November 13, 2009

Did Some Things Happen Twice?

Tim asked yesterday, "Isn't it more likely that there weren't two instances of the fishermen calling, two homecomings, and two cleansings?" (emphasis mine) My answer yesterday was basically - maybe yes, maybe no, but the chronology of the Gospels doesn't really depend on those points anyway. I wrote a lot more in that comment you might want to take a look at too, and referenced my "Pre-Chronology" post from this past Sunday.

I do find it more likely there were two instances of these particular incidents. I hold the same position on Paul's escape(s?) from Damascus. In fact, the only thing that gives me pause at all is the fact that I find myself motivated to take this same strategy four times! Can they really all be more likely? Well, yes. For many different reasons in each of these four particular cases, I really think they are.

Of course, the reasons in each case will require individual treatment in the future. I'll get to it soon. (God willing, of course.) What's more interesting to me today is - why did I start the argument with those three assumptions, if they're not really necessary? And the answer is - because I think most people informed on the subject are more willing to accept the Synoptics as Chronological only if those three points were granted as being true. In fact, highly reputable conservative scholars have presented them as being make-or-break issues to show that there is no reliable chronology in the Synoptic Gospels, at least during the middle stage of each writers' account.

In that regard, starting yesterday's post the way I did was partly to engage with that thought being out there, but it was also a little bit like the trial scene in A Few Good Men, when Lt. Daniel Kaffee brought in the two airmen as witnesses to something they had absolutely no recollection of whatsoever.
Jack: Strong witnesses.
Danny: It added a little something, don't you think?
All kidding aside, I will happily admit having an apologists heart for a good story, and I happen to find the four points at issue here (including Paul & Damascus) increase the believability of the story (stories) in each case, for me personally. But it is also true that I happen to find good historical reasons for my position in each case. What are those reasons? Watch this space for future reports.

Today, I just want to emphasize again (and again, evidently) that any chronology of Jesus' ministry does not depend on preserving perfectly chronological sequencing within Mark and Luke's narrative. It depends on counting the number of Passovers. First, even without two fishermen callings and two Nazareth homecomings, the sheer amount of travel and activity that must be accounted for (during the Lord's Galilean itinerary) strongly suggests John the Baptist was in prison for an extra Passover, which is accounted for in the grain plucking incident. Second, even without two Temple cleansings, the first several chapters of John's Gospel revolve around the (more substantially historical) claims that Jesus made his first public appearance at a Passover in Jerusalem, and was with his disciples in Judea a while before returning to kick-start his Galilean period of ministry.

Therefore, the questions of two fishermen callings, two homecomings and two Temple cleansings must stand as isolated issues. If their historicity were to remain in doubt, we should still find a four year stretch between five Passovers of Jesus' ministry. Apologetics (for Faith or for Story) should not get in the way of proper historical judgment.

I will, however, put it high on my list to get back to these separate issues in the future. If the anti-historicist critics (who often tend to be christian theologians, just so we're clear) of the Gospel's chronology someday come to believe what I'm saying, maybe their academic descendants won't try so hard to deep-six these three non-doublets. Hey, I'm a hopeful guy!

Once more, a historical investigation of each incident (pair?) is absolutely warranted. Thanks again to Tim for asking the question. Hopefully the size of my response doesn't scare off more questioners. ;-)

Perhaps we shall see...

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