Synopsis of the Four Gospels

The Bible itself is a complicated design project, so imagine how challenging it is to arrange Greek and English parallels in a synopsis of the Gospels. Jesus Saenz found out firsthand when he picked up a copy of Kurt Aland’s beautifully produced Synopsis of the Four Gospels, and he was gracious enough to take some photos to share. The write-up is fascinating — especially the conclusion. Some books don’t need the goatskin treatment; they’re perfectly fine how they are.

Jesus says:

Several months ago I had read of a book that contained the four Gospels arranged vertically. That is, rather than reading the Gospels one at a time, it contained the parallel passages of the Gospels next to each other. As a study aid I thought it was a fantastic idea.

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As I looked into it, there were three editions available. One had the parallel passages in English, using the Revised Standard Version, the other was in Greek and this edition which has the Greek and English on facing pages. The book itself is large measuring 10.75” x 8.5” x 1.1”. It is hardbound in a light blue cotton linen cover that is reminiscent of textbooks or school library books from my youth. The title on the spine is wonderfully placed, stamped in gold, the cover has the title as well.

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The inside is just as appealing as the outside. The pages are a cream color and as smooth as a John Coltrane solo. The paper feels less like wood pulp and more like cotton. The print is dark, making a nice contrast with the page color. The print is even from page to page, beginning to end. I only wish that all of the Bible publishers would take the same care with their printings.

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This large tome is not for casual reading but for the serious study of the Word. The binding is sewn, that and the size alone make it lay flat wherever the book is opened to. Another reason this is not a book you just sit with breeze right through is that is contains the full apparatus of the Greek New Testament and all of its variants as well as the variants in the English. There is a wealth of knowledge in this book.

As part of the introduction, there is a list of all the manuscripts as well as the date of the manuscript and it’s current location. The apparatus shows the variants from any manuscript, the source manuscripts, either the Majority, Sinaiticus, Byzantine, etc., or if it came from a lectionary or from an Early Church Father. The introduction has a list of all the papyrus codices, uncials, minuscules and the contents of the codices as not all the early manuscripts had a complete New Testament. It is a treat to be able to try and trace the transmission of the New Testament through these codices.

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This is a major help for anyone who is a teacher of the Word. The pericopes are laid out with a heading then divided by lines per Gospel writer. The chapter and verses for each are included per pericope and left empty if one or more of the Gospels do not have a parallel. The English variants include those from the RSV, AV, RV and the ASV. You can easily see all the parallel passages without having to turn from gospel to gospel as they are laid out neatly. You can now see how each writer describes common events such as the crucifixion. The style of the individual writer can be seen a little more clearly, especially if you read Greek.

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Before receiving this book, I was considering it as a candidate to be rebound but upon further inspection there is no way I would send this book to be rebound. It is a magnificent book, all on it’s own. Even if the covers aren’t floppy or made from a dead animal.

— Jesus Saenz

Thanks, Jesus, for sharing this interesting volume with us. I think the page design illustrates just how clever a designer of reference works needs to be in order for the material to “make sense” visually. And I agree completely: there’s no need for a rebind. A beautifully-produced hardback is a pleasure to use.

By the way, if you’d like to see more photos, Jesus has set up a Flickr Set with nineteen images, including the five shown here. It’s worth checking out!

21 Comments on “Synopsis of the Four Gospels

  1. I purchased one of these at the SWBTS bookstore just prior to graduation in 1989. It wasn’t inexpensive then, I wonder what they go for today?

  2. I have an older one of these from the second printing in 1985. I have used this type of “harmony of the gospels” to teach classes on the Synoptic Gospels. It is a great help. My favorite harmony was done in 1996 by Orville E. Daniel. It is done in the NIV and only in paperback, but the print and layout are marvelous. It does not have the textual notes that Aland’s has though. Also, once you compare these type of books you can start to see some of the judgments made about the chronology of Jesus’ ministry. Thanks for sharing your analysis. If you haven’t looked at a Daily Bible (Bible in chronological order) it is a great help for studying the gospels, too. It weaves all four accounts into one story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazon offers two Greek-English editions, as far as I know the only difference is that one was published by the German Bible Society(which is the one I have) and the other is published by Hendrickson Publishing.

  4. There are three editions of this synopsis by the German Bible Society: Besides the Greek-English one there is of course Greek-German one and then the Greek-only one – but the Greek Synopsis Quatuorum Evangelicorum has also the complete gospel of Thomas in its apparatus.
    The paper used in this edition is used by the Bible Society in all their German bibles. After having received the ESV Personal Reference Edition with its white paper I think I prefer “our” paper, whereas the limb cover of english bibles is better than the covers used in Germany which are hardbacks for the most part. Even the leather bibles of the German Bible Society are stiff – and there are no more leather covers in semi-yapp stile, only covers with zipper. Back in the middle of the 1980th, the bible society offered bibles in goatskin either in semi-yapp style or with zipper. I have on old “Senfkornbibel” (= Mustard Seed Bible) in goatskin with zipper, which is smaller than the ESV Compact Thinline and contains the Apocypha.

