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by Henry Alford
ON THE THREE FIRST GOSPELS GENERALLY
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THREE FIRST GOSPELS
1. ON examining the four records of our Lord’s life on earth, the first thing which demands our notice is the distinctness, in contents and character, of the three first Gospels from the fourth. This difference may be thus shortly described.
2. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in relating His ministry, discourses, and miracles, confine themselves exclusively to the events which took place in Galilee, until the last journey to Jerusalem. No incident whatever of His ministry in Judæa is related by any of them(1). Had we only their accounts, we could never with any certainty have asserted that He went to Jerusalem during His public life, until His time was come to be delivered up. They do not, it is true, exclude such a supposition, but rather perhaps imply it (see Matthew 23:37; Matthew 27:57, and parallels: also Matthew 4:12 as compared with Matthew 4:25; Matthew 8:10; Matthew 15:1); it could not however have been gathered from their narrative with any historical precision.
3. If we now turn to the fourth Gospel, we find this deficiency remarkably supplied. The various occasions on which our Lord went up to Jerusalem are specified; not indeed with any precision of date or sequence, but mainly for the purpose of relating the discourses and miracles by which they were signalized.
4. But the difference in character between the three first Evangelists and the fourth is even more striking. While their employment (with the sole exception, and that almost exclusively in Matthew, of the application of O.T. prophecies to events in the life of our Lord) is narration without comment, the fourth Evangelist speaks with dogmatic authority, and delivers his historical testimony as from the chair of an Apostle. In no place do they claim the high authority of eye-witnesses; nay, in the preface to Luke’s Gospel, while he vindicates his diligent care in tracing down the course of events from the first, he implicitly disclaims such authority. This claim is, however, advanced in direct terms by John (see below, ch. 5. § ii. 1). Again, in the character of our Lord’s discourses, reported by the three, we have the same distinctness. While His sayings and parables in their Gospels almost exclusively have reference to His dealings with us, and the nature of His kingdom among men, those related by John regard, as well, the deeper subjects of His own essential attributes and covenant purposes; referring indeed often and directly to His relations with His people and the unbelieving world, but usually as illustrating those attributes, and the unfolding of those purposes. That there are exceptions to this (see e.g. Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22) is only to be expected from that merciful condescension by which God, in giving us the Gospel records through the different media of individual minds and apprehensions, has yet furnished us with enough common features in them all, to satisfy us of the unity and truthfulness of their testimony to His blessed Son.
5. Reserving further remarks on the character of John’s Gospel for their proper place (see ch. 5 of these Prolegomena), I further notice that the three, in their narration of our Lord’s ministry, proceed in the main upon a common outline. This outline is variously filled up, and variously interrupted; but is still easily to be traced, as running through the middle and largest section of each of their Gospels. From this circumstance, they are frequently called the synoptic Gospels: and the term will occasionally be found in this work.
6. Besides this large portion, each Gospel contains some prefatory matter regarding the time before the commencement of the Ministry,—a detailed history of the Passion,—fragmentary notices of the Resurrection, and a conclusion. These will be separately treated of and compared in the following sections, and more at large in the Commentary.
THEIR INDEPENDENCE OF ONE ANOTHER
1. Having these three accounts of one and the same Life and Ministry of our Lord, it is an important enquiry for us, how far they may be considered as distinct narratives,—how far as borrowed one from another. It is obvious that this enquiry can only, in the absence of any direct historical testimony, be conducted by careful examination of their contents. Such examination however has conducted enquirers to the most various and inconsistent results. Different hypotheses of the mutual interdependence of the three have been made, embracing every possible permutation of their order(2). To support these hypotheses, the same phænomena have been curiously and variously interpreted. What, in one writer’s view, has been a deficiency in one Evangelist which another has supplied,—has been, in that of a second writer, a condensation on the part of the one Evangelist of the full account of the other;—while a third writer again has seen in the fuller account the more minute depicting of later tradition.
2. Matt., Luke, Mark.—So Griesbach, Fritzsche, Meyer, De Wette, and others.
3. Mark, Matt., Luke.—So Storr and others, and recently, Mr. Smith of Jordanhill.
4. Mark, Luke, Matt.—So Weisse, Wilke, Hitzig, &c.
5. Luke, Matt., Mark.—So Büsching and Evanson.
6. Luke, Mark, Matt.—So Vögel. See reff. to the above in Meyer’s Commentary, vol. i. Einleitung, pp. 30, 31.
2. Let us, however, observe the evidence furnished by the Gospels themselves. Each of the sacred Historians is, we may presume, anxious to give his readers an accurate and consistent account of the great events of Redemption. On either of the above hypotheses, two of them respectively sit down to their work with one, or two, of our present narratives before them. We are reduced then to adopt one or other of the following suppositions: Either, ( α) they found those other Gospels insufficient, and were anxious to supply what was wanting; or, ( β) they believed them to be erroneous, and purposed to correct what was inaccurate; or, ( γ) they wished to adapt their contents to a different class of readers, incorporating at the same time whatever additional matter they possessed; or ( δ) receiving them as authentic, they borrowed from them such parts as they purposed to relate in common with them.
3. There is but one other supposition, which is plainly out of the range of probability, and which I should not have stated, were it not the only one, on the hypothesis of mutual dependency, which will give any account of, or be consistent with, the various minute discrepancies of arrangement and narration which we find in the Gospels. It is ( ε) that (see last paragraph) they fraudulently plagiarized from them, slightly disguising the common matter so as to make it appear their own. One man wishing to publish the matter of another’s work as his own, may be conceived as altering its arrangement and minutiæ, to destroy its distinctive character. But how utterly inapplicable is any such view to either of our three Evangelists! And even supposing it for a moment entertained,—how imperfectly and anomalously are the changes made,—and how little would they be likely to answer their purpose!
4. Let us consider the others in order. If ( α) was the case, I maintain that no possible arrangement of our Gospels will suit its requirements. Let the reader refer to the last note, and follow me through its divisions. (1), (2), (5), (6) are clearly out of the question, because the shorter Gospel of Mark follows upon the fuller one of Matthew, or Luke, or both. We have then only to examine those in which Mark stands first. Either then Luke supplemented Matthew—or Matthew, Luke. But first, both of these are inconceivable as being expansions of Mark; for his Gospel, although shorter, and narrating fewer events and discourses, is, in those which he does narrate, the fullest and most particular of the three. And again, Luke could not have supplemented Matthew; for there are most important portions of Matthew which he has altogether omitted (e.g. ch. 25 much of ch. 8 ch. 15);—nor could Matthew have supplemented Luke, for the same reason, having omitted almost all of the important section, Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:15, besides very much matter in other parts. I may also mention that this supposition leaves all the difficulties of different arrangement and minute discrepancy unaccounted for.
5. We pass to ( β), on which much need not be said. If it were so, nothing could have been done less calculated to answer the end, than that which our Evangelists have done. For in no material point do their accounts differ, but only in arrangement and completeness;—and this latter difference is such, that no one of them can be cited as taking any pains to make it appear that his own arrangement is chronologically accurate. No fixed dates are found in those parts where the differences exist; no word to indicate that any other arrangement had ever been published. Does this look like the work of a corrector? Even supposing him to have suppressed the charge of inaccuracy on others,—would he not have been precise and definite in the parts where his own corrections appeared, if it were merely to justify them to his readers?
6. Neither does the supposition represented by ( γ) in any way account for the phænomena of our present Gospels. For,—even taking for granted the usual assumption, that Matthew wrote for Hebrew Christians, Mark for Latins, and Luke for Gentiles in general,—we do not find any such consistency in these purposes, as a revision and alteration of another’s narrative would necessarily presuppose. We have the visit of the Gentile Magi exclusively related by the Hebraizing Matthew;—the circumcision of the child Jesus, and His frequenting the passovers at Jerusalem, exclusively by the Gentile Evangelist Luke. Had the above purposes been steadily kept in view in the revision of the narratives before them, the respective Evangelists could not have omitted incidents so entirely subservient to their respective designs.
