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Bible Commentaries

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary


- Matthew

by Henry Alford





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 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.

[1] 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.



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] 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 [3] ?

[3] 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.



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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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 [6] .

[6] 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 .



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.



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.



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.

[7] 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 [8] . And how it will here apply, the following comparison will shew:

[8] 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 ἰησοῦςβασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων .

Mark, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων .

Luke, ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ἰουδαίων οὗτος .

John, ἰησοῦςναζωραῖοςβασιλεὺς 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.



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.”





1. THE author of this Gospel has been universally believed to be, THE APOSTLE MATTHEW. With this belief the contents of the Gospel are not inconsistent; and we find it current in the very earliest ages (see testimonies in the next section).

2. Of the Apostle Matthew we know very little for certain. He was the son of Alphæus ( Mar 2:14 ), and therefore probably the brother of James the less. His calling, from being a publican to be one of the Twelve, is narrated by all three Evangelists. By Mark and Luke he is called Levi; in this Gospel, Matthew. Such change of name after becoming a follower of the Lord, was by no means uncommon; and the appearance of the apostolic, not the original name, in the Gospel proceeding from himself, is in analogy with the practice of Paul, who always in his Epistles speaks of himself by his new and Christian appellation. (On the doubts raised in ancient times respecting the identity of Matthew and Levi, see note on Matthew 9:9 .)

3. The Apostle Matthew is described by Clement of Alexandria [9] as belonging to the ascetic Judaistic school of early Christians. Nothing is known of his apostolic labours out of Palestine, which Eusebius mentions generally ( ἐφ ʼ ἑτέρους , Hist. Eccl. 3:24). Later writers fix the scene of them in Ethiopia, but also include in their circle Macedonia, and several parts of Asia (Rufin. Hist. Eccl. x. 9: Socr [10] Hist. Eccl. i. 19). Heracleon, as cited by Clement of Alexandria, Strom. iv. 9, p. 525, relates that his death was natural. This is implicitly confirmed by Clement himself, and by Origen and Tertullian, who mention only Peter, Paul, and James the greater, as martyrs among the Apostles.

[9] Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖνἀπόστολος σπερμάτων κ . ἀκροδρύων κ . λαχάνων ἄνευ κρεῶν μετελάμβανεν , Ἰωάννης δὲ ὑπερτείνας τὴν ἐγκράτειαν ἀκρίδας κ . μέλι ἤσθιεν ἄγριον . Pædag. ii. 1, p. 174 5.

[10] Socrates of Constantinople, 440



1. It has been much disputed among biblical scholars, whether this Gospel was originally composed in HEBREW (i.e. Syro-chaldaic, the vernacular language of the Hebrew Christians in Palestine) or in GREEK. I shall state the principal arguments on both sides, and give my own judgment on them.

A. Those who maintain a HEBREW original rest on the evidence of the early Church. And this evidence was unanimous. It mainly consists of the following testimonies:

( α ) PAPIAS, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia in the beginning of the 2nd century. Eusebius thus describes him (H. E. iii. 36), Παπίας , τῆς ἐν Ἱεραπόλει παροικίας καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπίσκοπος , ἀνὴρ τὰ πάντα ὅτι μάλιστα [11] λογιώτατος καὶ γραφῆς εἰδήμων . He wrote five συγγράμματα , entitled λογίων κυριακῶν ἐξηγήσεις (ib. iii. 39); as Irenæus also states (Hær. v. 33, p. 332), where he calls him Ἰωάννου μὲν ἀκουστής , Πολυκάρπου δὲ ἑταῖρος γεγονώς , ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ . It is true that Eusebius asserts him, with reference to his adoption of chiliastic opinions, to have been σφόδρα σμικρὸς τὸν νοῦν (H. E. ibid.): but this, it is alleged, cannot be brought to bear on the validity of his testimony to a matter of fact; being only said controversially, and with regard to the adoption by Papias of apocryphal stories, and his belonging to a particular school of interpretation, from which Eusebius dissented. His testimony runs thus: Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο · ἡρμήνευσε δ ʼ αὐτὰ ὡς ἐδύνατο (or ἦν δυνατὸς ) ἕκαστος . That Papias meant by τὰ λόγια the Gospel of Matthew, not merely a collection of discourses, is probable, from his calling Mark’s Gospel (apparently), σύνταξις τῶν κυριακῶν λογίων (Eus [12] ib.): and from the title of his own work (see above). It would seem from the latter words of the above testimony, that Papias was not, at all events, aware of any authoritative contemporaneous version in Greek.

