Barry Newman's Blog

December 19, 2012

The Parable of the Tenants (part V)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable of the Tenants — barrynewman @ 9:36 pm

Explaining the differences

How does one account for the differences, especially the significant ones?  Some might suggest that Jesus may have told the parable more than once and on each occasion not precisely in the same way. However, in the case of this parable, the evidence is that each of the Gospels records the telling of it in the same circumstances and at the same time – after the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, after his “cleansing” of the temple and after his being questioned about his authority.

Do we put the differences down to memory lapses at least on the part of some involved in the transmission and then in the final recording of the parable and the circumstances in which it was told?  Could it be that for those who heard the parable different aspects came to the fore in the retelling of the event and subsequently these differences made their appearance in the Gospel narratives? Could it partly be the result of any interdependency of the Gospels and any reliance on even another source or other sources? Could the writers of the Gospels, taking into account their particular likely readership, have altered the material to better communicate the essentials of what was said and what happened, to their readers?  Should we allow the Gospel writers some freedom to recount the episode in one way or another for whatever reason, one possibility being their desire to write according to their own style?

Licona in his lengthy work entitled, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” seems to be persuaded that the Gospel records belong to the literary genre of ancient biography, while not possessing all of the characteristics of such biographies and differing from them in some substantial ways.[1] One aspect of such biographies was the degree to which the authors felt free to be flexible in their reporting of events and speeches, without necessarily believing they were contravening standards of truth or honesty or being seen by others to do so.  If this understanding of the nature of the literary genre of the Gospels is correct then more light is shed not only on the differences among the narratives of the resurrection of Jesus as told in the Gospels but also on such as the differences in the recording of this parable and its circumstances.

One can image a bizarre scenario in the ancient world, where an opponent of the early believers and their claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead, exclaims that the Gospel records obviously do not agree on the details surrounding that so-called resurrection and so cannot be trusted.  To which in response, in our scenario, a believer replies, “Are you for real? Are you someone from the 21st century!? The Gospel writers are simply using the style of our age.  They are allowed some flexibility. You know that! The Book ‘Les Miserables’, the musical production, ‘Les Miserables’ and the film, ‘Les Miserables’ all differ in details, but the plot is essentially the same.  The outcome is the same. They are however a work of fiction or based on that work of fiction.  On the other hand, our Gospel writers are dealing with the truth, the extraordinary truth, the world shattering truth, of which many are witnesses!!”

The differences in the narratives are in the end minor and do not prevent us from discerning the meaning and significance of the parable and the main circumstances of its telling.  However later on we will need to take into account some of these differences as we explore what is being conveyed to us.


[1] Licona, M.R., The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, IVP, Downers Grove IL, 2010, pp. 201-204.  See also notes, 6 to 26 referred to in those pages.

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