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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book II, Chapter 44

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book II

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Chapter 44. Of the Order in Which the Accounts of John's Imprisonment and Death are Given by These Three Evangelists.

92. Matthew then proceeds with his narrative in the following terms: For Herod laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother's wife; and so on, down to the words, And his disciples came and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. Mark gives this narrative in similar terms. Luke, on the other hand, does not relate it in the same succession, but introduces it in connection with his statement of the baptism wherewith the Lord was baptized. Hence we are to understand him to have acted by anticipation here, and to have taken the opportunity of recording at this point an event which took place actually a considerable period later. For he has first reported those words which John spoke with regard to the Lord — namely, that His fan is in His hand, and that He will thoroughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn up with fire unquenchable; and immediately thereafter he has appended his statement of an incident which the evangelist John demonstrates not to have taken place in direct historical sequence. For this latter writer mentions that, after Jesus had been baptized, He went into Galilee at the period when He turned the water into wine; and that, after a sojourn of a few days in Capharnaum, He left that district and returned to the land of Judæa, and there baptized a multitude about the Jordan, previous to the time when John was imprisoned. Now what reader, unless he were all the better versed in these writings, would not take it to be implied here that it was after the utterance of the words with regard to the fan and the purged floor that Herod became incensed against John, and cast him into prison? Yet, that the incident referred to here did not, as matter of fact, occur in the order in which it is here recorded, we have already shown elsewhere; and, indeed, Luke himself puts the proof into our hands. For if [he had meant that] John's incarceration took place immediately after the utterance of those words, then what are we to make of the fact that in Luke's own narrative the baptism of Jesus is introduced subsequently to his notice of the imprisonment of John? Consequently it is manifest that, recalling the circumstance in connection with the present occasion, he has brought it in here by anticipation, and has thus inserted it in his history at a point antecedent to a number of incidents, of which it was his purpose to leave us some record, and which, in point of time, were antecedent to this mishap that befell John. But it is as little the case that the other two evangelists, Matthew and Mark, have placed the fact of John's imprisonment in that position in their narratives which, as is apparent also from their own writings, belonged to it in the actual order of events. For they, too, have told us how it was on John's being cast into prison that the Lord went into Galilee; and then, after [relating] a number of things which He did in Galilee, they come to Herod's admonition or doubt as to the rising again from the dead of that John whom he beheaded; and in connection with this latter occasion, they give us the story of all that occurred in the matter of John's incarceration and death.

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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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