's integrity and accuracy, but do not necessarily prove that Matthew constructed a strictly chronological account.

Matthew at several points makes definite sequential or chronological statements.
Matthew sometimes makes definite statements about the sequential flow of his narrative. For example, in Matt 9:18, Matthew states that while Jesus was talking with the disciples of John about fasting Jairus approached Jesus concerning his daughter. In Matthew 13, Matthew connects the flow of events by recording that Jesus and his disciples went out of the house to teach the multitudes (13:1) and then came back into the house to discuss what Jesus had said (13:36). Although there are only a handful of these sequential statements in the gospel, they exist. To deny that events actually occurred as Matthew asserts they did would be to deny the doctrine of inerrancy.

Matthew refers to time more often than Mark.
Kingsbury comments that "Matthew often utilizes temporal phrases simply to designate some point in time that otherwise remains distinct... Vague though they are, these contribute considerable chronological movement to the text."[8]  He then points out that Mark employs temporal terms 53 times, whereas Matthew uses the same kind of phrases no less than 98 times. Kingsbury ignores the fact that Matthew is a much longer book - nearly twice as long. We would expect Matthew to have more of these terms than Mark even if both used them at the same rate.

Arguments AGAINST Chronological Emphasis in Matthew:

Matthew alternates between narrative and discourse in his account.
The weightiest pieces of evidence against Matthew's chronology include the obvious thematic organization of the Gospel and his emphasis on the teachings of Jesus. Numerous scholars have noted the pattern in Matthew of alternating narrative (event) and discourse (teaching). "A good part of the time the Gospel appears to be a seamless succession of pericopes, alternating presentations of deeds and words of Jesus that have usually been collected and arranged topically - seldom is there an interest in chronology - for the sake of the impact on the reader."[9]   A common pattern in Matthew is a record of Jesus' teaching, followed by a series of thematically related events (e.g. Sabbath healings) that reinforce the teaching.

Mark and Luke share a similar chronological sequence.
Luke seems to have had a concern for writing an accurate, sequential account (Luke 1:4). He relies on Mark's sequence, rather than Matthew's. It is not proven that Luke used Matthew's gospel as a source for his own, nor even that Mark's gospel was written first. But the evidence seems to indicate Luke did know both of these works, that he sought to write a chronological history of Jesus' life and the spread of the early church, and, in doing so, he followed Mark's order rather than Matthew's.

Matthew emphasizes the teaching ministry of Jesus.
Matthew is highly didactic. The principle reason Matthew's gospel is much longer than Mark's is not added narrative but added teaching. Matthew fills chapter after chapter with Jesus' teachings.

Wenham argues that it was Mark who reworked Matthew, and that part of his reason for doing so was a concern for chronology.[10]  Wenham demonstrates that Matthew and Mark disagree chronologically in three main blocks of text, which he calls dislocations. One dislocation includes the healing of Peter's mother in law - Matthew and Mark disagree on the order of events surrounding this miracle. In this dislocation, as well as the others, Wenham argues that it was Mark who was probably more accurate chronologically. He bases his argument on three observations. First, there is an obvious thematic organization to Matthew's gospel: "Matthew's arrangement is quite coherent. The first four items are all concerned with teaching, of which the centerpiece is the Sermon on the Mount... The last four items are all concerned with healing."[11]   Second, Wenham demonstrates the complex and difficult process of Matthew reworking Mark based on chronological concerns: "One feature that distinguishes Mark from Matthew here is Mark's greater chronological precision... It is simpler to assume that Mark's material is arranged as it is in the interest of chronological accuracy."[12]  Third, who else would better know the sequence of memorable events surrounding the healing of Peter's mother in law than Peter?

MARK
By Joe Botti

Arguments FOR Chronological Emphasis in Mark:

Mark frequently uses chronological phrases and terms to indicate a definite sequence of events.
Mark uses a basic chronological framework in his Gospel. Within his broad framework of Jesus' life, Mark uses many different phrases that intimate successions of chronological events. For instance, when it says in Mark 4:35 "And on that day", we understand it was the same day that Christ gave out many parables.[13]  Likewise, in Mark 1:12, Mark records that "Immediately, the Spirit impelled Him to go to wilderness." This teaches that Jesus immediately withdrew to the wilderness after being baptized. Words and phrases such as these often signify a sequential relationship between events. At least 25 instances of these kinds of indications of chronology exist in the book of Mark, not including the Passion Week.[14]  Mark must have intended to present the events of Jesus' life with a significant amount of emphasis on chronology.

Peter, an eyewitness, was a source.
Tradition has it that Peter was Mark's source for his gospel. Most evangelical scholars believe or assume this to be so. Ladd writes, "This language (Mark's) suits the Papian tradition about Markan authorship...There is, therefore, no strong reason to reject the tradition [that Peter was Mark's source] from Papias about Mark..."[15]  Some scholars, including Wenham, will give precedence to Mark's chronology since Peter was his source.[16]  Of course this doesn't necessarily prove Mark has stronger chronology than the other gospel writers do. What it does lend evidence to is Mark's accuracy when purposing chronology.

Mark emphasis historical action and event (i.e. little teaching included)
Mark reports much more on the historical events and actions of Jesus than he does on the teachings of Christ. On the other hand, Matthew's gospel has much more material on Christ's teachings but seems much less chronologically ordered than Mark's. Whereas Matthew's approach could easily lend itself towards a topical or didactic focus, Mark's could lead to a chronological focus. In other words, Mark's event and actions focus might give us a picture of his chronological focus. However, we must also consider that even events or actions can be ordered topically.

Arguments AGAINST Chronological Emphasis in Mark:

Mark commonly arranges the events of Jesus' life according to certain key themes.
In many cases, Mark arranges related events with common themes in one portion of his text, even though the events could easily be months or years apart (see Appendix B). Some of his more popular themes are:

- Power to heal the physical and the spiritual-exorcisms (All throughout gospel)
- Pharisaic opposition (chapters 2,3,8,10)
- Parables (chapter 4)
- Training the disciples (chapters 9,10,13)
- Forewarning the disciples of His future suffering (chapters 8,9,10)

Mark often uses indefinite terms and phrases in transition from one event to the next.
Mark describes a number of events without providing a reference to a definite time or sequence. Phrases like, "And," "It came about," "In those days again," do not necessarily signify an explicit sequential relationship between events. In fact, closer analysis sometimes shows that these phrases actually point toward a thematic or topical arrangement of events (see Appendix C).[17] 

Thematic organization of material such as this is typical of the way people sometimes relate events in history. For example, if one were describing Tom's sense of humor to someone else, he wouldn't necessarily relate his humorous incidences in chronological order. Instead, he would say, "I remember one time Tom did this. And there was another time he did that. Oh yeah, when he was only 12 years old he did this." Mark often uses a thematic approach.