[11] The author of the article on the first edition of this vol. in the Edinburgh Review, July, 1851, would render ἀνὴρ λογιώτατος “a man full of anecdotes,” and thereby disparage Papias’ testimony. But not to mention how inconsistent this is with the whole tenor of the passage in which the term occurs, which goes to exalt that testimony, the usage of λόγιος by Eusebius himself is decisive against the Reviewer. See, e.g., H. E. vi. 15 (of Origen), διανείμας τὰ πλήθη , τὸν Ἡρακλᾶν τῶν γνωρίμων προκρίνας , ἔν τε τοῖς θείοις σπουδαῖον , καὶ ἄλλως ὄντα λογιώτατον ἄνδρα κ . φιλοσοφίας οὐκ ἄμοιρον , κοινωνὸν καθίστη τῆς κατηχήσεως : ib. 20, ἤκμαζον δὲ κατὰ τοῦτο πλείους λόγιοι κ . ἐκκλησιαστικοὶ ἄνδρες , … among whom he enumerates Beryllus of Bostra, Hippolytus, Gaius ( λογιώτατος ἀνήρ ): cf. also v. 16 (init.), vii. 7 ( αὐτὸς οὗτος λόγιός τε καὶ θαυμάσιος ). See Heinichen’s note on the word in the passage cited in the text.

[12] Eusebius, Bp. of Cæsarea, 315 320

( β ) IRENÆUS, Hær. iii. 1, p. 174: ὁ μὲν Ματθαῖος ἐν τοῖς Ἑβραίοις τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ αὐτῶν καὶ γραφὴν ἐξήνεγκεν εὐαγγελίου , τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ τοῦ Παύλου ἐν Ῥώμεὐαγγελιζομένων καὶ θεμελιούντων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν . Not a word is here said of Papias: indeed, by the last clause, this testimony, it is said, manifestly rests on independent ground. That such a note of time should have been, as has been supposed (Edin. Rev. July 1851, p. 38), a calculation of Irenæus himself, is inconceivable.

( γ ) EUSEBIUS, H. E. v. 10, relates of Pantænus, ὁ Πάνταινος καὶ εἰς Ἰνδοὺς ἐλθεῖν λέγεται , ἔνθα λόγος εὑρεῖν αὐτὸν προφθάσαν τὴν αὐτοῦ παρουσίαν τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον παρά τισιν αὐτόθι τὸν χριστὸν ἐπεγνωκόσιν , οἷς Βαρθολομαῖον τῶν ἀποστόλων ἕνα κηρύξαι , αὐτοῖς τε Ἑβραίων γράμμασι τὴν τοῦ Ματθαίου καταλεῖψαι γραφήν , ἣν καὶ σώζεσθαι εἰς τὸν δηλούμενον χρόνον . This tradition recognizes a Hebrew Gospel according to Matthew, and thus agrees with the testimonies before cited.

( δ ) ORIGEN, Comm. in Matt. tom. i., preserved in Eus [13] H. E. vi. 25, describes himself as ἐν παραδόσει μαθὼν περὶ τῶν τεσσάρων εὐαγγελίωνκαὶ μόνα ἀναντίῤῥητά ἐστιν ἐν τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ , ὅτι πρῶτον μὲν γέγραπται τὸ κατὰ τὸν ποτὲ τελώνην , ὕστερον δὲ ἀπόστολον Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ , Ματθαῖον , ἐκδεδωκότα αὐτὸ τοῖς ἀπὸ Ἰουδαισμοῦ πιστεύσασι γράμμασιν ἑβραϊκοῖς συντεταγμένον .

