"CONTRADICTIONS"? CONFUSION AND MISCHIEF : COMMENTARY ON SACRED SCRIPTURE

COMMENTARY ON SACRED SCRIPTURE is a little like naming the Currency - it brings a lot of crazy people out of the woodwork.


But it is not only the crazies who get into difficulties. I have found that even scholars and preachers make fundamental errors, both in ill-prepared preaching and even in considered published items, because they are so caught up in technical considerations. So let us try to step back and look particularly at the New Testament texts in a general way to see if we can find some helpful guidelines for meeting the ideas of the scholars, the preachers, and the crazies.


To begin with, we quickly see that the New Testament texts are unlike any modern writing. They do not conform to any of the norms we take for granted. After all, writing has come a long way even in the last two hundred years. So if we go back 2,000 years we can expect major differences. 

Firstly we need to think "Who was writing?" Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, for example:
a Tax Collector, 
a companion first of Paul then of Peter,  
a Physician, 
the son of a significant Fishing Family, 
A Fisherman, 
and a Hebrew Scholar. 

The nearest we come to someone well-qualified as a writer is Paul given his weighty studies.We see flashes of genius and indeed of great beauty in some parts of his writing, but it must be said that in other parts his writing is turgid and awkward, he uses some almost interminable sentences, and even dear old Saint Peter claims that Paul is "sometimes hard to understand"( 2 Peter 3:16). So we have a group of men who are not necessarily ideal writers.

Secondly, they are writing according to the conventions of their time. They are imprecise about times and dates: "In illo tempore" - "at that time"  or, "in diebus illis" - " in those days". They worked and lived in a confusing time : there were several  calendars in operation; the occupying Roman Calendar which fixed dates "A.U.C." ( "Ab Urbe Condita" -  "From the Foundation of the City": Rome), The Jewish Religious Calendar based on Lunar principles, and also the earlier Hebrew Calendar based on Solar principles was not unknown. And they went to great lengths usually, to avoid writing in the first person singular when recounting Our Lord's life events - to have done so would then have been regarded as being offensive.

So we have a group of unlikely writers, writing in a time of confused ideas about time AND, writing under considerable stress because they were frequently being hounded by the Jews and the Romans in various instances. All in all, not an auspicious way to start this great project,  but there was the great advantage of Divine Inspiration.

Next, we need to consider what they were writing about: the origins and whirlwind public life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His death and His Resurrection and the early works of the Apostles. All of this was carried out in Jerusalem and in the hundreds of surrounding towns (as Flavius Josephus tells us) and villages, and also in Galilee and a few excursions into neighboring regions.  Of course, there were no newspapers, magazines, radio or TV and no printing presses, so that when Our Lord preached and taught, to get His message to the Chosen People, he had to repeat the same things over and over probably adjusting what was said - expanding or contracting the message depending on the circumstances, the people and the conditions. 

Then, again, we have to think what type of writing these men chose to do? The four Evangelists wrote collections of stories to communicate the Life and works of the Saviour. The three Synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote first, with John writing much later. Tradition has them writing in that order, Matthew from his own knowledge, Mark with Saint Peter as his point of occasional reference, Luke with constant reference to the Blessed Virgin. John, of course, wrote from his own knowledge. Matthew seems to have written for his Jewish countrymen, Mark largely for a Gentile audience, Luke seems to be writing more generally but in a more cultured way than Matthew and Mark, and it is said that he shows evidence of working in translation from Aramaic. John's writing is fairly clearly the remembrances of an elderly man. He does not cover many things that are well-known and undisputed, but he is at pains to write about those things not covered adequately in the Synoptics. For example, without John, it would not have been clear from the Synoptics that Our Lord came up to Jerusalem more often than in one single year during His Public Life. And, in the Synoptics, we get little of Our Lord talking to His disciples, whereas John gives us a great deal of that important detail.

It is bizarre but true that many scholars and preachers write and speak about things recorded in the Sacred Scripture as if they had only been said once! So that in their minds when we have for example Matthew's Sermon on the Mount and Mark's Sermon on the Plain, they begin to talk about one or the other being mistaken, confused, remembering wrongly. But obviously, Our Lord taught this content numbers of times and these were only two of the occasions and NOT the one occasion badly remembered. 

A similar type of error arises when the various writers are recording incidents surrounding the same event - say, the Resurrection. I have recently come across a glib and yet excited, even hysterical example of this, a substantial admingling of excerpts from the various Gospel accounts to support the idea that "the fundamental basis of Christianity is very flawed" - "Like I always say " the author reveals.  

Well, bad luck for him.Not everyone is carried away by his wild trifle.  Let us look at what he has to offer :

He is unhappy That Matthew 28:1 has Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,
                                         Mark 16:1        has Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of                                                                             James, and Salome,
                                          Luke 24:10    has Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Joanna, whilst
                                           John 20:1      speaks only of Mary Magdalene

But a careful reading of the texts shows that each writer is selecting some names from a more substantial group.This comes out in Luke 24:10 in which, after naming the three above again, he says"...and the other women who were with them....".   (Joanna is the interesting character here - she had been cured by Jesus, she was the wife of Herod's Steward Chuza, she became a disciple and no doubt via her husband, the source of much knowledge of things Herod had said.)      