Some early church fathers believed that Mark primarily intended a thematic approach.
Eusebius quotes Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (140 AD), who received information from the Elder, who was supposed to be the apostle John.

"The Elder said this also: Mark, who became Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up connected account of the Lord's sayings. So Mark had made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements therein." (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)[18] 

Thus, Papias believed that Mark received his material directly from Peter's sermons and that Peter composed his sermons thematically, according to the needs of his audience, not according to chronology.

LUKE
By Alex Steinman

Arguments FOR Chronological Emphasis in Luke:

Luke claims to provide "an orderly account" in his preface.
The preface to Luke's account of the life of Jesus provides important clues to Luke's sources and intentions for his gospel.

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

The most notable element of Luke's preface, as it concerns the issue of chronology, is that Luke promises to deliver "an orderly account" of the life of Jesus. The meaning of the word "orderly" has been the subject of debate among NT scholars. Some have argued that the term refers to a broad chronology. Others think the term can refer to various kinds of literary, rather than chronological, presentations of material.[19] 

Bock posits that Luke is broadly chronological, but the fact that he almost certainly rearranges some material indicates that Luke might not have intended a perfectly chronological sequence. Bock insists that Luke uses the term to refer to his basic chronological arrangement. However, Luke also orders the events of Jesus' life according to the basic flow of salvation-history and the geographical movement of Jesus' ministry. Bock's compelling argument relies on both Luke and the book of Acts.

Therefore, Luke did emphasize the importance of chronology in his gospel. However, we need not understand Luke's claim to present an "orderly account" of Jesus' life strictly in chronological terms. While Luke certainly did use the term to reveal his intentions to provide an accurate sequence of events, he also desired to neatly order the events of Jesus' life according to their role in salvation-history and their relation to the broad geographical movements of the gospel from Galilee to Rome.

Luke agrees with Mark's chronology.
Another piece of evidence supporting a chronological focus is that his sequence of events compares to Mark's account of the same events. It is reasonable to believe that Matthew tends to order his events more thematically than Mark. Luke follows Mark very closely in his sequence of events (see Appendix D for exceptional examples where Mark and Luke do not agree).

The Book of Acts tends to be chronological in arrangement.
Darrell Bock points out that the book of Acts contains important clues into the construction of the gospel of Luke. The geographic and salvation-history emphases that Bock describes are clear in both of Luke's volumes. Acts also seems to be a basically sequential order of events, beginning with the birth of the Christian community and ending with the late ministry of Paul. To a large extent, salvation-history, geography and chronology overlap with one another in both of Luke's works. The fact that this is the case in Acts lends to the argument for Luke's concern with chronology in his gospel.

Luke sometimes indicates a definite sequence of events using transitional phrases and other textual clues.
Although Luke sometimes indicates an indefinite sequence of events using vague transitional phrases (e.g. "And," "Now it came about," etc.), in other cases he indicates a definite sequence of events. For example, Luke often makes reference to a piece of the preceding narrative that shows a sequence from one to the next (e.g. "Now while the people were in a state of expectation..." or "And he arose, left the synagogue, and entered Simon's house").

Luke rearranges primarily teaching material found in Matthew and Mark.
The nature of teaching material is different than the nature of historical events. It is much more reasonable to think that Jesus might have said the exact same thing on more than one occasion than that he would do the exact same thing twice. The largest portions of Luke's narrative that are out of sequence with the other synoptic gospels are teachings and sayings. Darrell Bock says,

"Problematic texts [in examining Luke compared to Matthew] involve sayings or parables where factors raise uncertainties about a direct connection. Three types of situations raise uncertainty: (1) one gospel writer may place in one location what the other gospel writer has in a different place; (2) one writer may bring together material that another writer has in separate locations; (3) the accounts may be rendered in significantly different terms."[20] 

Arguments AGAINST Chronological Emphasis in Luke:

Luke clearly organizes some events according to a common theme.
Though Luke primarily rearranges the teaching material found in Matthew and Mark, he does occasionally reorder events. For example, Luke includes the imprisonment of John the Baptist in his introduction to the prophet's ministry (3:1-20), rather than at the time when the event actually took place. Matthew and Mark include this account chronologically much later than Luke. He apparently chose to organize this particular event by its topic rather than its sequential relationship to the other events in the life of Christ. The same is true of Luke's description of Jesus' rejection in Nazareth (4:16-30). Whereas Matthew and Mark tell of this event in terms of its chronology, Luke uses it in his introduction to Jesus' ministry in Galilee (4:14-15). These two examples show that Luke does not always emphasize chronology over other styles of organization.

Luke sometimes employs indefinite transitional words and phrases that fail to indicate a definite chronology.
As stated above, Luke sometimes fails to indicate whether one event in his narrative is sequentially related to the one that comes before. The use of the terms and phrases "And," "Now," "And it came about" do not tell the reader anything about the order of events. When Luke uses the transitional terms and fails to give any other indication of chronological sequencing, then we cannot assume that he intends the events in his account to be chronologically ordered.

Conclusions

The following conclusions are warranted based upon the data presented above.

1. The Synoptic Gospels agree in their broad chronology of Jesus' life.
2. None of the Synoptic Gospels intended a purely chronological presentation of the life of Jesus.
3. All three Synoptic Gospels contain some chronologically arranged blocks of events and others that are thematic.
4. Mark and Luke tend to be more concerned with chronology than Matthew, who is often thematic and didactic in his presentation.

  Arguments FOR Chronological Arrangement Arguments AGAINST Chronological Arrangement
Matthew Matthew alone was an eyewitness to most of the events he records.
Matthew's duties as a government official had disciplined him in system and accuracy.
Matthew at several points makes definite sequential or chronological statements.
Matthew refers to time more often than Mark.
Matthew alternates between narrative and discourse in his account.
Mark and Luke share a similar chronological sequence.
Matthew emphasizes the teaching ministry of Jesus.
Mark Mark frequently uses chronological phrases and terms to indicate a definite sequence of events.
Peter, an eyewitness, was the source.
Historical event emphasis instead of didactic.
Mark commonly arranges the events of Jesus' life according to certain key themes.
Mark sometimes uses indefinite terms and phrases in transition from one event to the next.
Some early church fathers believed that Mark primarily intended a thematic approach.
Luke Luke claims to provide "An Orderly Account" in his preface.
Luke agrees with Mark's chronology.
The Book of Acts tends to be chronological in arrangement.
Luke sometimes indicates a definite sequence of events using transitional phrases and other textual clues.
Luke rearranges primarily teaching material found in Matthew and Mark.
Luke clearly organizes some events according to a common theme.
Luke sometimes employs indefinite transitional words and phrases that fail to indicate a definite chronology.

