Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 227


64. Still keeping by the order of time, Matthew next continues to the following effect: “While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped Him, saying, My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live;” and so on, until we come to the words, “and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.”284 The other two, namely, Mc and Luke, in like manner give this same account, only they do not keep by the same order now. For they bring up this narrative in a different place, and insert it in another connection; to wit, at the point where He crosses the take and returns from the country of the Gerasenes, after casting out the devils and permitting them to go into the swine. Thus Mc introduces it, after he has related what took place among the Gerasenes, in the following manner: “And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto Him: and He was nigh unto the sea. And there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw Him, he fell at His feet,” etc.285 By this, then, we are certainly to understand that the occurrence in connection with the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue did take place after Jesus had passed across the lake again in the ship.286 It does not, however, appear from the words themselves how long after that passage this thing happened. But that some time did elapse is clear. For had there not been an interval, no period would be left within which those circumstances might fall which Matthew has just related in the matter of the feast in his house. These, indeed, he has told after the fashion of the evangelists, as if they were the story of another person’s doings. But they are the story really of what took place in his own case, and at his own house. And after that narrative, what follows in the immediate context is nothing else than this notice of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue. For he has constructed the whole recital in such a manner, that the mode of transition from one thing to the other has itself indicated with sufficient clearness that the words immediately, following give the narrative of what actually took place in immediate consecution. For after mentioning, in connection with the former incident, those words which Jesus spake with respect to the new cloth and the new wine, he has subjoined these other words, without any interruption in the narrative, namely, “While He spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler.” And this shows that, if the person approached Him while He was speaking these things, nothing else either done or said by Him could have intervened. In Mark’s account, on the other hand, the place is quite apparent, as we have already pointed out, where other things [left unrecorded by him] might very well have come in. The case is much the same also with Luke, who, when he proceeds to follow up his version of the story of the miracle wrought among the Gerasenes, by giving his account of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, does not pass on to that in any such way as to place it in antagonism with Matthew’s version, who, by his words, “While He yet spake these things,” gives us plainly to understand that the occurrence took place after those parables about the cloth and the wine. For when he has concluded his statement of what happened among the Gerasenes, Lc passes to the next subject in the following manner; “And it came to pass that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received Him; for they were all waiting for Him. And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue, and he fell down at Jesus’ feet,” and so on.287 Thus we are given to understand that the crowd did indeed receive Jesus forthwith on the said occasion: for He was the person for whose return they, were waiting. But what is conveyed in the words which are directly added, “And, behold, there came a man whose name was Jairus,” is not to be taken to have occurred literally in immediate succession. On the contrary, the feast with the publicans, as Matthew records it, took place before that. For Matthew connects this present incident with that feast in such a way as to make it impossible for us to suppose that any other sequence of events can be the correct order.288

65. In this narrative, then, which we have undertaken to consider at present, all these three evangelists indeed are unquestionably at one in the account which they give of the woman who was afflicted with the issue of blood. Nor is it a matter of any real consequence, that something which is passed by in silence by one of them is related by another; or that Mc says, “Who touched my clothes?” while Lc says, “Who touched me?” For the one has only adopted the phrase in use and wont, whereas the other has given the stricter expression. But for all that, both of them convey the same meaning. For it is more usual with us to say, “You are tearing me,”289 than to say, “You are tearing my clothes;” as, notwithstanding the term, the sense we wish to convey is obvious enough.

