Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 220


48. After these things, Matthew proceeds with his narrative in the following terms: “And when Jesus was entered into Capharnaum, there came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, and he is grievously tormented;” and so forth, on to the place where it is said, “And his servant was healed in the self-same hour.”203 This case of the centurion’s servant is related also by Luke; only Lc does not bring it in, as Matthew does, after the cleansing of the leper, whose story he has recorded as something suggested to his recollection at a later stage, but introduces it after the conclusion of that lengthened sermon already discussed. For he connects the two sections in this way: “Now when He had ended all His sayings in the audience of the people, He entered into Capharnaum; and a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick and ready to die;” and so forth, until we come to the verse where it is said that he was healed.204 Here, then, we notice that it was not till after He had ended all His words in the hearing of the people that Christ entered Capharnaum; by which we are to understand simply that He did not make that entrance before He had brought these sayings to their conclusion; and we are not to take it as intimating the length of that period of time which intervened between the delivery of these discourses and the entrance into Capharnaum. In this interval that leper was cleansed, whose case is recorded by Matthew in its own proper place, but is given by Lc only at a later point.205

49. Accordingly, let us proceed to consider whether Matthew and Luke are at one in the account of this servant. Matthew’s words, then, are these: “There came unto Him a centurion, beseeching Him, and saying, My servant lieth at home sick of the palsy.”206 Now this seems to be inconsistent with the version presented by Luke, which runs thus: “And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto Him the elders of the Jews, beseeching Him that He would come and healhis servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought Him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom He should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when He was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying unto Him, Lord, trouble not Thyself; for I am not worthy that Thou shouldest enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto Thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.”207 For if this was the manner in which the incident took place, how can Matthew’s statement, that there “came to Him a certain centurion,” be correct, seeing that the man did not come in person, but sent his friends? The apparent discrepancy, however, will disappear if we look carefully into the matter, and observe that Matthew has simply held by a very familiar mode of expression. For not only are we accustomed to speak of one as coming208 even before he actually reaches the place he is said to have approached,209 whence, too, we speak of one as making small approach or making great approach210 to what he is desirous of reaching; but we also not unfrequently speak of that access,211 for the sake of getting at which the approach is made, as reached even although the person who is said to reach another may not himself see the individual whom he reaches, inasmuch as it may be through a friend that he reaches the person whose favour is necessary to him. This, indeed, is a custom which has so thoroughly established itself, that even in the language of every-day life now those men are called Perventores212 who, in the practice of canvassing,213 get at the inaccessible ears, as one may say, of any of the men of influence, by the intervention of suitable personages. If, therefore, access214 itself is thus familiarly said to be gained by the means of other parties, how much more may an approach215 be said to take place, although it be by means of others, which always remains something short of actual access! For it is surely the case, that a person may be able to do very much in the way of approach, but yet may have failed to succeed in actually reaching what he sought to get at. Consequently it is nothing out of the way for Matthew,—a fact, indeed, which may be understood by any intelligence,—when thus dealing with an approach on the part of the centurion to the Lord, which was effected in the person of others, to have chosen to express the matter in this compendious method, “There came a centurion to Him.”

50. At the same time, however, we must be careful enough to discern a certain mystical depth in the phraseology adopted by the evangelist, which is in accordance with these words of the Psalm, “Come ye to Him, and be ye lightened.”216 For in this way, inasmuch as theLord Himself commended the faith of the centurion, in which indeed his approach was really made to Jesus, in such terms that He declared,“I have not found so great faith in Israel,” the evangelist wisely chose to speak of the man himself as coming to Jesus, rather than to bring in the persons through whom he had conveyed his words. And furthermore, Lc has unfolded the whole incident to us just as it occurred, in a form constraining us to understand from his narrative in what manner another writer, who was also incapable of making any false statement,might have spoken of the man himself as coming. It is in this way, too, that the woman who suffered from the issue of blood, although she took hold merely of the hem of His garment, did yet touch the Lord more effectually than those multitudes did by whom He was thronged.217 For just as she touched the Lord the more effectually, in so far as she believed the more earnestly, so the centurion also came the more really to the Lord, inasmuch as he believed the more thoroughly. And now, as regards the rest of this paragraph, it would be a superfluous task to go over in detail the various matters which are recounted by the one and omitted by the other. For, according to the principle brought under notice at the outset, there is not to be found in these peculiarities any actual antagonism between the writers.