[13] Eusebius, Bp. of Cæsarea, 315 320

( ε ) EUSEBIUS, Hist. Eccl. iii. 24: Ματθαῖος μὲν γὰρ πρότερον Ἑβραίοις κηρύξας , ὡς ἔμελλε καὶ ἐφ ʼ ἑτέρους ἰέναι , πατρίῳ γλώττγραφῇ παραδοὺς τὸ κατ ʼ αὐτὸν εὐαγγέλιον , τὸ λεῖπον τῇ αὐτοῦ παρουσίᾳ τούτοις ἀφ ʼ ὧν ἐστέλλετο διὰ τῆς γραφῆς ἀνεπλήρου . With this may be compared another passage of Eusebius (Ad Marin. quæst. ii., vol. iv. p. 941): λέλεκται δὲ ὀψὲ τοῦ σαββάτου παρὰ τοῦ ἑρμηνεύσαντος τὴν γραφήν · ὁ μὲν γὰρ εὐαγγελιστὴς Ματθαῖος ἑβραΐδι γλώττπαρέδωκε τὸ εὐαγγέλιον . This last passage shews that Eusebius himself believed the Gospel to have been written in Hebrew.

( ζ ) EPIPHANIUS, Hær. xxix. 9, vol. i. p. 124, says of the Ebionites and Nazarenes, ἔχουσι δὲ τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιον πληρέστατον ἑβραϊστί . παρ ʼ αὐτοῖς γὰρ σαφῶς τοῦτο , καθὼς ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἐγράφη ἑβραϊκοῖς γράμμασιν , ἔτι σώζεται . And again, Hær. xxx. 3, p. 127, καὶ δέχονται μὲν καὶ αὐτοὶ τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον εὐαγγέλιονκαλοῦσι δὲ αὐτὸ κατὰ Ἑβραίους , ὡς τὰ ἀληθῆ ἐστιν εἰπεῖν , ὅτι Ματθαῖος μόνος ἑβραϊστὶ καὶ ἑβραϊκοῖς γράμμασιν ἐν τῇ καινῇ διαθήκἐποιήσατο τὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἔκθεσίν τε καὶ κήρυγμα .

( η ) JEROME, Præf. to Matt., vol. vii. Philippians 3:4 : “ Matthæus … Evangelium in Judæa Hebræo sermone edidit ob eorum vel maxime causam qui in Jesum crediderant ex Judæis .” Also De Viris Illustr. 3, vol. ii. p. 833: “ Matthæus, qui et Levi, ex publicano Apostolus, primus in Judæa propter eos qui ex circumcisione crediderant, Evangelium Christi Hebraicis literis verbisque composuit, quod quis postea in Græcum transtulerit, non satis certum est. Porro ipsum Hebraicum habetur usque hodie in Cæsariensi bibliotheca, quam Pamphilus martyr studiosissime confecit. Mihi quoque a Nazaræis qui in Berœa urbe Syriæ hoc volumine utuntur, describendi facultas fuit. In quo animadvertendum, quod ubicumque Evangelista, sive ex persona vera sive ex persona Domini Salvatoris, veteris scripturæ testimoniis utitur, non sequatur LXX translatorum auctoritatem, sed Hebraicum, e quibus illa duo sunt: ‘Ex Ægypto vocavi filium meum:’ et , ‘ Quoniam Nazaræus vocabitur .’ ” Also, In Quatuor Evv. ad Damasum præfatio, vol. x. p. 527, Migne: “ De novo nunc loquor testamento, quod Græcum esse non dubium est, excepto Apostolo Matthæo, qui primus in Judæa Evangelium Christi Hebraicis literis edidit .” Again, Ep. (xx.) Damaso de Osanna 5, vol. i. p. 68: “ Matthæus, qui Evangelium Hebraico sermone conscripsit, ita posuit osanna berama, id est , Osanna in excelsis,” &c. Again, Ep. (cxx.) Hedibiæ, quæst. viii. 1, p. 831: “ In Evangelio autem ” ( Matthæi , from context), “ quod Hebraicis literis scriptum est, legimus , ‘ non velum templi scissum, sed superliminare templi miræ magnitudinis corruisse .’ ” Again, Comm. in Hosea 11:0 , vol. vi. p. 123, in treating of the words, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son,’ he says, “ Hunc locum in septimo volumine Julianus Augustus quod adversum nos, i.e. Christianos, evomuit, calumniatur et dicit, quod de Israel scriptum est, Matthæus Evangelista ad Christum transtulit, ut simplicitati eorum qui de gentibus crediderant illuderet. Cui nos breviter respondebimus : 1°, Matthæum Evangelium Hebræis literis edidisse, quod non poterant legere nisi hi qui ex Hebræis erant: ergo non propterea fecit ut illuderet ethnicis .” Jerome refers also to the tradition mentioned under ( γ ) above, and says, “ Reperit (( Pantænus )) in India Bartholomæum de duodecim Apostolis adventum Domini nostri Jesu Christi juxta Matthæi Evangelium prædicasse, quod, Hebraicis literis scriptum, revertens Alexandriam secum detulit ” (De Viris Illustr. 36, vol. ii. p. 876).