66. At the same time, however, there remains the fact that Matthew represents the ruler of the synagogue to have spoken to the Lord of his daughter, not merely as one likely to die, or as dying, or as on the very point of expiring, but as even then dead; while these other two evangelists report her as now nigh unto death, but not yet really dead, and keep so strictly to that version of the circumstances, that they tell us how the persons came at a later stage with the intelligence of her actual death, and with the message that for this reason the Master ought not now to trouble Himself by coming, with the purpose of laying His hand upon her, and so preventing her from dying,—the matter not being put as if He was one possessed of ability to raise the once dead to life. It becomes necessary for us, therefore, to investigate this fact lest it may seem to exhibit any contradiction between the accounts. And the way to explain it is to suppose that, by reason of brevity in the narrative, Matthew has preferred to express it as if the Lord had been really asked to do what it is clear He did actually do, namely, raise the dead to life. For what Matthew directs our attention to, is not the mere words spoken by the father about his daughter, but what is of more importance, his mind and purpose. Thus he has given words calculated to represent the father’s real thoughts. For he had so thoroughly despaired of his child’s case, that not believing that she whom he had just left dying, could possibly now be found yet in life, his thought rather was that she might be made alive again. Accordingly two of the evangelists have introduced the words which were literally spoken by Jairus. But Matthew has exhibited rather what the man secretly wished and thought. Thus both petitions were really addressed to the Lord; namely, either that He should restore the dying damsel, or that, if she was already dead, He might raise her to life again. But as it was Matthew’s object to tell the whole story in short compass, he has represented the father as directly expressing in his request what, it is certain, had been his own real wish, and what Christ actually did. It is true, indeed, that if those two evangelists, or one of them, had told us that the father himself spake the words which the parties who came from his house uttered,—namely, that Jesus should not now trouble Himself, because the damsel had died,—then the words which Matthew has put into his mouth would not be in harmony with his thoughts. But, as the case really stands, it is not said that he gave his consent to the parties who brought that report, and who bade the Master no more think of coming now. And together with this, we have to observe, that when the Lord addressed him in these terms, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole,”290 He did not find fault with him on the ground of his want of belief, but really encouraged him to a yet stronger faith. For this ruler had faith like that which was exhibited by the person who said, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”291

67. Seeing, then, that the case stands thus, from these varied and yet not inconsistent modes of statement adopted by the evangelists, we evidently learn a lesson of the utmost utility, and of great necessity,—namely, that in any man’s words the thing which we ought narrowly to regard is only the writer’s thought which was meant to be expressed, and to which the words ought to be subservient; and further, that we should not suppose one to be giving an incorrect statement, if he happens to convey in different words what the person really meant whose words he fails to reproduce literally. And we ought not to let the wretched cavillers at words fancy that truth must be tied somehow or other to the jots and tittles of letters; whereas the fact is, that not in the matter of words only, but equally in all other methods by which sentiments are indicated, the sentiment itself, and nothing else, is what ought to be looked at.

68. Moreover, as to the circumstance that some codices of Matthew’s Gospel contain the reading, “For the woman292 is not dead, but sleepeth,” while Mc and Lc certify that she was a damsel of the age of twelve years, we may suppose that Matthew has followed the Hebrew mode of speech here. For in other passages of Scripture, as well as here, it is found that not only those who had already known a man, but all females in general, including untouched virgins, are called women.293 That is the case, for instance, where it is written of Eve, “He made it294 into a woman;”295 and again, in the book of Numbers, where the women296 who have not known a man by lying with him, that is to say, the virgins, are ordered to be saved from being put to death.297 Adopting the same phraseology, Paul, too, says of Christ Himself, that He was “made of a woman.”298 And it is better, therefore, to understand the matter according to these analogies, than to suppose that this damsel of twelve years of age was already married, or had known a man.299


69. Matthew proceeds with his narrative in the following terms: “And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying and saying, Thou son of David, have mercy on us;” and so on, down to the verse where we read, “But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.”300 Matthew is the only one who introduces this account of the two blind men and the dumb demoniac. For those two blind men, whose story is given also by the others,301 are not the two before us here. Nevertheless there is such similarity in the occurrences, that if Matthew himself had not recorded the latter incident as well as the former, it might have been thought that the one which he relates at present has also been given by these other two evangelists. There is this fact, therefore, which we ought to bear carefully in mind,—namely, that there are some occurrences which resemble each other. For we have a proof of this in the circumstance that the very same evangelist mentions both incidents here. And thus, if at any time we find any such occurrences narrated individually by the several evangelists, and discover some contradiction in the accounts, which seems not to admit of being solved [on the principle of harmonizing], it may occur to us that the explanation simply is, that this [apparently contradictory] circumstance did not take place [on that particular occasion], but that what did happen then was only something resembling it, or something which was gone about in a similar manner.


