The chronology in Matthew 4 states that after Jesus' temptation, he heard that John the Baptist had been taken into custody, so he returned to Galilee and began his preaching ministry and called his disciples (v.12).

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. (Matthew 4:12 ESV)

John the disciple reports that the first disciples began following Jesus at the Jordan, after which they went to Galilee and then to Jerusalem. Jesus then went to the Judean countryside and was baptizing not far from where John the Baptist was still baptizing, and where he gave his final testimony declaring Jesus to be the Son of God who offers eternal life (Jn 3:22-24).

22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison). (John 3:22-24 - ESV)

Has anyone come up with a compelling resolution to that apparent contradiction in the timeline of the Gospel narratives? Matthew (and Mark) put John's imprisonment right at the beginning of Jesus' ministry before he goes to Galilee and calls his disciples and John says that John the Baptist is still baptizing later in Jesus' ministry when his own disciples are also baptizing at the Jordan. (Moderator: Please note the two texts cited above.)

  • 1
    No, this is not about turning this into a debate. It is to see if anyone can come up with a creative interpretation for two seemingly contradictory timelines. I have seen some timeline issues resolved with plausible interpretations, but not this one. Aug 21 at 9:35
  • 1
    1. The synoptics have Jesus going into the wilderness and enduring fasting and temptations for forty days, whereas John, on the other hand, does not even whisper as much as a single word about it; similarly for the calling of the first four apostles, the two pairs of brothers, which is presented differently in John, something easily noticeable from reading the Diatessaron. Personally, I would seriously recommend resisting the temptation to harmonize valid discrepancies, since this only leads to missing that specific evangelist's intended message.
    – Lucian
    Aug 21 at 9:57
  • 2. To provide a simple example, John, unlike the synoptics, places the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Christ's ministry. This episode also mentions the temple having been under construction for 46 years, consistent with Josephus' report of Herod undertaking such massive architectural efforts around 19 BC. Also unique to John is Jesus' ministry spanning over three distinct Easters; thus, 46 + 3 = 49, a clear reference to the prophecy from the book of Daniel (9:25-26).
    – Lucian
    Aug 21 at 10:05
  • 1
    Can you please specify the verses you are trying to harmonize and describe what you see as the problem? I don't see a real timeline present in any of the gospels with the exception of passion week. John at least, appears to be organized thematically rather than sequentially, with only a rough set of date markers infrequently provided in any of the gospels.
    – Robert
    Aug 22 at 2:53
  • Since when are the harmony of the Gospels, which involves establishing a timeline for the Gospels, considered merely a matter of opinion. Some of the best New Testament Greek scholars have spent extensive time harmonizing the Gospels.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 22 at 12:34

Robertson in Robertson, A. T. (2009), A Harmony of the Gospels, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, put Matt. 4:12 between John 4:1-4/Luke 3:19-20 and John 4:5-42.

Aland in Aland, K. (2009) Synopsis of the Four Gospels, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, puts Matt 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14; and John 4:1-3 as simultaneous.

These are two established Greek New Testament scholars, and they both have John 3:23-36 as occurring before Matt. 4:12.

The challenge to harmonizing the Gospels is we do not have a clear statement that the Gospel writers intended to write the Gospel content in chronological order except for Luke 1:3-4. Also John seems to intentionally avoid repeating what was already in the Synoptic Gospels. See Why is it only Matthew who records Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:26-31?

  • 1
    Actually Luke 1:3-4 says "it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. I tend to follow his chronology but the problem is that John reports things for found in the synoptics. Aug 21 at 23:00
  • @Martin That is the closest we have. That verse did come to mind, but I guess I got lazy, so I corrected the answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 21 at 23:09
  • *not found (correction) Don't know if I can ask about the reasoning of these scholars here, but did you find their argument compelling? Furthermore Mt 4:12 gives the motivation for Jesus returning to Galilee as John's imprisonment. John the disciple ascribes the motive to the meddling of the Pharisees. Aug 21 at 23:19
  • It does seem a little strange that after having traveled with his disciples to Jerusalem, and commissioning them to baptize for him, that they would return to their boats and Jesus would call them to follow him. I guess it is not impossible but it feels a little forced. Perhaps the best approach, as you intimated and as suggested above, is not to insist on a perfect harmonization of the four accounts. Aug 22 at 0:23
  • You may need to refresh your screen, I need to investigate more.
    – Perry Webb
    Aug 22 at 1:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.