7. Our supposition ( δ) is, that receiving the Gospel or Gospels before them as authentic, the Evangelists borrowed from them such parts as they purposed to narrate in common with them. But this does not represent the matter of fact. In no one case does any Evangelist borrow from another any considerable part of even a single narrative. For such borrowing would imply verbal coincidence, unless in the case of strong Hebraistic idiom, or other assignable peculiarity. It is inconceivable that one writer borrowing from another matter confessedly of the very first importance, in good faith and with approval, should alter his diction so singularly and capriciously as, on this hypothesis, we find the text of the parallel sections of our Gospels altered. Let the question be answered by ordinary considerations of probability, and let any passage common to the three Evangelists be put to the test. The phænomena presented will be much as follows:—first, perhaps, we shall have three, five, or more words identical; then as many wholly distinct; then two clauses or more, expressed in the same words but differing order; then a clause contained in one or two, and not in the third; then several words identical; then a clause not only wholly distinct but apparently inconsistent;—and so forth;—with recurrences of the same arbitrary and anomalous alterations, coincidences, and transpositions. Nor does this description apply to verbal and sentential arrangement only;—but also, with slight modification, to that of the larger portions of the narratives. Equally capricious would be the disposition of the subject-matter. Sometimes, while coincident in the things related, the Gospels place them in the most various order,—each in turn connecting them together with apparent marks of chronological sequence (e.g. the visit to Gadara in Matthew 8:28 ff. as compared with the same in Mark 5:1 ff. and Luke 8:26 ff.; and numerous other such instances noticed in the commentary). Let any one say, divesting himself of the commonly-received hypotheses respecting the connexion and order of our Gospels, whether it is within the range of probability that a writer should thus singularly and unreasonably alter the subject-matter and diction before him, having (as is now supposed) no design in so doing, but intending, fairly and with approval, to incorporate the work of another into his own? Can an instance be any where cited of undoubted borrowing and adaptation from another, presenting similar phænomena(3)?
8. I cannot then find in any of the above hypotheses a solution of the question before us, how the appearances presented by our three Gospels are to be accounted for. I do not see how any theory of mutual interdependence will leave to our three Evangelists their credit as able or trustworthy writers, or even as honest men: nor can I find any such theory borne out by the nature of the variations apparent in the respective texts.
THE ORIGIN OF OUR THREE GOSPELS
1. It remains then, that the three Gospels should have arisen independently of one another. But supposing this, we are at once met by the difficulty of accounting for so much common matter, and that narrated, as we have seen, with, such curious verbal agreements and discrepancies. Thus we are driven to some common origin for those parts. But of what kind? Plainly, either documentary, or oral. Let us consider each of these in turn.
2. No documentary source could have led to the present texts of our Gospels. For supposing it to have been in the Aramaic language, and thus accounting for some of the variations in our parallel passages, as being independent translations,—we shall still have no solution whatever of the more important discrepancies of insertion, omission, and arrangement. To meet these, the most complicated hypotheses have been advanced(4),—all perfectly capricious, and utterly inadequate, even when apprehended, to account for the phænomena. The various opponents of the view of an original Gospel have well shewn besides, that such a Gospel could never have existed, because of the omission in one or other of our three, of passages which must necessarily have formed a part of it; e.g. Matthew 26:6-13 (see there) omitted by Luke(5). I believe then that we may safely abandon the idea of any single original Gospel, whether Aramaic or Greek.
Hence he holds our Gospels to have arisen: viz. the Hebrew Matthew, from א + ב + α + A + γ + γ:—Luke, from א + ב + β + B + γ + γ + א:—Mark, from א + α + A + β + B + א: the Greek Matthew, to be a translation from the Hebrew Matthew, with the collation of א, and of Luke and Mark. This is only one of the various arrangements made by the supporters of this hypothesis. For those of Eichhorn, Gratz, &c., see Meyer’s Comment. vol. i. Einleitung, pp. 25–27.
3. Still it might be thought possible that, though one document cannot have originated the text of the common parts of our Gospels, several documents, more or less related to one another, may have done so, in the absence of any original Gospel. But this, it will be seen, is but an imperfect analysis of their origin; for we are again met by the question, whence did these documents take their rise? And if they turn out to be only so many modifications of a received oral teaching respecting the actions and sayings of our Lord, then to that oral teaching are we referred back for a more complete account of the matter. That such evangelical documents did exist, I think highly probable; and believe I recognize such in some of the peculiar sections of Luke; but that the common parts of our Gospels, even if taken from, such, are to be traced back further, I am firmly convinced.
4. We come then to enquire, whether the common sections of our Gospels could have originated from a common oral source. If by this latter is to be understood,—one and the same oral teaching every where recognized, our answer must be in the negative: for the difficulties of verbal discrepancy, varying arrangement, insertion, and omission, would, as above, remain unaccounted for. At the same time, it is highly improbable that such a course of oral teaching should ever have been adopted. Let us examine the matter more in detail.
5. The Apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In this consisted their especial office and work. Others besides them had been companions of our Lord:—but peculiar grace and power was given to them, by which they gave forth their testimony (Acts 4:33). And what this testimony included, we learn from the conditions of apostleship propounded by Peter himself, Acts 1:21-22; that in order to its being properly given, an Apostle must have been an eye and ear witness of what had happened from the baptism of John until the ascension: i.e. during the whole official life of our Lord. With the whole of this matter, therefore, was his apostolic testimony concerned. And we are consequently justified in assuming that the substance of the teaching of the Apostles consisted of their testimony to such facts, given in the Holy Ghost and with power. The ordinary objection to this view, that their extant discourses do not contain Evangelic narrations, but are hortatory and persuasive, is wholly inapplicable. Their extant discourses are contained in the Acts, a second work of the Evangelist Luke, who having in his former treatise given all which he had been able to collect of their narrative teaching, was not likely again to repeat it. Besides which, such narrative teaching would occur, not in general and almost wholly apologetic discourses held before assembled unbelievers, but in the building up of the several churches and individual converts, and in the catechization of catechumens. It is a strong confirmation of this view, that Luke himself in his preface refers to this original apostolic narrative as the source of the various διηγήσεις which many had taken in hand to draw up, and states his object in writing to be, that Theophilus might know the certainty ( ἀσφάλειαν) of those sayings concerning which he had been catechized.
It is another confirmation of the above view of the testimony of the apostolic body,—that Paul claims to have received an independent knowledge, by direct revelation, of at least some of the fundamental parts of the gospel history (see Galatians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3), to qualify him for his calling as an Apostle.
6. I believe then that the Apostles, in virtue not merely of their having been eye and ear witnesses of the Evangelic history, but especially of their office, gave to the various Churches their testimony in a narrative of facts: such narrative being modified in each case by the individual mind of the Apostle himself, and his sense of what was requisite for the particular community to which he was ministering. While they were principally together, and instructing the converts at Jerusalem, such narrative would naturally be for the most part the same, and expressed in the same, or nearly the same words: coincident, however, not from design or rule, but because the things themselves were the same, and the teaching naturally fell for the most part into one form, It would be easy and interesting to follow this cycle of narratives of the words and deeds of our Lord in the Church at Jerusalem, with regard to its probable origin and growth for both Jews and Hellenists,—the latter under such teachers as Philip and Stephen, commissioned and authenticated by the Apostles. In the course of such a process some portions would naturally be written down by private believers, for their own use or that of friends. And as the Church spread to Samaria, Cæsarea, and Antioch, the want would be felt in each of these places, of similar cycles of oral teaching, which when supplied would thenceforward belong to and be current in those respective Churches. And these portions of the Evangelic history, oral or partially documentary, would be adopted under the sanction of the Apostles, who were as in all things, so especially in this, the appointed and divinely-guided overseers of the whole Church. This common substratum of apostolic teaching,—never formally adopted by all, but subject to all the varieties of diction and arrangement, addition and omission, incident to transmission through many individual minds, and into many different localities,—I believe to have been the original source of the common part of our three Gospels.
7. Whether this teaching was wholly or in part expressed originally in Greek, may admit of some question. That it would very soon be so expressed, follows as a matter of course from the early mention of Hellenistic converts, Acts 6, and the subsequent reception of the Gentiles into the Church; and it seems to have been generally received in that language, before any of its material modifications arose. This I gather from the remarkable verbal coincidences observable in the present Greek texts. Then again, the verbal discrepancies of our present Greek texts entirely forbid us to imagine that our Evangelists took up the usual oral teaching at one place or time; but point to a process of alteration and deflection, which will now engage our attention.
8. It will be observed that I am now speaking of those sections which our Gospels possess IN COMMON, and WITHOUT REFERENCE TO THEIR ORDER. The larger additions, which are due to peculiar sources of information,—the narratives of the same event which have not sprung from a common source,—the different arrangement of the common sections, with all these I am not now concerned.