51. Matthew proceeds in the following terms: “And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them.”218 Matthew has not indicated the date of this incident; that is to say, he has specified neither before what event nor after what occurrence it took place. For we are certainly under no necessity of supposing that, because it is recorded after a certain event, it must also have happenedin actual matter of fact after that event. And unquestionably, in this case, we are to understand that he has introduced for record here something which he had omitted to notice previously. For Mc brings in this narrative before his account of that cleansing of the leper which he would appear to have placed after the delivery of the sermon on the mount;219 which discourse, however, he has left unrelated. And thus, too Luke220 inserts this story of Peter’s mother-in-law after an occurrence221 which it follows likewise in Mark’s version, but also before that lengthened discourse, which has been reproduced by him, and which may appear to be one with the sermon which Matthew states to have been delivered on the mount. For of what consequence is it in what place any of them may give his account; or what difference does it make whether he inserts the matter in its proper order, or brings in at a particular point what was previously omitted, or mentions at an earlier stage what really happened at a later, provided only that he contradicts neither himself nor a second writer in the narrative of the same facts or of others? For as it is not in one’s own power, however admirable and trustworthy may be the knowledge he has once obtained of the facts, to determine the order in which he will recall them to memory (for the way in which one thing comes into a person’s mind before or after another is something which proceeds not as we will, but simply as it is given to us), it is reasonable enough to suppose that each of the evangelists believed it to have been his duty to relate what he had to relate in that order in which it had pleased God to suggest to his recollection the matters he was engaged in recording. At least this might hold good in the case of those incidents with regard to which the question of order, whether it were this or that, detracted nothing from evangelical authority and truth.

52. But as to the reason why the Holy Spirit, who divideth to every man severally as He will,222 and who therefore undoubtedly, with a view to the establishing of their books on so distinguished an eminence of authority, also governs and rules the minds of the holy men themselves in the matter of suggesting the things they were to commit to writing, has left one historian at liberty to construct his narrative in one way, and another in a different fashion, that is a question which any one may look into with pious consideration, and for which, by divine help, the answer also may possibly be found. That, however, is not the object of the work which we have taken in hand at present. The task we have proposed to ourselves is simply to demonstrate that not one of the evangelists contradicts either himself or his fellow-historians, whatever be the precise order in which he may have had the ability or may have preferred to compose his account of matters belonging to the doings and sayings of Christ; and that, too, at once in the case of subjects identical with those recorded by others, and in the case of subjects different from these. For this reason, therefore, when the order of times is not apparent, we ought not to feel it a matter of any consequence what order any of them may have adopted in relating the events. But wherever the order is apparent, if the evangelist then presents anything which seems to be inconsistent with his own statements, or with those of another, we must certainly take the passage into consideration, and endeavour to clear up the difficulty.


53. Matthew, accordingly, continues his narration thus: “Now when the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils; and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.”223 That this belongs in date to the same day, he indicates with sufficient clearness by these words which he subjoins, “Now when the even was come.” In a similar manner, after concluding his account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law with the sentence, “And she ministered unto them,” Mark has appended the following statement: “And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed of the devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew Him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place.”224 Here Mc appears to have preserved the order in such wise, that after the statement conveyed in the words “And at even,” he gives this note of time: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day.” And although there is no absolute necessity for supposing either that, when we have the words “And at even,” the reference must be to the evening of the very same day, or that when the phrase “In the morning” meets us, it must mean the morning225 after the self-same night; still, however that may be, this order in the occurrences may fairly appear to have been preserved with a view to an orderly arrangement of the times. Moreover, Luke, too, after relating the story of Peter’s mother-in-law, while he does not indeed say expressly, “And at even,” has at least used a phrase which conveys the same sense. For he proceeds thus: “Now when the sun had set,226 all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And He, rebuking them, suffered them not to speak: for they knew that He was Christ. And when it was day, He departed and went into a desert place.”227 Here, again, we see precisely the same order of times preserved as we discovered in Mark. But Matthew, who appears to have introduced the story of Peter’s mother-in-law not according to the order in which the incident itself took place, but simply in the succession in which he had it suggested to his mind after previous omission, has first recorded what happened on that same day, to wit, when even was come; and thereafter, instead of subjoining the notice of the morning, goes on with his account in these terms: “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave commandment to depart unto the other side of the lake.”228 This, then, is something new, differing from what is given in the context by Mc and Luke, who, after the notice of the even, bring in the mention of the morning.Consequently, as regards this verse in Matthew, “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave commandment to depart unto the other side of the lake,” we ought simply to understand that he has introduced here another fact which he has had brought to mind at this point,—namely, the fact that on a certain day, when Jesus had seen great multitudes about Him, He gave instructions to cross to the other side of the lake.


