Book Review – Inerrancy and the Gospels
I am not overly interested in biblical inerrancy though I certainly hold to it and have read several books, as well as essays and articles, discussing it; that is not why I requested to review this book. Neither did I request a copy of Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization from Crossway because I needed convincing of the legitimacy of the Gospel accounts. My main interest in this book had to do with its author. Vern Sheridan Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has impressed me with his brilliant mind, his precise teaching, and most of all his love for God’s Word. I wanted to hear what he had to say about reconciling the differences in the Gospel narratives. His work on this topic as expressed in this book is notable, in my opinion, for three reasons: its presentation of principles for harmonization, its practically helpful examples, and its clear respect and reverence for God and his Word.
Obviously, a book discussing the harmonization of the Gospels should introduce and explain some of the various principles that theologians and apologists use to reconcile difficult passages in these canonical narratives. Poythress elucidates many of these principles in a manner that is interesting and easily understandable, even for a layman such as I. Most of these principles are covered in Part Two of the book which is simply Principles for Harmonization. Poythress introduces initial principles that discuss the trustworthiness of the Bible, the use of help from past scholars, differing incidents confused as the same event, omission of details, and the theological emphasis of the writers. He moves from these to consideration of history, theology, artistry, and the genre’s effects on harmonization. His chapter on mental-pictures and how we use and misuse them in regards to interpretation was very enlightening for me and it alone made reading the book worthwhile. Explanations of the principles of contrast, variation, and distribution are elaborated as are ideas of compression and precision. Principles are adeptly explained by the author and examples from Scripture anchor these concepts for the reader. This material will provide solid reference fodder for future study.
Inerrancy and the Gospels delivers what many readers will be looking for; examples. Throughout the book, Poythress demonstrates harmonization and addresses many of the seemingly erroneous or contradictory passages in the Gospels that those familiar with their Bibles will recognize. These are tackled with intelligence and an approach that endeavours to be realistic in terms of the difficulties that really exist. Some of the parallel passages that Poythress engages with are: the healing of the Centurion’s servant, the cleansing of the Temple, the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the cursing of the fig tree, the commissioning of the twelve, the stilling of the storm, the rich young ruler, Jarius’ daughter, blind Bartimaeus, and several others. These examples are necessary when you consider the topic at hand, but they are also successful in demonstrating how the principles brought forth work in the harmonizing of the passages.
The most enamouring aspect of this book is the attitude that Poythress takes in regards to Scripture. The professor’s stance goes beyond a high view of Scripture; it is clear the author admires and adores God’s Word as he admonishes and advocates for the reader to do the same. This is evident throughout the book, but is most poignant in the third section entitled Attitudes in Harmonization. The author reminds readers that though we wrestle with doubt, neutrality is not an option. One should read the Bible with submission and receptivity while rejecting the current trend to try and be autonomous in our approach to Holy Writ. We should accept the limits of our sin-stained and derivative knowledge while anticipating difficulties and suffering in our intellectual pursuits. These are not just any books, the author regularly reminds us, but they are the very words of God written to us. Poythress’ posture when it comes to Scripture is an edifying glimpse into the heart of a professional interpreter who clearly recognizes God’s sovereignty and grace directed towards us. I will not soon forget this.
Inerrancy and the Gospels is a formative work that succeeds due to, among other things, lucid teaching of harmonization principles, practical demonstration of those principles at work, and a refreshingly uplifting attitude toward the Bible. I recommend this book.