9. The matter then of those sections I believe to have been this generally-received oral narrative of the Apostles of which I have spoken. Delivered, usually in the same or similar terms, to the catechumens in the various Churches, and becoming the text of instruction for their pastors and teachers, it by degrees underwent those modifications which the various Gospels now present to us. And I am not now speaking of any considerable length of time, such as might suffice to deteriorate and corrupt mere traditional teaching,—but of no more than the transmission through men apostolic or almost apostolic, yet of independent habits of speech and thought,—of an account which remained in substance the same. Let us imagine the modifications which the individual memory, brooding affectionately and reverently over each word and act of our Lord, would introduce into a narrative in relating it variously and under differing circumstances:—the Holy Spirit who brought to their remembrance whatever things He had said to them (John 14:26), working in and distributing to each severally as He would;—let us place to the account the various little changes of transposition or omission, of variation in diction or emphasis, which would be sure to arise in the freedom of individual teaching,—and we have I believe the only reasonable solution of the arbitrary and otherwise unaccountable coincidences and discrepancies in these parts of our Gospels.
10. It might perhaps be required that some presumptive corroborations should be given of such a supposition as that here advanced. For the materials of such, we must look into the texts themselves of such sections. And in them I think I see signs of such a process as the latter part of paragraph 9 describes. For,
11. It is a well-known and natural effect of oral transmission, that while the less prominent members of a sentence are transposed, or diminished or increased in number, and common-place expressions replaced by their synonymes, any unusual word, or harsh expression, or remarkable construction is retained. Nor is this only the case, such words, expressions, or constructions, preserving their relative places in the sentences,—but, from the mind laying hold of them, and retaining them at all events, they are sometimes found preserved near their original places, though perhaps with altered relations and import. Now a careful observation of the text of the Gospels will continually bring before the reader instances of both of these. I have subjoined in a note a few, more to tempt the student to follow the track, than to give any adequate illustration of these remarks(6).
Of unusual words, expressions, or constructions, found at or near their places in parallel passages, but not in the same connexion;— ἀπέχω, Matthew 6:2 al.: Luke 6:24;— χρείαν ἔχω, Matthew 14:16; Luke 9:11;— εἰς, Mark 8:19-20; Luke 9:13; John 6:9;— σκύλλω, Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49;— εἶτα, Mark 4:17; Luke 8:12;— βασανίσω, Matthew 14:24; Mark 6:48;— πῶς, Mark 5:16; Luke 8:36;— ἀνασείω, Mark 15:11; Luke 23:5;— ἦλθεν (of Joseph of Arimathea), Matthew 27:57; Mark 15:43; John 19:38;— περιτίθημι, Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17;— προσφωνέω, with dative, Matthew 11:16; Luke 7:32.
12. With regard to those parts of our Gospels which do not fall under the above remarks, there are various conceivable sources whence they may have arisen. As each Evangelist may have had more or less access to those who were themselves witnesses of the events, whether before or during the public ministry of our Lord, or as each may have fallen in with a more complete or a shorter account of those events, so have our narratives been filled out with rich detail, or confined to the mere statement of occurrences:—so have they been copious and entire in their history, or have merely taken up and handed down a portion of our Lord’s life. These particulars will come under our notice below, when we treat of each Gospel by itself.
13. The above view has been impugned by Mr. Birks (Horæ Evangelicæ, &c. Lond. 1852), and Mr. Smith of Jordanhill (Dissertation on the Origin and Connexion of the Gospels: Edinb. 1853). While maintaining different hypotheses, both agree in regarding ‘oral tradition’ as quite insufficient to account for the phænomena of approximation to identity which are found in the Gospels. But both, as it seems to me, have forgotten to take into account the peculiar kind of oral tradition with which we are here concerned. Both concur in insisting on the many variations and corruptions to which oral transmission is liable, as an objection to my hypothesis. But we have here a case in this respect exceptional and sui generis. The oral tradition (or rather ORAL TEACHING) with which we are concerned, formed the substance of a deliberate and careful testimony to facts of the highest possible importance, and as such, was inculcated in daily catechization: whereas common oral tradition is careless and vague, not being similarly guarded, nor diffused as matter of earnest instruction. Besides which, these writers forget, that I have maintained the probability of a very early collection of portions of such oral teaching into documents, some of which two or even three Evangelists may have used; and these documents or διηγήσεις, in some cases drawn up after the first minute verbal divergences had taken place, or being translations from common Aramaic sources, would furnish many of the phænomena which Mr. Smith so ingeniously illustrates from translation in modern historians and newspapers. I have found reason to infer, Vol. II., Prolegg. ch. ii. § ii. 17 β, that St. Luke was acquainted with Hebrew; and he would therefore be an independent translator, as well as the other two Evangelists.
14. For the sake of guarding against misunderstanding, it may be well formally to state the conclusion at which I have arrived respecting the origin of our three first Gospels: in which, I may add, I have been much confirmed by the thorough revision of the text rendered necessary in preparing each of these later editions, and indeed by all my observation since the first publication of these prolegomena:
That the synoptic Gospels contain the substance of the Apostles’ testimony, collected principally from their oral teaching current in the Church,—partly also from written documents embodying portions of that teaching: that there is however no reason from their internal structure to believe, but every reason to disbelieve, that any one of the three Evangelists had access to either of the other two Gospels in its present form.
THE DISCREPANCIES, APPARENT AND REAL, OF THE THREE GOSPELS
1. In our three narratives, many events and sayings do not hold the same relative place in one as in another: and hence difficulties have arisen, and the faith of some has been weakened; while the adversaries of our religion have made the most of these differences to impugn the veracity of the writers themselves. And hence also Christian commentators have been driven to a system of harmonizing which condescends to adopt the weakest compromises, and to do the utmost violence to probability and fairness, in its zeal for the veracity of the Evangelists. It becomes important therefore critically to discriminate between real and apparent discrepancy, and while with all fairness we acknowledge the former where it exists, to lay down certain common-sense rules whereby the latter may be also ascertained.
2. The real discrepancies between our Evangelistic histories are very few, and those nearly all of one kind. They are simply the results of the entire independence of the accounts. They consist mainly in different chronological arrangements, expressed or implied. Such for instance is the transposition, before noticed, of the history of the passage into the country of the Gadarenes, which in Matthew 8:28 ff. precedes a whole course of events which in Mark 5:1 ff. and Luke 8:26 ff. it follows. Such again is the difference in position between the pair of incidents related Matthew 8:19-22, and the same pair of incidents found in Luke 9:57-60. And such are some other varieties of arrangement and position, which will be brought before the readers of the following Commentary. Now the way of dealing with such discrepancies has been twofold,—as remarked above. The enemies of the faith have of course recognized them, and pushed them to the utmost; often attempting to create them where they do not exist, and where they do, using them to overthrow the narrative in which they occur. While this has been their course,—equally unworthy of the Evangelists and their subject has been that of those who are usually thought the orthodox Harmonists. They have usually taken upon them to state, that such variously placed narratives do not refer to the same incidents, and so to save (as they imagine) the credit of the Evangelists, at the expense of common fairness and candour. Who, for example, can for a moment doubt that the pairs of incidents above cited from Matthew and Luke are identical with each other? What man can ever suppose that the same offer would have been, not merely twice made to our Lord in the same words and similarly answered by Him (for this is very possible), but actually followed in both cases by a request from another disciple, couched also in the very same words? The reiterated sequence of the two is absolutely out of all bounds of probability:—and yet it is supposed and maintained by one of the ablest of our modern Harmonists. And this is only one specimen out of very many of the same kind, notices of which may be seen in the following Commentary.
3. The fair Christian critic will pursue a plan different from both these. With no desire to create discrepancies, but rather every desire truthfully and justly to solve them, if it may be,—he will candidly recognize them where they unquestionably exist. By this he loses nothing, and the Evangelists lose nothing. That one great and glorious portrait of our Lord should be harmoniously depicted by them,—that the procession of events by which our redemption is assured to us should be one and the same in all,—is surely more wonderful, and more plainly the work of God’s Holy Spirit, the more entirely independent of each other they must be inferred to have been. Variation in detail and arrangement is to my mind the most valuable proof that they were, not mere mouthpieces or organs of the Holy Spirit, as some would suicidally make them, but holy men, under His inspiration. I shall treat of this part of our subject more at length below (in § vi.):—I mention it now, to shew that we need not be afraid to recognize real discrepancies, in the spirit of fairness and truth. Christianity never was, and never can be the gainer, by any concealment, warping, or avoidance of the plain truth, wherever it is to be found.
4. On the other hand, the Christian critic will fairly discriminate between real and apparent discrepancy. And in order to this, some rules must be laid down by which the limits of each may be determined.
