Thursday, July 09, 2009


The Codex Sinaiticus has been virtually reassembled and made available on line to those who can read Hellenistic Greek. It has been an occasion for atheists to disparage the Bible and talk about discrepancies.

Actually there is only one major point of issue between early manuscripts, and that is whether or not to include the story of the woman taken in adultery at the end of John chapter 8. (Though I suppose there are some who believe that the strange ending to Mark 16 was not a late addition.) The John story should be included, I believe, since it is more likely to have been removed by prudes than inserted by liberals. In any case there is another instance of Jesus being forgiving to promiscuous women; the Samaritan woman at the well.

I have a book on my shelf entitled 'Alleged discrepancies in the Bible' which goes to great length to explain and refute every alleged discrepancy. I believe that most are due to failure to appreciate literary form.

Any story can be told in many ways. I once wrote anonymous leaders for both the BMJ and the Lancet in the same week on the same topic, but wrote them in their respective house styles that were so different that nobody suspected that they were by the same author. In Japan a story might be told according to the tradition of tyhe Noh play; in Russia the story might be told by dance according to classical ballet. Falstaff can be a character in Shakespeare's plays (Henry IV parts I and II, Henry V and Merry Wives of Windsor) or a character in Verdi's opera. In each case his story is told differently. We are used to reading novels, where action usually follows sequentially in a fairly naturalistic way, but the novel as a literary form is only about 400 years old. And some novels are not in this form at all. Ulysses by James Joyce certainly isn't. When we watch a movie we often assume it to be naturalistic, but listen, there is usually no music playing in real life action. Homer and Virgil wrote they stories as poetry; Sophocles wrote drama where the actors covered their faces with sad or happy masks. The same story may be told in several literary genres. Science fiction, chick lit, western, cops and robbers, period drama or impressionist modern novel may all be telling the same story of love and betrayal or greed and rebellion.

We should not assume when reading the gospels that they should flow sequentially like a novel or a biography, on the contrary they were polemics, designed to convince their readers or hearers that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Form was dependent on the message. Matthew's gospel is replete with Old Testament references, designed to stress how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the coming Messiah; Mark on the other hand almost certainly is dependent on Peter's recollections and reflects his experience of accepting and preaching to the Gentiles. Time and again we see teh Jews-to-Gentiles transition. It is the structure that dictates the sequence of stories, not the time line.


Anonymous said...

Mark was dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not as you say "Mark on the other hand almost certainly is dependent on Peter's recollections"

Terry Hamblin said...

Yes, well all the Biblical writers were dependent on the Holy Spirit, but they weren't secretaries taking shorthand. Peter was a close relative of young John Mark who, although present at the Garden of Gethsemene, was not present as closely as Peter. It is highly likely that it was Peter who supplied the intimate detail as the Holy Spirit brought it to his remembrance.