The Four Gospels, like a Heavenly Choir

July 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

Some people get disturbed because the four Gospels tell slightly different stories and have different sequences. They feel, surely if the Gospels were true, they would speak in one voice. But singing in unison is as rich as harmonic polyphonic singing.

Angelic choirs were once praising the Lord and doing so with heartfelt joy. Their praises were heard sometimes as sweet singing, for to one another spirits and angels have resounding voices and they hear one another as well as men hear one another. But no human singing, however heavenly its sweetness and harmony, can compare with that of those angelic choirs. (AC 3893)

As we have seen, the Gospels offer us four distinctive voices; they do not speak in unison as some interpreters of the Old Testament. Rather, we should hear their testimonies as four distinctive voices singing in polyphony. If that is correct, the art of reading the Gospels is like the art listening to choral singing. Each section in a choir must learn to hear and sing its own part. The choir director does not want everyone gravitating to singing the melody in unison; if that happens, the polyphony and the harmonic texture will be lost. So it is with the fourfold Gospel witness of the New Testament canon. To be sure, in a complex choral work, there may be moments of dissonance between the different parts. Discerning hearers do not want to eliminate the dissonances; rather, the task of appreciation is to develop a nuanced ability to hear how the dissonances belong to a larger artistic design. With that metaphor in mind, then, let us review each of the four parts, each of the four Gospel witnesses, and ask whether they finally cohere in their polyphonic evocations of Israel’s Scripture. (ECHOES OF SCRIPTURE IN THE GOSPELS, Richard B. Hays, Baylor University Press, copyright 2016, page 349.)






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