Sunday, August 14, 2016

But wait! There's more! Refuting a claim of discrepancy in the gospels

My apologies to my readers for being away from this blog for so long. Here's a meaty apologetics/New Testament post to make up for the hiatus.

A friend asked me the other day to repeat my opinion, which he'd heard me give at one time, about an alleged discrepancy between Mark's and Luke's location of the feeding of the five thousand.

Here's how that concern about a discrepancy arises. Luke 9:10-12 says that the feeding of the five thousand took place near the town of Bethsaida. (It didn't take place in Bethsaida, because it was a deserted place, as verse 12 says. Some text families explicitly say in verse 10 that they went to a deserted area associated with the town of Bethsaida.)  Here's a map of the region around the Sea of Galilee in the time of Christ. As you can see, Bethsaida is roughly on the northeast of the Sea of Galilee. (Yes, I'm aware that there is an archeological controversy about precisely which tell represents the location of Biblical Bethsaida. No, that doesn't affect the present discussion, because the archeological candidates are all pretty darned close together, and none of them is on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.)

Mark 6:45 says that after the feeding of the five thousand Jesus told his disciples to get into a boat and go ahead of him to the other side "to Bethsaida" (as it is usually translated).

From Mark 6:45 taken in isolation, one would naturally conclude that the feeding of the five thousand took place on, in some sense, the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee from Bethsaida--hence, on the west or northwest side. After all, Jesus is telling them to go away from the location of the feeding to the other side, and the narrator is calling this direction away from the feeding "to Bethsaida." Right?

It is from this phrase "to Bethsaida," using the Greek preposition "pros," that the entire idea of a discrepancy between Mark and Luke arises.

So as not to keep the reader in suspense, I will now float two relatively simple possible harmonizations concerning the phrase "pros Bethsaidan." First possibility: "Pros" should be translated here as "over against" rather than "to." This is a possible translation of the preposition. In this case, the narrator in Mark is saying that they were going to the other side which was "over against" (i.e. opposite) Bethsaida--exactly consonant with Luke's statement about the location of the feeding near Bethsaida. Second possibility: "Pros" should be translated with a more common meaning of "toward," but the feeding took place in a deserted area somewhat to the east of Bethsaida itself, so that they would pass Bethsaida as they crossed back over to the other side, going west. Hence, they might have been sent back to the other side (that is, to the region of Capernaum) and in the process traveled "toward Bethsaida."

But wait, there's more!

Much more. The reader, especially a reader impatient with harmonization in the gospels, might well sigh and say that one would consider those readings of "pros Bethsaidan" only if one were committed a priori to inerrancy, or only if one were deeply uncomfortable with contradictions in the gospels, or something to that effect. Why not just say that either Mark or Luke made a mistake?

At this point I want to emphasize the importance of considering the positive case for the reliability of the gospels and placing alleged contradictions against that backdrop. Too much focus on alleged contradictions and on possible resolutions, or even on despair of resolutions, can create a major "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. As it turns out, the location of the feeding of the five thousand, so far from being an embarrassment to the advocate of the reliability of the gospels, is a point that confirms the reliability of the gospels.

There are two undesigned coincidences related to the location of the feeding that confirm Luke's statement that it occurred near Bethsaida. I'll give them briefly, because I have more to say beyond this, but briefly, here they are:

Both Matthew (11:20ff) and Luke (10:13ff) record Jesus, in a completely different passage, calling down woe upon Bethsaida, saying that its inhabitants ignored "mighty works" done there and did not repent. But none of the gospels records anything else, other than the feeding of the five thousand, that could plausibly be regarded as a "mighty work" that the inhabitants of Bethsaida should have known about. Interestingly, the gospels record not only the feeding of the five thousand on that day but also healings among the crowd (see Luke 9:11). Hence, the feeding of the five thousand and the healings connected with it explain the "woes" against Bethsaida. (I note in passing that it is implausible that Luke engineered this deliberately within his own gospel, for the "woe" passage also mentions mighty works done in Chorazin, but Luke records no mighty work done in Chorazin at all.)