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PART IV: PRINCIPLES OF HARMONIZATION

When the believer in inerrancy encounters an apparent chronological contradiction between the synoptics, what should be done? The following are questions to ask in order to methodically work towards a solution.

Can it be confirmed that both passages are describing the same event?
There are many cases in which the gospels seem to be relating the same event, when in actuality they are not. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe the anointing of Jesus by a woman while at the home of Simon. Matthew and Mark place the event during Christ's last week, whereas Luke places it early in his gospel, during the Galilean ministry. The event seems basically the same in all three gospels: Jesus at dinner at Simon's house, a woman enters and pours perfume on Jesus. However, in Matthew and Mark, Jesus is at Simon the Leper's house in Bethany, and the woman pours perfume on his head. In Luke, Jesus is at Simon the Pharisee's house in Galilee, and the woman pours perfume on his feet. A closer comparison reveals that these are most likely two similar, but different events. Over the course of his three-year ministry, Jesus healed many lepers, cast out many demons, and had dinner with many people. Is there enough detail given in both accounts to verify that the two accounts are describing the same event?

Could this have been a repeated teaching of Jesus?
If the passages in question involve a teaching of Jesus, it is possible that Jesus taught the same thing on different occasions, in different places. Thus it is difficult to prove any contradiction in chronology. Parables are a good example of this - Jesus probably did not just give them once, but used them over and over as teaching tools. Mark says as much in 4:33-34: "With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his disciples he explained everything." Thus, as Stein says, "It is clear that Mark sees the parables of 4:3-32 as a summary collection and not a chronology of consecutive parables that Jesus taught in a single day. Thus Matthew felt free to add to the collection, and Luke could place the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in another location."[21]   With nearly any discrepancy involving the placement or timing of a teaching in the Gospels, the problem can be explained by the fact that Christ was an itinerant teacher and gave the same content on repeated occasions.

Are the authors explicitly indicating sequential connection to other events?
As Augustine says in Harmony of the Gospels,

"When the order of times is not apparent, we ought not to feel it a matter of any consequence what order any of them may have adopted in relating the events. But whenever the order is apparent, if the evangelist then presents anything which seems to be inconsistent with his own statements, or with those of another, we must certainly take the passage into consideration, and endeavor to clear up the difficulty."

When one or both of the authors do not make specific statements about chronology or sequence, then the possibility that the arrangement is topical must be considered. The author has possibly rearranged the pericope for didactic emphasis. For example, in Luke 6:1-5, the author provides an account of a debate concerning the Sabbath day. Immediately following, in Luke 6:6, the next pericope is introduced by "and it came about on another Sabbath." Obviously this is not indicating a chronological, but a topical connection. If he is not making an explicit claim to chronological sequence, then there is not necessarily a contradiction.

Is one author explicitly connecting the passage to a sequential narrative? If so, then the other account should be analyzed to determine whether or not it is possible (1) a topical rearrangement or (2) an omission of intervening events has taken place. If both authors seem to explicitly connect the passage to different preceding events, then the apparent contradiction remains.

Do the authors provide details in the narrative that infer a sequence?
Sometimes an author does not explicitly state the sequential location of a passage, but the details implicit in the passage seem to indicate a sequence. A comparison between the placement of the calling of the disciples in Mark and Luke serves to illustrate the importance of implicit details. Mark and Luke follow the same general sequence at the beginning of Christ's ministry in Capernaum with one exception. Mark places the calling of the disciples at the beginning of these events, while Luke inserts them several pericopes later.

The textual clues slightly favor Luke as the chronologically accurate account. Mark gives very little indication of sequence. He simply states that the calling happened as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. It is also significant that Mark includes this event directly after a general description of Jesus ministry in Galilee. Seemingly, Luke's textual clues are not a great deal more useful. His description of the calling of the disciples follows the general statement that "Jesus kept on preaching in the synagogues." However, the description in 5:1 that "the people were crowding around him" seems to describe a circumstance that is similar to the situation at the end of Luke 4, where Luke says that "the people tried to keep him from leaving them." In this case, the textual clues infer that Luke is more sequential and Mark is more topical.

What purpose might the authors have for rearranging the event? What are the thematic or topical connections of the event to material that comes before or after? Sometimes it is obvious that an author is arranging his account based upon a certain theme. For instance, when an author reports a healing and follows with four other healing stories, if there are no explicit statements about the sequence of events, try to determine whether the author has a discernible theme on which he is focused.

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PART V: CASE STUDIES: THREE THORNY PASSAGES

1. An Apparent Reordering of Events: Disciples Pluck Grain and Healing of Withered Hand on Sabbath.
By Joe Botti

The problem:
In these episodes, we encounter two apparent chronological contradictions. Firstly, Matthew places the 'Grain Plucking' and 'Withered Hand' episodes after the Healing of the Centurion's Servant while Luke places it before The Centurion Servant healing. Liberal scholars will be quick to point out these apparent chronological inconsistencies as evidence of historical inaccuracy, although the passages still retain "spiritual usefulness." Many believe this to be an obvious case of redaction based from oral tradition, altered to suit the authors literary purposes. Secondly, Matthew seems to place the grain plucking immediately before the withered hand healing (chronologically back to back) while Luke seems to place more distance between the two. As students of the Bible who hold to the inerrancy of scripture, how are we to deal with these apparent chronological discrepancies?

Before screening our passages through the Principles of Harmonization, let's look at the following chart, which compares the passages step by step, to help us determine whether or not the authors use chronology.

