Can the Gospels Be Integrated Together? One Scholar Says Yes.

The claim that the Gospels contradict is one of the most common objections raised against the Christian faith. In the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I list dozens of books that aim to answer this charge.

And yet since the publication of Evidence this fall, I came across a 2017 book called The Four In One Gospel of Jesus, by Nikola Dimitrov, a scholar from Bulgaria. Quite impressively, he got an endorsement from N.T. Wright. Dimitrov spent over a decade studying the Gospels closely to offer an integrated, chronological account of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It’s a fascinating study that is helpful to anyone who wants to see how the various accounts may fit together. Here’s a quick interview related to his findings:

SEAN MCDOWELL: What motivated you to write a book aiming to chronologically integrate the four Gospels?

NIKOLA DIMITROV: Ever since I became a believer in 1992, I started reading the Bible. When I got to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I couldn’t but notice many stories were the same, but not quite. That got me intrigued, which led to the idea to compile one chronological and contextual Gospel, so the readers could get the fullness of each story, without repetitions and without adding or taking away anything from the Bible text itself. I knew from experience that no unbeliever would read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John one right after another, but why not read one composite story about the life of the Greatest Person Who ever lived?

Also, in a post-enlightenment and predominantly secular society, many people argue that the four gospels contradict each other, which in turn hurts the credibility of the entire Bible. The Four In One Gospel of Jesus proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that all these seeming “contradictions” are actually beautiful complementations.

All in all, my target audience would be pastors, leaders, preachers, history lovers and everyday Bible readers, as well as non-believers who get the book as a gift from their Christian relatives or friends.

MCDOWELL: What surprised you most when you tried to line them up together?

DIMOTROV: Hmmm, I’ve been raised among Christians who loved to say that little contradictions from different sources, when it comes to the same story, are actually proof of the credibility of that story. They use the example with policemen questioning four different people about the same crime. Each of the four saw differently and that convinces the policemen their story has not been collaborated.

Be that as it may, when I started compiling The Four In One Gospel of Jesus, I was amazed that this was NOT the case with the four Gospel writers. They did not have even a single contradiction, major or minor. The context would always speak of different details that add up to each story in a perfect way. Even stories that on the surface looked as if two or three of the Gospel writers saw a completely different, even the very opposite thing, when compiled together, I was wowed at the brilliance of the God-breathed Word. It’s really incredible. There isn’t a single contradiction in the whole Bible.

MCDOWELL: What were the hardest stories or events to integrate? Were there any aspects of the Gospels you couldn’t integrate?

I worked on the book for more than 10 years, then it underwent 15 complete, cover to cover revisions, by a full team of professional editors, using the most influential sources, like Matthew Henry’s Tabular Harmony of the Gospels and The Orthodox Bible Chronological Chart of events, as well as some leading Bible encyclopedias and historical reference materials. So, there are NO aspects that couldn’t be integrated. That’s what separates The Four In One Gospel of Jesus, from all other similar attempts – the fact that my work includes every single word, phrase, comma and dot that is present in the Gospels. I haven’t missed one punctuation mark, nor have I added anything – just blended the very text of the four Gospels and put it in chronological order.

Here’s a quick example:

The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus touched the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the fever left her (Matthew 8:15). Mark says this was not just a simple touch, but Jesus actually took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her (Mark 1:31). Luke adds something that is missing in both Matthew and Mark, namely that Jesus stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her (Luke 4:39). The fact that the fever left Peter’s mother-in-law is the same, while each Gospel writer adds a new element to the “process” of her healing and thus, to the whole picture. It’s NOT a DIFFERENT thing, but an ADDITIONAL detail.

In The Four in One Gospel of Jesus this passage would look like this:

“Jesus came, stood over her, rebuked the fever, touched her hand, took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her”.

So, we get the complete picture by adding and mixing all the words and details that are unique in each of the four Gospels. When the chronology is applied to the whole story of the life of Jesus, The Four in One Gospel of Jesus emerges.

An example of a hard story would be the story of the Resurrection. Who saw Jesus first, after the Resurrection, who saw Him second, third, fourth, etc.? How many times people entered the tomb? How many times angels came and was it one angel, two angels or more? The logic I’ve followed is as follows:

1. Early in the morning Mary Magdalene visits the tomb with some other women. They enter in and see that the body of Jesus is not there.

2. Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John, while the other women remain at the tomb and experience the two angels, who tell them Jesus has risen, so they are to go and tell the disciples. The women leave the tomb and on their way to the disciples they see Jesus. Mary Magdalene couldn’t have been with them, because when she goes to Peter and John, she tells them somebody has taken the Lord and she has no idea where they put Him. Moreover, when she sees Jesus, before recognizing Him, she thinks He is the gardener. So, at that point, she couldn’t have seen the angels the other women saw, or she would know Jesus had risen.

3. When the other women leave the tomb, Mary Magdalene arrives with Peter and John. They both see the tomb empty and return home, while Mary stays and sees Jesus. She then goes to the disciples too and along with the other women, they tell the disciples.

MCDOWELL: How did researching and writing this book influence you personally?

DIMITROV: My primary calling is that of a Bible teacher. When an idea from the Bible pops up in my spirit, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t think other than how to develop it, enrich it and present it in the best possible way to God’s people. And since this was my longest project, it involved thousands upon thousands of hours of reading the Gospels, praying to God, thanking Him and praising Him for His love and grace. When I saw the story of my Lord Jesus, forming before my eyes, as one story, from the Old Testament prophecies about Him, through His physical birth, His life, His ministry, His love and then His sacrifice, His death and His resurrection and ascension, I had countless moments of elated gratitude and humbling before His feet. Working on this project enhanced my understanding of God’s Person and character, which made me fall in love with Him more and more, until it became a burning passion, a chronic hunger for Him, which keeps igniting an everyday fire in me. Even while I am writing this right now, I feel such gratefulness that I am His and He is mine, I can’t describe it adequately. Jesus is the center of Biblical Universe and writing about Him is an experience beyond words.

MCDOWELL: How did you get N.T. Wright to endorse your book?

DIMITROV: The whole process of working on the book was surrounded by God’s miracles. I am a little guy from the nation of Bulgaria, which, up until 30 years ago, was almost constantly under bondage – Communism, Ottoman Empire, Byzantine Empire and what not. So, how exactly the Lord opened the heart of Professor N.T. Wright, Dr. Kenneth Boa, Dr. William Murray, Dr. Jerry Newcombe, Dr. Michael Brown, Professor William Dembski, Professor Jonathan Welton, Dr. Stan Newton, the Board of Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and you, Dear Dr. Sean – to this day I have no idea. I just wrote all of the above and asked humbly and got a response – some with an Endorsement, some with a Reference, some with an Interview, some with an encouragement, much to the utter amazement of everybody around me. All I can say is: Praise the Lord!

Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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