The other undesigned coincidence connected with the location of the feeding is the "Why ask Philip?" coincidence that some of my readers may have heard in talks given by my husband or others who present the argument from undesigned coincidences. John 6:5 states that Jesus asked Philip, specifically, where they can buy bread for the crowd. John never says that the feeding took place near Bethsaida. That statement is found only in Luke. But John does say elsewhere (1:44, 12:21) that Philip was from Bethsaida. This rather neatly explains Jesus' question specifically to Philip as to where bread could be purchased for the crowd.

So Luke's location of the feeding near Bethsaida, rather than on the other side of the Sea of Galilee away from Bethsaida, is independently confirmed, as well as the other details connected with those undesigned coincidences (Jesus' calling down woe on Bethsaida, Philip's home town, the fact that Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread), and the location of the feeding thus supports the reliability of the gospels rather than undermining it.

But wait, there's more!

John's gospel also supports the conclusion that the location of the feeding was somewhere on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. John 6:16-17 says that, after the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples got into a boat and "started across the sea to Capernaum." The word translated "to" there is "eis" which can be translated in a variety of ways, including "toward." Capernaum is on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, so if they were going from east to west, away from the vicinity of Bethsaida on the northeast, they would indeed be going toward Capernaum.

But wait, there's more!

The very idea that Mark places the feeding of the five thousand in a different location from Luke is, as I mentioned above, based solely on the phrase "pros Bethsaidan," used for the direction the disciples were sent by boat after the feeding. If one gets a larger picture within Mark, one actually finds evidence that fits with the placement of the feeding on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee rather than on the northwest side. This evidence confirms Luke's location of the feeding and would create a problem within Mark itself if we insisted on interpreting "pros Bethsaidan" to mean that the feeding took place on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. Hence it is misguided to say that Mark places the feeding in a location different from Luke's.

The first bit of evidence to this effect, not very strong in itself but suggestive, arises in another undesigned coincidence. Mark 6:31 says that Jesus and his disciples were bothered by crowds "coming and going" prior to the feeding of the five thousand and that Jesus suggested that they go away somewhere. The phrase "coming and going" suggests that these were not merely crowds following Jesus, specifically, but that there was some kind of bustle where they were. This fits with the statement in John 6:4 that the Feast of Passover was near at hand, especially if Jesus and the disciples were in or near Capernaum, a major hub. If they left Capernaum in a boat and went away, then they might well have gone along the top of the Sea of Galilee and landed somewhere in the vicinity of Bethsaida, just as Luke says.

But wait, there's more! (I've saved the best for last.)

Mark itself tells us where the disciples ended up when they landed on the other side--that is, the "other side" from where the feeding of the five thousand took place, the "other side" to which Jesus sent them after the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:45), the "other side" about which there was supposedly a discrepancy between Mark and Luke.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. (Mark 6:53)
So when they had crossed over to the other side, they landed at Gennesaret. Look at the map. Where is Gennesaret? (And by the way, the location of Gennesaret is independently known. It doesn't depend on some specific interpretation of this passage.) It's on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee! It's also within a stone's throw of Capernaum. In other words, it's not on the same side as Bethsaida. It's approximately where we would expect the disciples to end up if they went away in the boat from the vicinity of Bethsaida, where Luke says the feeding took place, going (in general terms) toward Capernaum, as John says, across the top of the Sea of Galilee, and landed on the other side--going from the northeast to the northwest shore.

If we were to interpret "pros Bethsaidan" in Mark 6:45 to mean that the feeding took place on the same side of the Sea of Galilee as Capernaum and Genessaret and that they crossed over afterwards in a boat to Bethsaida, we would have an apparent conflict within Mark with verse 6:53, which says that when they crossed over they landed at Gennesaret.

So Mark doesn't "place" the feeding of the five thousand on the west side of the Sea of Galilee after all.