54. He next appends the following statement: “And a certain scribe came and said unto Him, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever thou goest;” and so on, down to the words, “Let the dead bury their dead.”229 We have a narrative in similar terms also in Luke. But he inserts it only after a variety of other matters, and without any explicit note of the order of time, but after the fashion of one only bethinking himself of the incident at that point. He leaves us also uncertain whether he brings it in there as something previously omitted, or as an anticipatory notice of something which in actual fact took place subsequently to those incidents by which it is followed in the history. For he proceeds thus: “And it came to pass, that as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.”230 And the Lord’s answer is given here in precisely the same terms as we find recited in Matthew. Now, although Matthew tells us that this took place at the time when He gave commandment to depart unto the other side of the lake, and Luke, on the other hand, speaks of an occasion when they “went in the way,” there is no necessary contradiction in that. For it may be the case that they went in the way just in order to come to the lake. Again, in what is said about the person who begged to be allowed first to bury his father, Matthew and Luke are thoroughly at one. For the mere fact that Matthew has introduced first the words of the man who made the request regarding his father, and that he has put after that the saying of the Lord, “Follow me,” whereas Lc puts the Lord’s command, “Follow me,” first, and the declaration of the petitioner second, is a matter of no consequence to the sense itself. Lc has also made mention of yet another person, who said, “Lord, I will follow Thee, but let me first bid them farewell which are at home at my house;”231 of which individual Matthewsays nothing. And thereafter Luke proceeds to another subject altogether, and not to what followed in the actual order of time. The passage runs: “And after these things, the Lord appointed other seventy-two also.”232 That this occurred “after these things”is indeed manifest; but at what length of time after these things the Lord did so is not apparent. Nevertheless, in this interval that took place which Matthew subjoins next in succession. For the same Matthew still keeps up the order of time, and continues his narrative, as we shall now see.


55. “And when He was entered into a ship, His disciples followed Him. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea.” And so the story goes on, until we come to the words, “And He came into His own city.”233 Those two narratives which are told by Matthew in continuous succession,—namely, that regarding the calm upon the sea after Jesus was roused from His sleep and had commanded the winds, and that concerning the persons who were possessed with the fierce devil, and who brake their bands and were driven into the wilderness,—are given also in like manner by Mc and Luke.234 Some parts of these stories are expressed, indeed, in different terms by the different writers, but the sense remains the same. This is the case, for example, when Matthew represents the Lord to have said, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”235 while Mark’s version is, “Why are ye fearful? Is it that ye have no faith?”236 For Mark’s word refers to that perfect faith which is like a grain of mustard seed; and so he, too, speaks in effect of the “little faith.” Luke, again, puts it thus: “Where is your faith?”237 Accordingly, the whole utterance may perhaps have gone thus: “Why are ye fearful? Where is your faith, O ye of little faith?” And so one of them records one part, and another another part, of the entire saying. The same may be the case with the words spoken by the disciples when they awoke Him. Matthew gives us: “Lord, save us: weperish.”238 Mc has: “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?”239 AndLc says simply, “Master, we perish.”240 These different expressions, however, convey one and the same meaning on the part of those who were awaking the Lord, and who were wishful to secure their safety. Neither need we inquire which of these several forms is to be preferred as the one actually addressed to Christ. For whether they really used the one or the other of these three phraseologies, or expressed themselves in different words, which are unrecorded by any one of the evangelists, but which were equally well adapted to give the like representation of what was meant, what difference does it make in the fact itself? At the same time, it may also possibly have been the case that, when several parties in concert were trying to awake Him, all these various modes of expression had been used, one by one person, and another by another. In the same way, too, we may deal with the exclamation on the stilling of the tempest, which, according to Matthew, was, “What manner of man is this, that the winds and the sea obey Him?”241 according to Mark, “What man, thinkest thou, is this,242 that both the wind and the sea obey Him?”243 and according to Luke, “What man, thinkest thou, is this?244 for He commandeth both the winds and the sea,245 and they obey Him.” Who can fail to see that the sense in all these forms is quite identical? For the expression, “What man, thinkest thou, is this?” has precisely the same import with the other, “What manner of man is this?”246 And where the words” He commandeth “are omitted, it can at least be understood as a matter of course that the obedience is rendered to the person commanding.

