Imagery can be helpful or dangerous. Until relatively recent times most New Testament scholars believed the Gospel writers were giving something like snap shot images of the words and deeds of Christ. However, contemporary literary criticism rejects the “Photo” model and has replaced it with a “Portrait” model. This, they think, fits better with data and the creativity of the Gospel writers who, they believe, were not strictly reporting but were interpreting, even creating, the words and deeds of Christ.
The Difficulties of the Photo Model
Several lines of evidence have been used to support this change of images from the snap shot to the portrait image. Together, they are used to reject the strict reporting model for a more flexible model which they believe fits the biblical evidence better.
First, there is the obvious fact that the various Gospels do not present the same material (words and deeds) about Christ. There are many significant differences. With the exception of some main events like the death and resurrection narratives, there are few events mentioned in all four Gospels and many events are recorded only in one Gospel.
Second, there are known conflicts between the different Gospel presentations. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is presented at different times in his ministry, one early (Jn. 2:13-17) and one late (Mt. 21:12-13). The order of the three temptations of Christ are different between Matthew 4 and Luke 4. How Judas died is presented as by hanging in Matthew 27:5, but by falling and bursting open in Acts 1:18. The number of angels at the tomb is one in Matthew (27:5) but two in John (20:12). Different words come from the thieves on the cross, one railing at him (Mt. 27:44) and the other defending him (Lk. 24:4-42).
Third, the actual quotations of Jesus on the same occasion are often listed differently in different Gospels. This includes important events like the inscription on the Cross which is reported four different ways in the four Gospels. Also, the confession of Peter which is stated three different ways. So, it is argued that if the Gospel writers were giving us photographs of the events, then these would all be the same, but they are not.
Some words appear to be added to Jesus’ sayings. For example, John uses “verily, verily” (e.g., 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11 [KJV] or “truly, truly” [ESV] or many sayings of Jesus which are not found in the first three Gospels. Since it is widely believed that John wrote last, it is argued that Jesus never used this phrase (or these sayings) but that John put it into Jesus’ mouth.
The Dangers of the Portrait ModelRead More