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Harmony of the Gospels

Harmony Tables

Introduction

The Bible isn’t just one book. Perhaps we should include a subtitle (“The Encyclopedia of Divine Wisdom”) because the Bible is actually composed of 66 separate works written by over 40 authors over a period of about two thousand years. It displays a re­markable harmony of thought, historical content, intent and expression.

For the last three millennia, the Bible has exercised an unparalleled influence on the lives of individuals and nations. People of faith throughout the centuries have recorded the revelation of God pertaining to the affairs of daily life. The experiences of prophets, kings, and com­mon people have been communicated through the written text of Scripture.

Jewish and Christian scholars have been concerned to make sure that the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts would be communicated to each new generation. Even though govern­ments and rulers have attempted to pre­vent the distribution of the translated Bible in many periods of history, faithful scholars such as John Wycliffe and William Tyndale gave their very lives to translate and distribute the books of the Bible. In every period of revival and renewal in the church, the Bible was central.

Harmony Tables
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A Harmony of the Gospels

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And now this major English language translation of the Bible embodies the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of Scripture, and it expresses this mean­ing in clear and natural English. The International Stan­dard Version® (ISV®), pro­duced by The ISV Founda­tion of Fullerton, California, offers an exciting opportunity to read and study the Scriptures in a fresh, new way.

The ISV is “international” in that slang and regional­isms are avoided, and “standard” in that it is designed for public worship, for church school curricula, for religious publishing, and for both personal and group study. And with the ISV text, study tools, and software readily available to the public via the Internet, the ISV provides new opportunities for in-depth study of God’s Word anywhere in the world, by anyone,  and at any time.

A Harmony of the Gospels is the first of the study aids to be developed for the International Standard Version New Testament by Davidson Press.

How to Use This Study Aid

In order to properly use A Harmony of the Gospels to the maximum advantage for your study of the ISV New Testament, it is imperative that you understand the nature of the four gospel narratives. Your task is three-fold: 1) you must understand the audience to which the accounts were written; 2) you must understand why  each gospel account was recorded; and 3) you must under­stand the nature of the literary genre in which they were written. (After all, the gospel accounts were not written as modern biographies. The authors did not necessarily group the events and discourses in chronological order, for example.)

Click on the image to view a sample Greek page. Note that the Harmony of the Gospels contains the Greek New Testament on the left-hand pages, and the ISV New Testament on the right-hand pages.

Click on the image to view a sample of page 144 with Greek on the left and the ISV on the right.

About the Gospel Accounts

The four gospel accounts were written to four separate audiences. Further, each gospel narrative answers a different question about Jesus Christ. Because the four gospels were written to different aud­iences and have differing purposes, we expect each of them to differ in detail, customs, and order. The fact that the gospel accounts differ slightly is not a sign of contradiction. If anything, the differences augment our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus and, taken together as a whole, provide a remarkably clear portrait of Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew was written for the Jews. It answers the question “What did Jesus say?” because it tends to present a portrait of Jesus as the promised Messiah-King of Israel. Being a former government official (i.e., a tax collector), Matthew was particularly interested in what King Jesus had to say, which is why if you want to find the fullest account of the sayings of Jesus, such as the Sermon of the Mount, you will look to Matthew’s gospel. Also, because it was written primarily for the Jews at the time it was written, Matthew’s gospel typically reflects the Jewish reluctance to use the name of God in discourse. That’s why you read “the kingdom of heaven” in the accounts of the sayings of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, instead of “the kingdom of God” in the parallel passages of the other writers. Matthew organized his book not in chronological order, but by themes.

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark was written for the Romans. It answers the question “What did Jesus do?” Because it was written for the Romans, it concentrates on the power of Jesus. Romans understood power. That would not have understood or cared about Jewish genealogies,  so Mark avoids them. And because his audience did not understand Jewish customs, Mark goes out of his way to augment his text with comments about various Jewish customs in order to educate his Roman readers who might be unacquainted with the Roman eastern frontier. Further, the Gospel of Mark is a very compact book. It would fit easily on one scroll and would be very inexpensive to copy. It would have made an excellent “popular” work that could easily have been distributed to the Greek-speaking Romans who occupied Palestine in the first century A.D.

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke was written for the gentiles, the Greeks of Luke’s day. It answers the question “Who followed Jesus?” The Gospel of Luke and its companion work, the Book of Acts, were the result of a careful and personal “first hand” investigation of the events by Luke, the Beloved Physician. In it you will find marvelous details and the results of what clearly were personal inter­views undertaken by Luke in the course of his research. For example, Luke alone records Mary’s feel­ings about the annunciation by Gabriel of the conception of Jesus, doubtlessly receiving this information from the personal memoirs of Mary, which he would have obtained by oral interview.

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John was written for the believers. It answers the question “Who Is Jesus?” That’s why John’s gospel starts with the words “In the beginning”—just like Genesis 1:1. And lest the reader be confused about the real meaning of the term “the word” in John 1:1, we must remember that John was a not a student of Greek philo­sophy. He could have cared less about Philo’s Greek concept of “logos.” He would only have cared about the Hebrew or Aramaic concepts of “HaDavar”—“the word” —which in Hebrew thinking was God. Because the Gospel of John deals with the question of who Jesus was, it is here that you must go to find statements such as “I am the bread of life” and “Before Abraham was, I am” and “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Using the Textual Differences in Your Study

Because A Harmony of the Gospels presents the gospel narratives side by side, you can easily compare the texts of the passages and thus view each gospel writer’s own perspective on the event that has occurred or on the words that have been recorded. And because the purpose for the recording of the event differs among the authors, the description of the event and the words used to convey the differing purposes of the event must naturally be slightly different.

We have reproduced below a sample harmony table. Underneath the table, we have placed an explanation of the differences in the purposes behind each gospel narrative so you can get an idea of what to look for when you study the New Testament using A Harmony of the Gospels

Sample Harmony Table

Soldiers Divide His Garments

Matthew 27:35-36

Mark 15:24

Luke 23:34

John 19:23-24

35After they had crucified him, they divided his clothes by throwing dice.

36Then they sat down there and continued guarding him.

24Then they crucified him. They divided his clothes among themselves by throwing dice to see what each one would get.

34Jesus kept saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing.”l Then they divided his clothes among them by throwing dice.

23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier, and took his cloakg as well. The cloak was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.

24So they said to each other, “Let's not tear it. Instead, let's throw dice to see who gets it.” This was to fulfill the Scripture that says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they threw dice.”h So that is what the soldiers did.

Luke 23:34   l23:34 Other mss. lack Jesus kept saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing.”      John 19:23-24   g19:23 Lit. and his tunic   h19:24 Ps 22:18

Note the differences in detail about this event. Matthew gives the basic facts. Mark adds a nice little detail about the motivations of the guards for tossing dice for Christ’s robe. This detail might have helped his audience (Romans and per­haps even Roman soldiers) to identify with the scene. Luke is the only author to record the famous “Father, forgive them” statement. And note how the ISV brings out the iterative nature of the Greek grammar of the text: “Jesus kept saying…” Jesus did not ask only once; forgiveness was a repetitive request from the cross. John adds the most amount of detail, even going so far as to describe the seamless nature of the garment and to comment on the fulfilled prophecy.

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