Many Bible students are unaware of how many parallel passages there are in Scripture. In what follows, I will provide a summary of the major places where repetitions occur. In some places, these repetitions are word for word. Elsewhere only minor differences distinguish the passages that parallel each other.
Parallels in the law
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy combine to provide us with the statutes and ordinances of the law of Moses. Parallels exist within these books regarding the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), various laws (for example, compare Exodus 23:23-33, Leviticus 18:24-30, Numbers 33:50-56, and Deuteronomy 7:1-5,17-26), the feast days (Exodus 23:14-17, Leviticus 23:4-44, Numbers 9:6-14, Numbers 28:9–29:40, and Deuteronomy 16:1-17), the priesthood (Exodus 29:1-45 and Leviticus 8:1–9:14), the sacrifices (Leviticus 1:1-17 and Numbers 28:1-8), and the blessings and curses of the covenant (Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28). It is important to keep in mind that Deuteronomy was delivered at the close of the 40-year period of wandering in the wilderness and serves as a summary of the events that happened and of the law.
Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles
The books of First and Second Samuel, followed by First and Second Kings, provide a continuous narrative of United kingdom, the divided Kingdom, and Judah alone periods of Old Testament history in chronological order. First Chronicles parallels Second Samuel, and Second Chronicles parallels First and Second Kings. Second Chronicles is much more focused on the southern kingdom of Judah, but Kings also includes the history of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Comparing parallel passages will bring to light many interesting differences. For example in Second Samuel 24:1-25, God’s anger burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” The parallel passage in First Chronicles 21:1-26 says that Satan incited David to initiate the census.
Second Samuel 11-12 tells the sordid story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. First Chronicles passes over the story completely, focusing instead on David’s triumph over the Ammonites by conquering their capital Rabbah.
Before you swallow the suggestion the Chronicles is pro-Davidic propaganda, consider this: Chronicles seems to have been written about a hundred years after Kings and for a much different purpose. The story of David and Bathsheba would have been well known in the Chronicler’s time. He was focused more on encouraging the people that God had not given up on them despite their sinfulness. The purpose of Kings seems to be different: to call the people to repent of their sins, lest they suffer similar calamities as their ancestors.
Kings and Isaiah
The story of Hezekiah’s delivery from the Assyrians, his near-death illness and recovery, and his foolish disclosure of his treasury to Babylonian envoys is all recorded in Isaiah 36 through 39. It is also found in Second Kings, chapters 18 through 20. In some places the two passages are word for word the same. Perhaps Isaiah, as a Royal official, participated in the writing of the Book of Kings.
Micah and Isaiah
Micah and Isaiah were contemporary prophets for the nation of Judah. Although Isaiah was apparently the younger, their ministries probably overlapped considerably. Isaiah chapter 2 parallels Micah chapter 4; in places the text is word for word the same.
Psalms and Second Samuel or Chronicles
Since David is author of many of the Psalms, and the central figure in second Samuel and first Chronicles, perhaps we should not be surprised that the histories quote a few of his Psalms. Psalm 18 is also found in Second Samuel 22, and First Chronicles 16 makes extensive quotations from Psalms 105, 96, and 106. Also, Psalm 132:8-10 is quoted in 2 Chronicles 6:41-42.
The following Psalms parallel one another: 14:1-7 with 53:1-6; 31:1-4 with 71:1-3; 40:13-17 with 70:1-5; 57:7-11 with 108:1-5; 60:5-12 with 108:6-13; and 115:4-11 with 135:15-20. The use of Psalms in worship explains to some degree these repetitions.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke
Perhaps the most familiar of biblical parallels occur in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three Gospels are called the Synoptics, which means they “see together.” Quite often, all three give an account of the same incident in the life of Jesus. In most of these episodes, Mark’s account is the shortest, and both Matthew and Luke seem to provide edits to Mark’s wording.
Occasionally, however, Matthew and Luke record an incident, usually teaching, that is absent in Mark. This has led scholars to theorize that Matthew and Luke are dependent on what they call a “teachings source” that Mark did not use. This hypothetical source is often called Q (from the German word quelle, meaning ‘source’). Mark and Q as the sources for Matthew and Luke are the core of the Two-Source theory.
In other places, Matthew has material only found in his Gospel, and the same is true with some material found only in Luke. This has led a majority of scholars to three conclusions: 1) the gospel of Mark was written first and served as a source for both Matthew and Luke; 2) in addition to Mark, Matthew and Luke also had a teachings source, either oral or written (Q); 3) both Matthew and Luke supply additional material from sources unique to them (M) and (L). This is called the Four-Source Theory.
B. H. Streeter has added an additional wrinkle to the Four-Source Theory, suggesting that the third gospel was completed before Luke saw the gospel of Mark and then revised to include material from Mark’s gospel in big slabs. This earlier edition of Luke Streeter calls ‘proto-Luke.’
A rival theory, called the Griesbach Hypothesis or Matthean Priority, holds that Matthew’s gospel comes first, abbreviated by Mark and expanded by Luke.
Ephesians and Colossians
You will find a considerable number of examples of parallels between Ephesians and Colossians. For example, Ephesians 1:7, Paul says, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…”Colossians 1:14 says, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The marginal note in the NIV says that a few late manuscripts have “in his blood,” making the parallel even more extensive.
Also compare Ephesians 5:22 through 6:9 with Colossians 3:18 through 4:1, the famous “house rules” as applied to wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters. These parallels are probably best explained by the assumption that Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians at virtually the same time and sent them to churches in the same area.
Second Peter 2 and Jude
A comparison between Second Peter chapter 2 and the short book of Jude has led many scholars to assume that some literary relationship exists between the two chapters. Apparently, reading Jude’s letter of warning against false teachers prompted the apostle Peter to send a similar epistle to churches he was working with.
Revelation and Ezekiel
Although the book of Revelation never makes a direct quotation of more than a few words from any Old Testament source, a careful study of the Apocalypse reveals that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel provides a major background to the New Testament book. This is especially true in Revelation chapters 21 and 22, compared with Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48. Both referred to a new Jerusalem, a supernatural River, and trees bearing fruit all year round.
Look for parallels
None of the differences in this extensive list of parallels involve the biblical authors in contradictions. Many of the differences seem to be just different ways of saying the same thing. Others are explanations relieving confusion or providing additional details. In a few cases, superficial differences disappear when studied more closely. We should keep in mind that a contradiction is only confirmed if the two accounts cannot both be true.
A close study of parallel passages will yield many new insights into the meaning of the text and a deeper understanding of what it means for the Bible to be the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Want to go deeper?
Recommended for further reading
Steve C. Singleton – Multi-Index to the Law of Moses. Garland, Tex.: DeeperStudy, 2007.
Burnett H. Streeter – “The Synoptic Problem,” 149-198 in The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins Treating of the Manuscript Tradition, Sources, Authorship, and Dates. London: Macmillan, 1930. (A diagram of the four-source theory is on page 150.)
Robert H. Stein – Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2001.
James D. Newsome, Jr. – A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, with related passages from Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1986.
Kurt Aland – Synopsis of the Four Gospels – Greek-English Edition. Revised edition. New York: Hendrickson, 2006.
John C. Endres, William R. Miller, et al., eds. – Chronicles and its Synoptic Parallels in Samuel, Kings, and Related Biblical Texts. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1998