This means that we have reason within Mark itself for reading "pros Bethsaidan" in one of the ways suggested above. This does not solely arise from a desire to harmonize Mark and Luke or Mark and John. Independent evidence from multiple gospels, including Mark, consistently points to approximately the same location for the feeding of the five thousand, with the single phrase "pros Bethsaidan" in Mark being the only outlier. Hence, it is entirely rational to translate or interpret that one phrase in a way that is consistent with multiple, independent lines of other evidence. By doing so, we get a unified picture that makes sense of all of the evidence.

So far from being strained, this procedure is a careful, tough-minded way of making use of evidence and seeing if there is a reasonable picture that can explain all of it. This doesn't always work. Sometimes there may be an intransigent bit of evidence that just doesn't fit in with the rest, and there's nothing wrong with admitting as much when it happens.

But it's unfortunate that sometimes we get a picture of apparent biblical discrepancies that leaves out some evidence and hence that gives a skewed view. Even relatively conservative interpreters may sometimes feel mired in a slough of despond, slogging through discrepancies and trying to pull themselves out. Or, to change the metaphor, may feel bothered to death by claimed discrepancies like an attacking cloud of midges. It could be tempting to think that one is breaking free of that feeling by not attempting harmonization at all, by coming to disdain it. But that is not a correct evidential approach, even when we simply think of the gospels as historical documents. It is entirely common for different witness testimonies to have apparent discrepancies. Sometimes these are real, but surprisingly often they are merely apparent, and the real picture of what occurred fits both accounts when more is known.

In the present case, any casting of the issue as, "There seem to be a lot of discrepancies surrounding the geography of the feeding of the five thousand" or "Mark appears to place the feeding of the five thousand in a different location from Luke" is, frankly, incorrect. Hence it contributes unnecessarily to that feeling of being mired in or pestered by nuisance discrepancies. But in fact, there aren't a lot of apparent discrepancies surrounding the geography of the feeding of the five thousand. There is a unified picture of it as occurring on the northeast of the Sea of Galilee with one outlying phrase in one gospel. Mark and Luke do not appear to place the event in two different locations. Nor do Mark and John. Rather, Mark itself has a geographical indicator that places the feeding on the east side (namely, that afterwards they went over to the other side and landed at Genessaret) and another geographical indicator (the outlying phrase "pros Bethsaidan") that could be interpreted to place it on the west side. So Mark's own gospel contains evidence that is consonant with the united evidence of Luke, John, and with undesigned coincidences between and among them (one involving Matthew as well), placing the feeding on the northeast side.

It is a little ironic that I am saying all of this, since I am open in principle to saying that there may in fact be places where a gospel author got some minor detail wrong. I even have candidates for such places in my own mind. In no way does my livelihood depend upon signing a statement subscribing to inerrancy. But I also think that the gospels are very, very reliable, that real witness testimony turns out to be reconcilable often when at first it appears to be irreconcilable, and that harmonization should be given a good shot before one concludes that there is an actual error. That, I believe, is not piety but merely responsible scholarship. The exciting thing is how often, when one gets a bigger picture, one finds oneself freed from that heavy sense of "so many problems," because one sees alleged discrepancies against a wider background of evidence for reliability. Sometimes, as in the present case, that wider background even helps to explain some particular alleged discrepancy. This is, to my mind, a much healthier approach than either a) becoming highly cavalier about saying that some gospel author was wrong or confused, b) becoming highly negative about harmonization, and/or c) turning to highly dubious claims of "literary device" according to which gospel authors deliberately changed details for the sake of some literary or theological effect.

None of that does justice to the real-life texture of the texts as historical memoirs.


Mia said...

That was so beautiful I heard Puccini in my head.

Sam, (aka, MBF) said...

The exciting thing is how often, when one gets a bigger picture, one finds oneself freed from that heavy sense of "so many problems," because one sees alleged discrepancies against a wider background of evidence for reliability."

Whole article well thought out and presented!


