Q. How accurate are the direct quotes in Scripture? Would the Gospel writers, decades after the events that were recorded, have been able to report word for word precisely what was said?
A. First, we should note the difference between what we call today a direct quote as opposed to an indirect quote. A direct quote (typically reported within quotation marks) implies that the statement is reported precisely, word for word. An indirect quote (typically reported without quotation marks), implies that the general sense or meaning of the original statement is being reported, though not necessarily word for word. Example: She told them, “Hurry home now!” vs. She said they must come home right away.
It’s true that our modern Bible translations often employ quotation marks, which seem to imply a precise, direct quote. But such punctuation did not exist in the original Greek texts; it’s a later addition. So we can’t presume that every quote reflects precisely the original words spoken.
Nevertheless, Jesus told His apostles: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name — He will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (John 14:26). The sacred writers did not have to depend on unaided memories to recall accurately what Jesus and others had said decades before. The Holy Spirit enabled them to do so when necessary.
Note as well that the various Gospels sometimes provide slightly different wording when they quote the same statement of Our Lord or ano