New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
New Advent

Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 27

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

Chapter 27. Of the Feast at Which It Was Objected at Once that Christ Ate with Sinners, and that His Disciples Did Not Fast; Of the Circumstance that the Evangelists Seem to Give Different Accounts of the Parties by Whom These Objections Were Alleged; And of the Question Whether Matthew and Mark and Luke are Also in Harmony with Each Other in the Reports Given of the Words of These Persons, and of the Replies Returned by the Lord.

60. Matthew, accordingly, goes on to say: And it came to pass, as He sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and His disciples; and so on, down to where we read, But they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. Here Matthew has not told us particularly in whose house it was that Jesus was sitting at meat along with the publicans and sinners. This might make it appear as if he had not appended this notice in its strict order here, but had introduced at this point, in the way of reminiscence, something which actually took place on a different occasion, were it not that Mark and Luke, who repeat the account in terms thoroughly similar, have made it plain that it was in the house of Levi — that is to say, Matthew — that Jesus sat at meat, and all these sayings were uttered which follow. For Mark states the same fact, keeping also the same order, in the following manner: And it came to pass, as He sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus. Accordingly, when he says, in his house, he certainly refers to the person of whom he was speaking directly before, and that was Levi. To the same effect, after the words, He says unto him, Follow me; and he left all, rose up, and followed Him, Luke has appended immediately this statement: And Levi made Him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. And thus it is manifest in whose house it was that these things took place.

61. Let us next look into the words which these three evangelists have all brought in as having been addressed to the Lord, and also into the replies which were made by Him. Matthew says: And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, Why eats your Master with publicans and sinners? This reappears very nearly in the same words in Mark: How is it that He eats and drinks with publicans and sinners? Only we find thus that Matthew has omitted one thing which Mark inserts — namely, the addition and drinks. But of what consequence can that be, since the sense is fully given, the idea suggested being that they were partaking of a repast in company? Luke, on the other hand, seems to have recorded this scene somewhat differently. For his version proceeds thus: But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against His disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners? But his intention in this certainly is not to indicate that their Master was not referred to on that occasion, but to intimate that the objection was levelled against all of them together, both Himself and His disciples; the charge, however, which was to be taken to be meant both of Him and of them, being addressed directly not to Him, but to them. For the fact is that Luke himself, no less than the others, represents the Lord as making the reply, and saying, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. And He would not have returned that answer to them, had not their words, Why do you eat and drink? been directed very specially to Himself. For the same reason, Matthew and Mark have told us that the objection which was brought against Him was stated immediately to His disciples, because, when the allegation was addressed to the disciples, the charge was thereby laid all the more seriously against the Master whom these disciples were imitating and following. One and the same sense, therefore, is conveyed; and it is expressed all the better in consequence of these variations employed in some of the terms, while the matter of fact itself is left intact. In like manner we may deal with the accounts of the Lord's reply. Matthew's runs thus: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; but go ye and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark and Luke have also preserved for us the same sense in almost the same words, with this exception, that they both fail to introduce that quotation from the prophet, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice. Luke, again, after the words, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, has added the term, unto repentance. This addition serves to bring out the sense more fully, so as to preclude any one from supposing that sinners are loved by Christ, purely for the very reason that they are sinners. For this similitude also of the sick indicates clearly what God means by the calling of sinners, — that it is like the physician with the sick — and that its object verily is that men should be saved from their iniquity as from disease; which healing is effected by repentance.

62. In the same way, we may subject what is said about the disciples of John to examination. Matthew's words are these: Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft? The purport of Mark's version is similar: And the disciples of John and the Pharisees used to fast. And they come and say unto Him, Why do the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples fast not? The only semblance of a discrepancy that can be found here, is in the possibility of supposing that the mention of the Pharisees as having spoken along with the disciples of John is an addition of Mark's, while Matthew states only that the disciples of John expressed themselves to the above effect. But the words which were actually uttered by the parties, according to Mark's version, rather indicate that the speakers and the persons spoken of were not the same individuals. I mean, that the persons who came to Jesus were the guests who were then present, that they came because the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting, and that they uttered the above words with respect to these parties. In this way, the evangelist's phrase, they come, would not refer to the persons regarding whom he had just thrown in the remark, And the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting. But the case would be, that as those parties were fasting, some others here, who are moved by that fact, come to Him, and put this question to Him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples fast not? This is more clearly expressed by Luke. For, evidently with the same idea in his mind, after stating what answer the Lord returned in the words in which He spoke about the calling of sinners under the similitude of those who are sick, he proceeds thus: And they said to Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink? Here, then, we see that, as was the case with Mark, Luke has mentioned one party as speaking to this intent in relation to other parties. How comes it, therefore, that Matthew says, Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast? The explanation may be, that those individuals were also present, and that all these various parties were eager to advance this charge, as they severally found opportunity. And the sentiments which sought expression on this occasion have been conveyed by the three evangelists under varied terms, but yet without any divergence from a true statement of the fact itself.

63. Once more, we find that Matthew and Mark have given similar accounts of what was said about the children of the bridegroom not fasting as long as the bridegroom is with them, with this exception, that Mark has named them the children of the bridals, while Matthew has designated them the children of the bridegroom. That, however, is a matter of no moment. For by the children of the bridals we understand at once those connected with the bridegroom, and those connected with the bride. The sense, therefore, is obvious and identical, and neither different nor contradictory. Luke, again, does not say, Can the children of the bridegroom fast? but, Can ye make the children of the bridegroom fast, while the bridegroom is with them? By expressing it in this method, the evangelist has elegantly opened up the self-same sense in a way calculated to suggest something else. For thus the idea is conveyed, that those very persons who were speaking would try to make the children of the bridegroom mourn and fast, inasmuch as they would [seek to] put the bridegroom to death. Moreover, Matthew's phrase, mourn, is of the same import as that used by Mark and Luke, namely, fast. For Matthew also says further on, Then shall they fast, and not, Then shall they mourn. But by the use of this phrase, he has indicated that the Lord spoke of that kind of fasting which pertains to the lowliness of tribulation. In the same way, too, the Lord may be understood to have pictured out a different kind of fasting, which stands related to the rapture of a mind dwelling in the heights of things spiritual, and for that reason estranged in a certain measure from the meats that are for the body, when He made use of those subsequent similitudes touching the new cloth and the new wine, by which He showed that this kind of fasting is an incongruity for sensual and carnal people, who are taken up with the cares of the body, and who consequently still remain in the old mind. These similitudes are also embodied in similar terms by the other two evangelists. And it should be sufficiently evident that there need be no real discrepancy, although one may introduce something, whether belonging to the subject-matter itself, or merely to the terms in which that subject is expressed, which another leaves out; provided only that there be neither any departure from a genuine identity in sense, nor any contradiction created between the different forms which may be adopted for expressing the same thing.

About this page

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. <>.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2021 by New Advent LLC. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.