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This question was quite urgent in the days when people felt obliged to cherish the belief that every letter in Holy Scripture was dictated by the Holy Spirit. In those days it had to be answered in the affirmative at any cost. And, as a matter of fact, the cost was not light—it did not involve merely effort and ingenuity, but meant giving up what seems obvious when the Bible is understood in a natural and unsophisticated way. And yet the attempt to establish complete harmony between the four Gospels (or, as was thought, simply the art of exhibiting this harmony), the nature of which suggested the name “Harmonics,” was for many centuries one of the chief pursuits of theological science.


Strictly speaking, there are only two courses open to us, If one and the same event seems to be reported in more Gospels than one, but in a more or less different way, we must either show that the difference in the statement is only apparent, or we must say that each account treats of a distinct event. The more seriously we regard the language, the more frequently will the second course be the one we shall have to take. Strict Harmonics, too, with quite special frequency arrives at this result by starting with the presupposition that each Evangelist not only tells us a story correct in every word, but also gives each particular event and utterance in the life of Jesus in its right order, though—and this could not be denied under any circumstances—he omits many things which are preserved in the other Gospels.

Thus, for example, it was necessary to show in each of the first three Gospels at what point each of those journeys of Jesus to a feast reported only in Jn. could be fitted in. In Jesus’ walking on the sea, Jn. (vi. 16-21), we are told, has not in mind the same event as the Synoptists have, for in the Synoptics Jesus is taken into the boat in the middle of the Lake (Mk. vi. 51), but in Jn. is not (see above, p. 19 f .). Again, the Feeding of the Five Thousand reported by Jn. (vi. 1-13) must be a different event from the Feeding spoken of by the Synoptics (Mk. vi. 35-44) for in all the Gospels we are told that such a feeding took place on the day preceding the night on which Jesus walked on the sea (with the exception of Lk. who does not report the walking on the sea). But how? It is not permissible even to regard the Feeding reported in all three Synoptics as one and the same event; for in Mt. (xiv. 21) those who are fed are more numerous—besides the 5000 men there are women and children the number of whom is not given. Consequently, 49there are three Feedings instead of one, in which the number 5000 figures: one in Mk. = Lk., another in Mt., a third in Jn. On each occasion there are only five loaves and two fishes ^ on each occasion twelve baskets full of fragments are gathered up; each event is followed by a night-journey across the sea; yet each Evangelist relates only one of these three events, and Mk. and Mt., though each knows of another Feeding, do not report more than one of these three; but the two between them tell of a fourth and a fifth—one according to Mk. (viii. 1-9) in which 4000 men, and another according to Mt. (xv. 32-38) in which 4000 men besides an indefinite number of women and children, were satisfied; but on both occasions this happens after the people have wandered about with Jesus for three days, on both occasions there are seven loaves and a few fishes, and on both occasions seven baskets full of fragments are gathered up afterwards.

But enough! The perseverance with which people have pursued all these suggestions—which from the outset are such as we cannot accept—to their utmost limit, and have put faith in them out of respect for the Holy Spirit, who is supposed to have inspired every letter of the Bible, certainly deserves to be fully recognised. Only one question is forbidden. How often may Jesus be supposed to have been born, baptized, crucified, and raised from the dead?

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