How to write a Bible

Why did Matthew, Mark, and Luke present the beginning of Jesus' Galilean ministry in different ways? Do variations in their accounts of Jesus' life provide grounds for doubting their inspiration?

George E. Rice, Ph.D., is an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and author of the book Luke, a Plagiarist?

In the previous article, we saw that the Bible presents at least two models of inspirationthe Lucan model and the prophetic model. Luke 1:1-4 provides the basis for understanding the Lucan model as a research model. The Bible writer who composed his book under this model worked as an author, arranging and altering what he was presenting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now we shall look at some examples of how the authors of the Synoptic Gospels functioned under this model of inspiration, concentrating upon the way the Synoptic writers introduce Jesus' Galilean ministry.

Each of the three Synoptic Gospels contains a short introductory statement to that segment of Jesus' work that we call the Galilean ministry. Of these, Matthew's is the longest. He says: (1) at the time of John's imprisonment Jesus moved His ministry to Galilee; (2) having visited Nazareth, He settled down at Capernaum, which, being in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, thus fulfilled the Old Testament prediction of Isaiah that this area would see a great light; (3) Jesus proclaimed: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [eggiken]" (Matt. 4:12-17).*

Mark reports that (1) Jesus moved His ministry to Galilee at the time of John's arrest and (2) He proclaimed: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand [eggiken]" (Mark 1:14, 15).

Upon comparing the introductory statements found in Matthew and Mark, we find they have two things in common. They both note that Jesus entered Galilee at the time of John's arrest, and both record that He declared that the kingdom of heaven/God was eggiken (present).

However, we also see that each writer has added something the other does not record. Matthew includes a statement, with its supporting Old Testament quotation, about the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. And Mark has added that Jesus also preached that "the time is fulfilled." 1

These additions reflect the personal interests of each writer and show them working as individual authors. Matthew, on the one hand, delights in demonstrating to his Jewish readers how Jesus has fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. And Mark's addition accomplishes for his Gospel what Matthew established in his birth narrativethat the time for the arrival of the Messiah had finally come. Mark achieves the same results by simply adding Jesus' statement on time to his introduction to the Galilean ministrythereby saving time and space.

We must spend a moment with the Greek word eggiken, for this word makes a striking difference between Matthew's and Mark's introductions, on the one hand, and Luke's on the other.

Eggiken is the intensive perfect form of the Greek verb eggidzo (to draw near). The perfect tense indicates that some thing happened in the past and that the results of this event still exist at the time of speaking or writing. The intensive perfect shows even more forcefully than does the present tense that something exists. 2

As I have suggested, Matthew and Mark support this proclamation in their own unique ways: Matthew by recording the events surrounding the birth of Jesus and Mark by adding the statement "The time is fulfilled."

But how different is Luke's introduction to the Galilean ministry. Notice what he includes: (1) Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, (2) His reputation spread throughout the surrounding country, and (3) He taught in their synagogues and was glorified by all (Luke 4:14, 15).

Matthew and Mark, while differing, resemble each other. But Luke has virtually nothing in common with the other two Synoptic Gospels. And of particular interest for our study, Luke says nothing about the kingdom and, more specifically, nothing about it being present.

If we believed that the Synoptic writers were working under the prophetic model (God giving information by dreams and visions), we would have to ask some serious questions. One of these would be Why did God not share with Luke what He showed Matthew and Markthat Jesus entered Galilee pro claiming the arrival of the kingdom? Another would be Did or did not Jesus, as He entered Galilee, preach that the kingdom was present? If we believed that these Gospels originated under the prophetic model, the absence of this part of Jesus' message would be a serious omission. After all, the arrival of the Messiah and His kingdom is an event that rivals in importance the Exodus from Egypt.

But Luke is silent. His introduction to the Galilean ministry has none of the electricity of Messianic excitement that can be found in the other two Synoptic Gospels. Why is this? Luke intends eventually to assure Theophilus that the kingdom is present (Luke 10:9; 11:20). But first, however, he must lay a foundation that will help Theophilus understand the nature of the kingdom.

Consistently differing accounts

Not only do the Gospel writers differ as to how they introduce Jesus' Galilean ministry, each records different events as marking its beginning. Matthew includes the call of the disciples, a summary statement about Jesus' ministry, and the Sermon on the Mount. Mark reports the call and the healing of the demoniac at Capernaum. And Luke says nothing about the disciples, high lighting instead Jesus' visit to Nazareth and His reading of the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue.

Each writer, by arranging his material in this way, is saying something unique about Jesus. Here is an illustration of E. G. White's statement "He [the Lord] gave it [His Word] through different writers, each having his own individuality, though going over the same history. Their testimonies are brought together in one Book, and are like the testimonies in a social meeting. They do not represent things in just the same style. Each has an experience of his own, and this diversity broadens and deepens the knowledge that is brought out to meet the necessities of varied minds." 3

Now as authors and, I might add, as theologians, what were these men saying about Jesus?

