Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels



Transliteration of Greek words: All phonetical except: w = omega; h serves three puposes: 1. = Eta; 2. = rough breathing, when appearing initially before a vowel; 3. = in the aspirated letters theta = th, phi = ph, chi = ch. Accents are given immediately after their corresponding vowels: acute = ' , grave = `, circumflex = ^. The character ' doubles as an apostrophe, when necessary.

[Translated by the Rev. S. D. F. Salmond, D.D. Edited, with Notes, by the Rev. M. B. Riddle, D.D.]


The Harmony of the Gospels.

Introductory Essay.

By Professor M. B. Riddle, D.D).

The treatise of Augustin On the Harmony of the Evangelists (De Consensu Evangelistarum) is regarded as the most laborious task undertaken by the great African Father. But its influence has been much less obvious than that of his strictly exegetical and doctrinal works. Dr. Salmond, in his Introductory Notice, gives a discriminating and just estimate of it. Jerome was, in some respects, far better equipped for such a task than Augustin; yet one cannot study this work, bearing in mind the hermeneutical tendencies of the fourth century, without having an increased respect for the ability, candour, and insight of the great theologian when engaged in labours requiring linguistic knowledge, which he did not possess. Despite his ignorance of the correct text in many difficult passages, his lack of familiarity with the Greek original, many of his explanations have stood the test of time, finding acceptance even among the exegetes of this age.

Most modern Harmonies give indications of the abiding influence of the work. Yet the treatise itself has not called forth extended comments. From its character it directs attention to the problems it discusses rather than to its own solutions of them. Hence the difficulty of presenting an adequate Bibliographical List in connection with this work. All Gospel Harmonies, all Lives of Christ, all discussions of the apparent discrepancies of the Gospels, stand related to it. As a complete list was out of the question, it seemed fitting to preface this edition of the work with a few general statements in regard to Harmonies of the Gospels.

The early date of the oldest work of this character, before A.D. 170 (see (below), attests the genuineness of our four canonical Gospels, by proving that they, and they only, were generally accepted at that time. But it also shows that the existence of four Gospels, recognised as genuine and authoritative, naturally calls forth harmonistic efforts. Two questions confront every intelligent reader of these four Gospels: (1) In view of the variation in the order of events as narrated by the different evangelists, what is the more probable chronological order? (2) In view of the variation in details, what is, in each case, the correct explanation of such variations? These problems are largely exegetical; but those of the former class soon lead to the historical method of treatment, while those of the latter class lead to apologetic discussions, when apparent discrepancies are discovered. The work of Augustin deals more largely with the latter; more recent Harmonies lay greater stress upon the historical and chronological questions. The methods represent the tendencies of the age to which they respectively belong. The historical method is doubtless the more correct one; but, when it assumes the extreme form of destructive criticism, it denies the possibility of harmony. On the other hand, the apologetic method, when linked with a mechanical view of inspiration, too often adopts interpretations that are ungrammatical, in order to ignore the necessity of harmonizing differences. The true position lies between these extremes: the grammatico-historical sense must be accepted; the correct text of each Gospel must be determined, independently of verbal variations; the truthfulness of each evangelist must be assumed, until positive error is proven; the more definite statements are to be used in explaining the less definite; the characteristics of each evangelist must be given their proper weight in determining the probabilities of greater or less accuracy of detail).

But the necessary limitations of harmonistic methods should be fully recognised. Absolute certainty is often impossible: there will always be room for difference of judgment. For example, there is to-day as little agreement as ever in regard to the length of our Lord’s ministry; i.e., whether the Evangelist Jn refers to three or four passovers. The Tripaschal and Quadripaschal theories still divide scholars, as in past ages of the Church.

35 Still, the progress made in textual criticism has, by indicating more positively the exact words of all four accounts, laid the foundation for better results in harmonistic labours.