70. As to the events next related, it is true that their exact order is not made apparent by Matthew’s narrative. For after the notices of the two incidents in connection with the blind men and the dumb demoniac, he continues in the following manner: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the kingdom of the gospel,302 and healing every sickness and every disease. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they were troubled and prostrate,303 as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth304 labourers into His harvest. And when He had called unto Him His twelve disciples, He gave them power against unclean spirits;” and so forth, down to the words, “Verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.”305 This whole passage which we have now mentioned shows how He gave many counsels to His disciples. But whether Matthew has subjoined this section in its historical order, or has made its order dependent only on the succession in which it came up to his own mind, as has already been said, is not made apparent. Mc appears to have handled this paragraph in a succinct method, and to have entered upon its recital in the following terms: “And He went round about the villages, teaching in their circuit:306 and He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them by two and two, and gave them power over unclean spirits;” and so on, down to where we read, “Shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”307 But before narrating this incident, Mc has inserted, immediately after the story of the raising of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, an account of what took place on that occasion on which, in His own country, the people were astonished at the Lord, and asked from whence He had such wisdom and such capabilities,308 when they perceived His judgment: which account is given by Matthew after these counsels to the disciples, and after a number of other matters.309 It is uncertain, therefore, whether what thus happened in His own country has been recorded by Matthew in the succession in which it came to mind, after having been omitted at first, or whether it has been introduced by Mc in the way of an anticipation; and which of them, in short, has kept the order of actual occurrence, and which of them the order of his own recollection. Luke, again, in immediate succession to the mention of the raising of the daughter of Jaïrus to life, subjoins this paragraph, bearing on the power and the counsels given to the disciples, and that indeed with as great brevity as Mark.310 This evangelist, however, does not, any more than the others, introduce the subject in such a way as to produce the impression that it comes in also in the strictly historical order. Moreover, with regard to the names of the disciples, Luke, who gives their names in another place,311 —that is to say, in the earlier passage, where they are [represented as being] chosen on the mountain,—is not at variance in any respect with Matthew, with the exception of the single instance of the name of Judas the brother of James, whom Matthew designates Thaddaeus, although some codices also read Lebbaeus.312 But who would ever think of denying that one man may be known under two or three names?

71. Another question which it is also usual to put is this: How comes it that Matthew and Lc have stated that the Lord said to His disciples that they were not to take a staff with them, whereas Mc puts the matter in this way: “And He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only;”313 and proceeds further in this strain, “no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse:” thereby making it quite evident that his narrative belongs to the same place and circumstances with which the narratives of those others deal who have mentioned that the staff was not to be taken? Now this question admits of being solved on the principle of understanding that the staff which, according to Mark, was to be taken, bears one sense, and that the staff which,according to Matthew and Luke, was not to be taken with them, is to be interpreted in a different sense; just in the same way as we find the term “temptation” used in one meaning, when it is said, “God tempteth no man,”314 and in a different meaning where it is said, “The Lord your God tempteth [proveth] you, to know whether ye love Him.”315 For in the former case the temptation of seduction is intended; but in the latter the temptation of probation. Another parallel occurs in the case of the term “judgment,” which must be taken in one way, where it is said, “They that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment;”316 and in another way, where it is said, “Judge me, O God, and discern317 my cause, in respect of an ungodly nation.”318 For the former refers to the judgment of damnation, and the latter to the judgment of discrimination.

72. And there are many other words which do not retain one uniform signification, but are introduced so as to suit a variety of connections, and thus are understood in a variety of ways, and sometimes, indeed, are adopted along with an explanation. We have an example in the saying, “Be not children319 in understanding; howbeit in malice be ye little children, that in understanding ye may be perfect.”320 For here is a sentence which, in a brief and pregnant form, might have been expressed thus: “Be ye not children; howbeit be ye children.” The same is the case with the words, “If any man among you thinketh himself to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.”321 For what else is the statement there but this: “Let him not be wise, that he may be wise”? Moreover, the sentences are sometimes so put as to exercise the judgment of the inquirer. An instance of this kind occurs in what is said in the Epistle to the Galatians: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so ye will fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But it is meet that every man should prove his own work; and then shall he have rejoicing in himself, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.”322 Now, unless the word “burden” can be taken in different senses, without doubt one would suppose that the same writer contradicts himself in what he says here, and that, too, when the words are placed in such close neighbourhood in one paragraph.323 For when he has just said, “One shall bear another’s burdens,” after the lapse of a very brief interval he says, “Every man shall bear his own burden.” But the one refers to the burdens which are to be borne in sharing in one’s infirmity, the other to the burdens borne in the rendering of an account of our own actions to God: the former are burdens to be borne in our [duties of] fellowship with brethren; the latter are those peculiar to ourselves, and borne by every man for himself. And in the same way, once more, the “rod” of which the apostle spoke in the words, “Shall I come unto you with a rod?”324 is meant in a spiritual sense; while the same term bears the literal meaning when it occurs of the rod applied to a horse, or used for some other purpose of the kind, not to mention, in the meantime, also other metaphorical significations of this phrase.

