1. Gospel harmonization may sometimes seem to be an exercise in special pleading. Inerrantists indulge in face-saving harmonizations. Liberals say the real explanation is due to different Gospels using divergent, independent traditions.
2. However, there are problems with the liberal explanation even on its own terms. For one thing, the mainstream view of the Synoptic problem is that Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source. When that's the case, you can't chalk the differences up to independent divergent traditions. Moreover, this isn't a conservative view of the Synoptic problem. Rather, most NT scholars all along the theological spectrum think Matthew and Luke are indebted to Mark.
3. Apropos (ii), scholars often use redaction criticism to account for Synoptic variants. But on that explanation, the difference isn't due to independent divergent traditions, but editorial activity, such as audience adaptation or narrative strategy.
4. Among other things, William F. Buckley was a novelist. He once said that in every novel he wrote he included one major coincidence. Although a coincidence is unlikely, unlikely events happen in real life, so it would be unrealistic if nothing unlikely, nothing coincidental, happened in his plots.
By the same token, it's unlikely that Jesus was anointed twice. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Indeed, that doesn't mean there's a presumption against it.
It's not special pleading to think the Lukan anointing is a different event from a somewhat similar event reported in Matthew, Mark, and John. That would be a striking coincidence, but that sort of thing happens in real life.
5. I think it's a worthwhile exercise to produce a chronological life of Christ based on the Gospels. However, I don't view the four Gospels as raw material for reconstructing the life of Christ. These aren't packages which were meant to be torn apart. These were written to be read as integral wholes.
The notion of going behind the text to determine what really happened is invidious. Since, moreover, the Gospels are generally our only source of information, there are inherent limits to harmonization. We can't automatically use one Gospel as the benchmark that controls the direction of harmonization. If we have different accounts of the same event, we can't necessary say which one tells when or where it really took place, while the other represents a topical rearrangement. Sometimes there are narrative clues, but sometimes not. And it doesn't bother me if we can't always sort this out.
6. My general position is different from both Licona's and Lydia's. On the one hand, I don't think Licona is a terribly competent exponent of the position he's promoting. And I don't like how he frames the issue, in terms of Roman bioi as a standard of comparison. In addition, his whole approach is rather flippant.
That said, there's an a priori character to Lydia's position, in terms of how she defines historicity. Essentially dictating to the Gospel authors how they are allowed to narrate history. I don't agree with Lydia's stipulative criteria. Ironically, Lydia's evidentialism is quite presuppositional in its own way.
We need to accept Biblical history as it comes to us. Moreover, the reason the issue of Gospel harmonization crops up in the first place is because we do have variant accounts in the Gospels. It isn't based on comparing the Gospels to Roman bioi.
The very examples that provoke these debates give us reason to make allowance for certain narrative strategies. Furthermore, we have OT counterparts. We have "synoptic" OT accounts. Parallel reports with variants.
7. Lydia raises a valid question regarding the presence or absence of narrative clues that would indicate to the reader when the sequence is topical rather than chronological, when there's narrative compression, &c. That's a valid question, especially in reference to Licona's position.
i) One clue involves parallel accounts. That, in itself, supplies a frame of reference. Comparing and contrasting Biblical accounts of the same events. That clues the reader to take these differences into consideration. The very phenomena that give rise to this discussion provides a backdrop.
ii) But there's also the question of what a reader was entitled to expect. It is reasonable for a 1C reader to presume the sequence is chronological unless there's some literary notice to the contrary? Is it reasonable for a 1C reader to presume the record is unabbreviated unless there's some literary notice to the contrary? I don't think so.
8. To judge by Lydia's discussion of Licona's video presentation (which I haven't watched), there appear to be some similarities between what he is saying and evangelical NT scholars say. In that respect it's not out in left field.
Take the cleansing of the temple. Both Keener, in his commentary on John (1:518), and Block, in his recent commentary on Mark (291n498), think this was a single event, which John transposes. Likewise, both Craig Blomberg, in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2nd ed., 216ff.), and Vern Poythress, in Inerrancy and the Gospels (133ff.), regard that a legitimate interpretive option.
Likewise, in reference to the healing of the centurion's son, the explanation that Luke is more detailed, that it was emissaries who spoke on behalf of the centurion, whereas Matthew, through narrative compression, collapses that distinction, is a standard evangelical harmonization. That's defended by scholars like Bock ("Precision and Accuracy"), Blomberg (ibid. 176), and Poythress (ibid. 17ff.). That's the function of spokesmen. And 1C readers would be expected to share that cultural preunderstanding.
