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The Harmony of the Gospels is like Reporters at Sports Event

In his book, Faith Is Like Skydiving, Rick Mattson illustrates the reliability of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and resurrection by drawing a horizontal spectrum on an easel pad. He labels one pole 0% and the other pole 100%. Then he asks people to imagine that four friends named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John attend a sporting event together and afterword write down what they saw. If 0% of the four reports harmonized with each other, we’d think the guys got their wires crossed and attended separate events. Matthew reported on a baseball game. Mark reported on a football game. Luke and John reported on completely separate sports events. By contrast, if the accounts were 100% verbatim, or pretty close to it, we would also be skeptical. We would think Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John huddled in a room somewhere to fabricate a single harmonized account.

But what if the reports were in the 70% range, roughly speaking? What if the broad contours of the stories were very similar, though some of the details different? Say Mark’s account of the baseball game was the shortest and most selective. Matthew’s account was longer and more organized. Luke highlighted some of the underrated players and a distressed female fan who got beaned by a foul ball. John’s was the most philosophical about baseball. Despite these disparate angles, the reports had much in common: the New York Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins 8-4, the game was played in Minneapolis, such and such players were the goats, and one player in particular stood out as the clear hero of the game—knocking in all of his team’s runs and hitting a grand slam on the final out to seal an unbelievable come-from-behind victory.

It seems to me we could feel pretty confident that this game actually took place and that its elements were truthful as reported by the four witnesses. And that’s just what we have in the four Gospels.

Adapted from Rick Mattson, Faith Is Like Skydiving (IVP Books, 2014), pages 65-66

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