Mar 19, 2009

R.T. France on Gospel Harmonization


Rob Bradshaw at BiblicalStudies.org.uk has placed R. T. France's "
Chronological Aspects of 'Gospel Harmony'" online. While this article is not exactly new (1986), it was new to me. Concerning the article, Bradshaw states, "France looks at the chronology of the gospel accounts of the cursed fig tree, the cleansing of the temple and the last supper, the latter in some depth. A well-written and thought-provoking article." I found France's discussion on the cleansing of the temple most helpful. Here, the options are helpfully categorized and the strengths and weaknesses are discussed clearly. By the way, France's solution (following A. Plummer) to the chronological problem is that Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover a day earlier than usual because the Lord knew that he would be crucified on the official day (p. 54).

5 comments:

Bryan said...

Thanks for posting this. My students are always confused when I go into the chronological difficulties of the passion narratives.

On the idea that they ate the meal a day early, wouldn't such a thing be reflected in the text? The disciples would have been asking all kinds of questions about it. What makes more sense: 1) Jesus did something very unusual, but related to his central mission, that somehow gets obfuscated in the telling, or 2) that there were two traditions about the passion chronology that did not know about each other?

I am coming at it from the angle of *not* needing the Gospels to agree in all of the details, but I can understand the pressure to come up with complex harmonies if one does need all of the facts to agree.

Charles said...

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for your comment.

I am not sure that either of your two suggestions actually make any "more sense" than the other, given that both are speculative. Your reference to "complex harmonies" appears to be general, in any case, one advantage of France's view is that it is actually quite simple and in my opinion plausible (although I am still thinking it through).

The work that I have done with chronology in both Testaments has made me realize how complicated time references can actually be. I might add that one benefit in attempting to harmonize material (apart from any faith claims) is that it forces you to work through the evidence. Sometimes, it is much too easy to "punt on first down" as it were and just say, "Both are just right," one is just wrong," "or both must be wrong." One might end up at one of these three conclusions, but I would suggest that the way to get there would be through a vigorous attempt to harmonize.

Bryan said...

I definitely agree with you that time references are subtle and complicated and that we need to examine them very carefully. I must admit that on some questions, however, I am perhaps too willing to punt on first down. This is partly from temperament, but also from weariness at having circular debates for too long.

If the chronology of the passion was the only significance difference between the synoptics and John, I might be more willing to try to figure it out. As it stands, I prefer the "two independent traditions" model.

Also, what if it is not a question of "both right, one right, or both wrong," but of both being essentially theological in purpose. I am much more interested in how the dating of the Last Supper, Arrest, and Crucifixion relates to each gospel's theological structure and message than in questions of history.

I'm not saying that history isn't important, just that I don't tend to dwell on it too much in my reading of the gospels. [Do I believe that the gospels are basically historically reliable? yes.]

Thanks again for the post.

Charles said...

Bryan,

I appreciate your taking the time to interact.But, I'm not sure about your statement:

Also, what if it is not a question of "both right, one right, or both wrong," but of both being essentially theological in purpose. I am much more interested in how the dating of the Last Supper, Arrest, and Crucifixion relates to each gospel's theological structure and message than in questions of history.

The options that I presented related to answering the historical question, that is WHAT happened. Here, indeed these are the logical options. For example, Did Jesus eat a Passover mean? Yes or No? Did Jesus eat a meal on this day or that day (e.g., Thursday or Friday)? On the other hand, you apparently are more concerned with WHY, what theologically motivated the author's to present the material as they do. By the way, one could push the question back one more step. If you think that there are two independent traditions, then why are they two given the centrality of the Passion story?

Bill said...

This is new to me too, and I'm looking forward to checking it out in full very soon. Thanks so much for the link.