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Earlier this week, we’ve been considering the question of whether the Jesus depicted in Mark’s Gospel contradicts the Jesus in John’s Gospel. For a review of that argument, click here. For Part 1 of our rebuttal, click here.

The purpose of this post is to question whether Mark’s depiction is actually all that different from John’s. Spoiler: we believe it’s not.

To recap, the argument goes something like this: Mark’s “Jesus” is shy, coy, and human. He doesn’t claim to be God and doesn’t want other people thinking he is. But John’s “Jesus” is overt in his claims to divinity.

It is often said that error is truth out of proportion. That certainly applies here. The grain of truth in this is that Mark’s depiction of Jesus is more indirect and more secretive than John’s. For the modern reader especially, it’s easier to understand Jesus’ claims to divinity in the book of John than in the book of Mark. They are legitimately distinct portraits, emphasizing different aspects of Jesus’ ministry.

But recognizing differing emphases doesn’t mean we’re talking about two contradictory people. Let’s take each side of the argument and look at the Gospels themselves.

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Yesterday I (Chris) introduced a common objection to the historicity of Jesus: the accounts of Jesus’ life are so varied in the Gospels that they cannot be about the same person. (You can go back to read that here.) To many, the idea of contradictions in the Gospels is compelling. My purpose in this post is to show why that narrative rests on faulty foundations. (Be sure to check out the last in this 3-part series, in which I address the contradictions themselves.)

At the heart of the argument is the assumption that if two biographies differ, their differences must necessarily be contradictory. That’s one option, of course. But differing accounts might also be complementary, depending on the evidence. Consider these two sets of claims:

Scenario 1

Person A: Our friend Mike passed away last year this time.

Person B: I played basketball with our friend Mike last week.

Scenario 2

Person A: Our friend Mike passed away last week.

Person B: Wow. And to think, just last week Mike and I were playing basketball together.

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This is the first of a 3-part series on the supposed contradictions between the Gospels of Mark and John. Pastor J.D. and I (Chris) recently taught an apologetics class in which this question came up, so we decided to dig a little deeper. Be sure to check out part 2 and part 3.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis offers up a now-famous apologetic defense of Jesus’ divinity. It’s known as the Lord-liar-lunatic “trilemma.” As he puts it:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

There’s still a lot of currency to Lewis’ argument, but many Christians have found that it’s not as compelling to people these days. That’s because in the last generation or two, Western society has invented a new “L” to add to the list—legend. The idea here is that there was a man named “Jesus,” who said a bunch of great things, was incredibly wise and loving, and died a horrific death. But afterwards, some of his followers cooked up the resurrection and all the “God parts” to beef up their story. Boom: mischief managed.

The notion of the Gospel accounts being legend is incredibly prevalent today. One writer calls this the “ferociously obvious” fourth possibility (impugning Lewis as an idiot in the process). Especially among young people, I’ve found that it’s the most common objection to the divinity of Jesus.

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