A Deep Dive into the Harmony of the Gospels

The Chosen Presents: A Blended Harmony of the Gospels

I first purchased Thomas & Gundry’s NIV Harmony of the Gospels as a textbook in Bible College. I used it about as much as you would imagine the typical college student would for a class in Bible College. Then, as a new youth pastor, I was introduced to Sonlife’s Strategy Seminar and its use of the Harmony of the Gospels to study the life of Christ chronologically for disciple-making insight. Since then, along with reading Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony multiple times, I have accumulated a collection of other Harmonies to further my study of the life of Christ. A few of my favorites through the years have been The Life of Christ in Stereo, A Simplified Harmony of the Gospels, The Gospels Interwoven, and One Perfect Life. Most recently, I discovered that the television series The Chosen had come out with their own version of the Harmony. I was intrigued.

I’m frequently asked for my thoughts on The Chosen, and I won’t go into detail on the television series here other than to say this. The creators of The Chosen, Dallas and Amanda Jenkins, say right up front that they have taken some creative liberties in the telling of the story of the life of Jesus. Their intent is not to change the message of the story, but rather to give backdrop on the characters and events. Of course, it’s almost impossible to be creative in providing backdrop without influencing the understanding of the message, so this requires great care. Sometimes, The Chosen does better at this than others. As someone who studies the life of Christ from a chronological perspective, watching The Chosen can be maddening. I could provide numerous places where events are situated outside their chronological context, but I won’t. I do think it’s interesting that The Chosen is produced by Out of Order Studios 🙂 Overall, I think The Chosen exegetes the emotions the characters might have been experiencing during these events and draws you into the story. Because of how well the story of Jesus is told, I know that The Chosen has created interest in both unbelievers and casual believers at taking a deeper look at Jesus. For that, I am grateful. When thinking of The Chosen, I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words:

“What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.”

Philippians 1:18

Whenever I pick up a new Harmony, like the one developed by The Chosen, I always compare its chronological approach to what we consider to be the “gold standard” of Harmonies, Thomas and Gundry. I want to see how it lays out the events. I want to see how long it asserts that Jesus’ public ministry lasted. Some say a little more than a year. Others, a few years. Most stick with the traditional view, as Thomas and Gundry do, of three and a half years. A few even argue for four or five years. 

Another thing that I look for right away is how the Harmony handles The Call of the Four. Do they see the account in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 as being the same event we read in Luke 5? Or do they see Luke 5 happening some time later? Thomas and Gundry base their chronology off the work of A.T. Robertson, using the same section divisions and numbering he did. However, there are a few places where they disagree with Robertson, and in those instances, they make a section note saying where they believe the event should be placed. Then, they place a marker in that spot referring back to their note so you can see where they would place the event and why. The Call of the Four is one of these chronological differences that Thomas and Gundry highlight. While Robertson places Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:1-11 together, Thomas and Gundry argue that Luke 5 represents a second call to fish for people that comes after Jesus’ miracles in Capernaum and ministry tour through Galilee. So I’m always curious. How do other Harmonies treat this event? I’m in agreement with Thomas and Gundry. I see them as two different events. How do other Harmony compilers view this?

So let me provide my perspective on the chronological work done with The Chosen’s Harmony. 

Editor & Compiler of the Harmony

The Chosen’s Harmony is not compiled or edited by Dallas and Amanda Jenkins. They tasked Steve Laube with this work. I’m not sure what his theological background is, but Steve does have extensive experience in editing and publishing, and his company coaches authors in getting their books published. He appears to be well known in the Christian publishing world. Laube provides an Introduction to the Harmony, and then also provides a Resource section at the back that includes several of the Harmonies I noted above, including Thomas and Gundry’s NIV Harmony of the Gospels.

Structure of the Harmony

Some Harmonies, like Thomas and Gundry’s, are parallel in their structure. You see the text from all four Gospels in side by side columns. Other Harmonies, like One Perfect Life and The Life of Christ in Stereo, are blended. You read them as one continuous story. Where the four Gospels overlap, they are combined for ease of reading. In general, I find parallel Harmonies more useful for study and blended harmonies more useful for devotional reading. The Chosen’s Harmony is blended. It’s stated purpose and the structure of its layout is devotional in nature. It uses the text of the Christian Standard Bible, which I find to be both readable and accurate.  They have intentionally removed all chapter and verse references to help with the reading flow. They have provided section titles, helping you to follow along with the flow of events. If you want to see where a specific section is taken from, all scripture references are included in a day by day breakdown at the back of the Harmony. The Chosen’s Harmony has been laid out into 40 Daily readings, which I love from a devotional perspective. Because it’s been broken down into 40 Days, it provided me with a few insights I’ll share below.

Comparing Chronologies

How does The Chosen’s Harmony compare with the chronological work of Thomas and Gundry? With a few minor exceptions, Laube has lined up his chronology for the life of Christ exactly as Thomas and Gundry (and A.T. Robertson) have. Even though The Chosen television series takes creative liberties with the order of events in the life of Christ, The Chosen’s Harmony does not take the same liberties.

