Repetition in the Gospels

Any harmonization attempt of the four gospels will quickly reveal that similar events are repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry.

For instance:

Before attributing this to some sort of error or memory lapse by the gospel authors, we should consider that abundant repetition also takes place even within the same gospel at times.

For instance, Matthew records:

  • Jesus multiplying food in quite a similar manner on two different occasions (14:13-21 cf. 15:32-39)
  • Jesus prophesying His death on multiple occasions (20:17-19 cf. 26:1-2)
  • Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 in different conversations (e.g. 9:13 and 12:7)
  • Jesus comparing and contrasting his ministry with John the Baptist on several occasions (e.g. 9:14-17; 11:1-19; 17:12-13; 21:23-27; etc.)
    • Even contrasting John’s ministry of fasting with His own “feasting” ministry in at least two places (9:14-17 cf. 11:18-19)
  • Jesus healing two blind men twice (9:27-31 cf. 20:29-34)
  • Jesus being offered sour wine to drink while on the cross two times (27:34 cf. 27:48)

Thus, one witness (i.e. Matthew) also shows abundant repetition within only his gospel. Among other things, this demonstrates that repetition is not necessarily the result of comparing faulty eyewitness testimonies. Even more, he (and other gospel authors) seldom states when such events are similar to other events found elsewhere[1].

From this we may infer that:

  1. God repeats Himself in word and action, as all good teachers do (cf. Kang, “Spaced Repetition Promotes Efficient and Effective Learning: Policy Implications for Instruction,” 2016).
    • This seems especially obvious in Jesus’ teaching ministry when we consider that He was an itinerant preacher and thus had many different audiences. Indeed, it would be strange if He didn’t repeat Himself and His message.
  2. Events that seem unusually repetitive to modern readers may not have been so to those living in that time and place.
  3. The motives of the original authors (especially including God, the ultimate Author) do not always match the expectations of the modern readers (such as mentions that such-and-such event is a repetition of another event).

[1] Even Matthew 16:9-10, which makes mention of two similar episodes, is actually a statement from Jesus’ own lips. It was not added because Matthew thought it odd that the episodes were similar, nor does Jesus make much of the fact that He did the same miracle on two separate occasions.

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