NET Bible Synthetic Harmony of the GospelsRelated Media
I began compiling the four Gospels into one narrative when I taught the Gospels at a Christian high school. While I understood the unique value of each Gospel, I wanted students to see the flow of Christ’s life. And they appreciated not having to read every verse in all four Gospels, some of which are repeated almost verbatim.
I also read a one-year chronological Bible and was amazed at how much I learned. After reading, studying and teaching the Bible for fifty years I saw things I hadn’t seen before because I saw them in their historical context. The Bible flowed more like a story or movie than a collection of books. But I was frustrated at having to read the exact same accounts in different books—especially the historical books of Kings and Chronicles. It was then I decided to compile my own chronological harmony of the Gospels—not because other harmonies do not exist or that I can produce a better harmony, but because doing it would force me to deal with the text myself.
I have an MA in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and an MA in faith and culture, with an emphasis in international human rights, from Trinity International University. I gave my first sermon when I was fifteen, over fifty years ago, and have been a pastor or bible teacher ever since, including teaching Bible at a Christian college and high school.
I did not formally study Greek or Hebrew and am not qualified to do Bible translation work, which is why I use the NET Bible for this harmony.
Types of Harmonies
In his article, “Is Harmonization Honest?” Dale Ellenburg describes four types of harmonies:
Radical harmonizing suppresses variant details in one text by replacing them with preferred wording drawn from another version. Radical harmonizing tends to produce a uniform official version of a saying or story in separate Gospels. A synthetic harmony expands a text by adding details from one account to another to produce a conflated version that is not identical with any one source. Sequential harmonizing preserves two or more versions of the same material as separate incidents in the same narrative. This produces repetitions of sayings and stories that literary critics call “doublets.” . . . a parallel harmony presents two or more versions of the same account side by side in a synopsis for easy comparison.1
For more information see Appendix II. “Issues & Strategies in Harmonizing the Gospels.”
While I sought to harmonize the four Gospels by evaluating every verse myself, I also used other harmonies for comparison and for the chronological framework:
- Cheney, Johnston M. The Life of Christ in Stereo, Portland: Multnomah, 1969. (Sequential)
- Cheney, Johnston M. & Ellisen, Stanley. The Greatest Story. Portland: Multnomah, 1994. (Sequential)
- The One Year Chronological Bible (NLT). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1996, 2004. (Parallel)
- Cox, Steven & Easley, Kendall. HCSB Harmony of the Gospels. Nashville: Holman Bible, 2007. (Parallel)
- Robertson, A T. A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ: Based on the Broadus Harmony. San Francisco: Citizens Bank, 1950. (Parallel)
- Jackson, Jeffrey Glen. Synopsis of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009. (Parallel)
This is a Synthetic Harmony of the Gospels
- No details have been omitted. For example, when different words are used in different Gospels referring to Jesus in the same event, the alternative words are put in parenthesis.
Nothing is repeated that is not repeated within the same Gospel, including some things that sequential harmonies repeat because the details are different in different Gospels.
- A four-year ministry of Jesus is adopted rather than the traditional three-year. I found the arguments for a four-year ministry by Johnston Cheney in his The Life of Christ in Stereo to be compelling. See Appendix IV (pp. 226-236) of his book for a detailed explanation.
*The chronology of much of the Gospels is not known. I have relied heavily on Cheney’s chronology, while differing significantly from him in some instances.
*This harmony flows like a movie script, where movement from one place or topic to another is geographically and topically logical. Chronology or sequence clearly stated in the text, such as “the next day,” are maintained.
- For specific events or teachings, the Gospel with the most detail is used primarily, adding in details from other Gospels.
This is Not a “Perfect Harmony”2
- No attempt is made to produce a “perfect harmony” that claims to resolve all the differences in the gospel accounts. My conclusion is that a perfect harmony of the four Gospels where there are no differences3 in details (numbers, time, sequence, pronouns used, etc.) is an illusionary goal. There is evidence of differences in the most reliable New Testament manuscripts available, but this does not need to lessen the belief in and commitment to the supernatural origin and infallibility of the New Testament, including the inerrancy of the original autographs. But even those originals, which we do not have, most likely contain many of the same differences in details we encounter in the earliest manuscripts available today.
