Why are the Gospels so believable?

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by Neil Godfrey

kermode1One of my first posts on this blog asked why the Gospel of Mark was not more often interpreted in a way we would normally interpret any other form of literature. I was referring to Frank Kermode’s discussion of the Gospel of Mark in The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative. This post explores a more in depth reading of Kermode’s chapter titled “What Precisely Are the Facts?” Here Kermode addresses what it is about the Gospels — the literary devices used in them — that lend them an air of being “true” or believable narratives. When on occasion I encounter even an academic scholar affirming that a Gospel narrative “rings true” or has an “air of historical plausibility” about it I am dismayed at the naïvety of such assertions.

Conscious awareness of the power and functions of rhetorical styles is easily lost on many of us and Kermode goes some way to explaining why. Not everyone has ready access to Kermode’s book, so I allow readers to glance over my shoulder and see the following snippets I have taken from this chapter. I have bolded the main points that I think deserve quick attention. The first point ought, to my mind, be simple enough to take for granted if we stop to reflect that the written word is just another means of human expression and humans are by nature capable of being misread, misunderstood, and — whether for good or ill — skilled in pretence and deception. Were it otherwise there would be no need for court systems and no place for a lot of theatre and not a lot of point in lying.

In practice we may feel that we have no particular difficulty in distinguishing between narratives which claim to be reliable records of fact, and narratives which simply go through the motions of being such a record. But when we think about it, as on occasion we may compel ourselves to, the distinction may grow troublesome. (p. 101) Continue reading “Why are the Gospels so believable?”