Defending the inerrancy of scripture is not a hard task when we have the right tools and worldview to accompany it. Poythress’ principles to study the harmonization of the gospels are fantastic and worth the price of admission.
Defending the inerrancy of scripture can be a challenging task for the unprepared Christian. In the world today, there is no shortage of critical voices speaking out against the authority of scripture. Even within Christendom, some seem determined to undermine the bible’s inerrancy in every instance. Therefore, Christians need to be equipped to defend, not only their faith but also the scriptures on which the only true, ancient religion is based upon.
Due to the narrative-centric nature of the gospels, seeming contradictions can be troublesome for even the most devout of believers. The gospels give us 4 different representations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Because of this, the same event can be recorded multiple times. What do we do when there appears to be a contradiction between two or more narratives?
A notable example of this can be seen in The Centurion Servant. If we compare the narratives in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, questions can be raised between the two accounts. Most notable is the role of the “elders of the Jews” and the centurion’s “friends”. As Vern Sheridan Poythress, Westminster Theological Seminary Professor, rightly points out in his book Inerrancy and The Gospels, “Luke does not indicate that the centurion meets Jesus face to face. By Contrast, in Matthew 8 there is no mention of the intermediaries. What do we say about this difference?” (pg. 19).
Poythress goes on to point out the possible explanations for this seeming contradiction. He guides the reader to think critically about the texts, nuances, authorship, and literary features. He points out that, due to the author’s background and objective, certain emphasis may be added in specific areas. Such instances are not meant to contradict but complement one another. Citing South African Theologian, Norval Geldenhuys, Poythress explains that likely “there were several stages in the encounter between Jesus and the centurion. The centurion first sent elders of the Jews, then sent friends, then came in person (pg. 19). Luke was led to emphasize different aspects of the narrative when compared to Matthew. The example sets the stage for the entire book.
I don’t often read a theology book in a single sitting. However, I did just that with Inerrancy and The Gospels. I highly recommend Poythress’ book to anyone desiring to understand the harmonization of the gospels better. The book is largely broken up into two sections. The first is centered on the basic principles for studying harmonization, and the second examines specific gospel problem texts. I found the principles section to be the most useful part of the book. It creates a brilliant groundwork for the reader to approach the gospels in a logical, practical, and faithful way.