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Hence the peculiarities of the several evangelists are obscured; the text of one is, consciously or unconsciously, conformed to that of another.
(De Consensu Evangelistarum) is regarded as the most laborious task undertaken by the great African Father.
But its influence has been much less obvious than that of his strictly exegetical and doctrinal works. Salmond, in his Introductory Notice, gives a discriminating and just estimate of it.
But the necessary limitations of harmonistic methods should be fully recognised.
Absolute certainty is often impossible: there will always be room for difference of judgment.
When uniformity could not be secured by this process, false exegesis was often resorted to, and hermeneutical principles avowed which injured the cause of truth.
Evangelical truth cannot be defended with the weapons of error.
The methods represent the tendencies of the age to which they respectively belong.
The historical method is doubtless the more correct one; but, when it assumes the extreme form of destructive criticism, it denies the possibility of harmony.
On the other hand, the apologetic method, when linked with a mechanical view of inspiration, too often adopts interpretations that are ungrammatical, in order to ignore the necessity of harmonizing differences.
The true position lies between these extremes: the grammatico-historical sense must be accepted; the correct text of each Gospel must be determined, independently of verbal variations; the truthfulness of each evangelist must be assumed, until positive error is proven; the more definite statements are to be used in explaining the less definite; the characteristics of each evangelist must be given their proper weight in determining the probabilities of greater or less accuracy of detail.