73. Both these counsels, therefore, must be accepted as having been spoken by the Lord to the apostles; namely, at once that they should not take a staff, and that they should take nothing save a staff only. For when He said to them, according to Matthew, “Provide neither gold nor silver, nor money in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet a staff,” He added immediately, “for the workman is worthy of his meat.” And by this He makes it sufficiently obvious why it is that He would have them provide and carry none of these things. He shows that His reason was, not that these things are not necessary for the sustenance of this life, but because He was sending them in such a manner as to declare plainly that these things were due to them by those very persons who were to hear believingly the gospel preached by them; just as wages are the soldier’s due, and as the fruit of the vine is the right of the planters, and the milk of the flock the right of the shepherds. For which reason Paul also speaks in this wise: “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?”325 For under these figures he was speaking of those things which are necessary to the preachers of the gospel. And so, a little further on, he says: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others are partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power.”326 This makes it apparent that by these instructions the Lord did not mean that the evangelists should not seek their support in any other way than by depending on what was offered them by those to whom they preached the gospel (otherwise this very apostle acted contrary to this precept when he acquired a livelihood for himself by the labours of his own hands, because he would not be chargeable to any of them327 ), but that He gave them a power in the exercise of which they should know such things to be their due. Now, when any commandment is given by the Lord, there is the guiltof non-obedience if it is not observed; but when any power is given, any one is at liberty to abstain from its use, and, as it were, to recede from his right. Accordingly, when the Lord spake these things to the disciples, He did what that apostle expounds more clearly a little further on, when he says, “Do ye not know that they who minister in the temple328 live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained, that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things.”329 When he says, therefore, that the Lord ordained it thus, but that he did not use the ordinance, he certainly indicates that it was a power to use that was given him, and not a necessity of service that was imposed upon him.

74. Accordingly, as our Lord ordained what the apostle declares Him to have ordained,—namely, that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel,—He gave these counsels to the apostles in order that they might be withoutthe care of providing330 or of carrying with themthings necessary for this life, whether great or the very smallest; consequently He introduced this term, “neither a staff,” with the view of showing that, on the part of those who were faithful to Him, all things were due to His ministers, who themselves, too, required nothing superfluous. And thus, when He added the words, “For the workman is worthy of his meat,” He indicated quite clearly, and made it thoroughly plain, how and for what reason it was that He spake all these things. It is this kind of power, therefore, that the Lord denoted under the term “staff,” when He said that they should “take nothing” for their journey, save a staff only. For the sentence might also have been briefly expressed in this way: “Take with you none of the necessaries of life, neither a staff, save a staff only.” So that the phrase “neither a staff” may be taken to be equivalent to “not even the smallest things;” while the addition, “save a staff only,” may be understood to mean that, in virtue of that power which they received from the Lord, and which was signified by the name “staff” [or, “rod”], even those things which were not carried with them would not be wanting to them. Our Lord therefore used both phrases. But inasmuch as one and the same evangelist has not recorded them both, the writer who has told us that the rod, as introduced in the one sense, was to be taken, is supposed to be in antagonism to him who has told us that the rod, as occurring again in the other sense, was not to be taken. After this explanation of the matter, however, no such supposition ought to be entertained.

