Thursday, November 24, 2016

How The Gospels Outperform Other Ancient Sources

Michael Licona's book on differences among the gospels just came out. I haven't read much of it yet, but I want to post a couple of excerpts. The first is from Craig Evans, who wrote the foreword. The second is from Licona. They're addressing how the characteristics of the gospels compare to what we find in non-Christian sources. Remember this when you see skeptics citing ancient non-Christian sources, like Josephus, as if they're a more reliable standard that Christian documents should be judged by.


What Dr. Licona shows is that the writers of the New Testament Gospels often edit their material in ways very similar to what Plutarch did with his material. This similarity enables us to evaluate the Gospels in their time and environment....

However, compared to the compositional practice of Plutarch, the authors of the Gospels were far more conservative, especially when it comes to the editing and paraphrasing of the words of Jesus. Indeed, it has been observed that the authors of the New Testament Gospels are far more conservative in their paraphrasing of the words of Jesus than was Josephus in his paraphrasing the words of Israel's ancient Scripture. What the evidence seems to show is that while the authors of the New Testament Gospels exhibit many of the compositional practices of their day, they also had a very high regard for the stories of Jesus, especially for his words.

(Why Are There Differences In The Gospels? [New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2017], approximate Kindle location 64)


The presence of differences in parallel accounts is not unique to the Gospels. Gerald Downing identified many differences in the manner Josephus retold a story that originally appeared in the Jewish Scriptures. R. A. Derrenbacker took Downing's work even further, while Jordan Henderson identified many differences in the manner Josephus reported autobiographical material in the Jewish War and the Life. Brian McGing observed how Philo adapted the biblical texts when writing about Moses. Differences in how authors reported the same event are part and parcel of classical literature studies. D. A. Russell assessed how Plutarch adapted his lone source, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, when writing his Life of Coriolanus. Charles Hill surveys works assessing how Homer, Herodotus, Philo, Josephus, Plutarch, Porphyry, Justin, and others quoted and/or used their sources. Craig Keener noted numerous differences in the manner Tacitus, Suetonius, and Plutarch report the suicide of the Roman emperor Otho - differences quite similar to those we observe in the Gospels. Modern commentaries on classical literature also discuss differences that appear when the same event is reported by different ancient authors and even by the same author....

I had initially considered creating a synopsis of Plutarch's parallel pericopes that we will be examining in the next chapter...However, I decided against including a synopsis because Plutarch paraphrases so often; plus we do not observe in his Lives anything close to the near "copy and paste" method that is very often employed by Matthew and Luke. (approximate Kindle locations 234, 631)

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