5. Similar incidents must not be too hastily assumed to be the same. If one Evangelist had given us the feeding of the five thousand, and another that of the four, we should have been strongly tempted to pronounce the incidents the same, and to find a discrepancy in the accounts:—but our conclusion would have been false:—for we have now both events narrated by each of two Evangelists (Matthew and Mark), and formally alluded to by our Lord Himself in connexion. (Matthew 16:9-10; Mark 8:19-20.) And there are several narrations now in our Gospels, the identification of which must be abstained from; e.g. the anointing of our Lord by the woman who was a sinner, Luke 7:36 ff., and that at Bethany by Mary the sister of Lazarus, in Matthew 26:6 ff.: Mark 14:3 ff.: John 11:2; John 12:3 ff. In such cases we must judge fairly and according to probability,—not making trifling differences in diction or narrative into important reasons why the incidents should be different;—but rather examining critically the features of the incidents themselves, and discerning and determining upon the evidence furnished by them.
6. The circumstances and nature of our Lord’s discourses must be taken into account. Judging à priori, the probability is, that He repeated most of His important sayings many times over, with more or less variation, to different audiences, but in the hearing of the same apostolic witnesses. If now these witnesses by their independent narratives have originated our present Gospels, what can be more likely than that these sayings should have found their way into the Gospels in various forms,—sometimes, as especially in Matt., in long and strictly coherent discourses,—sometimes scattered up and down, as is the matter of several of Matthew’s discourses in Luke? Yet such various reports of our Lord’s sayings are most unreasonably by some of the modern German critics (e.g. De Wette) treated as discrepancies, and used to prove Matthew’s discourses to have been mere arrangements of shorter sayings uttered at different times. A striking instance of the repetition by our Lord of similar discourses, varied according to the time and the hearers, may be found in the denunciations on the Scribes and Pharisees as uttered during the journey to Jerusalem, Luke 11:37 ff., and the subsequent solemn and public reiteration of them in Jerusalem at the final close of the Lord’s ministry in Matthew 23. Compare also the parable of the pounds, Luke 19:11 ff., with that of the talents, Matthew 25:14 ff., and in fact the whole of the discourses during the last journey in Luke, with their parallels, where such exist, in Matthew.
THE FRAGMENTARY NATURE OF THE THREE GOSPELS
1. On any hypothesis which attributes to our Evangelists the design of producing a complete history of the life and actions of our Lord, and gives two of them the advantage of consulting other records of the same kind with their own,—the omissions in their histories are perfectly inexplicable. For example,—Matthew, as an Apostle, was himself an eyewitness of the Ascension, an event holding a most important place in the divine process of the redemption of man. Yet he omits all record or mention of it. And though this is the most striking example, others are continually occurring throughout the three Gospels. Why has there been no mention in them of the most notable miracle wrought by our Lord,—which indeed, humanly speaking, was the final exciting cause of that active enmity of the Jewish rulers which issued in His crucifixion? Can it be believed, that an Apostle, writing in the fulness of his knowledge as such, and with the design of presenting to his readers Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah,—should have omitted all mention of the raising of Lazarus,—and of the subsequent prophecy of Caiaphas, whereby that Messiahship was so strongly recognized? The ordinary supposition, of silence being maintained for prudential reasons concerning Lazarus and his family, is quite beside the purpose. For the sacred books of the Christians were not published to the world in general, but were reserved and precious possessions of the believing societies: and even had this been otherwise, such concealment was wholly alien from their spirit and character.
2. The absence of completeness from our Gospels is even more strikingly shewn in their minor omissions, which cannot on any supposition be accounted for, if their authors had possessed records of the incidents so omitted. Only in the case of Luke does there appear to have been any design of giving a regular account of things throughout: and from his many omissions of important matter contained in Matthew, it is plain that his sources of information were, though copious, yet fragmentary. For, assuming what has been above inferred as to the independence of our three Evangelists, it is inconceivable that Luke, with his avowed design of completeness, ch. Matthew 1:3, should have been in possession of matter so important as that contained in those parts of Matthew, and should deliberately have excluded it from his Gospel.
3. The Gospel of Mark,—excluding from that term the venerable and authentic fragment at the end of ch. 16,—terminates abruptly in the midst of the narrative of incidents connected with the resurrection of our Lord. And, with the exception of the short prefatory compendium, ch. Matthew 1:1-13, there is no reason for supposing this Evangelist to be an abbreviator, in any sense, of the matter before him. His sources of information were of the very highest order, and his descriptions and narratives are most life-like and copious; but they were confined within a certain cycle of apostolic teaching, viz. that which concerned the official life of our Lord: and in that cycle not complete, inasmuch as he breaks off short of the Ascension, which another Evangelistic hand has added from apostolic sources.
THE INSPIRATION OF THE EVANGELISTS AND OTHER N.T. WRITERS
1. The results of our enquiries hitherto may be thus stated:—That our three Gospels have arisen independently of one another, from sources of information possessed by the Evangelists:—such sources of information, for a very considerable part of their contents, being the narrative teaching of the Apostles; and, in cases where their personal testimony was out of the question, oral or documentary narratives, preserved in and received by the Christian Church in the apostolic age;—that the three Gospels are not formal complete accounts of the whole incidents of the sacred history, but each of them fragmentary, containing such portions of it as fell within the notice, or the special design, of the Evangelist.
2. The important question now comes before us. In what sense are the Evangelists to be regarded as having been inspired by the Holy Spirit of God? That they were so, in some sense, has been the concurrent belief of the Christian body in all ages. In the second, as in the nineteenth century, the ultimate appeal, in matters of fact and doctrine, has been to these venerable writings. It may be well, then, first to enquire on what grounds their authority has been rated so high by all Christians.
3. And I believe the answer to this question will be found to be, Because they are regarded as authentic documents, descending from the apostolic age, and presenting to us the substance of the apostolic testimony. The Apostles being raised up for the special purpose of witnessing to the gospel history,—and these memoirs having been universally received in the early Church as embodying that their testimony, I see no escape left from the inference, that they come to us with inspired authority. The Apostles themselves, and their contemporaries in the ministry of the Word, were singularly endowed with the Holy Spirit for the founding and teaching of the Church: and Christians of all ages have accepted the Gospels and other writings of the New Testament as the written result of the Pentecostal effusion. The early Church was not likely to be deceived in this matter. The reception of the Gospels was immediate and universal. They never were placed for a moment by the consent of Christians in the same category with the spurious documents which soon sprung up after them. In external history, as in internal character, they differ entirely from the apocryphal Gospels; which, though in some cases bearing the name and pretending to contain the teaching of an Apostle, were never recognized as apostolic.
4. Upon the authenticity, i.e. the apostolicity of our Gospels, rests their claim to inspiration. Containing the substance of the Apostles’ testimony, they carry with them that special power of the Holy Spirit which rested on the Apostles in virtue of their office, and also on other teachers and preachers of the first age. It may be well, then, to enquire of what kind that power was, and how far extending.
5. We do not find the Apostles transformed, from being men of individual character and thought and feeling, into mere channels for the transmission of infallible truth. We find them, humanly speaking, to have been still distinguished by the same characteristics as before the descent of the Holy Ghost. We see Peter still ardent and impetuous, still shrinking from the danger of human disapproval;—we see John still exhibiting the same union of deep love and burning zeal;—we find them pursuing different paths of teaching, exhibiting different styles of writing, taking hold of the truth from different sides.
6. Again, we do not find the Apostles put in possession at once of the divine counsel with regard to the Church. Though Peter and John were full of the Holy Ghost immediately after the Ascension, neither at that time, nor for many years afterwards, were they put in possession of the purpose of God regarding the Gentiles, which in due time was specially revealed to Peter, and recognized in the apostolic council at Jerusalem.
7. These considerations serve to shew us in what respects the working of the Holy Spirit on the sacred writers was analogous to His influence on every believer in Christ; viz. in the retention of individual character and thought and feeling,—and in the gradual development of the ways and purposes of God to their minds.
8. But their situation and office was peculiar and unexampled. And for its fulfilment, peculiar and unexampled gifts were bestowed upon them. One of these, which bears very closely upon our present subject, was, the recalling by the Holy Spirit of those things which the Lord had said to them. This was His own formal promise, recorded in John 14:26. And if we look at our present Gospels, we see abundant evidence of its fulfilment. What unassisted human memory could treasure up saying and parable, however deep the impression at the time, and report them in full at the distance of several years, as we find them reported, with every internal mark of truthfulness, in our Gospels? What invention of man could have devised discourses which by common consent differ from all sayings of men—which possess this character unaltered, notwithstanding their transmission through men of various mental organization—which contain things impossible to be understood or appreciated by their reporters at the time when they profess to have been uttered—which enwrap the seeds of all human improvement yet attained, and are evidently full of power for more? I refer to this latter alternative, only to remark that all considerations, whether of the Apostles’ external circumstances, or their internal feelings respecting Him of whom they bore witness, combine to confirm the persuasion of Christians, that they have recorded as said by our Lord what He truly did say, and not any words of their own imagination.
