There are a number of fruitful ways to study the life of Yeshua, the gospels, or certain features of the gospels. One of those methods, which has value for certain kinds of research, is to compare parallel passages. A useful tool is a harmony of the gospels. Here are a few tips on how to find one and how the harmony method can be useful.
You can find a harmony of the gospels online, such as this one on BlueLetterBible.com. If you have a Thompson Chain Reference or an Open Bible, they have harmony tables in them. Harmonies of the gospels come in most Bible software. And there are a number of useful books with detailed harmonies. A good choice is by Robert Thomas and Stanley Gundry (available in NASB or NIV translation).
No harmony is perfect. Many assume that they can outline Yeshua’s life in chronological order. Different list makers have different ideas about which gospel to follow as the chronological key. Also, a number of parallel passages may or may not be truly parallel. A famous example would include the story of the woman who anointed Yeshua (Mark 14:3-9; Matt 26:6-13; John 12:2-8). Are they truly parallel?
Harmonies can be helpful in clarifying for yourself whether the gospels seek to be chronological, to what degree agreement on details might matter or not matter. A classic example is the Gadarene demoniac story (Mark 5:1-20; Matt 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39). Mark has one demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes. Matthew has two demoniacs in the country of the Gadarenes. Luke agrees with Mark. This example may also be evidence to add to whatever theory you believe about the order of the gospels and which gospels used which other(s) as sources.
Finally, harmonies can help you see what some gospels include and what others leave out. Sometimes there may be a discernible reason related to the purposes of the gospel in question. Or you may have a puzzling narrative clarified for you. Mark, Matthew, and Luke make the call of the first four disciples seem very sudden and dramatic, with no prior encounter with Yeshua to explain their motives (Mark 1:16-20; Matt 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11). If you view all the gospels as reliable, then John’s account of the original encounters of the disciples with Yeshua in the John the Baptist movement can explain a great deal about their later willingness to leave all and follow him (John 1:35-42).
Coming in the near future: The Yeshua in Context Sourcebook, with lists, parallels, contrasts, discussion questions, and themes to help you study the gospels more effectively.
Filed under: Study Tips