Inerrancy and the Gospels, authored by Vern Polythress, confronts the challenges of harmonizing the gospels. Polythress is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his M.Div. and Th.M. in apologetics from that seminary. He also has an M.Litt in New Testament from the University of Cambridge, as well as a Th.D. in New Testament from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa. The book is an apologetic that maintains that the gospels are inerrant, in the face of differences found in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Polythress states that his goal is to, “treat [the gospels] in harmony with the conviction that the Bible is God’s word” (13).
The book is written in seven parts discussing the challenges, principles and attitudes of harmonization and how they apply to a variety of specific cases. Polythress lays a foundation of an uncompromising belief in inerrancy, and an acknowledgement of the finiteness of the human condition when attempting to harmonize. His initial case study is a fascinating look at the differing accounts in Matthew and Luke of the role of intermediaries in the healing of the centurion’s servant. After rejecting as improbable the possibility of two events, Polythress examines how the differing emphases of the two gospel writers were manifest in the differing details of the account: “In sum, Matthew and Luke have distinctive emphases; Matthew emphasizes the centurion’s Gentile status, and Luke emphasize his humility. Both of these emphases say something significant about the kingdom of God and Jesus’ ministry” (24). Polythress uses this case as a starting point for laying out principles of harmonization including: the assumption of inspiration, benefiting from previous generations of scholarship, the possibility of more than one event, the omitting of details, allowing for differences in environment and theological emphasis. Chapters 4-10 tackle issues that affect harmonization outside of those general principles. For example in chapter four Polythress examines how history, artistry and theology intertwine to affect interpretation and harmonization. Chapter seven discusses the unworkable concept of what Polythress calls, “a mental-picture theory.” He explains, “A mental picture theory of truth expects a true account will produce in readers a mental picture in direct correspondence to the actual events … But this conception is unworkable … it does not respect the nature of verbal communication as sparse” (49-50). Before spending a significant amount of time parsing specific examples of harmonization difficulties, Polythress spends several chapters discussing attitudes that affect harmonization including over-confidence and doubt as well as the limitations of human knowledge. The last three sections of the book apply the principles to various cases of gospel differences, ending with the healing of blind...