This past month, I read through the four gospels chronologically. The schedule I followed grouped stories together, having me read one or two chapters from two or three of the books each day. A chronological read, unlike the published order, connects the stories in ways one might not have realized go together. The reader gets the full picture of the story being told, as they can compare the four accounts simultaneously. It’s now my recommended order to those new to the gospels and anyone who hasn’t read it this way.
Some claim inconsistencies between the gospels and so dismiss the authority of Scripture in their lives. But they do this not understanding the purpose of the gospels: to reveal Jesus in light of his self-identified purpose. I noticed two surface-level discrepancies during my chronological read. I won’t expound them now though because that’s for another time and I think the story is better told when everything isn’t precisely accurate.
The World’s Largest Man by Harrison Scott Key opened my mind to the power that stretching the truth has on story-telling. The memoir details Key’s childhood in Mississippi where he wasn’t the stereotypical, masculine son to his father the latter seemed to wish. As quixotic as Key was growing up, his recounting was even more imaginative as it relayed the perceptions he had of his father and his opinion of himself, largely because of his relationship with his father.
This personal honesty revealed more than the Keys’ neighbors would have witnessed in that Mississippi town. His use of hyperbole especially gave readers the subjective point of view we needed to learn the lessons Key wanted to get across; these embellishments were tangible to him growing up. Though they may stretch the truth of what might have technically happened, the story is better told according to the characters’ experiences than fact-reporting.
The gospels as a story or written subjectively may sound sacrilegious. Of course they were accurate. God inspired them and I’m a monkey’s uncle if they’re not historically correct. Inerrant and infallible and all that, right?
Consider that some of Jesus’ parables – fictional by definition – are more widely circulated than is a belief in their teller. Recall, too, the final verse in the gospels:
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
There’s a textbook hyperbole if I ever saw one.
Certainly, some things ought to be stated as accurately as possible – news from the battlefield, court testimonies, and medical diagnoses. Other things though, even a memoir of oneself or of Jesus, may be more vividly – and even more accurately – told when the truth is stretched.