One great advantage of a Harmony, as now constructed, with the text of the evangelists in parallel columns, or in independent sections when the matter is peculiar to one of them, is the emphasis it gives to the historical sequence. The movement of the evangelical narrative is made more apparent; the relations of the events shed light upon the entire story; the purpose of discourses and journeys appears; the training of the Twelve can be better studied; the emphasis placed upon the closing events of our Lord’s life on earth is made more obvious. A comparison of the several accounts gives to the events new significance, often reveals minute and undesigned coincidences which attest the truthfulness of all the narrators. Now that the attempt to secure mechanical uniformity in the narratives has been universally rejected by scholars, another advantage of a Harmony is seen to be this: that it sets forth most strikingly the verbal differences and correspondences of the parallel passages. Only by a minute comparison of these can we discover the data for a settlement of the problem respecting the origin and relation of the Synoptic Gospels.1

The dangers attending harmonistic methods are obvious enough, and appeared very early. The tendency has been to create a rigid verbal uniformity. Hence the peculiarities of the several evangelists are obscured; the text of one is, consciously or unconsciously, conformed to that of another. The Gospel of Mark, the most individual and striking of the Synoptics, probably the oldest, has been repeatedly altered to correspond with that of Matthew. When uniformity could not be secured by this process, false exegesis was often resorted to, and hermeneutical principles avowed which injured the cause of truth. Evangelical truth cannot be defended with the weapons of error. This vicious method was usually the result of mechanical views of inspiration. That view of inspiration which rightly recognises language as vital, and which therefore seeks to know the meaning of every word, has no worse foe than the hermeneutical principle which ignores the historical sense of any word of Scripture.

The tendency just referred to brought harmonistic labours into disrepute. The immense activity of the present century in exegetical theology has not taken this direction. Moreover, the historical method received its greatest impulse from the tendency-theory of the Tübingen school, which presupposes the impossibility of constructing a Harmony of the four Gospels. Hence the reaction, in Germany especially, has been excessive.

Yet Harmonies are still prepared, and are still useful. Harmonistic labours have their rightful, though limited, place in the field of Exegetical Theology.

A very brief sketch of the leading works of this character will serve to illustrate the above statements.

The earliest attempt at constructing a Harmony was that of Tatian2 (died A.D. 172). The date of its appearance was between A.D. 153 and 170; and its title, Diatessaron, furnishes abundant evidence of the early acceptance of our four canonical Gospels. Our knowledge of this work was, until recently, very slight. But the discovery of an Armenian translation of a commentary upon it, by Ephraem the Syrian, has enabled Zahn to reconstruct a large part of the text. The commentary was translated into Latin in 1841, but little attention was paid to it until an edition by Moesinger appeared in 1876.3 The influence of Tatian’s Diatessaron upon the Greek text seems to have been unfortunate. Many of the corruptions in the received text of the Gospel of Mc are probably due to the confusion of the separate narratives occasioned by this work. Tregelles (in the new edition of Horne’s Introduction, vol. 4,p. 40) says that it “had more effect apparently in the text of the Gospels in use throughout the Church than all the designed falsifications of Marcion and every scion of the Gnostic blood.” It seems to have contained nothing indicating heretical bias or intentional alteration.

The next Harmony was that of Ammonius of Alexandria, the teacher of Origen, the first work bearing this title (Armoniva). It appeared about A.D. 220, but has been lost. Until recently it was supposed that the sections into which some early Mss. divide the Gospels were those of Ammonius himself; but, while he did make such divisions, those bearing his name are to be attributed to Eusebius (see (below). Ammonius made Matthew the basis of his work, and by his arrangement destroyed the continuity of the separate narratives. Every Harmony based upon the order of Matthew must be a failure.

Eusebius of Caesarea (died A.D. 340) adopted a similar set of divisions, adding to them numbers from 1 to 10, called “Canons,” which indicate the parallelisms of the sections. These sections and canons are printed in Tischendorf’s critical editions of the Greek Testament, and in some other editions.4 The influence of this system seems to have been great, but Eusebius often accepts a parallelism where there is really none whatever. Some of the sections are very brief, containing only part of a verse. Hence the tables of sections furnish no basis for estimating the matter common to two or more evangelists.