Matthew, by reporting that Jesus entered Galilee proclaiming that the kingdom had already arrived, was both reaffirming what he had labored to establish up to that point and providing a transition to the Sermon on the Mount.

The first seven chapters of Matthew's Gospel develop the motifs of Jesus' Messiahship and the presence of the kingdom in the following ways: 1. The birth narrative (Matt. 1; 2) establishes the fact that the Messiah has arrived. 2.

John the Baptist proclaims: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [eggiken]" (Matt. 3:2). Only Matthew, who was interested in Jesus' kingship, records these words as a part of John's message. 3. Matthew also arranges the order of Jesus' temptations in the wilderness so they climax with the question Who will rule the nations? With his portrayal of Jesus' victory over Satan, Matthew establishes that the question has been settled forever. Jesus has defeated His greatest rival. He will rule. 4. With Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom is present, Matthew effects a transition to the Sermon on the Mount.

This sermon is laden with kingdom language. In it Jesus explains the nature of His kingdom, His own role as its king, and the ethics of the citizens who will inhabit this kingdom. Ellen G. White says: "In the Sermon on the Mount He sought to undo the work that had been wrought by false education, and to give His hearers a right conception of His kingdom and of His own character." 4

As an author Matthew follows this design: he establishes the fact that the Messiah is here and that Jesus is this Messiah, he establishes the presence of the kingdom, and he then explains its nature. We will see shortly that Luke reverses the design: he first explains the nature of the kingdom and then states that the kingdom is present (eggiken).

Mark also records the fact that as Jesus entered Galilee He announced the presence of the kingdom. But whereas Matthew supports Jesus' proclamation with the details in the birth narrative, the preaching of John, and the order of the temptations in the wilderness, Mark has the crisp, short statement noted previously, "The time is fulfilled" (Mark 1:15). After the call of the disciples (verses 16-20) Mark takes us to Capernaum, where we see Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath (verses 21- 28). When a screaming demoniac interrupted the service, Jesus freed him.

What is Mark communicating by placing this miracle in this position?

For years the rabbis had taught that when the kingdom of God arrived, Satan and his demons would lose their power. 5 Now the people assembled in the synagogue were witnessing a supernatural confrontation before their very eyes. With amazement they asked, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him" (verse 27).

What was the new teaching that these people recognized in this exorcism? Simply this: The kingdom of God was present because the kingdom of Satan was being vanquished. This exorcism substantiates the proclamation of Jesus. So both Matthew and Mark make a statement about the kingdom by the pericopes used at the start of the Galilean ministryMatthew with the Sermon on the Mount and Mark with the healing of the demoniac.

Luke chose to begin his account of the Galilean ministry with Jesus' first visit to Nazareth. Although he says nothing in his introduction to the Galilean ministry about Jesus' proclamation on the presence of the kingdom, he does address the topic of the kingdom. Notice how he does it. Luke says that when Jesus received the scroll from the synagogue attendant, He found Isaiah 61:1, 2; 58:6 and read the Messianic passage "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18, 19).

Handing the scroll back to the attendant, Jesus took His seat in the speaker's chair on the rostrum and declared, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (verse 21). Recognizing the passage to be a Messianic prophecy, all the worshipers understood Jesus' statement about its fulfillment as a declaration of His Messiahship. In a sense, Luke too was showing that the kingdom was present, only in a veiled way. He did not press this theme until later.

For the moment Luke wished to show Theophilus something else about the kingdom. The passage from Isaiah stresses the release that was to be brought by the Messiah. Notice the four things that were to make up the "good news" that He, as the Messiah, was to preach: release for the captives, recovering of sight for the blind (release from the kingdom of darkness), liberty for the oppressed, and the acceptable year of the Lord (the year of jubilee, a time of release). In the pericopes that follow, Luke's purpose is to show how Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and brought release. In doing this Luke was showing the nature of God's kingdom.

It is generally understood that when Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll, He was making a programmatic statement about His ministry. 6 What immediately follows in Luke's Gospel must be understood within the context of this Old Testament passage. Therefore, although Mark's Gospel and Luke's Gospel run parallel to each other in content (except for Luke's relocation of the call to discipleship), they cannot be understood as presenting the same message. For in Luke's Gospel the prophecy from Isaiah sets the contextrelease. In Mark's Gospel the context is set by Jesus' proclamation as He entered Galilee, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand [eggiken]."