75. In like manner, also, when Matthew tells us that the shoes were not to be carried with them on the journey, what is intended is the checking of that care which thinks that such things must be carried with them, because otherwise they might be unprovided. Thus, too, the import of what is said regarding the two coats is, that none of them should think of taking with him another coat in addition to the one in which he was clad, as if he was afraid that he might come to be in want, while all the time the power (which was received from the Lord) made him sure of getting what was needful. To the same effect, when Mc says that they were to be shod with sandals or soles, he gives us to understand that this matter of the shoe has some sort of mystical significance, the point being that the foot is to be neither covered, nor yet left bare to the ground; by which the idea may be conveyed that the gospel was neither to be concealed, nor yet made to depend on the good things of earth. And as to the fact that what is forbidden is neither the carrying nor the possessing of two coats, but more distinctly the putting of them on,—the words being, “and not put on two coats,”—what counsel is conveyed to them therein but this, that they ought to walk not in duplicity, but in simplicity?

76. Thus it is not by any means to be made a matter of doubt that the Lord Himself spake all these words, some of them with a literal import, and others of them with a figurative, although the evangelists may have introduced them only in part into their writings,—one inserting one section, and another giving a different portion. Certain passages, at the same time, have been recorded in identical terms either by some two of them, or by some three, or even by all the four together. And yet not even when this is the case can we take it for granted that everything has been committed to writing which was either uttered or done by Him. Moreover, if any one fancies that the Lord could not in the course of the same discourse have used some expressions with a figurative application and others with a literal, let him but examine His other addresses, and he will see how rash and inconsiderate such a notion is. For, then (to mention but a single instance which occurs meantime to my mind), when Christ gives the counsel not to let the left hand know what the right hand doeth,331 he may suppose himself under the necessity of accepting in the same figurative sense at once the almsgivings themselves referred to, and the other instructions offered on that occasion.

77. In good truth, I must repeat here once more an admonition which it behoves the reader to keep in mind, so as not to be requiring that kind of advice so very frequently, namely, that in various passages of His discourses, the Lord has reiterated much which He had uttered already on other occasions. It is needful, indeed, to call this fact to mind, lest, when it happens that the order of such passages does not appear to fit in with the narrative of another of the evangelists, the reader should fancy that this establishes some contradiction between them; whereas he ought really to understand it to be due to the fact that something is repeated a second time in that connection which had been already expressed elsewhere. And this is a remark that should be held applicable not only to His words, but also to His deeds. For there is nothing to hinder us from believing that the same thing may have taken place more than once. But for a man to impeach the gospel simply because he does not believe in the repeated occurrence of some incident, which no one [at least] can prove to be an impossible event, betrays mere sacrilegious vanity.


78. Matthew proceeds with his narrative in the following terms: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now, when Jn had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him, Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” and so on, until we come to the words, “And Wisdom is justified of her children.”332 This whole section relating to Jn the Baptist, touching the message which he sent to Jesus, and the tenor of the reply which those whom he despatched received, and the terms in which the Lord spoke of Jn after the departure of these persons, is introduced also by Luke.333 The order, however, is not the same. But it is not made clear which of them gives the order of his own recollections, and which keeps by the historical succession of the things themselves.334


79. Thereafter Matthew goes on as follows: “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not;” and so on, down to where we read, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom at the day of judgment, than for you.”335 This section likewise is given by Luke, who reports it also as an utterence from the lips of the Lord in connection with a certain continuous discourse which He delivered. This circumstance makes it the rather appear that Lc has recorded these words in the strict consecution in which they were spoken by the Lord, while Matthew has kept by the order of his own recollections. Or if it is supposed that Matthew’s words, “Then began He to upbraid the cities,” must be taken in such a way as to imply that the intention was to express, by the term “then,” the precise point of time at which the saying was uttered, and not to signify in a somewhat broader way the period at which many of these things were done and spoken, then I say that any one entertaining that idea may equally well believe these sentences to have been pronounced on two different occasions. For if it is the fact that even in one and the same evangelist some things are found which the Lord utters twice over, as is the case with this very Lc in the instance of the counsel not to take a scrip for the journey, and so with other things in like manner which we find to have been spoken by the Lord in two. different places,336 —why should it seem strange if some other word of the Lord, which was originally uttered on two separate occasions, may happen also to be recorded by two several evangelists, each of whom gives it in the order in which it was actually spoken, and if thus the order seems to be different in the two, simply because the sentences were uttered both on the occasion noticed by the one, and on that referred to by the other?

Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels 227