The work of Augustin comes next in order; it deals little with chronological questions, and shows no trace of such complete textual labour as that of Eusebius.

The Reformation gave a new impulse to this department of Biblical study. In the sixteenth century many Harmonies appeared. Among the authors are the well-known names of Osiander, Jansen, Robert Stephens, Jn Calvin, Du Moulin, Chemnitz. These works were written in Latin, as a rule; and they are worthy of the age which produced them. Lack of sufficient critical material prevented complete accuracy, but the exegetical methods of the sixteenth century obtain in the Harmonies also.

36 The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries present little in this field of labour that deserves favourable notice. The undisputed reign of the Textus Receptus impeded investigation; the supernaturalism of the dominant theology was not favourable to historical investigation; the mechanical theory of inspiration led to arbitrary and forced interpretations. Even the older rationalism, which explained away the supernatural, was scarcely more faulty in its exegesis than many an orthodox commentator. The labours of J). Lightfoot deserve grateful recognition. This great Hebrew scholar did not finish his Harmony of the Gospels, but shed great light upon many of the problems involved, by his knowledge of Jewish customs. J. A). Bengel, the pioneer of modern textual criticism of the New Testament, published a valuable Harmony in German. W). Newcome published a Harmony of the Gospels in Greek (Dublin, 1778). He follows Le Clerc (Amsterdam, 1779), and his Harmony is the basis of the more modern work by Edward Robinson (see (below)).

While the Tübingen school, by its tendency-theory, virtually denied the possibility of constructing a Harmony, it compelled the conservative theologians to adopt the historical method. Thus there has been gathered much material for harmonistic labours. But in Germany, as in England and America, Lives of Christ have been more numerous than Harmonies.

K). Wieseler and C). Tischendorf, among recent German scholars, have published valuable Harmonies. In England the work most in use is that of E). Greswell. The Archbishop of York, William Thomson, presents in Smith’s Bible Dictionary a valuable table of the Harmony of the Four Gospels (article “Gospels,” 2,p.
Am 751).

An interesting edition of the Synoptic Gospels is that of W. G). Rushbrooke (Synopticon, Cambridge, 1880-81). It is designed to show, by different type and colour, the divergences and correspondences of the three Gospels. The Greek text is that of Tischendorf, corrected from that of Westcott and Hort. It presents in the readiest form the material for harmonistic comparisons; but the editor has prepared it with a purpose diametrically opposed to that of the Harmonist, namely, to construct from the matter common to the Synoptists a “triple tradition,” which will, in the author’s judgment, approximately present the “source” from which all have drawn. The work has great value apart from its theory of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels.

In America Edward Robinson published, in repeated editions, a Harmony of the Gospels in Greek and also in English. He had previously reprinted that of Newcome.

S. J). Andrews (Life of our Lord; New York, 1863), has sought “to arrange the events of the Lord’s life, as given us by the evangelists, so far as possible, in a chronological order, and to state the grounds of this order.” It is virtually a Harmony, with the full text of the Gospels omitted. Few works of the kind equal it in value, though it needs revision in the light of the more recent results of textual criticism.

Frederic Gardiner has published a Harmony of the Four Gospels in Greek (Andover, 1871, 1876). It gives the text of Tischendorf (eighth edition), with a collation of the Textus Receptus, and of the texts of Griesbach, Lachmann, and Tregelles. The authorities are cited in the case of important variations. Another valuable feature is a comparative table, presenting in parallel columns the arrangement adopted by Greswell, Stroud, Robinson, Thomson, Tischendorf, and Gardiner.

A number of works, aiming to consolidate into one narrative the four accounts, have been passed over.

The Harmony of Dr. Robinson, which has held its ground for more than forty years, has been recently revised by the present writer. The text of Tischendorf has been substituted for that of Hahn; all the various readings materially affecting the sense which are found in Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and in the Revised English version of 1881, have been given in footnotes, with a selection of the leading authorities (Mss. and versions) for or against each reading cited. The Appendix has been enlarged to meet the new phases of discussion; but the whole volume is what it purports to be,—a revision of the standard work of Dr. Robinson. In the matter of the Greek text, the author would probably have done what has now been done by the editor. A similar but less extensive revision of the English Harmony of Dr. Robinson has been published.5

Allegheny, Pa., Nov. 14, 1887.
Translator’s Introductory Notice).