Great post.

BTW, while the feeding of the 5,000 from 5 loaves and two fish and taking up 12 baskets full of broken pieces is in all four gospels, the feeding of the 4,000 from 7 loaves and a few fishes taking up 7 baskets full of broken pieces is only in Matthew and Mark. If only Matthew had recorded the feeding 4,000 and Luke only the feeding of the 5,000, critics of the Bible would surely have thought the two accounts were relating the same event with contradictory numbers. Even more so if Mark recorded 4,000 and John recording 5,000. That would surely have been considered a case of John pietistically embellishing the story because his was the last gospel writer, similar to how John's gospel has a much higher Christology than Mark. [Actually, I think Mark's Christology is very high. Also, IMHO it's Luke's Christology that's the lowest among the gospels (excluding Acts, which is Luke's part II).]


typos corrected in this post:

Great post by Lydia McGrew.

BTW, while the feeding of the 5,000 from 5 loaves and two fish and taking up 12 baskets full of broken pieces is in all four gospels, the feeding of the 4,000 from 7 loaves and a few fishes taking up 7 baskets full of broken pieces is only in Matthew and Mark. If only Matthew had recorded the feeding 4,000 and Luke only the feeding of the 5,000, critics of the Bible would surely have thought the two accounts were relating the same event with contradictory numbers. Even more so if Mark recorded 4,000 and John recording 5,000. That would surely have been considered a case of John pietistically embellishing the story because his was the last gospel written, similar to how John's gospel has a much higher Christology than Mark's. [Actually, I think Mark's Christology is very high. Also, IMHO it's Luke's Christology that's the lowest among the gospels (excluding Acts, which is Luke's part II).]

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, everyone!

AP, JJ Blunt has some good discussions of specific details in the feeding of the 4,000 that are different from the feeding of the 5,000. Quite interesting and confirms that these were different events. For example, the Greek word for "baskets" taken up of fragments is different, and in the feeding of the 4,000 it's fewer baskets but a bigger kind.


In times past I've browsed through Blunt's book on account of you and Tim recommending it and there's some really good stuff there.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Lydia,

You are skipping past the fact that the earliest two Gospels say nothing about where either of the alleged two feeding miracles took place. Instead, Mark and Matthew say it took place in the wilderness, a place so desolate that the people would have a ways to go to reach surrounding villages with food.

In other words, there is no mention in either of the two earliest Gospels of a nearby town with enough food for everyone.

Then after Mark and Matthew, Luke comes along and keeps it in a desolate place such that the people would have a ways to travel to surrounding villages to be fed:

Luke 9:12: Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here." (Compare Mark & Matt)

But Luke also adds for the first time the idea that this alleged miracle took place in Bethsaida.

So basically, Luke appears to have taken the story from Mark (as did Matthew as well, based on the highly regarded view known as Markan priority), and even carried over Mark's idea that it took place in the wilderness and that people would have to travel far to surrounding villages (plural) to be fed. So what is odd is how Luke also came to claim this wilderness miracle also took place in one particular city, Bethsaida, which doesn't fit well with his description of the crowd being far out in the wilderness and needing to travel surrounding villages (plural) to be fed.

So the question is where Luke got that city's name that Mark and Matthew left out for obvious reasons, since a wilderness is not a city, and their wilderness was poised between many cities, not merely one city.

Where indeed did the name Bethsaida come from? Well, we may assume via Markan priority that Luke knew of the Markan Gospel, and it happens to tack onto the end of its feeding story the name of Bethsaida. Mark mentions briefly how the disciples, right after the feeding miracle, got in a boat headed for Bethsaida.

