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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 68

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Chapter 68. Of the Withering of the Fig-Tree, and of the Question as to the Absence of Any Contradiction Between Matthew and the Other Evangelists in the Accounts Given of that Incident, as Well as the Other Matters Related in Connection with It; And Very Specially as to the Consistency Between Matthew and Mark in the Matter of the Order of Narration.

130. Matthew continues thus: And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, they were sore displeased, and said unto Him, Do you hear what these say? And Jesus says unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have perfected praise? And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and He lodged there. Now in the morning, as He returned into the city, He hungered. And when He saw a single fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever. And presently the fig-tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig-tree withered away! But Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If you have faith, and doubt not, you shall not only do this which is done to the fig-tree; but also, if you shall say unto this mountain, Be removed, and be you cast into the sea, it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.

131. Mark also records this occurrence in due succession. He does not, however, follow the same order in his narrative. For first of all, the fact which is related by Matthew, namely, that Jesus went into the temple, and cast out those who sold and bought there, is not mentioned at that point by Mark. On the other hand, Mark tells us that He looked round about upon all things, and, when the eventide was now come, went out into Bethany with the twelve. Next he informs us that on another day, when they were coming from Bethany, He was hungry, and cursed the fig-tree, as Matthew also intimates. Then the said Mark subjoins the statement that He came into Jerusalem, and that, on going into the temple, He cast out those who sold and bought there, as if that incident took place not on the first day specified, but on a different day. But inasmuch as Matthew puts the connection in these terms, And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany, and tells us that it was when returning in the morning into the city that He cursed the tree, it is more reasonable to suppose that he, rather than Mark, has preserved the strict order of time so far as regards the incident of the expulsion of the sellers and buyers from the temple. For when he uses the phrase, And He left them, and went out, who can be understood by those parties whom He is thus said to have left, but those with whom He was previously speaking—namely, the persons who were so sore displeased because the children cried out, Hosanna to the Son of David? It follows, then, that Mark has omitted what took place on the first day, when He went into the temple; and in mentioning that He found nothing on the fig-tree but leaves, he has introduced what He called to mind only there, but what really occurred on the second day, as both evangelists testify. Then, further, his account bears that the astonishment which the disciples expressed at finding how the fig-tree had withered away, and the reply which the Lord made to them on the subject of faith, and the casting of the mountain into the sea, belonged not to this same second day on which He said to the tree, No man eat fruit of you hereafter for ever, but to a third day. For in connection with the second day, the said Mark has recorded the incident of the casting of the sellers out of the temple, which he had omitted to notice as belonging to the first day. Accordingly, it is in connection with this second day that he tells us how Jesus went out of the city, when even had come, and how, when they passed by in the morning, the disciples saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots, and how Peter, calling to remembrance, said unto Him, Master, behold the fig-tree which You cursed is withered away. Then, too, he informs us that He gave the answer relating to the power of faith. On the other hand, Matthew recounts these matters in a manner importing that they all took place on this second day; that is to say, both the word addressed to the tree, Let no fruit grow on you from henceforward for ever, and the withering that ensued so speedily in the tree, and the reply which He made on the subject of the power of faith to His disciples when they observed that withering and marvelled at it. From this we are to understand that Mark, on his side, has recorded in connection with the second day what he had omitted to notice as occurring really on the first—namely, the incident of the expulsion of the sellers and buyers from the temple. On the other hand, Matthew, after mentioning what was done on the second day—namely, the cursing of the fig-tree as He was returning in the morning from Bethany into the city—has omitted certain facts which Mark has inserted, namely, His coming into the city, and His going out of it in the evening, and the astonishment which the disciples expressed at finding the tree dried up as they passed by in the morning; and then to what had taken place on the second day, which was the day on which the tree was cursed, he has attached what really took place on the third day—namely, the amazement of the disciples at seeing the tree's withered condition, and the declaration which they heard from the Lord on the subject of the power of faith. These several facts Matthew has connected together in such a manner that, were we not compelled to turn our attention to the matter by Mark's narrative, we should be unable to recognise either at what point or with regard to what circumstances the former writer has left anything unrecorded in his narrative. The case therefore stands thus: Matthew first presents the facts conveyed in these words, And He left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and He lodged there. Now in the morning, as He returned into the city, He hungered; and when He saw a single fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever; and presently the fig-tree withered away. Then, omitting the other matters which belonged to that same day, he has immediately subjoined this statement, And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is it withered away! although it was on another day that they saw this sight, and on another day that they thus marvelled. But it is understood that the tree did not wither at the precise time when they saw it, but presently when it was cursed. For what they saw was not the tree in the process of drying up, but the tree already dried completely up; and thus they learned that it had withered away immediately on the Lord's sentence.

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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/1602268.htm>.

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