HEALING OF SERVANT  
Matthew 8:5
gray1.gif (814 bytes)
Luke 7:1-10
gray1.gif (814 bytes)
Before
Coming down from mountain - Sermon on Mount
Jesus healed the leper.
Before
Sermon on Mount (level place)
The event
Entering Capernaum
Jesus healed the Centurion's servant.
The event
Went to Capernaum
Jesus healed the servant
After
And when Jesus had come to Peter's house
Healing of Peter's mother-in-law
After
Soon afterwards that he went to Nain
He healed a dead man being carried on coffin
...both are chronological  
GRAIN & WITHERED HAND
Matthew 12:1-4
gray1.gif (814 bytes)
Luke 6:1-11
gray1.gif (814 bytes)
Before
Reproaching the unrepenting cities
Come to me…Take my yoke upon you
Before
Calling of Levi
Wine skin parable
The events
At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grain fields, and plucked grain (Could be chronological but not necessarily)
And departing from there.. healing of withered hand in synagogue (Seems explicitly chronological)
The events
Now it came about that on a certain Sabbath, He was passing through some grain fields and plucked grain. (Thematic phrase)
And it came about on another Sabbath …Healing of withered hand in synagogue (Thematic phrase)
After
Withdrew from there and many followed Him and He healed them all (Chronological)
After
At this time He went off to the mountain to pray, choosing of the 12 (Chronological)
...Luke is thematic  

By comparing the passages above and looking at the phraseology, Luke 6 appears thematic while Matthew's language leaves room for chronology. It this is the case, chronological harmonization is possible. It's quite possible that Luke ordered his grain plucking/withered hand healing (ch 6) before the healing of the centurion's servant (ch 7) even though it happened after the healing of the centurion's servant (ch7).

Matthew: Luke:
Healing of Centurion's servant: 8:5-13 Healing of Centurion's servant: 7:1-10
   
Perhaps chronological harmonization can be found by flip-flopping Luke's two events. toparr.gif (1006 bytes)bottarr.gif (1007 bytes)
Disciples pluck grain/ healing of withered hand on Sabbath: 12:1-14 Disciples pluck grain/ healing of withered hand on Sabbath: 12:1
...both are chronological  

Can it be confirmed that both passages are describing the same event?
With the healing of the centurion's servant, it is almost certain that Matthew and Luke are referring to the same event. Is it really likely that Jesus healed two Centurion's slaves, that both Centurions said the same thing ("I am not worthy for you to come under my roof?"), that approached Jesus while he was entering Capernaum? Not really. The authors are recording the same event. We must look under principle 3 for our harmonization.

However, with the plucking of the grain and the withered hand synagogue healing, we have a problem. Matthew apparently reports these events as back to back incidents while Luke seems to be reporting them as separate incidents. Matthew states, "And departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand." On the other hand, Luke's transition phrase states, "And it came about on another Sabbath, that He entered the synagogue... and there was a man there whose right hand was withered." One report seems back to back, the other doesn't. Is it possible that we have two separate events? Could there be two grain plucking rounds with the Pharisees? It is certainly possible, but not definite. Matthew's transition phrase states, "And departing from there, he went into their synagogue." After a closer examination, Matthew doesn't explicitly state rigid back to back chronology. Days, even weeks could have elapsed between verse 8 and 9. It is very difficult to tell - the language is not explicit. The only conclusion we can draw is this: if verses 8 and 9 are rigidly back to back, then we might have two separate grain plucking incidents. If these verses are not rigidly back to back, then the authors are relaying the same story, instead of a repeated event.

Could this have been a repeated teaching of Jesus?
This does not apply since these are events, not teachings per se.

Are the authors explicitly indicating sequential connection to other events?
Here a credible harmonization may be found. First, the initial problem: Matthew includes the Grain Plucking and Withered Hand healing several chapters after the Centurion Slave healing while Luke places this event before the Centurion Slave healing. The solution is that neither Matthew nor Luke indicate explicit chronology between these two events. Note that Matthew records the healing of Peter's mother-in-law immediately after the Centurion Slave healing, yet the textual clues do not explicitly state this to be a chronological transition. In fact, it seems that Matthew focuses on thematic topics between our events in question (between chapters 8 and 12). To be sure, his language does not explicitly state chronology. In the same way, Luke does not express explicit chronology between these two events either. As was pointed out earlier, Luke could have easily rearranged the Grain Plucking/Withered Hand healing with the Centurion's Servant healing. Therefore, if either or both of the authors are not insisting on chronology and the language seems to point towards a thematic approach, we don't have an apparent chronological inconsistency between Matthew and Luke.

Do the authors provide details in the narrative that infer a sequence?
Both place the choosing of the 12 disciples near our passages in question. Yet this doesn't really address our problem.

What purpose might the authors have for rearranging the event? What are the thematic or topical connections of the event to material that comes before or after?
It seems Matthew was focusing on a healing theme in chapters 8-9, and on a Pharisaic opposition theme in chapter 12. Therefore, it seems that Matthew could have rearranged his events to follow these themes. Luke's Grain Plucking follows on the heels of the Pharisaic opposition while the Centurion's Son healing is an introduction into his healing theme of chapter 7. Therefore, Luke too could have rearranged his events to follow these thematic lines.

Resolution:
It appears both Matthew and Luke reordered events based along thematic lines and therefore, we have no chronological contradiction. The language leaves room for that. Neither Matthew nor Luke indicate explicit chronology between the two events in question. Although the healing of the centurion's servant is not a repeated event, there is a possibility of two different Grain Plucking events. Again, no chronological discrepancies can be ascertained.

2. Raising of Jairus' Daughter (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:21; Luke 8:40)
By Tom Dixon

The problem:
We have already discussed in this paper the difficulty raised by the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter. Mark and Luke assert that Jairus approached Jesus when he and the disciples got out of the boat near Capernaum, as crowds came rushing up to him. Matthew, on the other hand, states that it was while John the Baptist's disciples were talking with Jesus at Matthew's house that Jairus approached him. Many Christians have wrestled with this apparent contradiction, and some have even concluded that the event must have happened twice - that Jairus daughter died and was raised by Jesus on two different occasions![22] 

Liberal scholars, of course, see evidence here of conflicting oral traditions: "This may be because Matthew is drawing upon an independent tradition (e.g., the Galilean tradition, proposed by Lohmeyer), or it may be an instance of Matthew's simplification of a story in the interests of catechetical use."[23]  Surprisingly, Evangelicals like Stein offer a similar solution: "We can probably explain this difference in order by assuming that in the oral period the account of Jesus' raising of Jairus' daughter circulated as an independent unit whose meaning was complete in itself." Stein goes on to say that individual pericopes like the healing of Jairus' daughter "are often best interpreted as self-contained units whose connection with the surrounding materials should not be pressed."[24] 

But Matthew makes the explicit assertion that it is connected! In Matthew's account, Jesus arrives in Capernaum, heals a paralytic, calls Matthew and attends his party, then gets into a discussion with John the Baptist's disciples at that party about fasting. Matthew states that it was while he was talking with John's disciples that Jairus approached him. Mark, however, writes that it was when Jesus arrived in the boat that a great multitude approached him - such a great multitude that Jesus was unable to move away from the seashore. Then Jairus approached him. In this case, merely saying that the order is not important, as Stein does, hardly solves the problem. The text makes clear assertions about order.