56. Moreover, with respect to the circumstance that Matthew states that there were two men who were afflicted with the legion of devils which received permission to go into the swine, whereas Mc and Lc instance only a single individual, we may suppose that one of these parties was a person of some kind of superior notability and repute, whose case was particularly lamented by that district, and for whose deliverance there was special anxiety. With the intention of indicating that fact, two of the evangelists have judged it proper to make mention only of the one person, in connection with whom the fame of this deed had been spread abroad the more extensively and remarkably. Neither should any scruple be excited by the different forms in which the words uttered by the possessed247 have been reproduced by the various evangelists. For we may either resolve them all into one and the same thing, or suppose them all to have been actually spoken. Nor, again, should we find any difficulty in the circumstance that with Matthew the address is couched in the plural number, but with Mc and Lc in the singular. For these latter two tell us at the same time, that when the man was asked what was his name, he answered that he was Legion, because the devils were many. Nor, once more, is there any discrepancy between Mark’s statement that the herd of swine was round about the mountain,248 and Luke’s, that they were on the mountain.249 For the herd of swine was so great that one portion of it might be on the mountain, and another only round about it. For, as Mc has expressly informed us, there were about two thousand swine.


57. Hereupon Matthew proceeds with his recital, still preserving the order of time, and connects his narrative in the following manner:—“And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city. And, behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed;” and so on down to where it is said “But when the multitude saw it, they marvelled; and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.”250 Mc and Lc have also told the story of this paralytic. Now, as regards Matthew’s stating that the Lord said,” Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee;” while Lc makes the address run, not as “son,” but as “man,”—this only helps to bring out the Lord’s meaning more explicitly. For these sins were [thus said to be] forgiven to the “man,” inasmuch as the very fact that he was a man would make it impossible for him to say, “I have not sinned;” and at the same time, that mode of address served to indicate that He who forgave sins to man was Himself God. Mark, again, has given the same form of words as Matthew, but he has left out the terms, “Be of good cheer.” It is also possible, indeed, that the whole saying ran thus: “Man, be of good cheer: son, thy sins are forgiven thee;” or thus: “Son, be of good cheer: man, thy sins are forgiven thee;” or the words may have been spoken in some Other congruous order.

58. A difficulty, however, may certainly arise when we observe how Matthew tells the story of the paralytic after this fashion: “And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city. And, behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed;” whereas Mc speaks of the incident as taking place not in His own city, which indeed is called Nazareth, but in Capharnaum. His narrative is to the following effect:—“ And again He entered into Capharnaum after some days; and it was noised that He was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and He spake a word251 unto them. And they came unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto Him for the press, they uncovered the roof where He was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. And when Jesus saw their faith;” and so forth.252 Luke, on the other hand, does not mention the place in which the incident happened, but gives the tale thus: “And it came to pass on a certain day that He was sitting teaching,253 and there were Pharisees and doctors of the law also sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them. And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before Him. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the house-top, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee;” and so forth.254 The question, therefore, remains one between Mc and Matthew, in so far as Matthew writes of the incident as taking place in the Lord’s city;255 while Mc locates it in Capharnaum. This question would be more difficult to solve if Matthew mentioned Nazareth by name. But, as the case stands, when we reflect that the state of Galilee itself might have been called Christ’s city,256 because Nazareth was in Galilee, just as the whole region which was made up of so many cities257 is yet called a Roman state;258 when, further, it is considered that so many nations are comprehended in that city, of which it is written, “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God;”259 and also that God’s ancient people, though dwelling in so many cities, have yet been spoken of as one house, the house of Israel,260 —who can doubtthat [it may be fairly said that] Jesus wrought this work in His own city [or, state], inasmuch as He did it in the city of Capharnaum, which was a city of that Galilee to which He had returned when He crossed over again from the country of the Gerasenes, so that when He came into Galilee He might correctly be said to have come into His own city [or, state], in which ever town of Galilee He might happen to be? This explanation may be vindicated more particularly on the ground that Capharnaum itself held a position of such eminence in Galilee that it was reckoned to be a kind of metropolis. But even were it altogether illegitimate to take the city of Christ in the sense either of Galilee itself, in which Nazareth was situated, or of Capharnaum, which was distinguished as in a certain sense the capital of Galilee, we might still affirm that Matthew has simply passed over all that happened after Jesus came into His own city until He reached Capharnaum, and that he has simply tacked on the narrative of the healing of the paralytic at this point; just as the writers do in many instances, leaving unnoticed much that intervenes, and, without any express indication of the omissions they are making, proceeding precisely as if what they subjoin, followed actually in literal succession.261


