The Four-Fold Gospel, J. W. McGarvey & Philip Y. Pendleton
J. W. McGarvey is one of the more highly respected scholars among churches of Christ to this day. His father emigrated from Ireland to America to settle in Hopkinsville, KY where John William was born in 1829. J. W. McGarvey’s exposure to the church began when he entered Bethany College which was under the control of Alexander Campbell. He had the privilege of hearing Alexander preach in the church at Bethany on multiple occasions. In April 1848 he was immersed at Buffalo Creek by one of his professors, W. K. Pendleton. Pendleton was a man McGarvey admired greatly for his knowledge and teaching ability. Buffalo Creek was the same body of water where Alexander and Thomas Campbell were immersed. McGarvey then decided to dedicate his life to preaching of the gospel. He graduated from Bethany in 1850 at the top of the class and delivered his commencement speech in Greek.
McGarvey would go on to write many valuable works which are still highly prized today including: Lands of the Bible, Original Commentary on Acts, New Commentary on Acts, Commentary on Matthew & Mark, Evidences of Christianity, Jesus & Jonah and The Authorship of Deuteronomy.
McGarvey worked with W. K. Pendelton’s son, Philip, in the production of The Fourfold Gospel. There have been some criticisms of portions of the book that some believe to be more the work of Pendleton deserving the criticism than McGarvey. (One needs to keep in mind that this work and the commentary Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans were published after McGarvey’s death.) While it is intriguing to sort out this matter, one needs to keep in mind that McGarvey is not the authority per se. As with all the works of men—verify them with the Book of Books! The Four-Fold Gospel was my textbook for the class Life of Christ at Freed-Hardeman University. Unlike some gospel harmonies which seek to combine just the synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke), this work is a harmony of all four gospels. Sadly, many harmonies of the gospels are filled with a modernistic bias. Looking for a work written by a trusted member of the church who helped fight against modernism among the churches? Here it is! The work is not designed for the scholars but by a scholar for all to read and understand. It was reported that McGarvey’s preaching was so easy to understand that a child could follow the lesson but would challenge any man to be able to deliver such an address themselves. This book was written for Bible Class teachers and more advanced students. While the work is easy to understand, it is not exactly a book that is easy to read from cover-to-cover so it will take time to become comfortable with the layout of material. Be sure to read the introductory material that explains the structure of the marking system prior to reading the work or you will miss some of the benefit that the writers have provided. The book is more than a chart showing the order of events of the gospels and including the Biblical text. It includes commentary from the research and a lifetime of study of McGarvey near the end of his life. There is a valuable index to all four gospels at the back of the book showing what page number the material can be found on.
John William McGarvey died on October 6, 1911 and is buried in Lexington, KY. The Four-Fold Gospel was released three years after McGarvey’s death. I have had honor of standing at his grave and taking my children there as well. My hope is that they will cherish the eternal truths that McGarvey championed in his life as well.
Originally printed West Virginia Christian, Vol. 16, No. 10,
October 2009, p. 8. Reprinted by permission.