The four gospels: contradiction or mystery?

One of the criticisms often levelled at the four gospels in the New Testament is that they contradict one another: events are reported in a different order in one gospel than in another, Jesus’ (and others’) words are reported differently, and so on.

In his book, Prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar puts forward an interesting explanation for this: namely, that it is part of how “I live my life by faith, i.e., my vision is veiled”:

In contemplating the gospel and the history of salvation in general, I am astonished, again and again, at the degree of this “veiling”. It is as if God is not particularly interested in our attaining any kind of systematic grasp of his revelation. How much there is that we do not know about Jesus! How dependent we are on a knowledge of the laws of literary composition when we wish to approach his word, his Person! We find the same or similar words put in different contexts by different evangelists, we find the same events recounted differently. It is as if the Holy Spirit, the author of scripture, has actually placed a veil in scripture itself over the mystery of the Lord’s earthly life, a veil we cannot lift. (p.175)

However, this veil is not impenetrable; we are not left without clear knowledge of the Lord’s life and ministry. On the contrary:

 He is there, attested beyond doubt in portrayals which no mere man could ever have invented. His image springs from the page, pulsating with life. But he himself escapes from all the conceptual snares we lay for him: “transiens per medium illorum ibat” (Luke 4:30).

This should be something we recognise in our own contemplation of Christ and his gospel: that we cannot attain a perfect knowledge; that much will remain a mystery to us:

The contemplative will come to love this mystery. It is part of Jesus’ secret, part of his will, that he is flesh and not a ghost; that he is neither sage, ascetic, mystic, nor theologian, but Son of Man; that he is content to be regarded as Joseph’s son. There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God. What is ultimate in Jesus is turned, not toward men, but toward the Father; it is itself contemplation, and action within contemplation.


One thought on “The four gospels: contradiction or mystery?”

  1. I have learned to love mystery and the best mystery book is the Gospel. Lectio Divina. Illuminates the Gospel one small section at a time.

    If the Gospel was simple, then my mind could understand it and then there would no ongoing joy of finding God. The illumination of the aha moment. I come from the done that got the t-shirt generation. By veiling his word, he keeps the faithful striving for closer and closer to the Truth. Amazing that 2000 years later where in the West most are not illiterate and many are university educated; the Gospel is a paradox. For a generation that can understand DNA and atoms; the Gospel is still a paradox.

    God Bless. Interesting and thought provoking article. Opened my eyes to the need for the Gospel to have been written not just for the scribes generation, for our generation but also for the generations still to come. For the Paradox to still work despite the advances of man’s knowledge. God blows my mind daily.

    As was commented on Twitter recently, Thank God for God.

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