9. And let us pursue the matter further by analogy. Can we suppose that the light poured by the Holy Spirit upon the sayings of our Lord would be confined to such sayings, and not extend itself over the other parts of the narrative of His life on earth? Can we believe that those miracles, which though not uttered in words, were yet acted parables, would not be, under the same gracious assistance, brought back to the minds of the Apostles, so that they should be placed on record for the teaching of the Church?
10. And, going yet further, to those parts of the Gospels which were wholly out of the cycle of the Apostles’ own testimony;—can we imagine that the divine discrimination which enabled them to detect the ‘lie to the Holy Ghost,’ should have forsaken them in judging of the records of our Lord’s birth and infancy,—so that they should have taught or sanctioned an apocryphal, fabulous, or mythical account of such matters? Some account of them must have been current in the apostolic circle; for Mary the Mother of Jesus survived the Ascension, and would be fully capable of giving undoubted testimony to the facts. (See notes on Luke 1:2.) Can we conceive then that, with her among them, the Apostles should have delivered other than a true history of these things? Can we suppose that Luke’s account, which he includes among the things delivered by those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word from the first, is other than the true one, and stamped with the authority of the witnessing and discriminating Spirit dwelling in the Apostles? Can we suppose that the account in the still more immediately apostolic Gospel of Matthew is other than the same history seen from a different side and independently narrated?
11. But if it be enquired, how far such divine superintendence has extended in the framing of our Gospels as we at present find them, the answer must be furnished by no preconceived idea of what ought to have been, but by the contents of the Gospels themselves. That those contents are various, and variously arranged, is token enough that in their selection and disposition we have human agency presented to us, under no more direct divine guidance, in this respect, than that general leading, which in main and essential points should ensure entire accordance. Such leading admits of much variety in points of minor consequence. Two men may be equally led by the Holy Spirit to record the events of our Lord’s life for our edification, though one may believe and record, that the visit to the Gadarenes took place before the calling of Matthew, while the other places it after that event; though one in narrating it speaks of two dæmoniacs,—the other, only of one.
12. And it is observable, that in the only place in the three Gospels where an Evangelist speaks of himself, he expressly lays claim, not to any supernatural guidance in the arrangement of his subject-matter, but to a diligent tracing down of all things from the first; in other words, to the care and accuracy of a faithful and honest compiler. After such an avowal on the part of the editor himself, to assert an immediate revelation to him of the arrangement to be adopted and the chronological notices to be given, is clearly not justified, according to his own shewing and assertion(7). The value of such arrangement and chronological connexion must depend on various circumstances in each case:—on their definiteness and consistency,—on their agreement or disagreement with the other extant records; the preference being in each case given to that one whose account is the most minute in details, and whose notes of sequence are the most distinct.
13. In thus speaking, I am doing no more than even the most scrupulous of our Harmonizers have in fact done. In the case alluded to in paragraph 11, there is not one of them who has not altered the arrangement, either of Matthew, or of Mark and Luke, so as to bring the visit to the Gadarenes into the same part of the evangelic history. But if the arrangement itself were matter of divine inspiration, then have we no right to vary it in the slightest degree, but must maintain (as the Harmonists have done in other cases, but never, that I am aware, in this) two distinct visits to have been made at different times, and nearly the same events to have occurred at both. I need hardly add that a similar method of proceeding with all the variations in the Gospels, which would on this supposition be necessary, would render the Scripture narrative a heap of improbabilities; and strengthen, instead of weakening, the cause of the enemies of our faith.
14. And not only of the arrangement of the evangelic history are these remarks to be understood. There are certain minor points of accuracy or inaccuracy, of which human research suffices to inform men, and on which, from want of that research, it is often the practice to speak vaguely and inexactly. Such are sometimes the conventionally received distances from place to place; such are the common accounts of phænomena in natural history, &c. Now, in matters of this kind, the Evangelists and Apostles were not supernaturally informed, but left, in common with others, to the guidance of their natural faculties.
15. The same may be said of citations and dates from history. In the last apology of Stephen, which he spoke being full of the Holy Ghost, and with divine influence beaming from his countenance, we have at least two demonstrable historical inaccuracies. And the occurrence of similar ones in the Gospels does not in any way affect the inspiration or the veracity of the Evangelists.
16. It may be well to mention one notable illustration of the principles upheld in this section. What can be more undoubted and unanimous than the testimony of the Evangelists to THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD? If there be one fact rather than another of which the Apostles were witnesses, it was this:—and in the concurrent narrative of all four Evangelists it stands related beyond all cavil or question. Yet, of all the events which they have described, none is so variously put forth in detail, or with so many minor discrepancies. And this was just what might have been expected, on the principles above laid down. The great fact that the Lord was risen,—set forth by the ocular witness of the Apostles, who had seen Him,—became from that day first in importance in the delivery of their testimony. The precise order of His appearances would naturally, from the overwhelming nature of their present emotions, be a matter of minor consequence, and perhaps not even of accurate enquiry till some time had passed. Then, with the utmost desire on the part of the women and Apostles to collect the events in their exact order of time, some confusion would be apparent in the history, and some discrepancies in versions of it which were the results of separate and independent enquiries; the traces of which pervade our present accounts. But what fair-judging student of the Gospels ever made these variations or discrepancies a ground for doubting the veracity of the Evangelists as to the fact of the Resurrection, or the principal details of the Lord’s appearances after it?
17. It will be well to state the bearing of the opinions advanced in this section on two terms in common use, viz. verbal and plenary inspiration.
18. With regard to verbal inspiration, I take the sense of it, as explained by its most strenuous advocates, to be, that every word and phrase of the Scriptures is absolutely and separately true,—and, whether narrative or discourse, took place, or was said, in every most exact particular as set down. Much might be said of the à priori unworthiness of such a theory, as applied to a gospel whose character is the freedom of the Spirit, not the bondage of the letter: but it belongs more to my present work to try it by applying it to the Gospels as we have them. And I do not hesitate to say that, being thus applied, its effect will be to destroy altogether the credibility of our Evangelists. Hardly a single instance of parallelism between them arises, where they do not relate the same thing indeed in substance, but expressed in terms which if literally taken are incompatible with each other. To cite only one obvious instance. The Title over the Cross was written in Greek. According, then, to the verbal-inspiration theory, each Evangelist has recorded the exact words of the inscription; not the general sense, but the inscription itself,—not a letter less or more. This is absolutely necessary to the theory. Its advocates must not be allowed, with convenient inconsistency, to take refuge in a common-sense view of the matter wherever their theory fails them, and still to uphold it in the main(8). And how it will here apply, the following comparison will shew:—
Matt., οὗτός ἐστιν ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων.
Mark, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων.
Luke, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων οὗτος.
John, ἰησοῦς ὁ ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων.
19. Another objection to the theory is, that if it be so, the Christian world is left in uncertainty what her Scriptures are, as long as the sacred text is full of various readings. Some one manuscript must be pointed out to us, which carries the weight of verbal inspiration, or some text whose authority shall be undoubted, must be promulgated. But manifestly neither of these things can ever happen. To the latest age, the reading of some important passages will be matter of doubt in the Church: and, which is equally subversive of the theory, though not of equal importance in itself, there is hardly a sentence in the whole of the Gospels in which there are not varieties of diction in our principal MSS., baffling all attempts to decide which was its original form.
20. The fact is, that this theory uniformly gives way before intelligent study of the Scriptures themselves; and is only held, consistently and thoroughly, by those who have never undertaken that study. When put forth by those who have, it is never carried fairly through; but while broadly asserted, is in detail abandoned.
21. If I understand plenary inspiration rightly, I hold it to the utmost, as entirely consistent with the opinions expressed in this section. The inspiration of the sacred writers I believe to have consisted in the fulness of the influence of the Holy Spirit specially raising them to, and enabling them for, their work,—in a manner which distinguishes them from all other writers in the world, and their work from all other works. The men were full of the Holy Ghost—the books are the pouring out of that fulness through the men,—the conservation of the treasure in earthen vessels. The treasure is ours, in all its richness: but it is ours as only it can be ours,—in the imperfections of human speech, in the limitations of human thought, in the variety incident first to individual character, and then to manifold transcription and the lapse of ages.