It looks like Luke is taking that city name from Mark, along with carrying over Mark's emphasis on the location being a wilderness far from nearby village with foodplaces to, and combining them in a way Mark didn't do, and which adds awkwardness to the Lukan retelling of the Markan story, awkwardness that one may attempt to harmonize away, or just admit Luke's retelling is more awkward, literarily speaking. Maybe Luke didn't feel it was right to claim such a large miracle took place in simply an undefined wilderness? (Apparently This same Luke didn't think it right that the raised Jesus was first scene out in the boonies of Galilee either, because in Luke's retelling of the Markan tomb scene, the women are no longer told as in Mark that Jesus had gone on ahead to Galilee to be seen there. instead Luke has Jesus seen in the big city first, Jerusalem, by his apostles. The implication is that the story changed over time. But read the message at the empty tomb in Mark for yourself, and note that Matthew repeats in, but Luke no longer has such a message, and has Jesus have the disciples stay in Jerusalem so he can appear to them all there. Quite a difference from, "He has gone before you to Galilee, there you will see him.").

Edwardtbabinski said...

As for the significance in the fourth Gospel of the story of Jesus asking Philip where to go for food, there is no significance, because the Lukan tale repeats the line in Mark which states the people would have had to go to many surrounding towns to be fed, rather than to a specific town--Philip's Bethsaida--to be fed.

Also, You are making too much of Mark's mention of many people coming and going to try and harmonize it with the Passover explanation for the crowd offered in the fourth Gospel. But in Mark it simply says, to quote the NIV:

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

Read the rest of Mark and notice how common the "large crowd" theme is, so a Passover explanation offered by the fourth Gospel author is beside the point. In Mark the disciples came back from a mission and apparently couldn't get away from the crowd (presumably for more ministering or teaching) long enough to eat, and when Jesus says, lets get away from is crowd, some notice and the crowd once again follows Jesus and his disciples. But here are further examples of the large crowd theme in Mark:

Mark 2:13
Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them.

Mark 3:7
[ Crowds Follow Jesus ] Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.

Mark 5:21
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake.

Mark 5:24
So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

Mark 6:34
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 8:1
[Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand ] During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said,

Mark 9:14
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.


FYI, Mike Licona has an article on the topic at his website. I'm not sure when it was posted, but I think it was sometime after the webinar interview.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, AP. Kind of unfortunate (if someone is bothered by the "Mark was confused" statement) that he already said on tape, available on Youtube, that he thinks Mark probably was confused! Now it's "I'm content with an unanswered question."

Don't get me wrong. I don't freak out over a claim that Mark was confused, though I don't think he _was_ confused here. But I just think it's a little odd that in the webinar Licona definitely states that "probably Mark was confused" and now he says he's "satisfied with an unanswered question."

In any event, though I didn't have time to read every word of that discussion, as far as I could see he doesn't mention either the relevant undesigned coincidences or (as far as I can tell) _either_ of the most plausible solutions that I give in the main post here. But perhaps I missed it.

By the way, he also greatly overreads John in claiming that John explicitly says that they landed at Capernaum to which they intended to go. John says that they headed toward Capernaum (see my main post) and landed "at the land to which they were going." Which easily could encompass Genessaret. I find that Licona does over-read authors like that and will say that an author "says" such-and-such which, when one reads the text, the author doesn't actually say. It's a habit he really needs to get away from.

Lydia McGrew said...

There Ed Babinski goes again with weak arguments from silence and statements that "it looks like" this or that when it looks like nothing of the kind. He also simply does not understand the force of a cumulative case and of the undesigned coincidences that contribute to it. As one bonus confusion, he creates a non-existent tension between Luke's statement that they went to Bethsaida and Luke's statement that they were in a desert place. Any idea how small Bethsaida would plausibly have been? Plenty of deserted area about it. And that's not to mention the text families for Luke's text that explicitly say "to a deserted area belonging to Bethsaida." As an additional bonus, EB uses the word "harmonize" for an undesigned coincidence, as if there were some _problem_ involved when Mark says there were many coming and going and John says it was the Passover, as opposed to _positive evidence_ from the connection between them and _no_ problem. Of course, "many coming and going" isn't precisely the same emphasis as lots of crowds coming specifically to see Jesus, and that's why one thinks that there may be something to be explained in Mark which is (as it happens) nicely explained by John.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Lydia, Licona does spend some time on the meaning of the Greek word "Pros." Worth reading.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Lydia, I am sure you have heard of NT scholar, Mark Goodacre, known for his expertise concerning The Synoptic Problem and who contributed to a Baker Academic's, The Synoptic Problem: Four Views, along with Craig Evans Blomberg and Stein, gave the book positive blurbs as well. Goodacre also appeared on the Evangelical podcast, Deeper Waters:   
That being said, please note that a point I made concerning the feeding story in Luke came from one of Goodacre's most quoted papers--considered essential reading for those who follow The Synoptic Problem. His paper introduced and defended the idea of "Fatigue in the Synoptics." To quote Goodacre: 