As Luke shows how Jesus fulfilled the Isaianic prophecy, he is also showing the nature of the kingdom, i.e., God's kingdom brings freedom. He develops the following themes dealing with the nature of the kingdom: release from the power of Satan (Luke 4:31-44), release from the power of sin (Luke 5:31, 32), and release from cultic traditions (Luke 5:33-6:11).

Upon comparing the pericopes contained in these passages with their parallels in Matthew and Mark, one can see how Luke uses them for his theological purposes. Words or phrases are added or omitted to make these pericopes deal more directly with the theme he is developing. 7 He moves the story of the call to discipleship and retells it in order to introduce the sin motif. 8 Clearly, Luke is at work (with material he had collected) as an author and theologian.

We can see similar phenomena in Matthew. He gathers together a series of pericopes that are scattered hither and yon in Mark and Luke, grouping them after his account of the Sermon on the Mount. What is Matthew saying about Jesus as he gives these miracles a new context in his Gospel? Jesus' ability to perform miracles by His spoken word provides the common element in these pericopes. Matthew's Jewish readers saw God's word as dynamic, creative energy. For example, God created and sustains the heavens and the earth by His word (Ps. 33:6, 9). God's word goes forth in the earth to accomplish His will, and it does not return to Him void (Isa. 55:11).

Matthew develops Jesus' Messiahship and the presence of the kingdom throughout the first seven chapters of his Gospel. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount we find a point of transition: "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt. 7:28, 29). Mark uses this statement about the authority of Jesus' word in a different context and for a different purpose (Mark 1:21, 22).

With the statement on the authority of Jesus' word, Matthew moves from Jesus' kingship to His divinity. The miracles that Matthew collected together and placed after the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 8:1-9:8) demonstrate that Jesus' spoken word is sheer, dynamic, creative energy. Thus He is God.

Do varying accounts belie inspiration?

Some fear that we are destroying Scripture's authority and historicity by presenting the Gospel writers as authors and theologians. In the first article, we have shown that Ellen G. White looked upon these men as authors. We are not to surmise that because Luke moves the call to discipleship into a different chronological position than where it is found in Matthew and Mark, he is therefore declaring this event to be nonhistorical. We cannot conclude that because he relates this account in an entirely different way than Matthew and Mark, he created it from his imagination. He is simply working, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as an author, sharing his own testimony as though in a "social meeting."

As Grant R. Osborne prepares his readers to face the differences that appear in the Resurrection accounts within the four Gospels, he closes the first part of his book The Resurrection Narratives: A Redactional Study with two observations that can be applied to any portion of the Gospel narratives, including our present investigation. We close our study with his words:

"In fact, the evangelists imposed on themselves two internal controls in using the traditions:

"1. Their interpretation of events had to be based on the original deeds and words of Jesus. John 14:26 says 'all that [Jesus] said' was brought to the evangelists' remembrance, and 2 Peter 1:16 says the early church had absolute assurance that the kerygma did not include 'cleverly devised myths.'

"2. The early church did not create the stories and logia jesu ('the sayings of Jesus') recorded in the Gospels but instead faithfully remained true to the traditions. Any so-called 'coloring' of narratives was actually the highlighting of nuances present in the original events rather than re-creation of an existing story. Luke's prologue (Luke 1:1-5) [sic] stressing the historical accuracy of his presentation reminds us that he 'followed all things' accurately. John also stresses that his 'witness' and 'testimony' are 'true.' Both statements affirm the historical truth as well as accuracy of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection." 9

1 For a suggestion as to what this statement
implies, see George E. Rice, Christ in Collision
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1982), pp. 11-20.

2 H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual
Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York:
Macmillan Company, 1957), p. 202.

3 E. G. White, Selected Messages (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958) book
1, pp. 21, 22.

4 , The Desire of Ages (Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), p. 299.

5 Werner Foerster, From the Exile to Christ: A
Historical Introduction to Palestinian Judaism
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), p. 194.

6 For a development of this subject, see George
E. Rice, "Luke's Thematic Use of the Call to
Discipleship," AUSS 19 (Spring 1981): 51-58;
"Luke 4:31-44: Release for the Captives," AUSS
20 (Spring 1982): 23-28; "Luke 5:33-6:11: Release
From Cultic Tradition," AUSS 20 (Summer
1982): 127-132.

7 See George E. Rice, Luke, a Plagiarist?
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1983), pp. 43-59, 71-82, for examples of these
changes.

8 See Rice, Luke, a Plagiarist? pp. 83-96, for a
detailed discussion of this change, as well as the
relocation of the pericope in which the sinful
woman washed Jesus' feet.

9 Grant R. Osborne, The Resurrection Narratives:
A Redactional Study (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1984), p. 40.

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George E. Rice, Ph.D., is an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and author of the book Luke, a Plagiarist?

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