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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 78

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Chapter 78. Of the Question Whether There is Any Contradiction Between Matthew and Mark on the One Hand, and John on the Other, in So Far as the Former State that After Two Days Was to Be the Feast of the Passover, and Afterwards Tells Us that He Was in Bethany, While the Latter Gives a Parallel Narrative of What Took Place at Bethany, But Mentions that It Was Six Days Before the Passover.

152. Matthew continues thus: And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said unto His disciples, You know that after two days will be the feast of the passover, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to be crucified. This is attested in like manner by the other two—namely, Mark and Luke,— and that, too, with a thorough harmony on the subject of the order of narration. They do not, however, introduce the sentence as one spoken by the Lord Himself. They make no statement to that effect. At the same time, Mark, speaking in his own person, does tell us that after two days was the feast of the passover and of unleavened bread. And Luke likewise gives this as his own affirmation: Now the feast of unleavened bread drew near, which is called the passover; that is to say, it drew near in this sense, that it was to take place after two days' space, as the other two are more apparently at one in expressing it. John, on the other hand, has mentioned in three several places the nearness of this same feast-day. In the two earlier instances the intimation is made when he is engaged in recording certain matters of another tenor. But on the third occasion his narrative appears clearly to deal with those very times, in connection with which the other three evangelists also notice the subject—that is to say, the times when the Lord's passion was actually imminent.

153. But to those who look into the matter without sufficient care, there may seem to be a contradiction involved in the fact that Matthew and Mark, after stating that the passover was to be after two days, have at once informed us how Jesus was in Bethany on that occasion, on which the account of the precious ointment comes before us; whereas John, when he is about to give us the same narrative concerning the ointment, begins by telling us that Jesus came to Bethany six days before the passover. Now, the question is, how the passover could be spoken of by those two evangelists as about to be celebrated two days after, seeing that we find them, immediately after they have made this statement, in company with John, giving us an account of the scene with the ointment in Bethany; while in that connection the last-named writer informs us, that the feast of the passover was to take place six days after. Nevertheless, those who are perplexed by this difficulty simply fail to perceive that Matthew and Mark have brought in their account of the scene which was enacted in Bethany really in the form of a recapitulation, not as if the time of its occurrence was actually subsequent to the [time indicated in the] announcement made by them on the subject of the two days' space, but as an event which had already taken place at a date when there was still a period of six days preceding the passover. For neither of them has appended his account of what took place at Bethany to his statement regarding the celebration of the passover after two days' space in any such terms as these: After these things, when He was in Bethany. But Matthew's phrase is this: Now when Jesus was in Bethany. And Mark's version is simply this: And being in Bethany, etc.; which is a method of expression that may certainly be taken to refer to a period antecedent to the utterance of what was said two days before the passover. The case, therefore, stands thus: As we gather from the narrative of John, Jesus came to Bethany six days before the passover; there the supper took place, in connection with which we get the account of the precious ointment; leaving this place, He came next to Jerusalem, sitting upon an ass; and thereafter happened those things which they relate to have occurred after this arrival of His in Jerusalem. Consequently, even although the evangelists do not mention the fact, we understand that between the day on which He came to Bethany, and which witnessed the scene with the ointment, and the day to which all these deeds and words which are at present before us belonged, there elapsed a period of four days, so that at this point might come in the day which the two evangelists have defined by their statement as to the celebration of the passover two days after. Further, when Luke says, Now the feast of unleavened bread drew near, he does not indeed make any express mention of a two days' space; but still, the nearness which he has instanced ought to be accepted as made good by this very space of two days. Again, when John makes the statement that the Jews' passover was near at hand, he does not intend a two days' space to be understood thereby, but means that there was a period of six days before the passover. Thus it is that, on recording certain matters immediately after this affirmation, with the intention of specifying what measure of nearness he had in view when he spoke of the passover as near at hand, he next proceeds in the following strain: Then Jesus, six days before the passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus had died, whom Jesus raised from the dead; and there they made Him a supper. This is the incident which Matthew and Mark introduce in the form of a recapitulation, after the statement that after two days would be the passover. In their recapitulation they thus come back upon the day in Bethany, which was yet a six days' space off from the passover, and give us the account which John also gives of the supper and the ointment. Subsequently to that scene, we are to suppose Him to come to Jerusalem, and then, after the occurrence of the other things recorded, to reach this day, which was still a two days' space from the passover, and from which these evangelists have made this digression, with the object of giving a recapitulatory notice of the incident with the ointment in Bethany. And after the completion of that narrative, they return once more to the point from which they made the digression; that is to say, they now proceed to record the words spoken by the Lord two days before the passover. For if we remove the notice of the incident at Bethany, which they have introduced as a digression from the literal order, and have given in the form of a recollection and recapitulation inserted at a point subsequent to its actual historical position, and if we then set the narrative in its regular connection, the recital will go on as follows—according to Matthew, the Lord's words coming in thus: You know that after two days shall be the feast of the passover, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to be crucified. Then assembled together the chief priests and the elders of the people unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill Him. But they said, Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar among the people. Then one of the twelve, called Judas Scarioth, went unto the chief priests, etc. For between the place where it is said, lest there be an uproar among the people, and the passage where we read, then one of the disciples, called Judas, went, etc., that notice of the scene at Bethany intervenes, which they have introduced by way of recapitulation. Consequently, by leaving it out, we have established such a connection in the narrative as may make our conclusion satisfactory, that there is no contradiction here in the matter of the order of times. Again, if we deal with Mark's Gospel in like manner, and omit the account of the same supper at Bethany, which he also has brought in as a recapitulation, his narrative will proceed in the following order: Now after two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: and the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take Him by craft, and put Him to death. For they said, Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar of the people. And Judas Scariothes, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray Him. Here, again, the incident at Bethany which these evangelists have inserted, by way of recapitulation, is placed between the clause, lest there be an uproar of the people, and the verse which we have attached immediately to that, namely, And Judas Scariothes, one of the twelve. Luke, on the other hand, has simply omitted the said occurrence at Bethany. This is the explanation which we give in reference to the six days before the passover, which is the space mentioned by John when narrating what took place at Bethany, and in reference to the two days before the passover, which is the period specified by Matthew and Mark when presenting their account, in direct sequence upon the statement thus made, of that same scene in Bethany which has been recorded also by John.

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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/1602278.htm>.

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