He Must Increase

The Diatessaron was written in the midsecond century AD. It was the first known attempt
at what we now call a harmony of the Gospels.
The catalyst for this work was a real concern over
the fact that the apostles Matthew and John, and
two apostolic companions (Mark and Luke), had
between them written four related-but-sometimesdiffering gospel accounts. Church leaders noticed
early on that these four accounts had different
perspectives, and that they occasionally seemed
to diverge from one another. Thus, the
Diatessaron was an effort, as are modern
harmonies, to somehow synchronize Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John. It was intended to smooth
out any “rough edges” or perceived
disagreements between the four accounts of the
life of Jesus.
It is impossible to deny that there are places
where the gospels appear to be at odds with one
another. One common example is the story of a
healing detailed in Matt. 20:29-30, Mark 10:46-47,
and Luke 18:35. In Mark’s and Luke’s gospels,
Jesus heals a blind man, named by Mark as
Bartimaeus. In Matthew’s gospel, however, there
are two blind men. The story harmonizes on just
about every other detail except the number of
blind men. Why is that?
There are a few ways to look at such oddities,
in my opinion. One way to do so is to simply
assume that in each such “discrepancy,” the
gospel writers must be telling similar but different
stories. I believe that is a fair—and not
uncommon—way in which to synchronize the four
gospel accounts. Yet I believe there is a better
way; a way that spurs us on to deeper faith and
greater growth.

I suggest that when we come across such
scriptural situations, we embrace the tension
and the discomfort that they create. In these
scenarios, we typically default to the practiced
habit of deciding which version of the story to
follow and believe, to the detriment of the
other. I strongly advise that we not do that. In
fact, I suggest that we forever toss away that
approach. In its place, I contend that the best
thing to do for our growth and for our faith is,
as stated above, to dwell in the apparent
ambiguity. I recommend that, instead of being
focused on the variations and on a way in
which to explain them away, we wrestle with
what the writer and the Holy Spirit might be up
to in that moment.
John’s gospel is unique. It is demonstrably
different from the synoptics, Matthew, Mark,
and Luke. It is not immune to some of
“weirdness” addressed above, of course. But it
contains a wealth of material that we do not
get from the other three. For example, In John
we get far more engagement with John the
Baptist than in the other gospels. Also, it is the
only place that we meet Nathanael and
Lazarus. Only John tells us of the woman
caught in the act of adultery. Only John
introduces us to the unnamed invalid at the
Pool of Bethesda. And so on.

It is also only in John that we meet
Nicodemus (three times), and the woman at
the well. These two stories are extensively
detailed and well known. They also are
compelling. It is fascinating to “watch” and
listen to Jesus as he patiently, judiciously,
wisely, and lovingly addresses these two
strangers. For his part, Nicodemus is the
instigator. He seeks out Jesus. Conversely, the
woman stumbles upon Jesus resting at
Jacob’s well in Sychar. Each of these
encounters involves prolonged dialogue that is
worthy of our consideration and meditation.
How Jesus handles each is significant. Also
significant is how interaction with Jesus affects
Nicodemus, the woman, and those around
them. Let’s take a look.

Share This