22. Two things, in concluding this section, I would earnestly impress on my readers. First, that we must take our views of inspiration not, as is too often done, from à priori considerations, but ENTIRELY FROM THE EVIDENCE FURNISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES THEMSELVES: and secondly, that the MEN were INSPIRED the BOOKS are the RESULTS OF THAT INSPIRATION. This latter consideration, if all that it implies be duly weighed, will furnish us with the key to the whole question.
IMPRACTICABILITY OF CONSTRUCTING A FORMAL HARMONY OF THE THREE GOSPELS
1. From very early times attempts have been made to combine the narratives of our three Gospels into one continuous history. As might have been expected, however, from the characteristics of those Gospels above detailed, such Harmonies could not be constructed without doing considerable violence to the arrangement of some one or more of the three, and an arbitrary adoption of the order of some one, to which then the others have been fitted and conformed. An examination of any of the current Harmonies will satisfy the student that this has been the case.
2. Now, on the supposition that the three Gospels had arisen one out of the other, with a design such as any of those which have been previously discussed (with the exception of ε) in § ii. 2, 3, such a Harmony not only ought to be possible, but should arise naturally out of the several narratives, without any forcing or alteration of arrangement. Nay, on the supplementary theory of Greswell and others, the last written Gospel should itself be such a History as the Harmonizers are in search of. Now not only is this not the case, but their Harmonies contain the most violent and considerable transpositions:—they are obliged to have recourse to the most arbitrary hypotheses of repetition of events and discourses,—and, after all, their Harmonies, while some difficulties would be evaded by their adoption, entail upon us others even more weighty and inexplicable.
3. Taking, however, the view of the origin of the Gospels above advocated, the question of the practicability of harmonizing is simply reduced to one of matter of fact:—how far the three Evangelists, in relating the events of a history which was itself one and the same, have presented us with the same side of the narrative of those events, or with fragments which will admit of being pieced into one another.
4. And there is no doubt that, as far as the main features of the evangelic history are concerned, a harmonious whole is presented to us by the combined narrative. The great events of our Lord’s ministry, His baptism, His temptation, His teaching by discourses and miracles, His selection of the Twelve, His transfiguration, His announcement of His sufferings, death, and resurrection, His last journey to Jerusalem, His betrayal, His passion, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection,—these are common to all; and, as far as they are concerned, their narratives naturally fall into accordance and harmony. But when we come to range their texts side by side, to supply clause with clause, and endeavour to construct a complete history of details out of them, we at once find ourselves involved in the difficulties above enumerated. And the inference which an unbiassed mind will thence draw is, that as the Evangelists wrote with no such design of being pieced together into a complete history, but delivered the apostolic testimony as they had received it, modified by individual character and oral transmission, and arranged carefully according to the best of their knowledge,—so we should thus simply and reverentially receive their records, without setting them at variance with each other by compelling them in all cases to say the same things of the same events.
5. If the Evangelists have delivered to us truly and faithfully the apostolic narratives, and if the Apostles spoke as the Holy Spirit enabled them, and brought events and sayings to their recollection, then we may be sure that if we knew the real process of the transactions themselves, that knowledge would enable us to give an account of the diversities of narration and arrangement which the Gospels now present to us. But without such knowledge, all attempts to accomplish this analysis in minute detail must be merely conjectural: and must tend to weaken the evangelic testimony, rather than to strengthen it.
6. The only genuine Harmony of the Gospels will be furnished by the unity and consistency of the Christian’s belief in their record, as true to the great events which it relates, and his enlightened and intelligent appreciation of the careful diligence of the Evangelists in arranging the important matter before them. If in that arrangement he finds variations, and consequently inaccuracies, on one side or the other, he will be content to acknowledge the analogy which pervades all the divine dealings with mankind, and to observe that God, who works, in the communication of His other gifts, through the medium of secondary agents—has been pleased to impart to us this, the record of His most precious Gift, also by human agency and teaching. He will acknowledge also, in this, the peculiar mercy and condescension of Him who has adapted to universal human reception the record of eternal life by His Son, by means of the very variety of individual recollections and modified reports. And thus he will arrive at the true harmonistic view of Scripture; just as in the great and discordant world he does not seek peace by setting one thing against another and finding logical solution for all, but by holy and peaceful trust in that Almighty Father, who doeth all things well. So that the argument so happily applied by Butler to the nature of the Revelation contained in the Scriptures, may with equal justice be applied to the books themselves in which the record of that Revelation is found,—that “He who believes the Scriptures to have proceeded from Him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in them as are found in the constitution of nature.”
ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE
1. ALTHOUGH the Author of this Gospel plainly enough speaks of himself in his Introduction, and in that to the Acts of the Apostles, we are left to gather his name from tradition. Here, however, as in the case of Mark, there seems to be no reasonable ground of doubt. It has been universally ascribed to Lucas, or Luke, spoken of Colossians 4:14, and again Philemon 1:24, and 2 Timothy 4:11.
2. Of this person we know no more with any certainty than we find related in the Acts of the Apostles and the passages above referred to. From Colossians 4:11; Colossians 4:14, it would appear that he was not born a Jew, being there distinguished from οἱ ὄντες ἐκ περιτομῆς. It is, however, quite uncertain whether he had become a Jewish proselyte previous to his conversion to Christianity. His worldly calling was that of a physician; he is called ὁ ἰατρὸς ὁ ἀγαπητός by Paul, Colossians 4:14. A very late tradition (Niceph. Hist. Eccl. ii. 43), generally adopted by the Romish Church, makes him also to have been a painter; but it is in no respect deserving of credit. His birthplace is said by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii. 4) and Jerome (De Viris Illustr. 7, vol. ii. p. 840) to have been Antioch, but traditionally only, and perhaps from a mistaken identification of him with Lucius, Acts 13:1 (Lucas = Lucanus, not Lucius). Tradition, as delivered by Epiphan. (Hær. li. 11, vol. i. p. 433), Pseudo-Origen, Theophylact, Euthymius, &c., makes him to have been one of the seventy, Luke 10:1; but this is refuted by his own testimony, in his preface,—where he by implication distinguishes himself from those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. It seems to have arisen from his Gospel alone containing the account of their mission.
3. Luke appears to have attached himself to Paul during the second missionary journey of the Apostle, and at Troas (Acts 16:10). This may be inferred from his there first making use of the first person plural in his narrative; after saying (Acts 16:8) κατέβησαν εἰς τρωάδα, he proceeds (Acts 16:10), εὐθέως ἐζητήσαμεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ΄ακεδονίαν. He thence accompanied Paul to Macedonia, remaining perhaps at Philippi (but see below, § iv. 3) until Paul returned thither again at the end of his second visit to Greece, after the disturbance at Ephesus. Thence (Acts 20:5) we find him again accompanying Paul to Asia and Jerusalem (Acts 21:17); being apparently with him at Cæsarea during his imprisonment (Acts 24:23); and travelling with him to Rome (Acts 27:1 to Acts 28:16). There we also find him remaining with the Apostle to a late period, very nearly till his martyrdom (see 2 Timothy 4:11).
4. Of the time and manner of his death nothing certain is known, and the traditions are inconsistent one with another: some, as Greg(1) Naz(2), alleging him to have suffered martyrdom, while the general report is that he died a natural death.
1. A plain statement of the origin of this Gospel is given us by the Author himself, in his preface, ch. Luke 1:1-4. He there states that many had taken in hand to draw up a statement, according to the testimony of those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses and ministers of the word, of the matters received (or fulfilled) among Christians; and that it therefore seemed good to him also, having carefully traced the progress of events from the first, to write an arranged account of the same to his friend (or patron) Theophilus.
2. From this we gather, (1) that Luke was not himself an eye-witness, nor a minister of the word ( ὑπηρέτης τοῦ λόγου) from the beginning; (2) that he compiled his Gospel from the testimony of eye-witnesses and Apostles, which he carefully collected and arranged. For (1) he implicitly excludes himself from the number of the αὐτόπται κ. ὑπ. τ. λόγου: and (2) by the κἀμοί he includes himself among the πολλοί who made use of autoptic and apostolic testimony.
3. I have before proved generally that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark cannot have been among the number of these διηγήσεις of which Luke speaks. I may now add to those proofs, that if Luke had seen and received, as of apostolic authority, either or both of these Gospels, then his variations from them are, on his own shewing, unaccountable; if he had seen them, and did not receive them, his coincidences with them are equally unaccountable. The improbabilities and absurdities involved in his having either or both of them before him and working up their narratives into his own, I have before dealt with, in the general Prolegomena to the three Gospels.