  5. The adult sunday school class of a church I visited was using that book. It seemed like a great study resource. The only thing that I found frustrating about it was that jumping around from passage to passage was pretty confusing, since some events are not recorded in every gospel or are given a greater or lesser account. Beyond that, I thought it was great.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jesus and Mark! The timing couldn’t be more perfect for my studies. Funny how that works sometimes. 😉 Seriously, this is so perfect that I’m giddy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. “The pages are a cream color and as smooth as a John Coltrane solo.”
    This is a bit of empty hyperbole. I do not think it is very polite to John Coltrane to compare with the “cream colored”. And, of course, his late work, such as his primary religious album, “A Love Supreme”, was hardly smooth.

  8. I didn’t compare ‘Trane to the color of the pages, I compared him to the smoothness of the pages.
    Of course, your statement about his later work being “hardly smooth” is nothing but a subjective opinion. Since you brought it up… I am going to have to assume that either you haven’t yet heard Psalm, which is the last track from said album or you have heard it but were not able to discern between all the instruments, John Coltrane played the saxophone on that track.
    Unlike his earlier work with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, or even his better known solo work such as Blue Trane, Giant Steps and My Favorite Things which he played with great fervor. On this track(Psalm) he displays patience with such an emotional power, it is one of the greatest recordings of all time. So, no my comment was not a bit of empty hyperbole. John Coltrane solos are smooooooooth.

  9. I just found a copy of this at the library at Asbury Seminary and it is wonderful…makes me want to scare up some cash to get one.

  10. Unfortunately, this harmony reminds me of the venerable Thomas & Gundry’s: quite utilitarian but not particularly beautiful in terms of typeface and layout.
    Orville Daniel’s 2nd edition has an attractive layout, much better than the 1st ed, but lacks the boldface visual trick of leading you from one dominant account to the next, quite useful when reading out loud in a teaching setting.
    I also enjoy the non-academic (non-multi-column) style of gospel synopsis used in the now out-of-print Book of Hope by Life Publishers Intl. Like Daniel’s work, it only came in paperback, but the single-column, 12 words/line format was a joy to read. Sequentially numbered superscripts were keyed in the back to which Gospel acct was being followed at that point but otherwise the apparatus was clean and neat (no versification!) and easy on the eyes.
    Many of these single-column works can be criticized for some of their theological assumptions, e.g. a Wednesday crucifixion in Cheney’s “The Life of Christ in Stereo”, but I suggest we avoid such criticisms in this thread and concentrate instead on design details. Like, hey, that Cheney paperback sure had a durable cover and sewn signatures!
    Haven’t seen one in person yet, but the new Cox & Easley harmony in the Holman CSB version looks interesting from the Google preview at
    Hardbound, with attractive font.
    What other gospel harmonies have you all seen that are visually-pleasing and well-bound designs? Some harmonies cover only the Synoptics, so I’d appreciate that being noted.