37 In the remarkable work known as his Retractations, Augustin makes a brief statement on the subject of this treatise on the Harmony of the Evangelists. The sixteenth chapter of the second book of that memorable review of his literary career, contains corrections of certain points on which he believed that he had not been sufficiently accurate in these discussions. In the same passage he informs us that this treatise was undertaken during the years in which he was occupied with his great work on the Trinity, and that, breaking in upon the task which had been making gradual progress under his hand, he wrought continuously at this new venture until it was finished. Its composition is assigned to about the year 400 A.D. The date is determined in the following manner: In the first book there is a sentence (§ 27) which appears to indicate that, by the time when Augustin engaged himself with this effort, the destruction of the idols of the old religion was being carried out under express imperial authority. No law of that kind, however, affecting Africa, seems to be found expressed previous to those to which he refers at the close of the eighteenth book of the City of God.There he gives us to understand that such measures were put in force in Carthage, under Gaudentius and Jovius, the associates of the Emperor Honorius, and states that for the space of nearly thirty years from that time the Christian religion made advances large enough to arrest general attention. Before that period, which must have been about the year 399, the idols could not be destroyed, as Augustin elsewhere indicates (Serm. 62,11, n. 17), but with the consent of the parties to whom they belonged. These considerations are taken to fix the composition of this work to a date not earlier than the close of 399 A.D.

Among Augustin’s numerous theological productions, this one takes rank with the most toilsome and exhaustive. We find him expressing himself to that effect now and again, when he has occasion to allude to it. Thus, in the 112th Tractate on Jn (n. i), he calls it a laborious piece of literature; and in the 117th Tractate on the same evangelist, he speaks of the themes here dealt with as matters which were discussed with the utmost painstaking.

Its great object is to vindicate the Gospel against the critical assaults of the heathen. Paganism, having tried persecution as its first weapon, and seen it fail, attempted next to discredit the new faith by slandering its doctrine, impeaching its history, and attacking with special persistency the veracity of the Gospel writers. In this it was aided by some of Augustin’s heretical antagonists, who endeavoured at times to establish a conspicuous inconsistency between the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian, and at times to prove the several sections of the New Testament to be at variance with each other. Many alleged that the original Gospels had received considerable additions of a spurious character. And it was a favorite method of argumentation, adopted both by heathen and by Manichaean adversaries, to urge that the evangelical historians contradicted each other. Thus, in the present treatise (i. 7), Augustin speaks of this matter of the discrepancies between the Evangelists as the palmary argument wielded by his opponents. Hence, as elsewhere he sought to demonstrate the congruity of the Old Testament with the New, he set himself here to exonerate Christianity from the charge of any defect of harmony, whether in the facts recorded or in the order of their narration, between its four fundamental historical documents.

The plan of the work is laid out in four great divisions. In the first book, he refutes those who asserted that Christ was only the wisest among men, and who aimed at detracting from the authority of the Gospels, by insisting on the absence of any written compositions proceeding from the hand of Christ Himself, and by affirming that the disciples went beyond what had been his own teaching both on the subject of His divinity, and on the duty of abandoning the worship of the gods. In the second, he enters upon a careful examination of Matthew’s Gospel, on to the record of the supper, comparing it with Mark, Luke, and John, and exhibiting the perfect harmony subsisting between them. In the third, he demonstrates the same consistency between the four Evangelists, from the account of the supper on to the end. And in the fourth, he subjects to a similar investigation those passages in Mark, Luke, and John, which have no proper parallels in Matthew.