4. Judging entirely from the phænomena presented by the Gospel itself, my conclusion with regard to its sources is the following:—that Luke, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, drew up his Gospel independently of, and without knowledge of, those of Matthew and Mark;—that he fell in with, in the main, the same cycle of apostolic teaching as the writers of those Gospels placed on record, viz. that which embraced principally the Galilæan life and ministry of our Lord, to the exclusion of that part of it which passed at Jerusalem before the formal call of the twelve Apostles;—but that he possessed other sources of information, not open to the compiler of Matthew’s Gospel, nor to Mark.
5. To this latter circumstance may be attributed his access to (I believe, from its peculiar style and character) a documentary record of the events preceding and accompanying the birth of the Lord, derived probably from her who alone was competent to narrate several particulars contained in it:—his preservation of the precious and most important cycle of our Lord’s discourses and parables contained in that large section of his Gospel, ch. Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:15, which is mostly peculiar to himself:—numerous other details scattered up and down in every part of his narrative, shewing autoptic information:—and, lastly, his enlarged account of some events following the Resurrection, and the narration, by him alone, of the circumstances accompanying the Ascension.
6. A tradition was very early current, that Luke’s Gospel contained the substance of the teaching of Paul. Irenæus, Hær. iii. 1, p. 174, states: λουκᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀκόλουθος παύλου τὸ ὑπʼ ἐκείνου κηρυσσόμενον εὐαγγέλιον ἐν βιβλίῳ κατέθετο(3). See also Tertullian, cont. Marc. iv. 5, vol. ii. p. 367. But this is contradicted by the implicit assertion of the Evangelist himself in his preface, that the Gospel was compiled and arranged by himself from the testimony of those who ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, ‘from the beginning of our Lord’s ministry,’ were eye-witnesses or ministers of the word(4). Among these it is not, of course, possible to reckon Paul.
7. It is however an interesting enquiry, how far his continued intercourse with the great Apostle of the Gentiles may have influenced his diction, or even his selection of facts. It is a remarkable coincidence, that the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper should be nearly verbatim the same(5) in Luke 22:19, and in 1 Corinthians 11:23,—and that Paul claims to have received this last from the Lord(6). For we know that to compensate to Paul in his apostolic office for the want of autoptic authority, and to constitute him a witness to the truth of the gospel, a revelation was made to him,—to which he refers, Galatians 1:12; Ephesians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3,—embracing at least the leading facts of the evangelic history. And this circumstance may have acted imperceptibly on the mind of Luke, and even shaped or filled out some of his narratives, in aid of direct historic sources of testimony.
8. There is very little trace of Paul’s peculiar diction, or prominence given to the points which it became his especial work to inculcate in the Gospel of Luke. Doubtless we may trace a similar cast of mind and feeling in some instances; as e.g. Luke’s carefulness to record the sayings of our Lord which were assertive of His unrestricted love for Jew and Gentile alike: Luke 4:25 ff; Luke 9:52 ff; Luke 10:30 ff; Luke 17:16; Luke 17:18. We may observe too that in Luke those parables and sayings are principally found, which most directly regard the great doctrine of man’s free justification by grace through faith: e.g. ch. Luke 15:11 ff.; Luke 17:10; Luke 18:14, in which latter place the use of δεδικαιωμένος (see note there) is remarkable. These instances, however, are but few,—and it may perhaps be doubted whether Commentators in general have not laid too great stress upon them. It would be very easy to trace similar relations and analogies in the other Gospels, if we were bent upon doing so.
FOR WHAT READERS AND WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN
1. Both these questions are formally answered for us by the Evangelist himself. He states, ch. Luke 1:3, that he wrote primarily for the benefit of one Theophilus, and that he might know the certainty of those accounts which had formed the subject of his catechetical instruction.
2. But we can hardly suppose this object to have been the only moving cause to the great work which Luke was undertaking. The probabilities of the case, and the practice of authors in inscribing their works to particular persons, combine to persuade us that Luke must have regarded his friend as the representative of a class of readers for whom his Gospel was designed. And in enquiring what that class was, we must deal with the data furnished by the Gospel itself.
3. In it we find universality the predominant character. There is no marked regard paid to Jewish readers, as in Matthew, nor to Gentiles, as in Mark; if there be any preference, it seems rather on the side of the latter. In conformity with Jewish practice, we have a genealogy of our Lord, which however does not, as in Matthew, stop with Abraham, but traces up his descent even to the progenitor of the human race. Commentators have noticed that Luke principally records those sayings and acts of our Lord by which God’s mercy to the Gentiles is set forth: see ch. Luke 15:11 ff.; Luke 18:10; Luke 19:5 (but see notes there); Luke 10:33; Luke 17:19; Luke 9:52-56; Luke 4:25-27. Such instances, however, are not much to be relied on;—see above, ch. i. § ii. 6;—to which I will add, that it would be easy to construct a similar list to prove the same point with respect to Matthew or John(7);—and I therefore much prefer assigning the above character of universality to this Gospel, which certainly is visible throughout it. That it was constructed for Gentile readers as well as for Jews, is plain; and is further confirmed from the fact of its author having been the friend and companion of the great Apostle of the Gentiles.
4. I infer then that the Gospel was designed for the general use of Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles; and, subordinately to this general purpose, for those readers whose acquaintance with Jewish customs and places was sufficient to enable them to dispense with those elucidations of them which Mark and John have given, but which are not found in Matthew or Luke.
5. The object of the Gospel has been sufficiently declared in Luke’s own words above cited,—that the converts might know the certainty of those things in which they had received oral instruction as catechumens; in other words, that the portions of our Lord’s life and discourses thus imparted to them might receive both permanence, by being committed to writing,—and completion, by being incorporated in a detailed narrative of His acts and sayings.
AT WHAT TIME IT WAS WRITTEN
1. We are enabled to approximate to the time of the publication of this Gospel with much more certainty than we can to that of any of the others. The enquiry may be thus conducted.—We may safely assume that the ‘former treatise’ of Acts 1:1, can be no other than this Gospel. And on that follows the inference, that the Gospel was published before the Acts of the Apostles. Now the last event recorded in the Acts is an interview of Paul with the Jews, shortly after his arrival in Rome. We further have the publication of the Acts, by the words of ch. Acts 28:30, postponed two whole years after that arrival and interview; but, I believe, no longer than that. For had Paul continued longer than that time in his hired house before the publication, it must have been so stated; and had he left Rome or that house, or had any remarkable event happened to him before the publication, we cannot suppose that so careful a recorder as Luke would have failed to bring his work down to the time then present, by noticing such departure or such event. I assume then the publication of the Acts to have taken place two years after Paul’s arrival at Rome: i.e. according to Wieseler (Chron. des Apostolischen Zeitalters, pp. 117, 118: see chronological table in Prolegg. to Acts, Vol. II.), in the spring of A.D. 63.
2. We have therefore a fixed date, before which the Gospel must have been published. But if I am not mistaken, we have, by internal evidence, the date of its publication removed some time back from this date. It is hardly probable that Luke would speak of, as ὁ πρῶτος λόγος, a work in which he was then, or had been very lately, engaged. But not to dwell on this,—even allowing that the prefatory and dedicatory matter, as is usually the case, may have come last from the hands of the author,—I find in the account of the Ascension, which immediately follows, a much more cogent proof, that the Gospel had been some considerable time published. For while it recapitulates the Gospel account just so much that we can trace the same hand in it (compare Acts 1:4 with Luke 24:49), it is manifestly a different account, much fuller in particulars, and certainly unknown to the Evangelist when he wrote his Gospel. Now, as we may conclude, in accordance with the παρηκολουθηκότι πᾶσιν ἀκριβῶς, of Luke 1:3, that he would have carefully sought out every available source of information at the time of writing his Gospel,—this becoming acquainted with a new account of the Ascension implies that in the mean time fresh sources of information had been opened to him. And this would most naturally be by change of place, seeing that various fixed cycles of apostolic teaching were likely to be current in, and about, the respective mother churches. Now the changes of place in Luke’s recent history had been,—two years before, from Cæsarea to Rome, Acts 27:1 ff.; two years and a half before that, from Philippi to Jerusalem, Acts 20:6; Acts 21:15 ff.,—and Cæsarea. This last is left to be inferred from his leaving Cæsarea with Paul, ch. Acts 27:1;—at all events he was during this time in Palestine, with, or near Paul. I shall make it probable in the Prolegomena to Vol. II. that during this period he was engaged in collecting materials for and compiling the Acts of the Apostles; and by consequence (see above), that in all probability the Gospel had been then written and published. This would place its publication before A.D. 58;—consequently, before the traditional date of the Gospel of Matthew,—see above, ch. ii. § iv.