So which is it? Did Jairus approach Jesus at the seashore or at Matthew's party? Let's work methodically through the principles of harmonization.

Can it be confirmed that both passages are describing the same event?
Yes, the synoptics are all describing the same event. We are given details such as Jairus' name, the age of his daughter, the daughter's name, the cynical reaction of the mourners, and numerous other significant details. Most importantly, all three synoptics record the story of the healing of woman with the hemorrhage that occurred on the way to Jairus' house. That all of these details and events would happen twice is hard to believe.

Could this have been a repeated teaching of Jesus?
This question does not apply. In this situation we are dealing with a specific event rather than a parable or teaching.

Do the authors provide details in the narrative that infer a sequence?
Yes - Mark and Luke make mention of a huge crowd that greeted Jesus at the seashore, and then they also mention that a crowd followed Jesus on the way to Jairus' house. They seem to infer that this was the same crowd, and thus that Jairus' approach to Jesus occurred soon after he arrived in the boat and was met by the crowd.

Are the authors explicitly indicating sequential connection to other events?
Matthew definitely does. His states that "while he was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down before him, saying, 'My daughter has just died...'"(9:18). To assert that Jairus approached Jesus at any other time would raise questions about the inerrancy of Matthew 9:18, for he makes an explicit assertion about the sequence of events.

Mark does not make an explicit statement of sequence, but gives a strong impression that it was while Jesus was gathering about Jesus at the seashore:

"And when Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered about Him; and He stayed by the seashore. And one of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and upon seeing Him, fell at His feet,..." (5:21)

Luke is the least specific:

"And as Jesus returned, the multitude welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him. And behold, there came a man named Jairus,..." (8:40)

We would have to answer then, that Matthew does make an explicit sequential connection, whereas Mark and Luke do not. So in this case, although Matthew is the least chronologically-concerned of the three synoptics, we must first accept that in this case Matthew's account is chronologically accurate. How then can we explain the sequence that Mark and Luke infer?

Mark seems to indicate strongly that Jesus was by the seashore when Jairus approached him. Hendriksen says this is Mark's intent: "Jesus was again to be found 'beside the sea,' near Capernaum; with a large crowd assembled about him, as usual. It was then that Jairus fell prostrate at his feet."[25]  In fact, as we open the various commentaries written on the Book of Mark, one after the other, each commentary understands Mark to portray Jesus by the lakeshore, surrounded by throngs, with Jairus talking to him. Yet none of them address the problem this creates when compared with Matthew's account.[26] 

What is important here is that neither Mark nor Luke make specific statements about when Jairus approached Jesus. Both describe the scene at Jesus' arrival, and then move on to the story of Jairus without necessarily connecting the two scenes. As one scholar says of Mark's account, "Whether the incident of Jairus' daughter takes place on the day of landing is not said; it is represented as the next event of importance."[27]   Luke is even more vague - he simply states that when Jesus arrived, the multitudes welcomed him and had been waiting for him. We can fairly conclude that Mark has omitted several events that actually occurred between Mark 5:21 and 22, and that Luke has followed Mark in this omission. Concerning the issue of the crowds, there were always crowds that followed Jesus during this period. Matthew's account of these events shows that the multitudes were following Jesus each step of the way. So to argue that the crowd that met Jesus at the seashore and the crowd that followed him to Jairus' house are the same is unfounded textually.

Upon Jesus' return from across the lake, the gospels reveal a general sequence we can follow.

1. Jesus was greeted/overwhelmed at the seashore by a crowd.
2. Jesus healed a paralytic before a huge crowd.
3. Jesus called Matthew and went to a party at his house.
4. Jesus had a discussion with the Pharisees, and then the disciples of John.
5. Jairus approached Jesus about his dying daughter.
6. Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage.
7. Jesus raised Jairus' daughter.

Resolution:
Matthew records all these events in this sequence. Mark and Luke record event #1, and then jump to #4. Mark and Luke have placed events 2-4 at an earlier part of their gospels. In this case, it is most likely that Mark and Luke have rearranged the order for two reasons. One, Matthew makes more explicit statements about the sequence of these events, whereas Mark and Luke are more vague. Two, Matthew was an eyewitness to these events. These events surrounded the calling of Matthew to discipleship and the ensuing party he threw for Jesus at his house. He would have been present when Jairus approached Jesus at his party. These were undoubtedly events Matthew remembered well.

3. The Cleansing of the Temple & Cursing of the Fig Tree (Matthew 21:10-19 and Mark 11:11-17)
By Alex Steinman

The problem:
One of the most difficult apparent contradictions in the Synoptics concerns the order of events upon Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem in Matthew and Mark.[28] 

Matthew Mark
Triumphal Entry (21:1-9) Triumphal Entry (11:1-10)
Jesus in Jerusalem (21:10-11) Jesus in Jerusalem (11:11)
------ Overnight in Bethany (11:11)
Cleansing the Temple (21:12-16) Cursing the Fig Tree (11:12-14)
Overnight in Bethany (12:17) ------
Cursing the Fig Tree (21:18-19) Cleansing the Temple (11:15-17)
------ The Chief Priests and Scribes Conspire (11:18-19)
The Fig Tree Withered (21:20-22) The Fig Tree Withered (11:20-26)

The problem in the comparison between Matthew and Mark concerns the time of the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree. Not only is the order of events different in each author's account, each writer seems also to indicate different days on which the events took place. Mark clearly states that Jesus cleansed the temple "on the following day" (11:12) after arriving in Jerusalem, whereas Matthew seems to imply that Jesus cleansed the temple the same day that he arrived in Jerusalem.

In his commentary on Matthew, Eduard Schweizer writes concerning this apparent discrepancy in chronology, "There is no way to resolve the contradiction."[29]   Do the difficulties in this case undermine the authority of the Gospels? Let us consider this apparent chronological discrepancy using the principles of harmonization.

Can it be confirmed that both passages are describing the same event?
It is clear that Matthew and Mark describe the same event. Apart from a few minor changes, Matthew follows Mark very closely, often verbatim.[30]  Someone might say that there are actually two separate temple cleansings-one on the day of arrival in Jerusalem, and another on the next day. Several objections make this an untenable claim. It would be very odd for Jesus to perform this intense display of emotion on two consecutive days. The similarity in the descriptions of the event in Mark and Matthew also make it unlikely that there were two separate cleansings. Finally, when Mark describes Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, he says, "Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He look around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve" (11:11). Here, Mark explicitly claims that Jesus did not engage people at the temple, because it was late.

