Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Matthew 8:28-34 Problems in the Passage

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I am committed to the exposition of scripture. The reason I am committed to bible exposition is that I am convinced that the bible is completely unique in that the bible is the perfect revelation of God. I believe that it is inerrant as defined by the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and I believe it in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the bible (verbal—the words in the text are inspired, plenary—every word in the text in inspired and you do not have to dig through to find what parts are inspired and what parts are not because every part is inspired).

However, there are some obvious questions that are raised when examining this passage if one is going to hold to verbal, plenary inspiration and inerrancy. Of course, folks that want to deny the truth of scripture literally lick their chops at what they perceive as contradictions in the biblical text. If they can prove the bible is not inerrant or inspired then they don’t have to obey what it teaches and if there is one thing the human heart loves to do above all else it’s disobey God’s word. Therefore, we’re going to go ahead and deal with these problems before we begin working through the passage itself.

The particular issues present themselves in the first verse of this portion of Scripture. The first problem we need to tackle is one of geography. Observe that in Matthew 8:28, it says Jesus came to a region called the “Gadarenes”. If we read the parallel account in Luke 8:26 and Mark 5:1 we find the name of the place is given as “Gerasenes”. Now, the question we have to ask and answer is “Do we see a contradiction in these verses?” Because, if the bible contains a factual error like calling a place by the wrong name then we have a text that is something less than inerrant. So, what’s going on here in the text.

As Adam Clark notes in his commentary, “Gadara was, according to Josephus, the metropolis of Perea, or the region beyond Jordan: both the city and villages belonging to it lay in the country of the Gergasenes.” In other words, Gadara was a city in the region of Gergasenes. Another possible solution to the problem is proposed by Albert Barnes in his Notes on the New Testament where he says “Gadara was a city not far from the lake Gennesareth; one of the ten cities that were called Decapolis. Gergesa was a city about twelve miles to the south-east of Gadara, and about twenty miles to the east of the Jordan. There is no contradiction, therefore, in the evangelists. [Jesus] came into the region in which the two cities were situated, and [Matthew] mentioned [the Gaderenes], and the [Mark and Luke} [Gergasenes]. In any case, there is ample evidence to show that the difference is less likely due to an error on the part of the synoptic writers but more the result of different names that could be applied to the same region.

Now, the second issue is one of grouping—or the lack of grouping as the case may be. Matthew records in verse 28 that Jesus met “two men who were demon possessed” Reading the parallel account in Mark and Luke we find that they mention only one man. So, who is right? Well, I think the answer is both. Many bible commentators have suggested that Luke and Mark record one because he was the loudest. This would not be unusual in a group of two people for one to be more the lead guy and the other to be the “wing man” so to speak. However, I think there is an even simpler explanation. Luke and Mark do not say that there was only one man. They simply identify one man. Could it have been two? Yes, it could. Therefore, both texts are right and just reflect the style of the writer. Matthew was a tax collector and as such was used to details in a different way than Luke was or Mark, for that matter. The two accounts do not contradict each other but rather they are complimentary.

Now, we are faced with a decision. Are we going to allow a minor bump in the textual road to knock us completely off track in obeying and following Jesus? Do we falter over these minor questions which have no material effect on the integrity of the text or do we examine the available evidence and conclude that there appears to be several reasonable explanations for what we see here? I choose the latter. As we continue to study this gospel written by Matthew, I hope you will do the same.

No comments: