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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  . 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 Mat 4:12 as compared with Matthew 4:25 ; Matthew 8:10 ; Mat 15:1 ); it could not however have been gathered from their narrative with any historical precision.
 The reading Ἰουδαίας in Luke 4:44 (to the authorities for which, the Codex Sinaiticus must now be added) would seem to introduce an exception. But the notice of a ministry in Judæa would even thus be merely incidental and general: and no visit to Jerusalem is implied.
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 ; Luk 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  . 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.
 1. That Matt. wrote first that Mark used his Gospel and then Luke both these. This is held by Grotius, Mill, Wetstein, Townson, Hug, &c., and Greswell, who advances, and sometimes maintains with considerable ingenuity, the hypothesis of a supplemental relation of the three taken in order.
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, Luk 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  ?
 The examples cited from modern historians by Mr. Smith of Jordanhill, are not in point. In almost every one of those, reasons could be assigned for the adoption or rejection by the posterior writer of the words and clauses of the prior one. Let the student attempt such a rationale of any narrative common to the three Gospels, on any hypothesis of priority, and he will at once perceive its impracticability. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke are to be judged by the analogy of Suchet, Alison, and Napier, the inference must be, that whereas the historians were intelligent men, acting by the rules of mental association and selection, the Evangelists were mere victims of caprice, and such caprice as is hardly consistent with the possession of a sound mind.
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  , 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  . I believe then that we may safely abandon the idea of any single original Gospel, whether Aramaic or Greek.
 It may be worth while, as an example, to state the nature of Bp. Marsh’s hypothesis of the origin of our three Gospels. He supposes, 1) א , the original Hebrew Gospel, 2) א a Greek version of the same. 3) א + α + A, a volume containing a copy of the Hebrew original Gospel, accompanied by lesser ( α ) and greater (A) additions. 4) א + β + B, another copy of ditto, accompanied by other lesser ( β ) and greater (B) additions. 5) א + γ + Γ , a third copy of ditto, accompanied by a third set of lesser ( γ ) and greater ( Γ ) additions. 6) ב , a Hebrew gnomology (collection of sayings of the Lord), varying according to different copies.
 Those who maintain the anointing of Mat 26:6 to be the same with that of Luke 7:36 , forget that it is incumbent on them in such cases to shew sufficient reason for the inversion in order of time. It is no reply to my argument, to say that Luke omits the anointing at Bethany, because he had related it before in ch. 7. Had he not had Matthew’s Gospel before him , it is very likely that he may have inserted an incident which he found without date, in a place where it might illustrate the want of charity of a Pharisee: but having (on their hypothesis) Matthew’s Gospel before him , and the incident being there related in strict sequence and connexion with our Lord’s Death, it is simply inconceivable that he should have transposed it, and obliterated all trace of such connexion, deeply interesting and important as it is.
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 ( Act 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 ; 1Co 11:23 ; 1Co 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 6:0 , 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 ( Joh 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  .
 Of unusual words, &c., retaining their places in the parallel sentences: ἀπαρθῇ , Matthew 9:15 ; Mark 2:20 ; Luke 5:35 ; κατέκλασεν , Mark 6:41 ; Luke 9:16 ; ὀπίσω μου , Matthew 16:24 ; Mark 8:34 ; Luke 9:23 ; δνσκόλως , Mark 10:23 ; Luke 18:24 ; συνθλάω and λικμάω , Matthew 21:44 ; Luke 20:18 ; κολοβόω , Matthew 24:22 ; Mark 13:20 ; συλλαβεῖν (whereas they generally use λαμβ . simply), Matthew 26:55 ; Mark 14:48 ; διαβλέπω , Matthew 7:5 ; Luke 6:42 ; γεννητοὶ γυναικῶν , Matthew 11:11 ; Luke 7:28 .
Of unusual words, expressions, or constructions, found at or near their places in parallel passages, but not in the same connexion ; ἀπέχω , Mat 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 23:0 . 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  . 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.
 To suppose St Luke to have written ἔδοξεν κἀμοί , κ . τ . λ . if he were under the conscious inspiration of the Holy Spirit, superseding all his own mental powers and faculties, would be to charge him with ascribing to his own diligence and selection that which was furnished to him independently of both. Yet to this are the asserters of verbal inspiration committed.
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  . And how it will here apply, the following comparison will shew:
 This has been done, as far as I have seen, in all remarks of verbal-inspirationists on this part of my Prolegomena.
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.”
OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MARK
1. As in the case of the two other Gospels, we are dependent entirely on traditional sources for the name of the author. It has been universally believed to be Marcus: and further, that he was the same person who, in Acts 12:12 ; Acts 12:25 ; Acts 15:37 , is spoken of as Ἰ ωάννης ὁ ἐ πικαλούμενος (ἐ πικληθείς , καλούμενος ) Μάρκος : in Mark 13:5 ; Mark 13:13 , as Ἰ ωάννης : in Mark 15:39 , as Μάρκος : also in Col 4:10 ; 2 Timothy 4:11 ; Philemon 1:24 . The few particulars gleaned respecting him from Scripture are, that his mother’s name was Mary ( Act 12:12 ); and that she was sister to the Apostle Barnabas ( Col 4:10 ); that she dwelt in Jerusalem (Acts, ibid.); that he was converted to Christianity by the Apostle Peter ( 1Pe 5:13 ); that he became the minister and companion of Paul and Barnabas, in their first missionary journey ( Act 12:25 ); and was the cause of the variance and separation of these Apostles on their second ( Act 15:37-40 ), Barnabas wishing to take him again with them, but Paul refusing, because he had departed from them before the completion of the former journey ( Act 13:13 ). He then became the companion of Barnabas in his journey to Cyprus ( Act 15:39 ). We find him however again with Paul ( Col 4:10 ), and an allusion apparently made in the words there to some previous stain on his character, which was then removed: see also Phm 1:24 ; 2 Timothy 4:11 . Lastly, we find him with Peter ( 1Pe 5:13 ). From Scripture we know no more concerning him. But an unanimous tradition of the ancient Christian writers represents him as the ‘interpres’ of Peter: i.e. the secretary or amanuensis, whose office it was to commit to writing the orally-delivered instructions and narrations of the Apostle. See authorities quoted in § ii. below.
2. Tradition (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. ii. 15) brings him with Peter to Rome (but apparently only on the authority of 1Pe 5:13 ); and thence to Alexandria. He is said to have become first bishop of the Church in that city, and to have suffered martyrdom there. All this however is exceedingly uncertain.
1. It was universally believed in the ancient Church, that Mark’s Gospel was written under the influence, and almost by the dictation, of Peter.
( α ) Eusebius quotes from Papias (Hist. Eccl. iii. 39), as a testimony of John the presbyter, Μάρκος μ ὲ ν ἑ ρμηνευτ ὴ ς Πέτρου γενόμενος , ὅ σα ἐ μνημόνευσεν , ἀ κριβ ῶ ς ἔ γραψεν , κ . τ . λ .
( β ) The same author (Hist. Eccl. v. 8) says Μάρκος ὁ μαθητ ὴ ς κα ὶ ἑ ρμηνευτ ὴ ς Πέτρου , κα ὶ α ὐ τ ὸ ς τ ὰ ὑ π ὸ Πέτρου κηρυσσόμενα ἐ γγράφως ἡ μ ῖ ν παραδέδωκε . This he quotes from Irenæus (iii. 1, p. 174); and further that this took place μετ ὰ τ ὴ ν τούτων (i.e. το ῦ Πέτρου κ . το ῦ Παύλου ) ἔ ξοδον .
( γ ) The same author (Hist. Eccl. ii. 15) relates, on the authority of Clement (Hypotyp. vi.) and Papias, that the hearers of Peter at Rome, unwilling that his teaching should be lost to them, besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter, to commit to writing the substance of that teaching; that the Apostle, being informed supernaturally of the work in which Mark was engaged, ἡ σθ ῆ ναι τ ῇ τ ῶ ν ἀ νδρ ῶ ν προθυμί ᾳ, κυρ ῶ σαί τε τ ὴ ν γραφ ὴ ν ε ἰ ς ἔ ντευξιν τ ῆ ς ἐ κκλησίας . This account is manifestly inconsistent with the former.
( δ ) In Hist. Eccl. vi. 14, Eusebius gives yet another account, citing the very passage of Clement above referred to: that Peter, knowing of Mark’s work when it was completed and published, προτρεπτικ ῶ ς μήτε κωλ ῦ σαι μήτε προτρέψασθαι .
( ε ) The same author, in his Demonstr. Evang. iii. 5, vol. iv. p. 122, says Πετρος δ ὲ τα ῦ τα περ ὶ ἑ αυτο ῦ μαρτυρε ῖ· πάντα γ ὰ ρ τ ὰ παρ ὰ Μάρκ ῳ το ῦ Πέτρου διαλέξεων ε ἶ ναι λέγεται ἀ πομνημονεύματα .
( ζ ) Tertullian (Cont. Marcion. iv. 5, vol. ii. p. 367) relates: “Marcus quod edidit Evangelium, Petri adfirmatur, cujus interpres Marcus.”
( η ) Jerome (Ad Hedibiam (Ep. cxx.), quæst. xi., vol. i. p. 844) writes: “Habebat ergo (Paulus) Titum interpretem, sicut et beatus Petrus Marcum, cujus Evangelium Petro narrante et illo scribente compositum est.”
2. The above testimonies must now be examined as to how far we are bound to receive them as decisive. We may observe that the matter to which they refer is one which could, from its nature, have been known to very few persons; viz. the private and unavowed influence of an Apostle over the writer. (For I reject at once the account which makes Peter authorize the Gospel, from no such authorization being apparent, which it certainly would have been, had it ever existed.) Again, the accounts cited are most vague and inconsistent as to the extent and nature of this influence, some stating it to have been no more than that Peter preached, and Mark, after his death, collected the substance of his testimony from memory; others making it extend even to the dictation of the words by the Apostle.
3. It is obvious that all such accounts must be judged according to the phænomena presented by the Gospel itself. Now we find, in the title of the Gospel, a presumption that no such testimony of Peter is here presented to us, as we have of Matthew in the former Gospel. Had such been the case, we should have found it called the Gospel according to Peter , not according to Mark .
4. If again we examine the contents of the Gospel, we are certainly not justified in concluding that Peter’s hand has been directly employed in its compilation in its present form. The various mentions, and omissions of mention, of incidents in which that Apostle is directly concerned, are such as to be in no way consistently accounted for on this hypothesis. For let it be allowed that a natural modesty might have occasionally led him to omit matters tending to his honour, yet how are we to account for his omitting to give an exact detail of other things at which he was present, and of which he might have rendered the most precise and circumstantial account? This has been especially the case in the narrative of the day of the Resurrection, not to mention numerous other instances which will be noticed in the Commentary. Besides, the above hypothesis regarding his suppressions cannot be consistently carried out. A remarkable instance to the contrary may be seen, ch. Mark 16:7 , where ε ἴ πατε το ῖ ς μαθητα ῖ ς α ὐ το ῦ κα ὶ τ ῷ Πέτρ ῳ stands for ε ἴ πατε το ῖ ς μαθητα ῖ ς α ὐ το ῦ in Matthew.
5. We are led to the same conclusion by a careful comparison of the contents of this Gospel with those of Matthew and Luke. We find that it follows the same great cycle of apostolic teaching; that its narratives are derived in many cases from the same sources; that it is improbable that any individual Apostle should have moulded and fashioned a record which keeps so much to the beaten track of the generally-received evangelic history. His own individual remembrances must unavoidably have introduced additions of so considerable an amount as to have given to the Gospel more original matter than it at present possesses.
6. But while unable to conceive any influence directly exerted by Peter over the compilation of the Gospel, I would by no means deny the possibility of the derivation of some narratives in it from that Apostle, and recognize in such derivation the ground of the above testimonies. The peculiarly minute and graphic precision (presently, § viii. to be further spoken of) which distinguishes this Evangelist, seems to claim for him access in many cases to the testimony of some eye-witness where the other two Evangelists have not had that advantage. I have pointed out these cases where they occur, in the Commentary; and have not hesitated in some of them to refer conjecturally to Peter as the source of the narration.
7. The inference to be drawn from what has preceded is, that, the general tradition of the ancients, which ascribed to Mark a connexion with Peter as his secretary or interpreter, being adopted, as likely to be founded on fact, yet the idea of any considerable or direct influence of Peter over the writing of the Gospel is not borne out by the work itself. We may so far recognize in it one form of the probable truth; it is likely that Mark, from continual intercourse with and listening to Peter, and possibly from preservation of many of his narrations entire, may have been able, after his death, or at all events when separated from him, to preserve in his Gospel those vivid and original touches of description and filling-out of the incidents, which we now discover in it. Further than this I do not think we are authorized in assuming; and even this is conjectural only.
FOR WHAT READERS AND WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN
1. Internal evidence is very full as to the class of readers for whom Mark compiled his Gospel: the Gentile Christians are clearly pointed out by the following indications:
( α ) The omission of all genealogical notices of our Lord’s descent.
( β ) The general abstinence from Old Testament citations, except in reporting discourses of our Lord (ch. Mar 1:2-3 is the only exception, Mar 15:28 being rejected as spurious).
( γ ) The appending of interpretations to the Hebrew or Aramaic terms occurring in the narrative (ch. Mark 5:41 ; Mark 7:11 ; Mar 7:34 ).
( δ ) The explanations of Jewish customs, as for example ch. Mark 7:3-4 .
( ε ) Remarkable insertions or omissions in particular places: as, e.g. π ᾶ σιν το ῖ ς ἔ θνεσιν , ch. Mark 11:17 , which words are omitted in Matthew and Luke: no mention of the Jewish law: omission of the limitations of the mission of the Apostles in Matthew 10:0 (common, however, also to Luke).
2. It is true that too much stress must not be laid on single particulars of this sort, as indicating design , where the sources of the Gospels were so scattered and fragmentary. But the concurrence of all these affords a very strong presumption that that class of readers was in the view of the Evangelist, in whose favour all these circumstances unite. See Prolegg. to Matthew, § iii. 2.
AT WHAT TIME IT WAS WRITTEN
1. The most direct testimony on this head is that of Irenæus, iii. 1 (see above, § ii. 1, β ), that it was after the deaths of Peter and Paul. This would place its date, at all events, after the year 63 (see Prolegg. to Acts, chronological table). But here, as in the case of the other Gospels, very little can be with any certainty inferred. We have conflicting traditions (see above, § ii.), and the Gospel itself affords us no clue whatever.
2. One thing only we may gather from the contents of the three first Gospels, that none of them could have been originally written after the destruction of Jerusalem. Had they been, the omission of all allusion to so signal a fulfilment of our Lord’s prophecies would be inexplicable. In the case indeed of Luke, we can approximate nearer than this (see below, ch. iv. § 4); but in those of Matthew and Mark, this is all which can be safely assumed as to the time of their first publication; that it was after the dispersion or even the death of most of the Apostles, and before the investment of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Titus in the year 70.
AT WHAT PLACE IT WAS WRITTEN
Of this we have no trustworthy evidence. Most ancient writers (Clement, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, &c.) mention Rome; but apparently in connexion with the idea of Mark having written under the superintendence of Peter. Chrysostom mentions Alexandria; but no Alexandrine writer confirms the statement. In modern times, Storr has advanced an hypothesis that Mark wrote at Antioch, which he grounds, but insufficiently, on a comparison of ch. Mark 15:21 , with Acts 11:20 .
IN WHAT LANGUAGE IT WAS WRITTEN
1. There has never been any reasonable doubt that Mark wrote in Greek . The two Syriac versions contain a marginal note, that Mark preached in Rome in Latin: and four mss. (Centt. X. XIII.) enumerated by Scholz, prolegg. p. xxx, append a notice, τ ὸ κατ ὰ μάρκ . ε ὐ αγ . ἐ γράφη ῥ ωμαϊστ ὶ ἐ ν ῥ ώμ ῃ μετ ὰ ἔ τη ι ̅ β ̅ τ ῆ ς ἀ ναλήψεως το ῦ κυρίου . This statement, however, is destitute of probability from any external or internal evidence, and is only one more assumption from the hypothetical publication in Rome under the superintendence of Peter, and for Roman converts.
2. Many writers of the Romish Church have defended the hypothesis of a Latin original, being biassed by a wish to maintain the authority of the Vulgate: and a pretended part of the original autograph of the Evangelist is still shewn in the Library of St. Mark’s church at Venice; which, however, has been detected to be merely part of an ancient Latin MS. of the four Gospels, another fragment of which exists, or existed, at Prague, formerly preserved at Aquileia.
3. If Mark wrote in Latin, it is almost inconceivable that the original should have perished so early that no ancient writer should have made mention of the fact. For Latin was the language of a considerable and increasing body of Christians, unlike Hebrew, which was little known, and belonged [but even this is doubtful] to a section of converts few in number: yet ancient testimony is unanimous to Matthew’s having written in Hebrew, while we have not one witness to Mark having written in Latin.
GENUINENESS OF THE GOSPEL
1. This has never been called in question, till very recently, by some of the German critics (Schleiermacher, Credner: which last however (see Meyer, Com. ii. 9, note) has since seen reason to abandon his view, and more recently still, Grimm) on, as it appears to me, wholly insufficient grounds. They allege that the testimony of Papias (see above, § ii. 1, α ) does not apply to the contents of our present Gospel, but that some later hand has worked up and embellished the original simple and unarranged notices of Mark, which have perished.
2. But neither do the words of Papias imply any such inference as that Mark’s notices must have been simple and unarranged; nor, if they did, are they of any considerable authority in the matter. It is enough that from the very earliest time the Gospel has been known as that of Mark; confirmed as this evidence is by the circumstance, that this name belongs to no great and distinguished founder of the Church , to whom it might naturally be ascribed, but to one, the ascription to whom can hardly be accounted for, except by its foundation in matter of fact .
3. On the genuineness of the remarkable fragment at the end of the Gospel, see notes there.
ITS STYLE AND CHARACTER
1. Of the three first Gospels, that of Mark is the most distinct and peculiar in style. By far the greater part of those graphic touches which describe the look and gesture of our Lord, the arrangement or appearance of those around Him, the feelings with which He contemplated the persons whom He addressed, are contained in this Gospel. While the matters related are fewer than in either Matthew or Luke, Mark, in by far the greater number of common narrations, is the most copious, and rich in lively and interesting detail .
2. In one part only does Mark appear as an abridger of previously well-known facts; viz. in ch. Mark 1:1-13 , where, his object being to detail the official life of our Lord, he hastens through the previous great events, the ministry of John, the baptism and temptation of Christ. But even in the abrupt transitions of this section, there is wonderful graphic power, presenting us with a series of life-like pictures, calculated to impress the reader strongly with the reality and dignity of the events related.
3. Throughout the Gospel, even where the narratives are the most copious, the same isolated character of each, the same abrupt transition from one to another, is observable. There is no attempt to bind on one section to another, or to give any sequences of events. But occasionally the very precision of the separate narratives of itself furnishes accurate and valuable chronological data: e.g. the important one in ch. Mark 4:35 , by which it becomes evident that the whole former part of Matthew’s Gospel is out of chronological order.
4. Mark relates but few discourses . His object being to set forth Jesus as the SON OF GOD (see ch. Mar 1:1 ), he principally dwells on the events of His official life. But the same characteristics mark his report of our Lord’s discourses, where he relates them , as we have observed in the rest of his narrative. While the sequence and connexion of the longer discourses was that which the Holy Spirit peculiarly brought to the mind of Matthew, the Apostle from whom Mark’s record is derived seems to have been deeply penetrated and impressed by the solemn iterations of cadence and expression , and to have borne away the very words themselves and tone of the Lord’s sayings. See especially, as illustrating this, the wonderfully sublime reply, ch. Mark 9:39-50 .
5. According to the view adopted and vindicated in the notes on ch. Mark 16:9-20 , the Gospel terminates abruptly with the words ἐ φοβο ῦ ντο γάρ , ver. 8. That this was not intentionally done, but was a defect, is apparent, by the addition, in apostolic times, of the authentic and most important fragment which now concludes the narrative  .
 [Since the above was written an important book has been published on this subject, “The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark,” by the Rev. J. W. Burgon. Oxford, 1871. Mr. Burgon makes it appear that the numbers of Ammonius and Eusebius would have been more accurately designated the numbers of Eusebius, and that the patristic evidence against the passage ought to be limited to that of Eusebius, whose language has been adapted, or even literally copied, by the later authorities. All the Fathers, moreover, who are usually cited against these verses, treat them as part of the Gospel record; and as such they are recognized in the following Commentary; while Victor of Antioch expressly states ἡ με ῖ ς ἐ ξ ἀ κριβ ῶ ν ἀ ντιγράφων ἐ ν πλείστοις ε ὑ ρόντες α ὐ τά , κα ὶ κατ ὰ τ ὸ Παλαιστινα ῖ ον Ε ὐ αγγέλιον , ὡ ς ἔ χει ἡ ἀ λήθεια Μάρκου , συντεθείκαμεν …, μετ ὰ τ ὸ ἐ φοβο ῦ ντο γάρ , τουτέστιν ἀ π ὸ το ῦ ἀ ναστ ὰ ς δ ὲ … κα ὶ καθ ʼ ἑ ξ ῆ ς , μέχρι το ῦ δι ὰ τ ῶ ν ἐ πακολουθούντων σημείων . Ἀ μήν .]
6. I regard the existence of the Gospel of Mark as a gracious and valuable proof of the accommodation by the Divine Spirit of the records of the life of our Lord to the future necessities of the Church. While it contains little matter of fact which is not related in Matthew and Luke, and thus, generally speaking, forms only a confirmation of their more complete histories, it is so far from being a barren duplicate of that part of them which is contained in it, that it comes home to every reader with all the freshness of an individual mind, full of the Holy Ghost, intently fixed on the great object of the Christian’s love and worship, reverently and affectionately following and recording His positions, and looks, and gestures, and giving us the very echo of the tones with which He spoke. And thus the believing student feels, while treating of and studying this Gospel, as indeed he does of each in its turn, that, without venturing to compare with one another in value these rich and abiding gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church, the Gospel of Mark is at least as precious to him as any of the others; serving an end, and filling a void, which could not without spiritual detriment be left uncared for.
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17