Eusebius was a scholar
who lived in Caesarea around 300 A.D. He developed
the first popular method of "harmonizing the Gospels." However, this doesn't mean that he
wrote songs. The Bible's four Gospel Books — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — each tell the story of
Jesus' life and ministry while He was on earth. That does not, however, mean that the Gospels are identical.
Each writer told the story through his own unique perspective. "Harmonizing the Gospels"
means comparing the same story from different Gospels to obtain a greater understanding of its
significance. Gospel Harmonies, sometimes called "Parallel Gospels" are still published today;
you can find them in any good Christian
book store, but instead of using Eusebius' numbers, the passages are printed in parallel columns.
Also known for his book
History of the Church
Now at the time of Eusebius the Bible didn't look like it does today. Of course
in 300 A.D. there was
no such thing as printing, so all Scripture was in manuscript form. And of course there was no English Language
back then — so the Bible was the Latin Vulgate. In order to save supplies and to make the job of
copying Scripture go faster, no divisions were placed in the text — there were no spaces between words
or sentences. Some "holy words" were abbreviated. There were no chapter and
verse divisions —
just a lot of letters side by side by side.
Not easy reading, even in English
Eusebius came up with a clever and unique way of referencing specific portions of Scripture text.
First he divided the Gospels into numbered sections — 355 in Matthew, 241 in Mark, 342 in Luke, and John
had 232 sections. This made it easy to refer to a specific passage, even without chapters and verses.
Then Eusebius created 10 lists in which parallel passages were listed by their reference number. These
were called Eusebius' 10 "canon" tables; here the word "canon" means a Listing of
Eusebius' first Canon contained all passages common to all four Gospels; the second Canon had listings
to passages contained in Matthew, Mark and Luke only. The third Canon had passages that were unique to Matthew, Luke
and John. Every combination of Gospels was given its own Canon. Most Bibles placed Eusebius' Canon in a separate
section — usually just before the Gospels.
EXAMPLE FROM EUSEBIUS' 1st CANON
The captions in RED at the top are the four Gospels:
Mat. (Matthew) Marc9. (Mark) Lucas. (Luke) Joan. (John)
Looking at the 3rd line — Section xi (11) of Matthew is parallel to
Section iiii (4) in Mark,
and Section x (10) in Luke, and
Section xii (12) in John
The Eusebian Canon was almost always written or printed as shown in the examples below — numbers within a
group of architectural columns. Sometimes a letter written by Eusebius to Carpianus explaining the
system was also included. Within the Scripture Text, Eusebius' section numbers were
printed in the
margin; you can see that in the text example below. These display pages are from a Latin Bible
printed in France in 1546. Click on them for a closer view.
The Eusibian Canon could be found in Bibles through the 1600's. It eventually gave way to better,
more modern cross-referencing schemes. But in its time (and for 12 centuries thereafter), the Canon
developed by Eusebius was the preferred method of examining Gospel parallels.