( θ ) Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Isidorus Hispalensis, Theophylact, Euthymius, and others, assert the same.

B. Those who maintain a GREEK original, rest principally on the internal evidence furnished by the Gospel itself. But they also demur to the sufficiency of the external evidence above cited . They object,

I. ( ι ) That the testimony of Papias, on which much of this evidence rests, is unsatisfactory, as having proceeded from a man of weak judgment.

( κ ) That there appears to have been some confusion between the (supposed) Hebrew original of St. Matthew, and the heretical ‘Gospel according to the Hebrews.’ Jerome, de Viris Illustr. 3, says (see above, ( η )) that he had seen the Hebrew original of Matthew at Berœa by favour of the Nazarenes, and had copied it. But further, in his Commentary on Matthew 12:13 , vol. vii. p. 77, he says, “ In Evangelio quo utuntur Nazaræi et Hebionitæ, quod nuper in Græcum de Hebræo sermone transtulimus, et quod vocatur a plerisque Matthæi authenticum ,” &c. And the Commentary on Matthew was written some years after his treatise De Viris Illustr. Again, still later, Dialog. adv. Pelagianos, lib. iii. 2, vol. ii. p. 782: “ In Evangelio juxta Hebræos, quod Chaldaico quidem Syroque sermone, sed Hebraicis literis conscriptum est, quo utuntur usque hodie Nazareni, secundum Apostolos, sive ut plerique autumant, juxta Matthæum, quod et in Cæsariensi habetur bibliotheca, narrat historia ” (then follows an apocryphal anecdote).

Now let these notices be compared with his assertion above, that the Hebrew original of Matthew related “ superliminare templi miræ magnitudinis corruisse ,” and it will appear,

1. That Jerome once believed the Hebrew MS. in the Cæsarean library to be the original Gospel of St. Matthew.

2. That he believed this original to be different from our present Greek Gospel: for he quotes from it things not found there.

3. That in subsequent years he modified his opinion that this document was the original Hebrew text of St. Matthew, and took refuge under “ quod vocatur a plerisque ,” and “ secundum Apostolos, sive ut plerique autumant ,” &c.

( λ ) Light is thrown on this uncertainty by the assertion of Epiphanius (above, ( ζ )), which clearly shews that he was misled by the Nazarenes and Ebionites to believe their Gospel to be the genuine Gospel of Matthew.

II. But the advocates of the Greek original rest mainly on the phænomena of the Gospel itself . They maintain,

( μ ) That the present Greek text stands on precisely the same footing as that of the other Gospels: is cited as early, and as constantly as they are.