One aspect of the narratives that probably is repeated is the stay in Bethany. Matthew clearly states that, after the cleansing of the temple, Jesus spent the night in Bethany: "Jesus left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night" (21:17). Mark, on the other hand, says that Jesus spent the night in Bethany before the cleansing of the temple. There is no need to find a contradiction in the two accounts, since Jesus spent a lot of time in Bethany during his final week. Spending the night in a particular place is the kind of event that could easily be repeated.

Could this have been a repeated teaching of Jesus?
The events are narrative not didactic, so this principle does not apply in this case.

Do the authors provide details in the narrative that infer a sequence?
We will answer these two questions simultaneously, first in Matthew, then in Mark. It is crucial that we examine the explicit and implicit claims of each author regarding chronology and sequence. In working through these two principles of harmonization, we can arrive at a resolution to the apparent discrepancy.

The chart below lists Matthew's pericopes from the triumphal entry to the discovery of the disciples that the fig tree has withered. Where each pericope gives some indication of sequence, either implicit or explicit, it is listed in the column on the right.

Matthew's Pericopesgray1.gif (814 bytes) Potential Indicators of Sequence
Triumphal Entry (21:1-9) ------
Jesus in Jerusalem (21:10-11) ------
Cleansing the Temple (21:12-16) ------
Overnight in Bethany (12:17) "And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night."
Cursing the Fig Tree (21:18-19) "Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city..."
The Fig Tree Withered (21:20-22) "Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this..."

Since we have already discussed Matthew's explicit sequential claim concerning the night in Bethany, we will go on to treat the cursing of the fig tree. The transition between the night in Bethany and the cursing of the fig tree seems to be an explicit statement of sequence. When Matthew says, "early in the morning," he could be implying that it was on the morning after his stay overnight in Bethany.

Now, consider Mark's sequence of events and the possible indications of chronology in his account of the same events.

Mark's Pericopes Potential Indicators of Sequence
Triumphal Entry (11:1-10)   
Jesus in Jerusalem (11:11)  
Overnight in Bethany (11:11) "He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve."
Cursing the Fig Tree (11:12-14) "The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry."
Cleansing the Temple (11:15-17) "On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area..."
The Chief Priests and Scribes Conspire (11:18-19) "The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him..."
The Fig Tree Withered (11:20-26) "In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots."

Most notably, Mark explicitly states that it was "the next day," following the triumphal entry, when Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple. In light of this explicit sequential statement, we must conclude that Matthew is not concerned with the day on which each event took place. When he records that "Jesus entered the temple" directly after the triumphal entry, Matthew seems to imply that these events took place on the same day. Similarly, when Matthew records that it was "early in the morning" that Jesus cursed the fig tree, he seems to imply that it was the morning of the day after he cleansed the temple. However, neither of these statements makes an explicit claim to chronology. For example, "early in the morning" does not specify the morning of a certain day, only the time of day when the event took place. Matthew could have been more definite by stating, "on the next morning."

Another apparent discrepancy between Matthew and Mark concerns the discovery of the withered fig tree. Matthew implies that it took place at the same time that Jesus withered it. He says, "Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed" (21:19b-20a). By describing the event in this way, the reader assumes that the disciples discovered the withered tree at the same moment that Jesus performed the miracle. However, Mark explicitly states that the disciples' discovery of the withered fig tree was the morning following the cleansing of the temple. Again, Matthew is simply not concerned with the day on which these events took place. A gap in time exists between Matthew 21:19 and 21:20. That is, the fig tree withered immediately after Jesus cursed it. The disciples, then, discovered it some time later, as Mark records.

What purpose might the authors have for rearranging the event? What are the thematic or topical connections of the event to material that comes before or after?

The two events have a clear relationship to one another. "Just as the cleansing of the Temple was a symbolic denunciation by the Messiah of the worship of the old Israel, so the withering of the fig tree was a symbolic denunciation by Him of the Jewish nation as the privileged people of God."[31] 

Jesus uses the cursing of the fig tree as a parable to illustrate a message similar to his cleansing of the temple. It is not hard to imagine that Matthew would want to simplify the complexity of Mark's account by grouping the cursing and discovery of the fig tree in one pericope. His arrangement is more topical or thematic. Hendriksen concurs, "[Matthew] treats this story topically, [Mark] chronologically."[32]  D.A. Carson also agrees.

"Chronologically Mark is more detailed. If the Triumphal Entry was on Sunday, then, according to Mark, the cursing of the fig tree was on Monday; and the disciples' surprise at the tree's quick withering, along with Jesus' words about faith, were on Tuesday. Matthew has simply put the two parts together in a typical topical arrangement. He leaves indistinct (v.20) the time when the disciples see the withered fig tree, though he implies it was the same day. Compare the condensation in 9:18-25."[33] 

Resolution:
We conclude, then, that Mark intended to record the events of the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree in a more sequential fashion than Matthew. While Matthew seems to imply some chronology in his account, he is not definite. Mark, on the other hand, makes explicit chronological claims that cannot be dismissed. Given that Matthew may have re-worked Mark, it is possible that Matthew simplified these events by arranging them more topically, without concern for the day on which they took place.

"[Matthew] is not so interested, as is Mark, in the actual day of the week on which [the cleansing of the Temple] took place. According to Mark, Jesus entered the Temple and looked around, and then retired to Bethany, returning on the following morning to cleanse the shrine. Matthew's narrative again simplifies Mark's and omits some of the details..."[34]  

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PART VI: CONCLUSION

The Evangelical believer needs to approach the synoptic gospels with the clear understanding that each author has intentionally omitted certain things that the other authors did not, and that each author intentionally re-arranged certain passages for didactic purposes. As many scholars have recognized, when we approach the gospels with this understanding, many of the apparent chronological problems evaporate.

Yet what is most important is that believers in inerrancy train their eye to discern when an author is clearly making a claim to chronology and when he is not. It is not enough to wave off every issue of apparent chronological contradiction with a simple appeal to topical rearrangement, as many Evangelical scholars seem to do. We need to have sharper answers. Even though each author has done some rearranging along topical lines, it is also true that each author has many sections - some lengthy - that are assembled based on chronological sequence - not topical concerns.