For the discharge of a task like this, Augustin was gifted with much, but he also lacked much. The resources of a noble and penetrating intellect, profound spiritual insight, and reverent love for Scripture, formed high qualifications at his command. But he was deficient in exact scholarship. Thoroughly versed in Latin literature, as is evinced here by the happy notices of Ennius, Cicero, Lucan, and others of its great writers, he knew little Greek, and no Hebrew. He refers more than once in the present treatise to his ignorance of the original language of the Old Testament; and while his knowledge of that of the New was probably not so unserviceable as has often been supposed, instances like that in which he solves the apparent difficulty in the two burdens, mentioned in Ga vi., without alluding to the distinction between the Greek words, make it sufficiently plain that it was not at least his invariable habit to prosecute these studies with the original in his view. Hence we find him missing many explanations which would at once have suggested themselves, had he not so implicitly followed the imperfect versions of the sacred text.

An analysis of the contents of the work might show much that is of interest to the Biblical critic. Principles elsewhere theoretically enunciated are seen here in their free application. In some respects, this effort is one of a more severely scientific character than is often the case with Augustin. It displays much less digression than is customary with him. The tendency to extravagant allegorizing is also less frequently indulged in, although it does come to the surface at times, as in the notable example of the interpretation of the names Leah and Rachel. His inordinate dependence upon the Septuagint, however, is as broadly marked here as anywhere. As he sometimes indicates an inclination to accept the story of Aristeas, in this composition he almost goes the length of claiming a special inspiration for these translators. On the other hand, in many passages we have the privilege of seeing his resolve to be no uncritical expositor. He pauses often to chronicle varieties of reading, sometimes in the Latin text and sometimes in the Greek. Thus he notices the occurrence of Lebbaeus for Thaddaeus, of Dalmanutha for Magedan, and the like, and mentions how some codices read woman for maid, in the sentence, The maid is not dead, but sleepeth (
Mt 9,24).

His principles of harmonizing are ordinarily characterized by simplicity and good sense. In general, he surmounts the difficulty of what may seem at first sight discordant versions of one incident, by supposing different instances of the same circumstances, or repeated utterances of the same words. He holds emphatically by the position, that wherever it is possible to believe two similar incidents to have taken place, no contradiction can legitimately be alleged, although no Evangelist may relate them both together. All merely verbal variations in the records of the same occurrence he regards as matters of too little consequence to create any serious perplexity to the student whose aim is honestly to reach the sense intended. Such narratives as those of the storm upon the lake, the healing of the centurion’s servant, and the denials of Peter, furnish good examples of his method, and of the fair and fearless spirit of his inquiry. And however unsuccessful we may now judge some of his endeavours, when we consider the comparative poverty of his materials, and the untrodden field which he essayed to search, we shall not deny to this treatise the merit of grandeur in original conception, and exemplary faithfulness in actual execution.

S. D. F. S).


The Harmony of the Gospels.


100 The treatise opens with a short statement on the subject of the authority of the evangelists, their number, their order, and the different plans of their narratives. Augustin then prepares for the discussion of the questions relating to their harmony, by joining issue in this book with those who raise a difficulty in the circumstance that Christ has left no writing of His own, or who falsely allege that certain books were composed by Him on the arts of magic. He also meets the objections of those who, in opposition to the evangelical teaching, assert that the disciples of Christ at once ascribed more to their master than he really was, when they affirmed that he was God, and inculcated what they had not been instructed in by him, when they interdicted the worship of the Gods. Against these antagonists he vindicates the teaching of the apostles, by appealing to the utterances of the prophets, and by showing that the God of Israel was to be the sole object of worship, who also, although he was the only deity to whom acceptance was denied in former times by the Romans, and that for the very reason that he prohibited them from worshipping other gods along with himself, has now in the end made the empire of Rome subject to his name, and among all nations has broken their idols in pieces through the preaching of the gospel, as he had promised by his prophets that the event should be.