( ν ) That the hypothesis of a translation from the Hebrew altogether fails to account for the identity observable in certain parts of the text of the three synoptic Gospels. For the translator must either have been acquainted with the other two Gospels, in which case it is inconceivable that in the midst of the present coincidences in many passages, such divergences should have occurred, or unacquainted with them, in which case the identity itself would be altogether inexplicable.

( ξ ) A further observation of the coincidences and divergences is said to confirm the view of a Greek original. The synoptic Gospels mainly coincide in the discourses and words of our Lord , but diverge in their narrative portions; and while verbal identity is found principally in the former, the latter present the phænomena either of independent translations from the same original, or of independent histories.

( ο ) Again, whereas the Evangelists themselves, in citing the O.T., usually quote from the Hebrew text, our Lord in His discourses almost uniformly quotes the Septuagint, even where it differs from the Hebrew. This is urged as tending to establish the Greek original of St. Matthew: for if the Gospel were really written in Hebrew for the use of Jews, it is not conceivable that the citations would be given in any but the Hebrew text: and equally inconceivable that the translator would have rendered them into the language of the LXX in our Lord’s discourses, while he retained the Hebrew readings in the narrative.

( π ) But the same fact would also tend to establish that our Lord spoke usually in Greek , [14] that Greek was the language commonly used and generally understood by the Jews of Palestine, and consequently, that the composition of a Hebrew Gospel for the early Judæo-Christians would be unnecessary, and in the last degree improbable.

[14] This has been maintained (by the late Duke of Manchester) in ‘A Chapter on the Harmonizing Gospels,’ printed at the University Press, Dublin, 1854. See also Hug, Einleitung, Exodus 4:0 , vol. ii. pp. 27 49, on the ordinary language of Palestine when Matthew wrote his Gospel: and Discussions on the Gospels, by Alexander Roberts, D.D., 2nd edn. pp. 26 316; and on the general subject of this section, ib. pp. 319 448.

C. ( ρ ) It would exceed the limits of these Prolegomena to argue the question at length. I can only state my own judgment on the point in debate. In the first edition of this work, I acceded to what appeared to me the irresistible weight of testimony of antiquity. But I have since then studied very closely the text itself, especially with reference to its revision in those passages which find parallels in the other Gospels: and I am bound to say that my view of the Hebrew origin is much shaken.

( σ ) Besides which, it certainly appears to me, that the testimonies of Epiphanius and Jerome go to shew that they believed the so-called Gospel to the Hebrews TO BE THE VERITABLE ORIGINAL of St. Matthew: that so believing , Jerome copied and translated it, and quoted from it: but subsequently found reason to doubt this, and gradually modified his former assertions. Strange as this may be, I do not see how we can deny it as the result of combining the above extracts from his writings.

( τ ) On the whole, then, I find myself constrained to abandon the view maintained in my first edition, and to adopt that of a Greek original.

( ν ) We thus have to consider the first Gospel on the same ground, and to judge it by the same rules, as the second and third Gospels.



1. The statements in several of the testimonies above cited, shew the prevalence of a general opinion that Matthew originally drew up his Gospel for the use of the Jewish converts in Palestine. And internal notices tend to confirm this inference. We have fewer interpretations of Jewish customs, laws, and localities, than in the two other Gospels. The whole narrative proceeds more upon a Jewish view of matters, and is concerned more to establish that point, which to a Jewish convert would be most important, that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament . Hence the commencement of His genealogy from Abraham and David; hence the frequent notice of the necessity of this or that event happening because it was so foretold by the Prophets; hence the constant opposition of our Lord’s spiritually ethical teaching to the carnal formalistic ethics of the Scribes and Pharisees.

2. But we must not think of the Gospel as a systematic treatise drawn up with this end continually in view. It only exercised a very general and indirect influence over the composition, not excluding narratives, sayings, and remarks which had no such tendency, or even partook of an opposite one.

3. Grecian readers were certainly also in the view of the Apostle; and in consequence, he adds interpretations and explanations, such e.g. as ch. Matthew 1:23 ; Matthew 27:8 ; Matthew 27:33 ; Matthew 27:46 , for their information.