Also, with certain passages, applying the topical answer only makes the problem greater, for some passages make clear chronological statements that lead to doubts about the author's integrity in recording the account. Each passage must be examined individually, using the principles laid out in this paper. When this is done, nearly every problematic passage can be explained, and possible solutions can be offered for even the most difficult.

 

APPENDIX A:
A Synoptic Comparison of the Major Periods of Christ's Life

Matthew Mark Luke
I.Beginnings (1:1-4:11) 12% I. Beginnings (1:1-13) 3% I. Beginnings (1:1-4:13) 15%
II. Galilee (4:12-14:12) 39% II. Galilee (1:14-6:29) 31% II. Galilee (4:14-9:9) 20%
III. Withdrawal from Galilee (14:13-17:21) 14% III. Withdrawal from Galilee (6:30-9:32) 19% III. Withdrawal from Galilee (9:10-50) 4%
IV. Back to Galilee (17:22-18:35) 3% IV. Back to Galilee (9:33-50) 3% 0%
V. Judea & Perea (19:1-20:34) 7% V. Judea & Perea (10:1-52) 6% IV. Judea & Perea (9:51-19:27) 40%
VI. Passion & Resurrection (21:1-28:20) 25% VI. Passion & Resurrection (11:1-16:8) 38% V. Passion & Resurrection (19:28-24:53) 21%

NOTE: The percentages indicate what percentage of a particular Gospel is covered in each major period.

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APPENDIX B:
Chronological Flow Of Mark

I. Introduction of the characters - Ch 1
    John the Baptist
    The Disciples
    Jesus, the preacher, healing, and son of God

II. Problems with the Pharisees - Ch 2 & 3

III. Parables Ch 4

IV. Miracles, problems with Pharisees - Ch 4b through 8a

V. Confession of being the Christ, His future suffering, transfiguration - Ch 8b & 9a

VI. Training/Instructing disciples, foretells death and resurrection - Ch 9

VII. Problems with Pharisees, training of disciples, future suffering - Ch 10

VIII. Triumphal entry, Temple cleansing, problems with Pharisees - Ch 11 & 12

IX. Teaching--Temple teachings and "Things to come" - Ch 12b & 13

X. Death Plot, Last supper, Betrayal and Arrest - Ch 14

XI. Trial, Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection - Ch 15 & 16

...return to Arguments AGAINST a
chronological emphasis in Mark

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APPENDIX C:
Mark: Chronological and Thematic Phraseology

Topical

The use of "And"
"And he was going along by the sea of Galilee" 1:16, 2:13
"And when they went into Capernaum, ...he began to teach" 1:21
"And He went into their synagogues throughout...." 1:39
"And a leper came to him" 1:40
"And He entered again into the synagogue...healing" 3:1
"And he went up to the mountain and ..." 3:13
"And again, he went out from the region...." 7:31 (This verse is not necessarily chronological with 7:30, but it is with 7:32).
"And He began to teach..." 4:1, 12:1
"And He was going around the villages teaching." 6:6
"And whenever he entered villages, or cities,...." 6:56
"And he was saying to them "2:18, 9:1
"And when they had.."
"And as He was setting out on a journey..." 10:17
"And Jesus answering began to say as he taught in the temple.." 12:35

The uses of "It came about"
"It came about in those days...Jesus was baptized" 1:9
"...it came about that He was reclining at the table..." 2:15
"...it came about that He was passing through the grainfields..." 2:23

The use of "In those days again"
"In those days again, when there was a great multitude." 8:1

Chronological

The uses of "After"
"After John had been taken into custody, Jesus came..." 1:14
"After they had come out of the synagogue" 1:29
"And when He had come back to Capernaum, several days afterwards" 2:1
"And after that, He appeared in a different form" 16:12
"And afterward, He appeared to the eleven..." 16:14

The uses of "Immediately"
(Not all of the uses with this word indicate explicit chronology, but many do. Context is important in determining any explicit chronology.)
"Immediately, the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness" 1:12
"Immediately the king sent an executioner..." 6:27
"Immediately He made his disciples get into the boat " 6:45
"And immediately while He was still speaking, Judas..." 14:43

The uses of "And from there, He arose and went"
"And from there, He arose and went" 6:1
"And from there, He arose and went" 7:24
"And he went out from the region of Tyre and went.." 7:31
"And Jesus went out, along with his disciples..." 8:27
"And from there, He arose and went " 9:30
"And rising up, He went from there to .." 10:1

Other phrases
"And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem" 10:32
"And one of the scribes heard them arguing and asked..." 12:28
"And just then" 1:23
"And on that day" 4:35

The use of time frames
"And 6 days later" Mark 9:2
"Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread was 2 days off" 14:1
"And on the first day of Unleavened Bread.." 14:12
"And when the Sabbath was over..." 16:1
"And very early on the first day of the week" 16:2

The use of towns to reference activity
"And while He was in Bethany, at Simon the Leper's house" 14:3
"And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem..." 10:32
"And they came to Jericho..." 10:46
"And as they approached Jerusalem..." 11:1

Return to Arguments AGAINST a
chronological emphasis in Mark

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APPENDIX D:
Comparing the Chronology of Mark & Luke

Consider the following two examples of topical rearrangement in Mark and Luke-the two Gospels most concerned with chronology.

Mark's Rearrangement of the Calling of the Disciples
The chart below shows the difference between the sequence in Mark compared to Luke. Both authors include the same events, but Mark recounts the Calling of the Disciples earlier than Luke does.

Mark Luke
The Calling of the Disciples (1:16-20) Introduction to Ministry in Capernaum (4:31-32) 
Introduction to Ministry in Capernaum (1:21-22) Casting out a Demon in the Synagogue (4:33-37)
Casting out a Demon in the Synagogue (1:23-28) Healing Simon's Mother-in-Law (4:38-39)
Healing Simon's Mother-in-Law (1:29-31) Healing the Multitudes (4:40-41)
Healing the Multitudes (1:32-34) Trying to Visit Other Cities (4:42-44)
Trying to Visit Other Cities (1:35-39) The Calling of the Disciples (5:1-11)
Cleansing the Leper (1:40-45) Cleansing the Leper (5:12-16)

If we assume that Mark 1:16-20 is parallel to Luke 5:1-11, how do we account for the difference in order between the two Gospels? Who is being more chronologically accurate in this case?

The textual clues slightly favor Luke as the chronologically accurate account. Mark gives very little indication of sequence. He simply states that the calling happened as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. In fact, Mark includes this event directly after a general description of Jesus' ministry in Galilee. Luke's textual clues are not a great deal more useful. His description of the calling of the disciples follows the general statement that "Jesus kept on preaching in the synagogues." However, the description in 5:1 that "the people were crowding around him" seems to describe a circumstance that is similar to the situation at the end of Luke 4, where Luke says that "the people tried to keep him from leaving them."

