Principles Involved in Harmonizing the Synoptic Gospels


Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

These 5 principles are the most common principles involved in harmonization, but some harmonization issues involve other, less common principles.

1. Ancient people were not as interested in geographic and chronological details as we are.

  • Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28) and Gerasenes (Mark 5:1) refer to two cities in the same region.
  • Luke refers to the new site of Jericho (Luke 18:35), while Matthew and Mark refer to old Jericho (Matthew 20:29; Mark 10:46).

2. The authors often arranged their material topically, not chronologically.

  • Mt. 8, 9 is a list of miracles which Jesus did throughout the course of this ministry.

3. Jesus was an itinerate speaker. Therefore, He often repeated both teachings and actions in different places and times.

  • The sermon on mount (Matthew 5-7) and the sermon on the level place (Luke 6) are probably different discourses.
  • Jesus cleansed the Temple twice: once at beginning of His ministry (John 2) and once at the end (Matthew, Mark, Luke).
  • The incident with Mary and the perfume (John 12; Matthew 26; Mark 14) is probably different from similar incident recorded in Luke 7.

4. The authors used great selectivity in their accounts (Jn. 20:31; 21:25) and greatly compressed what they reported.

  • There are 2 Garasene demonics (Matthew 8; Luke 8), but Mark focuses on one of them.
  • There are 2 blind men healed (Matthew 20; Luke 18), but Mark focuses on one of them.
  • Matthew often compresses accounts (Matthew 8:5-13; 9:18).

5. Authors had to translate, interpret, and condense Jesus' words and actions.

  • Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, but the gospels are written in Greek
  • This explains slightly different versions of the same quotations (Compare Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4; Lk.21:7).
  • We don't always know where the quotation ends and the application begins (John 3:10-21; Galatians 2:14-21).