The best example of the phenomenon, though, is Luke's version of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Matt 14.13-21 // Mark 6.30-44 // Luke 9.10-17). In spite of, or perhaps because of, the familiarity of the story, a feature in Luke's account is sometimes missed. Mark says that the disciples go away with Jesus into a desert place (eiV erhmon topon, Mark 6.31). Luke, however, resets the scene in 'a city (poliV) called Bethsaida'. This then causes all sorts of problems when Luke goes on to agree with Mark:

Mark 6.35b-36: 'And when the hour was already becoming late, his disciples having approached him were saying, "This is a desert place (erhmoV estin o topoV) and already the hour is late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages to buy something for themselves to eat."'

Luke 9.12: 'And the day began to draw in and the twelve having approached him said, "Send away the crowd, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside to lodge and find provisions because we are here in a desert place (wde en erhmw topw esmen)."'

The adjective used by both Mark and Luke is erhmoV, lonely, desolate, abandoned. Clearly it is nonsense to say 'we are here in a desolate place' when in the Lucan setting they are not. After all, if the crowd were in a city, they would not need to go to the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging. Further, since in Bethsaida food and lodging ought to be close to hand, Luke's comment that the day was drawing to a close lacks any relevance and, consequently, the feeding lacks the immediate motive that it has in Mark. In short, by relocating the Feeding of the Five Thousand, without being able to sustain the new setting with its fresh implications throughout, Luke has spoilt the story.

On several occasions, then, an evangelist's faithfulness to his source at one point has apparently led his account into difficulties at other points. These six examples all seem to point clearly to Marcan priority...

To quote Goodacre.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Hi Lydia,

The question in John is whether he added his own explanation for the crowd, depicting the crowd as pilgrims headed to Jerusalem for Passover, for his own theological purposes, which is to say that he wished to stress that Jesus must be eaten and drunk or one has no life within you, and the pilgrims were going to Jerusalem to eat the Passover meal, and Jesus was the Lamb of God who dies on the same day and time as the Passover lambs being slaughtered. Jesus is only called the Lamb of God in the fourth Gospel, and that theme pervades the fourth Gospel. This theme of the fourth evangelist is even seen in chapter one where the Baptist sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God. The fourth Gospel also differs with the Synoptics concerning whether Jesus died with the slain lambs or ate Passover lamb with his disciples. it seems obvious that the fourth Gospel writer had a theological agenda, and even mentions multiple visits of Jesus to Jerusalem during Passover, and has Jesus overturning tables in the Temple right at the beginning of his ministry, which is opposite to the Synoptics where the table turning takes place soon before his execution and is the primary reason for Jesus's execution.

So yes, there is prima facia evidence that the story changed, was altered, from Gospel to Gospel over time so I would not out much stock in the idea that John explains Mark's crowds, so much as the idea that John is attempting to write the Passover into much of his work as a whole.

Lydia McGrew said...