1). In the entire number of those divine records which are contained in the sacred writings, the gospel deservedly stands pre-eminent. For what the law and the prophets aforetime announced as destined to come to pass, is exhibited in the gospel in its realization1 and fulfilment. The first preachers of this gospel were the apostles, who beheld our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in person when He was yet present in the flesh. And not only did these2 men keep in remembrance the words heard from His lips, and the deeds wrought by Him beneath their eyes; but they were also careful, when the duty of preaching the gospel was laid upon them, to make mankind acquainted with those divine and memorable occurrences which took place at aperiod antecedent to the formation of their own connection with Him in the way of discipleship, which belonged also to the time of His nativity, His infancy, or His youth, and with regard to which they were able to institute exact inquiry and to obtain information, either at His own hand or at the hands of His parents or other parties, on the ground of the most reliable intimations and the most trustworthy testimonies. Certain of them also—namely, Matthew and John—gave to the world, in their respective books, a written account of all those matters which it seemed needful to commit to writing concerning Him.

2. And to preclude the supposition that, in what concerns the apprehension and proclamation of the gospel, it is a matter of any consequence whether the enunciation comes by men who were actual followers of this same Lord here when He manifested Himself in the flesh and had the company of His disciples attendant on Him, or by persons who with due credit received facts with which they became acquainted in a trustworthy manner through the instrumentality of these former, divine providence, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, has taken care that certain of those also who were nothing more than followers of the first apostles should have authority given them not only to preach the gospel, but also to compose an account of it in writing. I refer to Mc and Luke. All those other individuals, however, who have attempted or dared to offer a written record of the acts of the Lord or of the apostles, failed to commend themselves in their own times as men of the character which would induce the Church to yield them its confidence, and to admit their compositions to the canonical authority of the Holy Books. And this was the case not merely because they were persons who could make no rightful claim to have credit given them in their narrations, but also because in a deceitful manner they introduced into their writings certain matters which are condemned at once by the catholic and apostolic rule of faith, and by sound doctrine.3


3. Now, those four evangelists whose names have gained the most remarkable circulation4 over the whole world, and whose number has been fixed as four,—it may be for the simple reason that there are four divisions of that world through the universal length of which they, by their number as by a kind of mystical sign, indicated the advancing extension of the Church of Christ,—are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John. Hence, too, [it would appear that] these had one order determined among them with regard to the matters of their personal knowledge and their preaching [of the gospel], but a different order in reference to the task of giving the written narrative. As far, indeed, as concerns the acquisition of their own knowledge and the charge of preaching, those unquestionably came first in order who were actually followers of the Lord when He was present in the flesh, and who heard Him speak and saw Him act; and [with a commission received] from His lips they were despatched to preach the gospel. But as respects the task of composing that record of the gospel which is to be accepted as ordained by divine authority, there were (only) two, belonging to the number of those whom the Lord chose before the passover, that obtained places,—namely, the first place and the last. For the first place in order was held by Matthew, and the last by John. And thus the remaining two, who did not belong to the number referred to, but who at the same time had become followers of the Christ who spoke in these others, were supported on either side by the same, like sons who were to be embraced, and who in this way were set in the midst between these twain.

4. Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek. And however they may appear to have kept each of them a certain order of narration proper to himself, this certainly is not to be taken as if each individual writer chose to write in ignorance of what his predecessor had done, or left out as matters about which there was no information things which another nevertheless is discovered to have recorded. But the fact is, that just as they received each of them the gift of inspiration, they abstained from adding to their several labours any superfluous conjoint compositions. For Matthew is understood to have taken it in hand to construct the record of the incarnation of the Lord according to the royal lineage, and to give an account of most part of His deeds and words as they stood in relation to this present life of men. Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer.5 For in his narrative he gives nothing in concert with Jn apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages. Much, too, he narrates in words almost numerically and identically the same as those used by Matthew, where the agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest. On the other hand, Lc appears to have occupied himself rather with the priestly lineage and character6 of the Lord. For although in his own way he carries the descent back to David, what he has followed is not the royal pedigree, but the line of those who were not kings. That genealogy, too, he has brought to a point in Nathan the son of David,7 which person likewise was no king. It is not thus, however, with Matthew. For in tracing the lineage along through Solomon the king,8 he has pursued with strict regularity the succession of the other kings; and in enumerating these, he has also conserved that mystical number of which we shall speak hereafter.

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels