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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Questions about the actual words of Jesus

In the message on Sunday from Matthew 22:34-40 we noted that when the Lord quoted the great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, He did not quote it perfectly verbatim.  Instead of saying, “you shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  I won’t reproduce my explanation for that here, but this does raise a few questions that I did not take the time to address in the message.
As I mentioned Sunday, the words of Jesus that we have in the Gospels are most likely not the actual words that Jesus said.  This is not because the Gospel writers quoted Him inaccurately, but because the common, everyday language of first century Jews was Aramaic, not Greek.  Therefore, the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are most likely the Greek translation of His Aramaic words. 
So the first question to consider is, should it trouble us that these are not the exact words of Jesus?  I don’t think so, and there are at least a couple of reasons why.  First, the vast majority of us do not know the Greek language in which the New Testament was written, and yet we’ve always been comfortable trusting English translations of a Greek text.  In that regard, we have been okay not knowing “the exact words of Jesus.” So if we are comfortable with an English translation of a Greek text, why not be okay with a Greek text of words spoken in Aramaic?  Second, whether or not these are the exact words of Jesus, these are the exact words that the Holy Spirit wanted written.  We hold to verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, which means that we believe that every word recorded in the Bible is the exact word God wanted to us to have.  2 Peter 1:21 tells us that in the writing of the Scriptures, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  So the Spirit who spoke through Jesus in Aramaic is the same Spirit who inspired the Greek words written by the Gospel writers.  Regardless of what language in which the words were actually spoken, the Greek text that we have is inspired by God and is therefore trustworthy.
A second question: should it trouble us that the Gospel writers don’t record the Lord’s words in exactly the same way?  The second part of the answer above could be used here, too: all four Gospels are inspired by God, so any differences in them are according to His will.  But secondly, we need to remember that each of the Gospel writers was writing with a specific theological purpose to a specific audience.  So they each organized the Biblical material in such a way to make their specific point.  The synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – have much material that overlaps, some of it verbatim.  At other times, they recorded things that are very close to verbatim but left out or added in certain material designed to serve their particular purpose.  The Gospel writers were not contradicting each other when they did this.  Rather they were framing these stories and discourses to make a certain theological point unique to their respective Gospels.  All of the stories and discourses actually happened, but each writer was emphasizing those elements that best served his God-given purpose for writing his Gospel. 
This demonstrates a major reason why we have four Gospels and not one.  God inspired four retellings of the life of Christ so that we might gain a broader perspective on the significance of His coming and learn the theological truths unique to each Gospel.  For this reason, when we try to conglomerate the four Gospels, we do damage to each.  Each should be studied in its own context and allowed to speak its own message. 
The Lord has given us a mighty wonder in the Bible.  It contains 66 different books all of which serve a unique purpose in the canon, yet without any contradiction.  May the Lord move us to value it for the miraculous gift that it is.

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