The most significant chronological difference I see is the placement of The Sending of the Seventy Two in Luke 10 and the subsequent teaching and events recorded in Luke 10-13. Thomas and Gundry place the sending out of the Seventy Two, which likely occurred in Judea, after the events recorded in John 7:11-10:21. In John 8-10, we see Jesus in Jerusalem. There we have the significant story of Jesus healing the blind man by sending him to wash the mud from his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Then in John 10, after teaching on the Good Shepherd, He retreats to Samaria, likely near the border of Judea. From there, He sends out the Seventy Two to the towns and villages in the region surrounding Jerusalem. After they return, Jesus travels to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany for a meal. Bethany is just outside Jerusalem on the backside of the Mount of Olives.

The Chosen’s Harmony places the sending out of the Seventy Two in Judea, the visit to Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany, and the other teaching and events all the way up to Luke 13:34 BEFORE the events in John 9 and 10. In other words, they see Jesus only being in Jerusalem once here, not twice. Thomas and Gundry see evidence for Jesus going into Jerusalem and healing the blind man, then retreating back to Samaria, sending out the Seventy Two, and eventually making His way back into Jerusalem again. We do know that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2) in the Fall and then back in Jerusalem in the Winter for the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22).

I think arguments could be made for either approach. I’ll stick with the scholarship of Thomas and Gundry, New Testament scholars, though I’m certain neither of them would claim their chronology to be infallible.

Comparing the Call of the Four

The Chosen’s Harmony blends Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:1-11 into a single event. As I already mentioned, Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony of the Gospels bases their chronology upon the classic work of A.T. Robertson, who also put these three passages side by side as a single event in his parallel Harmony. However, Thomas and Gundry have this to say about that placement.

“The revisers of this Harmony, however, prefer another option. Subsequent to this first call by Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20), these four fishermen responded by resuming their association with Jesus only temporarily, after which they returned to their original vocation of fishing. This latter option is preferred because features of Luke 5:1-11 are sufficiently distinct from this paragraph to indicate another call later on. The sequence of the account is one difference, but not the only one. Other differences are that Simon and Andrew were not fishing from a boat in Matthew and Mark, but they were in Luke. In Matthew and Mark Jesus did not enter a boat as He did in Luke.  Luke records a great catch of fish, but Matthew and Mark say nothing about one. Hence, it appears that the two brothers went back to their fishing trade after the tour of section 44. After responding to the second call of Luke 5:1-11, they seem to have remained with Jesus permanently. Following His crucifixion, however, they did return to fishing once again (Sec. 180).

The depiction of the events is different enough to see them as separate, but the sequence of events, as Thomas and Gundry note, is also critical. In Mark, following the Call of the Four, Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum and heals the demoniac. He then goes to Peter’s house and heals Peter’s mother-in-law. That night, large crowds come to the house, bringing people to be healed and demons to be cast out. The next day, Jesus takes His disciples with Him on a ministry tour throughout Galilee. Luke records all these same events (Luke 4:31-44) before the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11. Because of these differences, I agree with Thomas and Gundry that we should see these as two separate calls… a first call, and then a recall.

40 day Insights

Some things really stand out about the chronology we have for the life of Christ provided by the four Gospel writers when broken down into 40 Daily Readings.

  1. The Appointment of the Twelve occurs at the end of Day 8 in the 40 Day breakdown. In a three and a half year view of the public ministry of Christ, the appointment of the Twelve happens shortly before the third Passover, a little over two years into Jesus’ public ministry. That means that 80% of what we have recorded in the Gospels comes after the appointment of the Twelve, the last 15-18 months of Jesus’ earthly life. The four Gospels contain 3875 verses. 3220 of them are from the appointment of the Twelve to the Ascension, 83%.
  2. The Passion Week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Day 29 of The Chosen’s Harmony begins with this event. That means that the last twelve days of reading, or 30% of the Harmony, records Passion Week up through the Ascension. 1270 of the 3875 verses in the Gospels cover this period of time, 33%. That’s a staggering amount of content from the teachings of Jesus, most of it occurring during Passion Week.

I’m almost finished with my 40 Days reading and journaling through The Chosen presents: A Blended Harmony of the Gospels. I’ve enjoyed reading it for my morning devotions. It’s close enough in its chronology to Thomas and Gundry for me to read it without being overly critical, which would diminish its devotional value. Yet at the same time, its subtle differences in a few places have caused me to take a deeper dive, both in it and Thomas and Gundry, which has been a welcome learning opportunity.

The Chosen’s Harmony is definitely worth reading, but first, get yourself a copy of Thomas and Gundry’s The NIV Harmony of the Gospels and dive into a significant study of the life of Christ. What better time to do it-  beginning your study at Christmas and concluding it at Easter. Sonlife also has two wonderful Harmony resources. Our Harmony Study and Knowing Him: A 50 Day Study in the Life of Christ. 

Above all, let’s take a deep dive into Jesus as we follow the disciple-making blueprint He’s provided for us!