Licona "spends some time on the meaning of it" but, inf act, doesn't consider either of the responses given in the main post. I have now checked and definitely confirmed that. I think he is overly rigid on the meaning of "pros," not even wanting to use "toward." But I think it's useful to remember that Licona has a kind of allergy to harmonization in any event and also that he _appears_ unaware (if he is aware he is not giving due weight to it) of the strength of the independent case for the location at Bethsaida, on the northeast side of the lake. He gives the strong impression of just feeling harassed by the many details and having a general feeling that there is a problem without seeing how it actually fits together quite well with, literally, the pros Bethsaidan phrase as the only outlier in what is otherwise an extremely coherent case. This problem is exacerbated by his tendency to overread, as in the point about Capernaum I noted above. In general, Licona has shown again and again that he has adopted, perhaps accidentally, the extremely bad habit of some New Testament scholars of reading individual passages of the gospels in rigid ways that create quite unnecessary problems and that would be completely inappropriate as applied to normal human language in daily life.

You quote Goodacre's poor discussion of the question, and you also somehow seem to think that a positive blurb for a 4 views book is somehow citable as if it is a positive comment on individual passages by individual authors in the book. That is certainly not the case.

Goodacre's argument is weak and just shows how badly the field of NT studies is messed up (something I've been saying for a long time) and needs a fresh perspective.

Goodacre, like so many NT scholars are in the bad habit of doing, creates a problem where there isn't one. The very fact that the disciples mention surrounding places where the people could disperse and buy food means that the "desolate place" wasn't _far_ from such places. This fits well (whether the sentence was in the original manuscript or not--the text is contested) with the phrase in Luke that this was a deserted area belonging or pertaining to Bethsaida.

He also appears ignorant of the independent evidence that makes the location of the feeding where Luke locates it well-established.

As for John, as usual, your notion of what constitutes "a prima facie case that the story was changed" is completely off-base. In fact, John doesn't connect the *crowd* with the Passover at all. John connects the crowd explicitly with Jesus' presence and says that they were following him. This is because John begins his story *after* the beginning of Mark's story. Mark also says that a crowd followed Jesus around the edge of the lake, so Mark and John agree on this point. John begins at the point where the *specific* crowd is the crowd following Jesus. He then separately mentions that the feast of Passover was near. But it is *Mark* who makes the more generic comment (before talking about people who followed Jesus when he went away) that there were "many coming and going." It is this generic comment, not made in John, which _connects_ the crowd (on the west side of the lake) mentioned in Mark to the Passover, mentioned only in John.

Unknown said...

Amazing!!! Thank you so so SO much for writing this! I was really struggling with this but with your explanation - especially the part about how Mark himself agrees with everyone else with the exception of one definition of that one phrase - was masterful and completely cleansed the doubt I was feeling. You're truly gifted!!!!!

Dayofavoured08 said...

I'm new to your blog and I'm very happy to find it especially on this topic of discussion.

It was a Muslim friends who brought it out in a discussion about reliability and contradictions of new Testament text. He shared the video of Licona and I was shocked to hear him saying *Mark was confused*. That sound very ridiculously ridiculous to me for a Christian scholar to say and also his concluding statement that *he is content with an unanswered question*. What I can never say as baby apologist learning from great people who have gone ahead in understanding the scriptures. I would rather keeping reading till I understand the text than to publicly proclaim such. What does he want people who are new in faith to think.

I'm disappointed in him and this only tells me of who I refer to as a mentor. A mentor can say a nasty thing sometimes and it can affect the faith of those he's mentoring

I will read your post again and again.

Thank you.

I'm Popoola from Nigeria.

Lydia McGrew said...

Dear Papoola,

Thanks for your comment. One thing I should say openly is that I myself don't consider myself an inerrantist. In a way I would rather have Licona say that Mark was confused than what he says in other places--that the Gospel author *deliberately* changed the facts. It's this latter view of Licona's about many other places in the Bible that I have taken the most energy to refute in my book The Mirror or the Mask, which came out a year ago. I think that it's even more damaging to say that the authors deliberately changed things than even to say as he does about Mark that they were confused about something but understandably thought that it was true.

On the other hand, as you see from the main post, I think this claim of "confusion" is not in fact true and that there are answers to the objection.

Thanks again for reading!