  11. Bill: I purchased the Cox & Easley HCSB Harmony when it first came out and I’ve found it to be very useful. In fact, of the five or so harmony’s I’ve worked with to date, this one is my first choice. There are four general types of harmonizing; namely, parallel, radical, sequential and synthetic. This book uses the parallel method of harmonization. It includes all four gospels. Nice sized font. Layout is great to work from in that it varies from page to page depending on how many gospels are being harmonized. Some pages have four columns (ie feeding the 5,000), while other pages may only have one gospel passage which is single column spanning the entire page. Its not a static four column layout for each page like most of the others. The font point size used on the per page layout of the harmonization varies depending on the number of passages being used. For example, the font size for pages using just one or two passages is a couple point sizes bigger than those page layouts using the four column spread. I was particularly impressed to see passages from outside the gospels included in this harmonization. Those passages include: Acts 1:3-8; Acts 1:9-12; Acts 1:18-19; 1 Corin 15:5a; 1 Corin 15:5b; and 1 Corin 15:6.
    Translation notes for HCSB are located at the bottom of each respective column/passage which is a nice feature. It also has annotations at the bottom of nearly every page, which vary from being study notes to assumptions used about the placement of the specific gospel passage in the harmony. This harmony has a nicely detailed content outline (its called Analytical Outline of the Harmony). There are five introductory articles (each at least five pages long) which all deal with various aspects of harmonization. They are, (1) Is Harmonization Honest?; (2) A History of Harmonies: Major Steps; (3) Why There Are Four Gospels; (4) A Pastoral Use Of Harmonies; and (5) The Academic Use Of Gospel Harmonies. In addition to these introductory articles, there are thirty separate articles (each at least five pages long) covering various various topics under the heading Issues In Gospel Harmonization. If that’s still not enough, they also throw in 8 full page color maps towards the end of the book. Further, there’s an eight page bibliography which is reasonably current through about a year before this harmony was published.
    I’ve learned more about harmonization from this book than anything else I’ve read to date. It fairly addresses the strengths and limitations of studying from a harmonization, both from a pastoral and academic perspective. There is considerable information packed into this 370 page book. HCSB is a fairly recent translation. While I’ve not worked extensively with this translation, I do use it as part of my “staple” of english translations when comparing differing translations in study. To date, I’ve not come across any text in the HCSB translation that has given me pause, and personally I think its a good one to use in conjunction with others. If I’m at home base with access to my library, this book is my first choice if I need to look at a harmony. I don’t have it as a database set in the software programs I currently use, so on the road its usually Gundry or Robertson as they’re nicely packed on my laptop hard drive.
    Interesting timing on you query regarding this harmony. I was planning to write a brief review with some pics and upload it to Mark to post on this site if he felt compelled to do so. I’m not sure I need to do that now given I’ve basically covered most of the info with this response/posting.

  12. Thanks Calif Dave! I was impressed with all the articles C&E included with the basic harmony as well.
    The type is clear and attractive, right? Doesn’t look like it was imprinted from 200-year-old plates? The varying font-size seems bizarre, but there’s no perfect book. Can you estimate what the smallest font size is? I’m getting to where I don’t enjoy less than 9 points any more.
    I haven’t been real tempted to get into the HCSB version, but this is a good format to try something new; harmonies always read a little funny anyway, like driving a familiar road in an unfamiliar car, especially when they’re the sequential or synthetic style. (I can only imagine what a radical harmony is like!)
    I think I’m sold. Can you verify that the binding is Smyth sewn so the pages (eventually) open perfectly flat? I can enjoy hardbounds as well as leather books if they open fully. But I’ve been pretty disappointed in some of the hardbounds I’ve seen lately.

  13. Bill, font for most text (articles and Scripture) is similar in size and style to the print block of the Allan ESV1. Font size on the harmony may be a hair larger than ESV1. Font size for translation notes and annotations is smaller but still very readable. I need to post a correction in that the font size is uniform throughout the entire harmonization, irrespective of the number of gospels used on a per page layout. My earlier post was based on memory and your questions made me go back and actually crack the cover. Glued binding. Amazon price is cheaper at $18, and at that price my suggestion is to just buy it, enjoy it, and replace it with a new one if you ever wear your first copy out. At $18 it was the content I zeroed in on, not the construction quality. If you really like it, you can send it over to a binding shop like Leonards and have it bound however you’d like (see my prior posting on “Poor Man’s Geneva Bible” experience), including leather liners, etc.
    Speaking of Leonards, some months ago I’d sent a highly used Bible to Leonards to have it repaired as a gift for a dear friend. He didn’t want the Bible rebound, etc., he just wanted to have his favorite “sword” repaired (glued binding) because the binding had come apart and totally lost its structural integrity. Pages were completely separated, and there were several torn pages. What I got back from Leonards truly impressed me. All the torn pages were completely repaired, all previously loose pages were tight like it was new, and the overall binding was outstanding. With glued bindings, Leonards inserts additional glue strips for reinforcement and its sure solid. I was surprised that the Bible still opened as flat as it did pre-op with all the additional glued reinforcement work. And no, I’m no shill for Leonards. I pay full price, and wait my turn in line just like everyone else. I do like sharing good experiences and quality binding workmanship with others of this blog. Hmmm, come to think of it, this harmony sure would read better with a nice goatskin wrapper 😉

  14. I own quite a few books published by the United Bible Societies–including Synopsis Quator Evangeliorum, and have used most of them extensively. Two observations: 1) This review makes me wish I had the Greek/English version. 2) I’d say that just about everything about this work is typical of (most) UBS publications: the smooth cream-colored pages, the extensive scholarly helps, the maximization of the layout, etc. One thing, however, is atypical: The cover seems to be solid and firmly fixed to the text block. In the case of my most frequently used UBS publications–my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and my UBS 4 Greek NT with dictionary–the text block is almost completely removed from the cover. I should note, however, that I rarely (read: “almost never”) use my SQR, so I don’t know for sure whether it’s cover would fare any better. It does look sturdier, though.

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