About the four (authentic) Gospels of Jesus Christ and their (supposed) discrepancies


Now, the cherubim of Ezekiel had four faces and four forms, namely, of a lion, a man, a calf, and an eagle. S. John, in the Apocalypse (chap. iv.), calls them four living creatures. “The first living creature,” he says, “was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature, having the face, as it were, of a man, and the fourth living creature was like an eagle flying.”

The lion denotes S. Mark, whose face, i.e., the beginning of his Gospel, is the cry and the roar of John the Baptist in the wilderness, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:” the calf denotes S. Luke, who commences his Gospel with the ancient priesthood, whose victim was a calf. The man denotes S. Matthew, who begins with the human genealogy of Christ. The eagle denotes S. John, who, soaring aloft from earth to heaven, balances himself like an eagle, and thunders forth, as it were, that Divine exordium, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Deservedly does S. Denis the Areopagite, in his Epistle to the same John, call him the sun of the Gospel, and his Gospel itself the memory and the renewal of that Theology, which he drew from the Lord, as he lay upon His breast, and left to be beheld in his Gospel by those who came after, like a ray of the sun.

Listen to S. Jerome in his Preface to S. Matthew: “First of all is Matthew the publican, surnamed Levi, who published a Gospel in Judæa in the Hebrew language, chiefly for the sake of those from among the Jews who had believed in Jesus, but who still observed the shadow of the Old Law, after the truth of the Gospel had come in its place. The second is Mark, the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, and first Bishop of the Church of Alexandria, who had not indeed himself seen the Lord, the Saviour; but related the things which he had heard his master preach, rather according to the truth of what was done, than the order. The third is Luke the Physician, a Syrian by nation, an Antiochene, whose praise is in the Gospel. He was a disciple of the Apostle Paul; and composed his work in the parts of Achaia and Bœotia. He aimed somewhat loftily; and as he himself confesses in his Preface, narrated what he had heard rather than what he had seen. The last is John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who loved Jesus very greatly, and who, lying upon the Lord’s bosom, drank of the very purest streams of doctrine, and who alone was privileged to hear from the Cross, ‘Behold thy Mother.’”

These four so appropriately wrote the words and deeds of Christ, that they seem to make a kind of musical harmony of four chords; for what each one writes is different in style from the others, but agrees with them in meaning and in facts. What one is silent about, another supplies: what one gives concisely, another relates more at large: what one obscurely hints at, another gives at length. As S. Augustine says, “Although each seems to have preserved his own order in writing, yet they are not found to have written as though any one were ignorant of what had been said by him who preceded; but as each was inspired, he added the not superfluous co-operation of his own labour.”

Lastly, the discrepancies of the Evangelists are the greatest possible testimony to their truthfulness. As S. Chrysostom says in his Preface to S. Matthew, “If altogether and in every respect they exactly corresponded, and with the utmost precision with respect to times and places were in perfect verbal agreement, there is not one of our enemies but would believe, that they were engaged in a common design to deceive, and that they had framed the Gospels by human understanding, for they would not judge that this supposed harmony arose from simple sincerity, but was the result of contrivance.” And again, he says, “If any one whatsoever had related everything, the others would have been superfluous: or if again, on the other hand, each had written nothing which was found in the others, there could have been no proof of their agreement. Wherefore they have written many things in common, and yet each hath related something specially and peculiarly his own. And thus they have escaped the charge of writing for writing’s sake, merely to add to the number of the Gospels, as well as the opposite danger of bringing discredit upon everything, by each giving entirely different events.”

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