I'm not using that as an argument from authority. The fact that I can cite conservative scholars who take that position doesn't make it correct. But I wonder how conversant Lydia is with the landscape of evangelical Biblical scholarship.
Again, it's a good thing to have folks from a different discipline interact with Biblical scholarship. Biblical scholarship can become ingrown and hidebound. It's useful to have a fresh perspective.
9) Regarding the withering of the fig tree, we need to distinguish between what Matthew actually says and what a reader imagines. It's natural for readers to form mental images of what they read. And I think that's a good practice.
So a reader might visualize the fig tree shriveling up right before the disciples' eyes in a matter of moments. That, however, is not what Matthew says. We need to differentiate how we picture the event from how Matthew depicts the event. Matthew's description is much vaguer.
10) Lydia says:
The difficulty is that apparently this same anointing, which John appears to place on the Saturday before the triumphal entry, is quite explicitly stated to have happened two days before the Passover in Mark 14, and Mark is extremely chronological in his telling of the events of Passion Week.
i) Assuming these are chronologically discordant accounts (of the same event), it would be a case of temporal transposition. I think Matthew, Mark, and John refer to the same event. Luke's anointing account refers to a different event.
ii) Since John's account seems to be more firmly grounded in the setting, his would be the chronologically accurate version, while Matthew and Mark transposed it for thematic reasons–unless they didn't know when it actually happened. Events can be related in different ways.
iii) However, as one scholar observes:
The dinner during which Jesus was anointed (Jn 12:2-8) occurred in all probability on Saturday evening…It would be a mistake to conclude from Mt 26:2 ('after two days comes the Passover') and its parallel in Mk 14:1, that Jesus was anointed instead on Tuesday evening…For whereas the chronological marker of Jn 12:1 ('six days before…')is directly related to the anointing (12:2-8), that of Mt 26:2 ('after two days') is directly related to the plot to kill Jesus (26:3-5) and neither Mt 26:6-13 nor Mk 14:3-9 expressly relates the anointing to its context in chronological terms. K. Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary (CFP 2010), 2:1270.
11) Lydia says:
For example, if John knowingly shifted Jesus' cleansing of the Temple by three years to the beginning of his ministry (which would seem to be precisely the sort of thing Licona means by "displacement") and no such cleansing took place then, that is a _serious_ failure of historical reliability, and frankly, if you or Licona or anybody else defines "reliability" differently, you can just have your concept, and I'll stick with mine.
But that confounds narrative sequence with chronological sequence. In the Synoptics, the cleansing of the temple is firmly grounded in the narrative setting. By contrast, it doesn't have those chronological connectives in John. It isn't linked to what precedes it or follows it. So readers don't have to right to presume that it must have taken place at that juncture. The narrative itself doesn't make that claim.
12) Lydia says:
The question is just whether Jairus already knew, and said at the outset, that his daughter was dead, or whether he said that she was on the point of dying.
i) For starters, the notion that Matthew's account on the incident reflects narrative compression is a standard evangelical harmonization. That's not just Licona.
ii) In addition, we need to distinguish between direct and indirect discourse. Between what the narrator says and what he quotes a character saying.
Inerrancy doesn't not entail that whatever a character says is true. Inerrancy primarily refers to the narrator.
Inerrancy doesn't mean Jairus is inerrant in how he expressed himself. Jairus wasn't speaking under divine inspiration.
This, in turn, raises the question of how a narrator should quote a speaker. There's a paradoxical sense in which, if someone makes an inaccurate statement, an accurate quote may preserve the inaccuracy. If you're quoting someone, you're not necessarily endorsing what they say. Rather, you're simply reporting what they said. If they made an inaccurate statement, that's what you report.
On the other hand, there might be occasions where, out of charity, a narrator will correct an incorrect statement when quoting a person based on what the person intended to say. Sometimes it's clear what a speaker meant to say, even if he misspoke or expressed himself poorly.
So, when quoting a character, there are occasions when it would be appropriate for the narrator to improve on the original statement. It's not a verbatim quote. Rather, it's what the speaker meant to say, but failed to say. A narrator might clarify what he meant by restating it. That's an editorial judgment call.