The grouping of the calling of the disciples with material that precedes it in Mark 1:14-15 indicates that Mark probably rearranged this event in order to introduce Jesus' ministry in Galilee. Mark seems to be introducing the main characters in the narrative to come, so he inserts this important encounter between Jesus and a few of his disciples.

Another line of evidence for the chronology in Luke is to consider the implications of each narrative if we regard it as chronological. Mark's narrative states that the same disciples that Jesus called in 1:16-20 were present with him in 1:29-31 at the healing of Simon's mother-in-law. If it is taken as a chronological order of events, Mark's account says that Jesus met the disciples, called them and went with Simon to heal his mother-in-law. On the other hand, if Luke's account is taken as chronologically accurate, he says that Simon, at least, knew Jesus before Jesus called him to follow him. This seems more likely.

Although we cannot be decisive, Luke seems to be more sequential and Mark more topical in this case.

Luke's Rearrangement of the Rejection in Nazareth
There is enough common material between the account in Mark and in Luke to think that these are parallel passages, describing the same event. Mark places the event much later in Jesus' ministry in Galilee than Luke does. In fact, Luke places the event at the immediate beginning of his account of Jesus' ministry in Galilee. Luke doesn't give any strong indication of sequence in his text. Mark, on the other hand, introduces the rejection in Nazareth by making a direct sequential connection with the previous event (Jairus). In addition, Luke records the event directly following a brief pericope that introduces the Galilean ministry, whereas Mark's account of the rejection is centered between two events.

In this case, it seems likely that Mark has ordered this event in its chronological sequence, whereas Luke has rearranged the event to indicate the flavor of Jesus' ministry in Galilee.

...return to Luke agrees with Mark's chronology
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Darrell Bock, "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex", in Jesus Under Fire, (Zondervan), 1995.

D.A.Carson, "Intro to Matthew", Expositors Commentary.

Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom, (Fortress Press, Philadelphia), 1975.

Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, (John Knox Press, Atlanta),

Charles Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, (IVP), 1987.

Robert H. Stein, The Synoptic Promblem: An Introduction, (Baker), 1987.

Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13: Word Biblical Commentary

Philip L. Schuler, A Genre for the Gospels: The Biographical Character of Matthew, (Fortress Press, Philadelphia), 1982.

Eta Linneman, Is There A Synoptic Problem? (Baker),1992.

Edgar J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, (John C Winston Co, Philadelphia), 1959.

NOTES

[1]  Robert H. Stein, The Synoptic Promblem: An Introduction, (Baker, 1987), p.218. Return to Text

[2]  Darrell Bock, "The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex", in Jesus Under Fire, (Zondervan, 1995), p.84. Return to Text

[3]  Stein, p.218. Return to Text

[4]  D.A.Carson, "Intro to Matthew", Expositors Commentary, Vol.8, (Zondervan, 1984), p.38, 39. Return to Text

[5]  Eta Linneman, Is There A Synoptic Problem? (Baker, 1992), p.51. Return to Text

[6]  Edgar J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, (Philadelphia: John C Winston Co., 1959), p.41,44. Return to Text

[7]  Charles Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, p.12. Return to Text

[8]  Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p..27. Return to Text

[9]  Donald Hagner, Matthew 1-13: Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), p.liii. Return to Text

[10]  John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke, (IVP, 1992), p.101-109. Return to Text

[11]  Wenham, p.102. Return to Text

[12]  Wenham, p.104. Return to Text

[13]  See Mark 4:35 Some may argue that "And on that day..." is not chronological, yet Mark would have no reason to use that phrase since he coupled it with "...when evening had come.." Therefore, since he uses both phrases back to back, he means something chronological with the previous verse which concludes the discussion on parables. Return to Text

[14]  See Appendix C "Chronological and Thematic Phraseology" Return to Text

[15]  Ladd, "The New Testament and Criticism," page 132. Return to Text

[16]  Wenham, p.103. Return to Text

[17]  Consider Mark 2:15. Mark uses the phrase "It came about" to introduce the event that follows. In 2:14, Mark discusses the calling of Levi (Matthew). He then reports in 2:15, "And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus." There are at least two reasons to believe that Mark is arranging these two events thematically rather than chronologically. First, the phrase, "And it came about" does not indicate rigid chronology. Second, Mark immediately proceeds with four other instances of Pharisaic opposition. Therefore, it seems that Mark links the calling of Levi with a description of the parties Jesus used to have with the tax-gatherers and sinners. He probably uses the calling of Levi as a springboard to discuss Pharisaic opposition. We could imagine Mark thinking, "While we're on the topic of Matthew's calling--who is a tax-gatherer and sinner---we might as well talk about the Pharisees and the problems they had with the dinner parties Jesus had with the tax collectors and sinners." Return to Text

[18]  The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein-General Editor, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Volume 8, Mark Introduction by Walter W. Wessell, page 605. Return to Text

[19]  Darrell L. Bock, Luke Volumes 1 & 2, (Baker, 1994), p.?? Return to Text

[20]  Bock, p.12. Return to Text

[21]  Stein, p36. Return to Text

[22]  Stein, p.218. Return to Text

[23]  David Hill, The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew, (Eerdmans, 1972), p.178. Return to Text

[24]  Stein p.219. Return to Text

[25]  William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, (Baker, 1979), p.202. Return to Text

[26]  Many, of course, are liberal scholars who have no problem with the notion that Matthew, for instance, fabricated the setting and location of the story for didactic purposes. Yet even the conservative or evangelical scholars have nothing to say about this apparent contradiction. Return to Text

[27]  Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, (London: Macmillan & Co., 1952), p.286. Return to Text

[28]  Luke doesn't include the cursing of the fig tree and thus cannot contradict either Matthew or Mark on this point. Neither does Luke give any definite sequential details about what events occurred on which days. Thus Luke does not conflict with either Mark or Matthew. Return to Text

[29]  Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975), p.406. Italics mine. Return to Text

[30]  Hagner, p.599. Return to Text

[31]  R.V.G. Tasker, Matthew, (Eerdmans, 1961), p.201. Return to Text

[32]  William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, (Baker, 1975), p.440. Return to Text

[33]  Carson, p.444. Return to Text

[34]  Hill (New Century Bible Commentary on Matthew) Return to Text

Copyright by Joe Botti, Tom Dixon, and Alex Steinman.

 

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