59. Matthew next continues his narrative in the following terms:—“ And as Jesus passed forth from thence, He saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed Him.”262 Mc gives this story also, and keeps the same order, bringing it in after the notice of the healing of the man who was sick of the palsy. His version runs thus: “And He went forth again by the sea-side; and all the multitude resorted unto Him, and He taught them. And as He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed Him.”263 There is no contradiction here; for Matthew is the same person with Levi. Lc also introduces this after the story of the healing of the same man who was sick of the palsy. He writes in these terms: “And after these things He went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him.”264 Now, from this it will appear to be the most reasonable explanation to say that Matthew records these things here in the form of things previously passed over, and now brought to mind. For certainly we must believe that Matthew’s calling took place before the delivery of the sermon on the mount. For Lc tells us that on this mountain on that occasion the election was made of all these twelve, whom Jesus also named apostles, out of the larger body of the disciples.265


60. Matthew, accordingly, goes on to say: “And it came to pass, as He sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and His disciples;” and so on, down to where we read, “But they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”266 Here Matthew has not told us particularly in whose house it was that Jesus was sitting at meat along with the publicans and sinners. This might make it appear as if he had not appended this notice in its strict order here, but had introduced at this point, in the way of reminiscence, something which actually took place on a different occasion, were it not that Mc and Luke, who repeat the account in terms thoroughly similar, have made it plain that it was in the house of Levi—that is to say, Matthew—that Jesus sat at meat, and all these sayings were uttered which follow. For Mc states the same fact, keeping also the same order, in the following manner: “And it came to pass, as He sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus.”267 Accordingly, when he says, “in his house,” he certainly refers to the person of whom he was speaking directly before, and that was Levi. To the same effect, after the words, “He saith unto him, Follow me; and he left all, rose up, and followed Him,”268 Lc has appended immediately this statement: “And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.” And thus it is manifest in whose house it was that these things took place.

61. Let us next look into the words which these three evangelists have all brought in as having been addressed to the Lord, and also into the replies which were made by Him. Matthew says: “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”269 This reappears very nearly in the same words in Mark: “How is it that He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?”270 Only we find thus that Matthew has omitted one thing which Mc inserts—namely, the addition “and drinketh.” But of what consequence can that be, since the sense is fully given, the idea suggested being that they were partaking of a repast in company? Luke, on the other hand, seems to have recorded this scene somewhat differently. For his version proceeds thus: “But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?”271 But his intention in this certainly is not272 to indicate that their Master was not referred to on that occasion, but to intimate that the objection was levelled against all of them together, both Himself and His disciples; the charge, however, which was to be taken to be meant both of Him and of them, being addressed directly not to Him, but to them. For the fact is that Lc himself, no less than the others, represents the Lord as making the reply, and saying, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”273 And He would not have returned that answer to them, had not their words, “Why do ye eat and drink?” been directed very specially to Himself. For the same reason, Matthew and Mc have told us that the objection which was brought against Him was stated immediately to His disciples, because, when the allegation was addressed to the disciples, the charge was thereby laid all the more seriously against the Master whom these disciples were imitating and following. One and the same sense, therefore, is conveyed; and it is expressed all the better in consequence of these variations employed in some of the terms, while the matter of fact itself is left intact. In like manner we may deal with the accounts of the Lord’s reply. Matthew’s runs thus: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; but go ye and learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”274 Mc and Lc have also preserved for us the same sense in almost the same words, with this exception, that they both fail to introduce that quotation from the prophet, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” Luke, again, after the words, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” has added the term, “unto repentance.” This addition serves to bring out the sense more fully, so as to preclude any one from supposing that sinners are loved by Christ, purely for the very reason that they are sinners. For this similitude also of the sick indicates clearly what God means by the calling of sinners, —that it is like the physician with the sick,—and that its object verily is that men should be saved from their iniquity as from disease; which healing is effected by repentance.

