Little Differences: Jesus and the Problem of Perception

(See: On an Easter Night)

Previously, I told the story of a conversation I had with a customer, who had shared his views on Jesus and religion, as well as the two points he offered me as a challenge to what it was that I believed for the purpose of serious consideration. This is meant to cover the first of the two challenges, which is included below. If, in reading the challenge, you have something to add, feel encouraged to share with us here or use the challenge as a springboard for your own formal rebuttal. I pray that our Most High God would impart wisdom to you all.


“None of the scriptures that make up the four-fold Gospel are first-hand, in that they are not from the mouth or hands of Jesus Himself. No, instead, we have second-hand accounts, written from the men who ‘supposedly’ knew and saw Jesus, which means that, for us, they are third-hand accounts. More to the point, if he were to write about his mother, he would essentially write from how he perceives her instead of how she truly is, which is why there are so many little differences and variations in the four-fold Gospel itself.”

We could condense the challenge into two essential points:

  • None of the books in the New Testament are written by Jesus personally, but instead by His disciples.
  • Their perception of Jesus would have conflicted with the reality of Jesus, which results in the variations in the texts.

It is a given that each person will record and remember different aspects about certain events; this is observed often when police officers are trying to gather details about a particular crime or criminal from multiple witnesses. The writers of the four-fold Gospels are not really different in that manner and it is true that there are minor differences, but this is not to say that we have four Gospels that tell a different story, nor does it mean that we have four different pictures of Jesus. In church history, the writers of the Gospel accounts are depicted as symbols to describe the focus in their respective writings, for instance:

  • John is depicted as an eagle because his Gospel account flies to the height of Christ’s divinity.

Additionally, Matthew is often depicted as a man, Mark as a lion, and Luke as a bull for their focus on areas like Christ’s human nature (not mere humanity, but the incarnation of the Son), Kingship, and the Passion – a good resource for this is in the writings of Aquinas. Nevertheless, there was a specific area that they all seemed to focus on, but Jesus Himself is represented consistently in the same manner. The likeness to one another has led to a number of absurd propositions, like the notion that the writers acquired the quotes of Jesus through a collection of His sayings (Gospel Q) and not simply from their experience with Him or, as in the case with Mark and Luke, their experience with the very Apostles who were His own disciples. Luke himself even took care to write at the beginning of his Gospel account:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilledamong us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

The problem with such a challenge, especially when it is made at the coattail of saying “Jesus is a good teacher” is that the truth about what is being written in reference to Jesus Himself is thrown into question. Furthermore, how can Jesus be perceived as a “good teacher” if the very texts which are written about Him are questioned? This question, for that matter, is thrown in the air, but is not supported by anything but the question itself. Similarities support the idea that the texts are written about a single individual and the variations reveal both that the writers were not in some secretive collusion with one another and that they wrote according to what they noticed about the events, as well as what was important for them to portray (e.g. Christ’s human nature and Passion).

The fact that the writings are written by the men who were around Jesus does not negate their validity by virtue of the fact that they are not written by Jesus Himself, but they do hold immense value as they show corroborating accounts of this One who has been the focal point of history. If Jesus is a good teacher, then the separate accounts can be seen as trustworthy, but if they cannot be as such, He cannot be seen as such a teacher. Even if they can be seen as trustworthy, though, room has not been left to simply see Him as a good teacher. The challenge here struggles because the one making the challenge perceives Christ in such a manner based on what they know from the Gospel accounts. As if this was not enough to squash the problem outright, one can also assess correctly that they were written and the events were passed down in a period of time that could have allowed ample proof against them.  No, instead, the world possesses four historical texts from separate individuals who wanted to share with others the extraordinary events as they had occurred.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote from their experiences with Jesus or travels with the very Apostles themselves, according to the earliest of church history. Among the four, Luke has been heralded as more than a just a trustworthy historian (Ramsay.The Bearing Of Recent Discovery On The Trustworthiness Of The New Testament). There is no legitimate reason to conclude that the writers’ depiction of Jesus is anything but accurately reflecting Jesus Himself. Perception or not, the view is consistent between the authors, but different enough to show that they weren’t gathering from the same source. The aforementioned challenge is superficial and cannot be sustained when scrutinized.


One thought on “Little Differences: Jesus and the Problem of Perception

  1. Pingback: On an Easter Night | Ministering in Love

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