The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Misrepresentation of Persons

Matthew 8:5–13 reports the miracle of Jesus healing a Roman centurion’s servant. Matthew seems to say the centurion himself approached Jesus with the request. Luke 7:1–10, however, speaks only of some Jewish leaders coming to Jesus with the centurion’s request. Is there a mistake in one of these two Gospel accounts?

A possible answer to this difficulty involves the fact that people of authority often send representatives to speak for them. When a news report says, “Today the President announced . . . ,” we are fully aware that he himself did not do so, but his press secretary or other representative made the announcement. The focal point of the accounts in both Gospels comes when the centurion indicates Jesus need only to speak, to issue the command for healing, rather than to go Himself to the centurion’s residence (Matthew 8:8–9; Luke 7:6–8). Matthew merely provides a shortened account, leaving out a detail Luke supplies. This kind of abbreviated report characterizes Matthew’s Gospel—see also Matthew 8:14–15 (compare Mark 1:29–31); Matthew 9:1–8 (compare Mark 2:1–12); Matthew 9:18–26 (compare Mark 5:21–43); and Matthew 11:2–6 (compare Luke 7:18–23).

Luke’s vocation as a physician might cause him to show more interest in individuals. A focus on individuals characterizes his Gospel:

  • Luke does not mention Jesus’ compassion for the multitudes but speaks repeatedly of His compassion for individuals. Parables found only in Luke include those of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37), the rich fool (Luke 12:16–21), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9–14), and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
  • Only Luke contains the three parables of chapter 15 stressing individuals.
  • Only Luke records the call of Simon to discipleship, the conversion of Zacchaeus, and details of the two robbers crucified with Jesus.

Such differences between the Gospel writers helps to confirm the truth of their independent witnesses to the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. As Walter Kaiser points out, “Disagreements within Scripture also supply strong incidental proof that there was no collusion among the sacred writers. The variations, instead, go a long way toward establishing the credibility of both the writers and their texts.”[1] Had each Gospel writer produced absolutely identical accounts, we would have suspected either they or some later editor had conformed their accounts in an effort to try to heighten their testimony.

Notes

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 16.

Read also:

“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Geographical Realities”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Translation Differences”
“The Synoptic Gospels’ Inerrancy: Authors’ Choices”