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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 6

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Chapter 6. On the Position Given to the Preaching of John the Baptist in All the Four Evangelists.

18. Now at this point commences the account of the preaching of John, which is presented by all the four. For after the words which I have placed last in the order of his narrative thus far—the words with which he introduces the testimony from the prophet, namely, He shall be called a Nazarene,— Matthew proceeds immediately to give us this recital: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa, etc. And Mark, who has told us nothing of the nativity or infancy or youth of the Lord, has made his Gospel begin with the same event—that is to say, with the preaching of John. For it is thus that he sets out: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophet Isaiah, Behold, I send a messenger before Your face, which shall prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. John was in the wilderness baptizing, and preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, etc. Luke, again, follows up the passage in which he says, And Jesus increased in wisdom and age, and in favour with God and man, by a section in which he speaks of the preaching of John in these terms: Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituræa and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness, etc. The Apostle John, too, the most eminent of the four evangelists, after discoursing of the Word of God, who is also the Son, antecedent to all the ages of creaturely existence, inasmuch as all things were made by Him, has introduced in the immediate context his account of the preaching and testimony of John, and proceeds thus: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This will be enough at once to make it plain that the narratives concerning John the Baptist given by the four evangelists are not at variance with one another. And there will be no occasion for requiring or demanding that to be done in all detail in this instance which we have already done in the case of the genealogies of the Christ who was born of Mary, to the effect of proving how Matthew and Luke are in harmony with each other, of showing how we might construct one consistent narrative out of the two, and of demonstrating on behoof of those of less acute perception, that although one of these evangelists may mention what the other omits, or omit what the other mentions, he does not thereby make it in any sense difficult to accept the veracity of the account given by the other. For when a single example [of this method of harmonizing] has been set before us, whether in the way in which it has been presented by me, or in some other method in which it may more satisfactorily be exhibited, every man can understand that, in all other similar passages, what he has seen done here may be done again.

19. Accordingly, let us now study, as I have said, the harmony of the four evangelists in the narratives regarding John the Baptist. Matthew proceeds in these terms: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa. Mark has not used the phrase In those days, because he has given no recital of any series of events at the head of his Gospel immediately before this narrative, so that he might be understood to speak in reference to the dates of such events under the terms, In those days. Luke, on the other hand, with greater precision has defined those times of the preaching or baptism of John, by means of the notes of the temporal power. For he says: Now, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. We ought not, however, to understand that what was actually meant by Matthew when He said, In those days, was simply the space of days literally limited to the specified period of these powers. On the contrary, it is apparent that he intended the note of time which was conveyed in the phrase In those days, to be taken to refer to a much longer period. For he first gives us the account of the return of Christ from Egypt after the death of Herod—an incident, indeed, which took place at the time of His infancy or childhood, and with which, consequently, Luke's statement of what befell Him in the temple when He was twelve years of age is quite consistent. Then, immediately after this narrative of the recall of the infant or boy out of Egypt, Matthew continues thus in due order: Now, in those days came John the Baptist. And thus under that phrase he certainly covers not merely the days of His childhood, but all the days intervening between His nativity and this period at which John began to preach and to baptize. At this period, moreover, Christ is found already to have attained to man's estate; for John and he were of the same age; and it is stated that He was about thirty years of age when He was baptized by the former.

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Source. Translated by S.D.F. Salmond. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1602206.htm>.

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