  So, in reality, we are able to see once again that the writers are not giving a detailed precise account of personalities present, but the main figures in their personal view.   

John's account though does seem to be detailing a separate event probably before the others arrived.

Our critic then rushes in to swirl into his trifle his dissatisfaction with the condition of the light:

He complains that: Mark 16:2     says "the Sun had risen" (ACTUALLY Mark           says "JUST RISEN")  
                                         John 20:1    says "it was still dark"                                                                                                                                                                                                                    However he fails to mention that Luke 24:1 says "at early dawn", perhaps that was not convenient.Equally inconvenient perhaps, was Luke 24:22 "certain women of our company, who were at the tomb before it was light...."

The answer is obvious as we suggested above, everything about John's account of Mary Magdalene's presence shows she arrived first in the dark of the pre-dawn, the others joined her as in Mark and Luke in the early dawn when the Sun had just risen.  No contradiction whatever.

His frenzy is then distracted by whether there was :
"An Angel" (Matthew 28:2) 
"a young man" (Mark 16:5)
"two men in dazzling clothing" ( Luke 24.4) or,
no one but Mary Magdalene ( John 20:1) 

Firstly we have seen that the account in John was before the arrival of the others.So the Angelic appearance was only to the group. Secondly, It is plain that the two men in dazzling clothing were Angels - there was nothing natural in the ancient world that could produce "dazzling clothing"(that is emitting excessive light). We know from Sacred Scripture generally that Angels appear as young men. So the young man in Mark and the Angel in Matthew are not inconsistent. Further, the report of seeing an Angel or a young man does not preclude there having been a second there but not mentioned just as above there were more women, just not mentioned. 

Once again there is no contradiction just the different non-professional writers.

Next, he whips into his trifle the accounts of the angelic instructions:

The writer notes that Matthew and Mark are generally in accord they are to advise the disciples that Jesus has Risen and that He will go before them into Galilee and that they will see Him there". ( Matthew 28:7  & Mark 16:6-7)  He complains that Luke does not mention the need to go into Galilee or to tell the disciples.  Again this a simple omission for the purposes of Luke's account which hurries on from there in a hasty fashion to reach its conclusion only a page and a paragraph later. 

Then gathering pace he tries to see problems in the order in which he sees the Gospels and the Epistle to the Corinthians recounting the appearances of Jesus. In his frenzied hurry to stir the trifle, he gets more than a bit sloppy. He fails to see that John clearly puts the appearance to Mary Magdelene before that to Mary and the other women. Similarly, he claims that Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians has Him appearing To Saint Peter before the women, but that is NOT what Saint Paul says: " and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve"   So Paul is simplifying for his purposes and not recounting the whole procession of appearances, but principally those to the Apostles at this point.       The critic is beginning to lose his plot.


SAINT PETER AND SAINT JOHN RUN TO THE TOMB

When Luke only mentions Cephas visiting the tomb (Luke 24:12)  he is driven to great excitement because we know from John that he was with Peter(John 20:2-8). But this is puerile. If I write that the Queen entered Westminster Abbey and fail to mention she was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and some other writer chooses to mention the fact, is he contradicting me? Obviously not- merely supplying more information.  


To go on with his assertions would be time-wasting and responding to what is not an intelligent, or perhaps even honest attempt to come to an appreciation of Sacred Scripture.


But, leaving aside such crazies, we still have enough troubles with lazy preachers. Let us consider Our Lord's cry from the Cross "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani": " My God, My  God Why hast Thou Forsaken  Me ".  This will, of course, feature prominently in the forthcoming Holy Week Liturgies.    But, what do we find? Most lazy Preachers are content to blather on about how very human this was, and "how God (as if He was someone else) had allowed Jesus this ultimate suffering".   But what is the true nature of this apparently extraordinary cry? It occurs both in Matthew ( 27:46) and in Mark ( 15:34).

It is, in fact, a quote from the Hebrew form of Psalm  22: 1.which is prophetic of the Messiah -the Saviour to come. The use of the quotation by Our Lord as He is dying is, therefore, a further assertion of His Messianic reality.  It absolutely confronts the Chief Priests who had orchestrated this Roman execution. Immediately thereafter(Matthew 27:51), we are told that the veil of the Temple in the Holy of Holies was rent in two from top to bottom - the Old Covenant was fulfilled and the New Covenant in Christ's Blood was initiated. This should be made clear by Preachers so that the relatively uninformed are not misled.   

CONCLUSION

It is now some 1,700+ years since the Canon of Sacred Scripture was defined by the Church.  I think we may be forgiven for being at least dissatisfied that there is so much, error, laxity, and mischief in the use of these Divinely inspired works given to us for our Salvation.  We deserve better, more disciplined, more educated and more purposeful use of God's gifts to us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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