Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Gospels are not video recordings

Vern S. Poythress, in his book on harmonization of the Gospels entitled Inerrancy and the Gospels, brings to light that we can become unreasonable in our expectations of the information available in the Gospels. He discusses our desire to get a report of events that would approach equating truth to a video-recording-like narrative of the proceedings of different events. He writes,
If we push expectations far enough in this direction, we might call the results a "video-recording" concept of truth. A "true" narrative, according to this theory, produces a mental picture equivalent to a video recording of the entire episode.

But this conception is unworkable. A literal video recording of reasonable quality provides massive details about colors, textures, shapes, and positions of every person and object in a scene, all of the motions of the various persons and objects, and all the sound audible within the scene (including, for example, the sound of a dog barking in a neighboring yard). Verbal communication does not equal a video recording. Verbal communication is "sparse." It does not mention all the colors or all the positions of all the persons and objects. Typically, it does not mention all the bystanders in a scene. Were some of the apostles present when the centurion sent elders? Which ones? What were the expressions on their faces? We simply do not know. In our mental picture we may, if we wish, begin to fill out in our imagination many of these details. But neither Matthew nor Luke gives us massive details. Even if they did, they would still fall short of a video recording. (49)
If we bring unreasonable expectations to bear on the Gospel accounts, such as a desire for an almost exhaustive description of events, we are sure to be disappointed. Let's remind ourselves as we read the Bible that the accounts given in the four Gospels are just that, accounts. They are not video recordings.

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