In a forum frequented by some of my more liberal Baptist brethren, I’ve encountered some discussion of the possible discrepancies between the early birth and life of Jesus narratives in Matthew 2 and Luke 2. This included some mention of the “harmony of the gospels” and even brought up the early Christian teacher named Tatian and his “Harmony of Four (Gospels)”. Because of that, I decided to include the following information here on my blog.
The Diatessaron[i] is an early (probably first) harmony of the four Christian gospels, compiled by Tatian,[ii] a disciple of Justin Martyr. Tatian combined the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into a single narrative. The work was compiled circa AD 150 – 175. The Greek title means “Through Four” (i.e., Composed of Four, Harmony of Four).[iii] I do not know the intended purpose of Tatian’s Diatessaron, but its existence suggests that he accepted the historicity of these accounts.[iv]
The Roberson-Donaldson introduction tells us that “In its present form the Harmony draws from all the four canonical gospels, and from very little else.” According to the New World Encyclopedia, “Only fifty-six verses in the canonical Gospels do not have a counterpart in the Diatessaron, mostly the genealogies and the pericope adulterae” [i.e., John 7:53 - 8:11, rlv]. It is an early witness of the longer ending of the gospel of Mark.
Tatian produced the several works, two of which survive. The other is Tatian’s Address to the Greeks.
[i] The Roberts-Donaldson English Translation
[ii] Greek, Tatianos.
[iii] Dia – through, for the sake of, because of; Tessaron, tessares– four.
[iv] Those who deny its historicity have no reason to concern themselves with “harmonizing” the Gospels. On the other hand, skeptics often propose supposed contradictions to disprove (to their satisfaction) that the Gospels are historically accurate.