62. In the same way, we may subject what is said about the disciples of Jn to examination. Matthew’s words are these: “Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft?”275 The purport of Mark’s version is similar: “And the disciples of Jn and the Pharisees276 used to fast.277 And they come and say unto Him, Why do the disciples of Jn and the Pharisees278 fast, but thy disciples fast not?”279 The only semblance of a discrepancy that can be found here, is in the possibility of supposing that the mention of the Pharisees as having spoken along with the disciples of Jn is an addition of Mark’s, while Matthew states only that the disciples of Jn expressed themselves to the above effect. But the words which were actually uttered by the parties, according to Mark’s version, rather indicate that the speakers and the persons spoken of were not the same individuals. I mean, that the persons who came to Jesus were the guests who were then present, that they came because the disciples of Jn and the Pharisees were fasting, and that they uttered the above words with respect to these parties. In this way, the evangelist’s phrase, “they come,” would not refer to the persons regarding whom he had just thrown in the remark, “And the disciples of Jn and the Pharisees were fasting.” But the case would be, that as those parties were fasting, some others here, who are moved by that fact, come to Him, and put this question to Him, “Why do the disciples of Jn and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” This is more clearly expressed by Luke. For, evidently with the same idea in his mind, after stating what answer the Lord returned in the words in which He spoke about the calling of sinners under the similitude of those who are sick, he proceeds thus: “And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of Jn fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but thine eat and drink?”280 Here, then, we see that, as was the case with Mark, Lc has mentioned one party as speaking to this intent in relation to other parties. How comes it, therefore, that Matthew says, “Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast?” The explanation may be, that those individuals were also present, and that all these various parties were eager to advance this charge, as they severally found opportunity. And the sentiments which sought expression on this occasion have been conveyed by the three evangelists undervaried terms, but yet without any divergence from a true statement of the fact itself.

63. Once more, we find that Matthew and Mc have given similar accounts of what was said about the children of the bridegroom not fasting as long as the bridegroom is with them, with this exception, that Mc has named them the children of the bridals,281 while Matthew has designated them the children of the bridegroom.282 That, however, is a matter of no moment. For by the children of the bridals we understand at once those connected with the bridegroom, and those connected with the bride. The sense, therefore, is obvious and identical, and neither different nor contradictory. Luke, again, does not say, “Can the children of the bridegroom fast?” but, “Can ye make the children of the bridegroom fast, while the bridegroom is with them?” By expressing it in this method, the evangelist has elegantly opened up the self-same sense in a way calculated to suggest something else. Forthus the idea is conveyed, that those very persons who were speaking would try to make the children of the bridegroom mourn and fast, inasmuch as they would [seek to] put the bridegroom to death. Moreover, Matthew’s phrase, “mourn,” is of the same import as that used by Mark and Luke, namely, “fast.” For Matthew also says further on, “Then shall they fast,” and not, “Then shall they mourn.” But by the use of this phrase, he has indicated that the Lord spoke of that kind of fasting which pertains to the lowliness of tribulation. In the same way, too, the Lord may be understood to have pictured out a different kind of fasting, which stands related to the rapture of a mind dwelling in the heights of things spiritual, and for that reason estranged in a certain measure from the meats that are for the body, when He made use of those subsequent similitudes touching the new cloth and the new wine, by which He showed that this kind of fasting is an incongruity for sensual283 and carnal people, who are taken up with the cares of the body, and who consequently still remain in the old mind. These similitudes are also embodied in similar terms by the other two evangelists. And it should be sufficiently evident that there need be no real discrepancy, although one may introduce something, whether belonging to the subject-matter itself, or merely to the terms in which that subject is expressed, which another leaves out; provided only that there be neither any departure from a genuine identity in sense, nor any contradiction created between the different forms which may be adopted for expressing the same thing.

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 220