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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 77

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Chapter 77. Of the Harmony Subsisting Between the Three Evangelists in Their Narratives of the Discourse Which He Delivered on the Mount of Olives, When the Disciples Asked When the Consummation Should Happen.

147. Matthew continues in the following strain: And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered, and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many; and so on, down to where we read, And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. We have now, therefore, to examine this lengthened discourse as it meets us in the three evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For they all introduce it in their narratives, and that, too, in the same order. Here, as elsewhere, each of these writers gives some matters which are peculiar to himself, in which, nevertheless, we have not to apprehend any suspicion of inconsistency. But what we have to make sure of is the proof that, in those passages which are exact parallels, they are nowhere to be regarded as in antagonism with each other. For if anything bearing the appearance of a contradiction meets us here, the simple affirmation that it is something wholly distinct, and uttered by the Lord in similar terms indeed, but on a totally different occasion, cannot be deemed a legitimate mode of explanation in a case like this, where the narrative, as given by all the three evangelists, moves in the same connection at once of subjects and of dates. Moreover, the mere fact that the writers do not all observe the same order in the reports which they give of the same sentiments expressed by the Lord, certainly does not in any way affect either the understanding or the communication of the subject itself, provided the matters which are represented by them to have been spoken by Him are not inconsistent the one with the other.

148. Again, what Matthew states in this form, And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, is given also in the same connection by Mark in the following manner: And the gospel must first be published among all nations. Mark has not added the words, and then shall the end come; but he indicates what they express, when he uses the phrase first in the sentence, And the gospel must first be published among all nations. For they had asked Him about the end. And therefore, when He addresses them thus, The gospel must first be published among all nations, the term first clearly suggests the idea of something to be done before the consummation should come.

149. In like manner, what Matthew states thus, When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, whoso reads let him understand, is put in the following form by Mark: But when you shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not, let him that reads understand. But though the phrase is thus altered, the sense conveyed is the same. For the point of the clause where it ought not, is that the abomination of desolation ought not to be in the holy place. Luke's method of putting it, again, is neither, And when you shall see the abomination of desolation stand in the holy place, nor where it ought not, but, And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with an army, then know that the desolation thereof is near. At that time, therefore, will the abomination of desolation be in the holy place.

150. Again, what is given by Matthew in the following terms: Then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains; and let him which is on the house-top not come down to take anything out of his house; neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes, is reported also by Mark almost in so many words. On the other hand, Luke's version proceeds thus: Then let them which are in Judæa flee to the mountains. Thus far he agrees with the other two. But he presents what is subsequent to that in a different form. For he goes on to say, And let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto: for these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. Now these statements seem to present differences enough between each other. For the one, as it occurs in the first two evangelists, runs thus: Let him which is on the house-top not come down to take anything out of his house; whereas what is given by the third evangelist is to this effect: And let them which are in the midst of it depart out. The import, however, may be, that in the great agitation which will arise in the face of so mighty an impending peril, those shut up in the state of siege (which is expressed by the phrase, they which are in the midst of it) will appear upon the housetop [or wall], amazed and anxious to see what terror hangs over them, or what method of escape may open. Still the question rises, How does this third evangelist say here, let them depart out, when he has already used these terms: And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with an army? For what is brought in after this— namely, the sentence, And let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto— appears to form part of one consistent admonition; and we can perceive how those who are outside the city are not to enter into it; but the difficulty is to see how those who are in the midst of it are to depart out, when the city is already compassed with an army. Well, may not this expression, in the midst of it, indicate a time when the danger will be so urgent as to leave no opportunity open, so far as temporal means are concerned, for the preservation of this present life in the body, and that the fact that this will be a time when the soul ought to be ready and free, and neither taken up with, nor burdened by, carnal desires, is imported by the phrase employed by the first two writers— namely, on the house-top, or, on the wall? In this way the third evangelist's phraseology, let them depart out (which really means, let them no more be engrossed with the desire of this life, but let them be prepared to pass into another life), is equivalent in sense to the terms used by the other two, let him not come down to take anything out of his house (which really means, let not his affections turn towards the flesh, as if it could yield him anything to his advantage then). And in like manner the phrase adopted by the one, And let not them that are in the countries enter thereunto (which is to say, Let not those who, with good purpose of heart, have already placed themselves outside it, indulge again in any carnal lust or longing after it), denotes precisely what the other two evangelists embody in the sentence, Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes, which is much the same as to state that he should not again involve himself in cares of which he had been unburdened.

151. Moreover, Matthew proceeds thus: But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. Part of this is given and part omitted by Mark, when he says, And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter. Luke, on the other hand, leaves this out entirely, and instead of it introduces something which is peculiar to himself, and by which he appears to me to have cast light upon this very clause which has been set before us somewhat obscurely by these others. For his version runs thus: And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass. This is to be understood to be the same flight as is mentioned by Matthew, which should not be taken in the winter or on the Sabbath day. That winter, moreover, refers to these cares of this life which Luke has specified directly; and the Sabbath-day refers in like manner to the surfeiting and drunkenness. For sad cares are like a winter; and surfeiting and drunkenness drown and bury the heart in carnal delights and luxury— an evil which is expressed under the term Sabbath-day, because of old, as is the case with them still, the Jews had the very pernicious custom of revelling in pleasure on that day, when they were ignorant of the spiritual Sabbath. Or, if something else is intended by the words which thus appear in Matthew and Mark, Luke's terms may also be taken to bear on something else, while no question implying any antagonism between them need be raised for all that. At present, however, we have not undertaken the task of expounding the Gospels, but only that of defending them against groundless charges of falsehood and deceit. Furthermore, other matters which Matthew has inserted in this discourse, and which are common to him and Mark, present no difficulty. On the other hand, with respect to those sections which are common to him and Luke, [it is to be remarked that] these are not introduced into the present discourse by Luke, although in regard to the order of narration here they are at one. But he records sentences of like tenor in other connections, either reproducing them as they suggested themselves to his memory, and thus bringing them in by anticipation so as to relate at an earlier point words which, as spoken by the Lord, belong really to a later; or else, giving us to understand that they were uttered twice over by the Lord, once on the occasion referred to by Matthew, and on a second occasion, with which Luke himself deals.

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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. <>.

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