3. Tracing Luke’s history further back than this,—it has been thought that he remained at Philippi during the whole time comprised between Acts 17:1; Acts 20:6, because he disuses the first person at the first of those dates, at Philippi,—and resumes it also at Philippi, at the second. Now this was a period of seven years: far too long for such an inference as the above to be made with any probability. During this time he may have travelled into Palestine, and collected the information which he incorporated in his Gospel. For that it was collected in Palestine, is on all accounts probable. And that it should have been published much before this, is, I think, improbable.
4. My reasons are the following:—I have implied in the former part of these Prolegomena, that it is not likely that the present evangelic collections would be made until the dispersion of all or most of the Apostles on their missionary journeys. Besides this, the fact of numerous διηγήσεις having been already drawn up after the model of the apostolic narrative teaching, forbids us to suppose their teaching by oral communication to have been in its fulness still available. Now the Apostles, or the greater part of them, were certainly at Jerusalem at the time of the council in Acts 15:1-5 ff., i.e. about A.D. 50. How soon after that time their dispersion took place, it is quite impossible to determine:—but we have certainly this date as our terminus a quo, before which, as I believe, no Gospel could have been published.
5. After this dispersion of the Apostles, it will be necessary to allow some time to elapse for the διηγήσεις of which Luke speaks (ch. Luke 1:1) to be drawn up;—not less certainly than one or two years, or more; which would bring us just about to the time when he was left behind by Paul in Philippi. This last arrangement must however be, from its merely hypothetical grounds, very uncertain.
6. At all events, we have thus eight years, A.D. 50–58, as the limits within which it is probable that the Gospel was published. And, without pretending to minute accuracy in these two limits, we may at least set it down as likely that the publication did not take place much before Luke and Paul are found together, nor after the last journey which Paul made to Jerusalem, A.D. 58. And even if the grounds on which this latter is concluded be objected to, we have, as a final resort, the fixed date of the publication of the Acts two years after Paul’s arrival at Rome, after which, by internal evidence, the Gospel cannot have been published.
AT WHAT PLACE IT WAS WRITTEN
1. Our answer to this enquiry will of course depend upon the considerations discussed in the last section. Adopting the view there taken, we find Luke in Asia Minor, Syria, or Palestine (probably) previously to his first journey with Paul A.D. 51; and from that time till his second journey A.D. 58, perhaps remaining in Greece, but perhaps also travelling for the sake of collecting information for his Gospel. At all events, at the latter part of this period he is again found at Philippi. We need not then dissent from the early tradition reported by Jerome (Prolog. in Matt. vol. vii. pp. 3, 4), that Luke published his Gospel “in Achaiæ Bœotiæque partibus,” as being on the whole the most likely inference.
2. The inscription in the Syriac version,—and Simeon Metaphrastes in the tenth century,—report that the Gospel was written at Alexandria, but apparently without any authority.
IN WHAT LANGUAGE IT WAS WRITTEN
There never has been any doubt that Luke wrote his Gospel in Greek. His familiarity with Greek terms and idioms, and above all, the classical style of his preface, are of themselves convincing internal evidence that it was so(8).
GENUINENESS OF THE GOSPEL
1. It has been generally and almost unanimously acknowledged that the Gospel which we now possess is that written and published by Luke.
2. Whatever doubts may have been raised by rationalistic Commentators as to the genuineness of the two first chapters, have been adopted in aid of their attempts to overthrow their authenticity (on which see the next section); and have rested on no sufficient ground of themselves. Their principal appeal is to Marcion, who notoriously mutilated the Gospel, to make it favour his views of the Person of Christ.
3. On the genuineness of ch. Luke 22:43-44, see various readings and notes there.
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE TWO FIRST CHAPTERS
1. If the view maintained above of the probable time of the publication of the Gospel be adopted,—and its later terminus, the publication of the Acts two years after Paul’s imprisonment at Rome began, is, I think, beyond question,—I cannot see how any reasonable doubt can be thrown upon the authenticity of this portion of the narrative. For there were those living, who might have contradicted any false or exaggerated account of our Lord’s birth and the events which accompanied it. If not the Mother of our Lord herself, yet His brethren were certainly living: and the universal reception of the Gospel in the very earliest ages sufficiently demonstrates that no objection to this part of the sacred narrative had been heard of as raised by them.
2. The ἀκριβῶς παρηκολουθηκότι of Luke forbids us to imagine that he would have inserted any narrative in his Gospel which he had not ascertained to rest upon trustworthy testimony, as far as it was in his power to ensure this: and the means of ensuring it must have been at that time so ample and satisfactory, that I cannot imagine for a moment any other origin for the account, than such testimony.
3. If we enquire what was probably the source of the testimony, I answer, that but one person is conceivable as delivering it, and that person the Mother of our Lord. She was living in the Christian body for some time after the Ascension; and would most certainly have been appealed to for an account of the circumstances attending His birth and infancy.
4. If she gave any account of these things, it is inconceivable that this account should not have found its way into the records of the Lord’s life possessed by the Christian Church, but that instead of it a spurious one should have been adopted by two of our Evangelists, and that so shortly after, or even coincident with, her own presence in the Church.
5. Just as inconceivable, even supposing the last difficulty surmounted, is the formation of a mythical, or in any other way unreal account of these things, and its adoption, in the primitive age of the Church. For the establishment of this I refer to the late Professor Mill’s able tract, On the Mythic Interpretation of Luke 1;—in which he has stated and severally refuted the arguments of Strauss and the rationalists.
6. I infer then that the two first chapters of this Gospel contain the account given by the Mother of our Lord, of His birth, and its prefatory and attendant circumstances; of some of which circumstances that in Matthew 1:18-25 is a more compendious, and wholly independent account.
ITS STYLE AND CHARACTER
1. We might have expected from Luke’s name and profession, that he was a man of education, and versed in the elegant use of the Greek, which was then the polite language in the Roman empire. We accordingly find that while we have very numerous Hebraisms in his Gospel, we also have far more classical idioms, and a much freer use of Greek compounds than in the others. By consulting the marginal references in this edition it will be seen that the number of ἅπαξ λεγόμενα in Luke is very great, far exceeding those in any other Gospel; and that very many of them are classically-authorized compound words.
2. The composition of the sentences is more studied and elaborate than in Matthew or Mark;—the Evangelist appears more frequently in the narrative, delivering his own estimate of men and things—e.g. ch. Luke 16:14; Luke 7:29-30; Luke 19:11 a(9).;—he seems to love to recount instances of our Lord’s tender compassion and mercy;—and in the report of His parables, e.g. in ch. 15, is particularly simple in diction, and calculated to attract and retain the attention of his readers.
3. In narrative, this Evangelist is very various, according to the copiousness or otherwise of the sources from which he drew. Sometimes he merely gives a hasty compendium: at others he is most minute and circumstantial in detail, and equally graphic in description with Mark: see as instances of this latter, ch. Luke 7:14; Luke 9:29. It has been remarked (see Olshausen, Bibl. Comm. i. p. 20) that Luke gives with extreme accuracy not so much the discourses, as the observations and occasional sayings of our Lord, with the replies of those who were present. This is especially the case in his long and important narrative of the journey up to Jerusalem, ch. Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:14.
4. On the question how far those doctrines especially enforced by the great Apostle of the Gentiles are to be traced, as inculcated or brought forward in this Gospel, see above in this chapter, § ii. 7.
5. In completeness, this Gospel must rank first among the four. The Evangelist begins with the announcement of the birth of Christ’s Forerunner, and concludes with the particulars of the Ascension: thus embracing the whole great procession of events by which our Redemption by Christ was ushered in, accomplished, and sealed in heaven. And by recording the allusion to the promise of the Father (ch. Luke 24:49), he has introduced, so to speak, a note of passage to that other history, in which the fulfilment of that promise, the great result of Redemption, was to be related. It may be remarked, that this completeness,—while it shews the earnest diligence used by the sacred writer in searching out, and making use of every information within his reach,—forms an additional proof that he can never have seen the Gospels of Matthew and Mark,—or he would (to say nothing of the other difficulties attending this view, which have before been dealt with in ch. i.) most certainly have availed himself of those parts of their narratives, which are now not contained in his own.
6. The chronological notice, on the discovery, by the younger Zumpt, that Quirinus was twice governor of Syria, and the light thus thrown on Luke 2:2, inserted here in the third edition, is now incorporated in the notes ad loc.
Eve of Ascension