It is common knowledge that the four books of the gospel contradict each other in both generalities and details. Some Biblical literalists see these contradictions as problematic, while others view them as part of God's plan to keep the truth from all but a certain select few (see Mark 4:11-12). Those who see the Bible as a source of divine inspiration may have no difficulty with differences in word choice or narrative flow, but will still be bothered by the many discrepancies of fact. To others, these discrepancies and inaccuracies are simply the signature of a document conceived and created by fallible humans. They are nothing more than interesting.
This work is an attempt to reconcile the gospels into a single narrative, providing a valuable reference to all students of the Bible, regardless of their religious viewpoint. It is offered without judgment or editorial comment, leaving the reader to make up his or her own mind.
There is probably no one correct way to reconcile the gospels. Many incidents are presented without a hint of when they occurred; speeches are rearranged, added to, or changed; and in some cases the same event has been said to occur at two different times in different gospels. An example of the latter would be the story of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, which takes place at the beginning of his mission in John, and near the end in the other gospels.
Every word of the gospels is reprinted here. Aside from being rearranged, the text has not been edited in any way.
The King James translation was chosen because it is both familiar to a large number of people and pleasant to read. Although the King James translation is not the most accurate available, its inaccuracies are generally inconsequential in terms of reconciling the narrative. In those few places where mistakes in translation are both interesting and significant, they have been noted.
In order to preserve every word of the gospels, it was necessary to present certain sections more than once. In those places where more than one author covers identical territory, the texts are shown in parallel for ease of comparison.
The reader will note that the text often switches between a single paragraph and multiple paragraphs, even within descriptions of the same incident. In some cases, one author's column may be significantly longer than another author's, and the text has been left in a column because printing it the full width of the page would create confusion in the narrative. For example, Matthew explains how Mary became pregnant with Jesus in one verse (1:18), while Luke takes thirteen verses (1:26-38) to cover the same territory. Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:26-27 are listed in parallel while the bulk of Luke is in a column with no parallel because it cannot be read after Matthew without being redundant.
Ideally, the reader should be able to read through this gospel, choosing to read from any column without regard to author, and still come out with a fairly coherent story. Those points where the gospels conflict so strongly that this is not possible have been noted. In the most difficult part of the gospels -- that part dealing with Jesus' death and resurrection -- irreconcilable conflicts occur with disturbing frequency.
In reconciling the gospels, it has been assumed that the earliest text -- Mark -- is the most accurate because it is closest to the source, and that subsequent texts -- Matthew, Luke and John in that order -- are less so. In parallel texts, columns are arranged with the oldest text on the left.
Whenever a conflict arises between texts, the chronology of the earlier text is preserved when possible. If there is a conflict between two texts and neither can be moved from its original position for one reason or another, then the texts will not be placed in parallel but existence of parallel texts will be noted.
For the religious skeptic, it will be tempting to pay particular attention to those parts of the gospels which can be placed in parallel, because that is where it is easiest to find discrepancies between the narratives. But in actuality those sections which are unique to a particular gospel are of more importance. Many significant events in the life of Jesus, such as his birth in a manger and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, appear in only one gospel. The reader is forced to ask why such important events are only reported by a single source. For those who have a particular interest in this subject, each entry in the table of contents is followed by a list of the gospels in which it appears.
No note has been made of differences in word choice between the gospels because such differences occur frequently, even within quotes. Patterns of speech which differ from gospel to gospel have been noted because they may indicate an author's style coloring quoted words; for instance, Jesus only uses the phrase "verily, verily" in John. Where two parallel passages contain factual differences, the conflicting facts are highlighted.
In the search for contradictions, benefit of doubt has been given to the authors of the gospels. For example, in Matthew 10:35 Jesus says that he has "come to set a man at variance against his father," while in Luke 12:52 Jesus says that "the father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father." Nothing in these sections would be highlighted because, although it is technically true that Luke says that fathers will be against sons and Matthew does not explicitly say so, the meaning of what is being said is essentially the same. On the other hand, Mark 6:8 says that the disciples should have "a staff only... but be shod with sandals," while Matthew 10:9 instructs that they should have "neither shoes, nor yet staves." This is an apparentcontradiction and is highlighted.
Wherever possible, portions of old testament scripture mentioned in the text, significantly similar to the text, or which may have inspired the text have placed in footnotes for ease of reference.