the gospel according to hashtags

For the past many months I have been meeting almost bi-weekly with a small group to study the book of Matthew. We started in Jan 2012, and as of the end of May of 2013, we’ve made it through chapter 21.

At our last meeting, I had an epiphany: if the gospels were written today, we would view them as the results of searching hashtags on Twitter.

Stay with me.

Until very recently, histories were not written with great details as to precise ordering, exact dates, etc: they were written to convey the message of the author in a format the audience would understand (especially in a format the listening audience could understand). While there are a variety of arguments for and against certain authorship years, it is generally agreed-upon that the gospels were not the first books written. (Most probably it was the Epistle of James.) Moreover, based on the writing styles alone, and the gross similarity in content and structure from his 3 Epistles and the Revelation, it is most probable that the Gospel of John was not written until at least the late 80s – if not early 90s – whereas Luke wrote his Gospel along with The Acts of the Apostles while he was traveling with Paul in about the 60s.

In all probability, Matthew was written after Luke, and Mark – well, he was likely shortly before Luke, or coincident with him.

What does this have to do with Twitter? I’m getting there.

When reading the gospels, it is important to note the different styles used by the authors. John, who wrote probably 20-40 years after the others, does not employ the “synoptic” method of the first three: those that give a synopsis of Jesus life, ministry, death, and resurrection. John’s approach identifies much more of the deeper, personal messages and actions of Christ before presenting His death and resurrection.

One thing that even the most casual of observers will not is that the gospel accounts, while recounting much of the same material, vary sometimes in order, exact wording, etc. See the blow image (original) for a diagram of this phenomena:

Luke’s account most closely parallels with the hashtag concept:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. {Luke 1:1-4}

He states he has “investigated thoroughly” and wants to “write it out for you in consecutive order”.

Try searching on Twitter for a hashtag. Say … “#ISC13“. You will get, in the order they were added, all of the tweets that reference the International Supercomputing Conference (2013). Attendees, vendors, presenters, etc all are tweeting or have tweeted about that event. There is promotional material, informational content, summaries, excitements, drama, quotes, etc.

That event occurs in the middle June. I’m writing this at the end of May. In a few months’ time, you will be able to look back and see [more-or-less] everything that was tweeted (and tagged) about that conference. And, with some effort, you could reconstruct what was said, who said it, what it was about, etc.

That is what the gospels are. In fact, it’s what any historical narrative is: it’s the result of recollections, interviews, study, research, memory, proof-reading, etc.

The gospels, as the rest of the Bible, were inspired, are inerrant, and are infallible. They recorded what happened, where it happened, how it happened, and even often why it happened. However, as any law student could tell you, eye witnesses do not always have the “same story”. You and I can look at a house, be asked its color and siding type, and give two very different answers (perhaps brown brick and blue vinyl) – but both be correct. How? Because we see the same object from different angles.

{John 21:25}

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.