A Surrey man with an appetite for efficiency has distilled the four gospels of the New Testament into a 22-per-cent shorter read and predicts his presentation will eventually replace the Good Book as we now know it.
Self-professed efficiency expert Daniel John of Fraser Heights, has produced “The Synoptic Gospel: The Story of The Life of Jesus,” with scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible. He’s self-publishing it through Smart Publishing Ltd., here in Surrey.
“There’s gotta be a way of knowing what happened to Jesus, faster,” said John, 47, explaining why he tackled this project.
“I was sort of an atheist until I was in my 20s. I had a profound conversion experience, believed that there was a God and read the Bible, and just started seeing – I’m an operations manager and efficiency expert – I just said, ‘This is inefficient.”
His encounter with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was a bit frustrating.
“To read one, get to the end, then start reading again, repeat it yourself, and it’s a little bit different, and is this important or is the other one more…it was confusion,” he said of the experience.
So he set about producing what he considers to be a more readable version and has laboured on his project for six years, poring over the gospels as they have been translated into English, comparing them line by line, and weeding out what he determined to be redundant language.
“I’m basically full-time, seven days a week on this,” he said.
“It’s a lot of fun if you like that kind of thing. I’ve really enjoyed producing every part of this.”
While most wordsmiths dream their labours will lead to some level of success, John’s aspirations are uncommonly ambitious, to say the least.
“You just gotta look 200 years in the future,” he told the Now. “There won’t be four gospels; no one will ever believe that we had four gospels for 1,600 years. Just the stupidity and inefficiency of it, no one will even believe that such a thing existed. It’ll be a long-forgotten memory.”
On account of his version?
“Yes, or something similar to it,” he replied. “See no one is thinking of this because it’s been suppressed by the church because of the prohibition on alternate words of God.”
Meaning, he wants his product to replace the actual text of the Bible as we know it?
“Oh yes, absolutely.”
Those are bold words, considering many of the world’s two billion or so Christians worldwide believe the Bible resting on their coffee table – the same one tucked away inside all those hotel room night table – contains the literal, albeit translated into English, word of the Lord.
Some believers might be less than chuffed at John’s take on the gospels. Skeptical. Horrified, even, by the ideas of anyone fiddling with The Book.
“I’m not really worried about that,” John remarked. “If you’re nervous it’s because of something in your own head. It’s not from anything I’m trying to project on you. I’m not trying to make you nervous. People will react the way they will react. I cannot guess, and I cannot counter it until it happens. And I know already it’s going to be a division. Some people love it, immediately, and others don’t. Some pastors actually fight me on it and others don’t.
“They say, ‘God wants it this way,’ because it was like that, but they don’t know the history of what it was, that it was actually the Catholics who broke it apart and gave us four. It’s been like this for so long, how could it have ever been different, how could God not want this, how could he have allowed this to happen? Well, God’s really not worried, the word got out there, just a little garbled, that’s all.”
John cited historical precedent for his project. In about 160 AD, a theologian named Tatian harmonized the four gospels into a single narrative known as the Diatessaron, which served at the standard scripture in Syrian churches for a couple hundred years until the Catholic Church “undid what he did.”
“That guy was branded a heretic by the church,” John explained. “It’s a Catholic thing that’s broken it apart and it just creates inefficiency.”
Originally from Toronto, John headed west to study operations management at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
He owns a safety products company in Surrey, selling reflective material kits for cars, bicycles and Halloween.
“That’s a worthy thing to save people’s lives and my reflective sticker kits have, but it’s nothing compared to helping people to understand the truth of the word of God, you know, to just to be able to read it clearly yourself.”
He considers his publishing efforts to be a calling.
“I have a calling to end nonsense in this world, what the churches teach and the way they go about it by the resources that they have,” John said. “I’m trying to give the world a pure gospel, so they can understand it.
“I don’t have an agenda, I want people to know what it says.”
Dr. Kent Clarke, a professor of New Testament textual criticism at Trinity Western University in Langley, noted that more “fundamental” Christians might feel that the Bible shouldn’t be redacted. But he also noted the four gospels as presented “aren’t really a legislated thing.”
Each of the gospels emphasize different things, Clarke said. He likened it to four different witness accounts of a traffic crash, for example. Each account will slightly vary, and different information can be gleaned from each. Clarke also likened reading the four gospels to looking at a diamond.
“Each side you look in has a different element,” he explained. “There is a beauty to that.”
But as for harmonizing the gospels, Clarke added, “I think it can be useful” when the purpose is to try to make the text clearer to read and easier to understand.
“It is ambitious,” he said of John’s efforts. “I’d love to see what he does with some of the discrepancies.”
John said he has submitted his version to the Lutherans, Catholics, United Church and other denominations for review. He’s also produced a large hardcover “merged harmony” to make it easier for scholars to examine his method.
The Synoptic Gospel itself is divided into 360 scenes.
“If you read one scene a day, you’ll get through it in a year.”
“Every church has a different hierarchical structure and a different head office. Between your local church and their head office, there are maybe three, four, five or six layers, in the case of the Catholic church, and I’m trying to get to the top layer obviously. It’s the church that has to have a good review of this to see if it’s, not so much that it’s good or bad, but if any way have I done something to contradict their doctrines, have I put secret things or changed words to make their doctrine of the Trinity or whatever, you know. So that’s what they’re interested in.
“Right now it’s being reviewed by the head, head office level of the Seventh Day Adventists in Maryland, and the Catholics have it at St. Mark’s College – the local Catholics have it at St. Mark’s College. If it gets through St. Mark’s, it’ll be at the Archbishop level of the Diocese of Vancouver. Apparently that diocese can make its own decision as to which books it used. I thought you need permission from the Pope; apparently you don’t.
“But I would still get this to the Pope eventually. If Pope Francis says this is a good book, then 1.5 billion Catholics go, ‘Oh.’”
The market John is aiming for is churches, Bible studies, courses and seminars.
“There’s no way I can’t make money off of it,” he said. “When you add all of Christianity together, there’s two billion people. This is a product for two billion people. There’s not too many other products in the world that reach two billion people.”
More information about John’s project can be found at Synopticgospel.com.