4. In furtherance of the design above mentioned, we may discern (with the caution given in 2) a more frequent and consistent reference to the Lord as a King , and to his Messianic kingdom, than in the other Gospels. Designing these Prolegomena not as a complete Introduction to the Gospels, but merely as subsidiary to the following Commentary, I purposely do not give instances of these characteristics, but leave them to be gathered by the student as he proceeds.



The testimony of the early Church is unanimous, that Matthew wrote first among the Evangelists. Clement of Alexandria, who dissented from the present order of our Gospels, yet placed those of Matthew and Luke first: προγεγράφθαι ἔλεγε τῶν εὐαγγελίων τὰ περιέχοντα τὰς γενεαλογίας (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. vi. 14). Origen’s testimony see above (§ ii. 1, δ ). And Irenæus (see above, ibid. β ) relates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the Church in Rome [15] . Without adopting this statement, we may remark that it represents a date, to which internal chronological notices are not repugnant. It seems, from ch. Matthew 27:8 , and Matthew 28:15 , that some considerable time had elapsed since the events narrated; while, from the omission of all mention of the destruction of Jerusalem, it would appear that the Gospel was published before that event. All these marks of time are, however, exceedingly vague, especially when other notices are taken into account, which place the Gospel eight years after the Ascension (Theophyl. and Euthym [16] ); fifteen years after the Ascension (Niceph. Hist. Eccl. ii. 45): at the time of the stoning of Stephen (Cosmas Indicopleustes, Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. iv. 5).

[15] The Edinburgh Reviewer blames it in me as an instance of carelessness, that I have here combined a passage relating to the existing Greek Gospel, with one referring to the hypothetical Hebrew one. But I own I am unable to see why the view of the early Church, as to a matter of date , may not be gathered from both, irrespective of the question of a Hebrew or Greek original.

[16] Euthymius Zigabenus, 1116



1. The Gospel of Matthew is written in the same form of diction which pervades the other Gospels, the Hebraistic or Hellenistic Greek. This dialect resulted from the dispersion of the Greek language by the conquests of Alexander, and more especially from the intercourse of Jews with Greeks in the city of Alexandria. It is that of the LXX version of the Old Testament; of the apocryphal books; and of the writings of and Josephus. In these two latter, however, it is not so marked, as in versions from the Hebrew, or books aiming at a Hebraistic character.

2. Of the three Gospels, that of Matthew presents the most complete example of the Hebraistic diction and construction, with perhaps the exception of the first chapter of Luke. And from what has been above said respecting its design, this would naturally be the case.

3. The internal character of this Gospel also answers to what we know of the history and time of its compilation. Its marks of chronological sequence are very vague, and many of them are hardly perhaps to be insisted on at all. When compared with the more definite notices of Mark and Luke, its order of events is sometimes superseded by theirs. It was to be expected, in the earliest written accounts of matters so important, that the object should rather be to record the things done , and the sayings of our Lord, than the precise order in which they took place.

4. It is in this principal duty of an Evangelist that Matthew stands pre-eminent; and especially in the report of the longer discourses of our Lord. It was within the limits of his purpose in writing, to include all the descriptions of the state and hopes of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven which Jesus gave during His ministry. This seems to have been the peculiar gift of the Spirit to him, to recall and deliver down, in their strictest verbal connexion, such discourses as the Sermon on the Mount, ch. 5 7; the apostolic commission, ch. 10; the discourse concerning John, ch. 11; that on blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, ch. 12; the series of parables, ch. 13; that to the Apostles on their divisions, ch. 18; and in their fulness, the whole series of polemical discourses and prophetic parables in ch. 21 25.

5. It has been my endeavour in the following Commentary, to point out the close internal connexion of the longer discourses, and to combat the mistake of those critics who suppose them to be no more than collections of shorter sayings associated together from similarity of subject or character.

6. On the connexion between the Epistle of James and some parts of this Gospel, see the Prolegomena to that Epistle, § iv. 2, note.