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Home > Fathers of the Church > The Harmony of the Gospels (Augustine) > Book III, Chapter 16

The Harmony of the Gospels, Book III

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Chapter 16. Of the Derision Ascribed to the Robbers, and of the Question Regarding the Absence of Any Discrepancy Between Matthew and Mark on the One Hand, and Luke on the Other, When the Last-Named Evangelist States that One of the Two Mocked Him, and that the Other Believed on Him.

53. Matthew continues his narrative in these terms: The robbers also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth. Mark is quite in harmony with Matthew here, giving the same statement in different words. On the other hand, Luke may be thought to contradict this, unless we be careful not to forget a certain mode of speech which is sufficiently familiar. For Luke's narrative runs thus: And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If you be Christ, save yourself and us. And then the same writer proceeds to introduce into the same context the following recital: But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing amiss. And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And Jesus said to him, Verily, I say unto you, Today you shall be with me in paradise. The question then is, how we can reconcile either Matthew's report, The robbers also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth, or Mark's, namely, And they that were crucified with Him reviled Him, with Luke's testimony, which is to the effect that one of them reviled Christ, but that the other arrested him and believed on the Lord. The explanation will be, that Matthew and Mark, presenting a concise version of the passage under review, have employed the plural number instead of the singular; as is the case in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we find the statement given in the plural form, that they stopped the mouths of lions, while Daniel alone is understood to be referred to. Again, the plural number is adopted where it is said that they were sawn asunder, while that manner of death is reported only of Isaiah. In the same way, when it is said in the Psalm, The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together, etc., the plural number is employed instead of the singular, according to the exposition given of the passage in the Acts of the Apostles. For those who have made use of the testimony of the said Psalm in that book take the kings to refer to Herod, and the princes to Pilate. But further, inasmuch as the pagans are in the habit of bringing such slanderous charges against the Gospel, I would ask them to consider how their own writers have spoken of Phaedras and Medeas and Clytemnestras, when there really was but a single individual reputed under each of these names. And what is more common, for example, than for a person to say, The rustics also behave insolently to me, even although it should only be one that acted rudely? In short, no real discrepancy would be created by the restriction of Luke's report to one of the two robbers, unless the other evangelists had declared expressly that both the malefactors reviled the Lord; for in that case it would not be possible for us to suppose only one individual intended under the plural number. Seeing, however, that the phrase employed is the robbers, or those who were crucified with Him, and the term both is not added, the expression is one which might have been used if both these men had been engaged in the thing, but which might equally well be adopted if one of the two had been implicated in it — that fact being then conveyed by the use of the plural number, according to a familiar method of speech.

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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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