- Difficulties in harmonizing details in the Gospels must be examined in light of the claims of the New Testament writers and Jesus himself.
*“Every scripture is inspired by God” (2Tm 3:14-16).
*Peter’s reference to Paul’s letters as “scripture” and “truth” (2Pt 3:15-17).
*“No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2Pt 1:15-21).
*Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).
*Jesus: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place” (Mt 5:18).
- “What is at stake here is whether we have the ipsissima verba (the actual words of Jesus) or the ipsissima vox (the essential voice). There is no question that historians often record the voice of a character without due diligence to his very words at some points.”4
*The differences regarding exact words, including those of Jesus or God, are numerous. "This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight" (Mt 3:17) vs. "You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight” (Lk 3:22). Which was it? We don’t know and it doesn’t make any difference. And it doesn’t seem to matter to God.
*All the differences in the Gospels put together do not effect in the slightest any theological or historical fact/truth. Let’s not strain at gnats and miss the camels.
- The sequence of events in the four Gospels are very different, leading to the conclusion that neither the Gospel writers nor God who inspired them were always concerned about recording exact chronology.
The Gospels are four concise biographies that have condensed and rearranged several years of events and teaching into a few pages without changing the truth of anything that was said or happened—because the writers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
No Gospel harmony can be produced without significantly rearranging the sequence of events in each Gospel. No chronology can be determined with certitude. That is not the goal. Chronologically arranging Scripture provides a flowing narrative presenting a clearer historical perspective.
- Admitting to the existence in the earliest/best manuscripts available of variations in details does not automatically open the door to dismissing the accuracy of the Gospels. “Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?” by James Arlandson (https://bible.org/seriespage/12-are-there-contradictions-gospels) is an excellent explanation of how to view these differences. His references for further study are extremely valuable in addressing specific difficult issues of biblical accuracy.
*Coming to grips with the differences/variations in biblical accounts of the exact same event may challenge our understanding of what it means for the Bible to be the inspired word of God. But it is better for us to work that out for ourselves than blindly accept someone else’s conclusions. And it is far better to ask questions and diligently seek answers than remain a child who depends on his parents’ convictions. Wolves love going after such innocent, gullible children.
- Appendices are included showing how some of the more difficult passages were harmonized.
- Text in parentheses ( ) are either in the NET Bible as parentheses or they are alternate words used in the various Gospels, i.e. “Lord”, “Master”, “Teacher”, or “Rabbi” all referring to the same incident.
- Text in brackets [ ] are not in the NET Bible but are inserted by the editor as connectives for enhancing the flow of the narrative or words for clarification.
- Study Edition: For quick reference checks and explanations
*Footnotes (a) on the bottom of pages and explanatory notes (1) at the end of the book
*Scripture references placed in topical headings and within the body of the text
- Reader’s Edition: For a book-like format
*Notes (1) at the end of the document (footnotes having been changed into endnotes)
*Scripture references placed only in topical headings, not within the body of the text
My hope is that this Gospel harmony will both fill a need and stimulate a thirst to know Jesus Christ better.
Why not get to know Jesus Christ better by reading his life, ministry and teaching as one magnificent, unbelievable but true adventure? The greatest adventure story of all time.
Tucson, AZ - 2015
1 Steven Cox & Kendall Easley, HCSB Harmony of the Gospels (Nashville: Holman Bible Pub., 2007) 3.
2 See Appendix II. “Issues & Strategies in Harmonizing the Gospels” for a more detailed explanation.
3 Differences not simply where one account adds or leaves out details in other accounts but where the details given differ from Gospel to Gospel.
4 Dale Ellenburg, “Is Harmonization Honest?” in Cox & Easley, 4.
Related Topics: Gospels