Book Overview - Matthew
by Philip Schaff
This Commentary aims to present, in an evangelical catholic spirit and in popular form, the best results of the latest Biblical scholarship for the instruction of the English reader of the Word of God. It embraces the authorized version, marginal emendations, brief introductions, and explanatory notes on all difficult passages, together with maps and illustrations of Bible-lands and Bible-scenes derived from photographs and apt to facilitate the understanding of the text. Four volumes will complete the New Testament.
The work has, I may say, an international and interdenominational character. It is the joint product of experienced and well known British and American scholars who have made the Bible their life-study. It will be published by Messrs. Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York, and Messrs. T. & T. Clark in Edinburgh. The maps of ancient Palestine and Jerusalem were prepared under the supervision of Professor Arnold Guyot, of Princeton. A map of modern Palestine with the improvements of the latest researches, and missionary maps of the Apostolic age, by the same competent hand, will appear in the next volume. The material for the pictorial illustrations is furnished by the Rev. Dr. W. M. Thomson and Dr. W. H. Thomson, who from long residence in the East are perfectly at home in ‘The Land and the Book.’
The last twenty years have been unusually prolific in Commentaries, critical and popular. One seems only to create a demand for another. The Bible is of such universal and perennial interest that it will call forth comments and sermons without number, to the end of time. This of itself is sufficient evidence of its divine origin and character. It is now more extensively studied than ever before, and goes on conquering and to conquer in the face of all enemies. It is inexhaustible. It never grows old, but increases in interest and value as time flows on. Human books have their day, but ‘the Word of the Lord endureth forever.’
NEW YORK, November, 1878.
I. GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Christ wrote nothing; but is Himself the book of life to be read by all. The human heart does not crave a learned, literary Christ, but a wonder working, sympathizing, atoning. Redeemer, risen and ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and ruling the world for the good of His kingdom. Such an One is Himself written on men’s hearts, and thus furnishes an inexhaustible theme of holy thoughts, discourses, and songs of praise. So, too, the Lord chose none of His Apostles, Paul excepted, from among the learned; He did not train them to literary authorship, nor expressly command them to perform such labor. They were to preach the glad tidings of salvation.
Personal oral teaching was the means used for first propagating the Gospel and founding the Church; as, in fact, the preached word is today the indispensable instrumentality. No book of the New Testament was written until at least twenty years after the resurrection of Christ, and more than half a century had passed before John wrote the fourth Gospel.
As the Church extended, the field became too large for the personal attention of the Apostles, and exigencies arose which demanded epistolary correspondence. The Epistles were first in order of time, although they assumed an acquaintance with the leading facts of the life of Christ, which had already been communicated by oral instruction. The vital interests of Christianity, as well as the wants of coming generations, demanded also a faithful record of the life and teachings of Christ, by perfectly trustworthy witnesses. For oral tradition, among fallible men, is subject to so many accidental changes, that it loses in certainty and credibility as its distance from the fountain head increases, till at last it can no longer be clearly distinguished from the additions and corruptions collected upon it. Some have even asserted that such changes had already taken place when our Gospels were written. But the eye-witnesses were still alive, and, besides, no people could preserve oral tradition with more literal accuracy than those of Jewish origin, since the method of instruction in vogue among them involved careful memorizing. Our Gospels were not written too late for accuracy, but they were none too early to guard against error, for there was already danger of a wilful distortion of the history and doctrine of Christianity by Judaizing and paganizing errorists. An authentic written record of the words and acts of Jesus and his disciples was therefore absolutely indispensable, to maintain the Church already founded, and to keep Christianity pure. Such records were to be expected, since the Old Covenant was committed to writing. And as the Living Word had come, the existence of a written Word, telling the story, would best accord with the character of Him who is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ This written word exists in twenty-seven books by Apostles and Apostolic men, written under the special direction of the Holy Ghost.
They were all written in Hellenistic Greek (unless the Gospel according to Matthew be an exception; see § 10), i.e. in that idiom of Macedonian Greek spoken by the Jews of the Dispersion (called Hellenists) at the time of Christ. It was a living language, expressing Jewish ideas in Greek words, thus uniting, in a regenerated Christian form, the two great antagonistic nationalities and religions of the ancient world. The most beautiful language of heathendom and the venerable language of the Jews are here combined, baptized with the spirit of Christianity, and made the picture of silver for the golden apple of the eternal truth of the Gospel. The style is singularly adapted to men of every class and grade of culture, affording the child simple nourishment for its religious wants, and the profoundest thinker inexhaustible matter of study. It is the Book for all, as it is the revelation of the God of all.
§ 3. The New Testament Canon.
Few books, besides those in the New Testament, were written in the apostolic age. But during the second and third centuries numerous Apocryphal works appeared. While none of them claim to be ‘Gospels,’ in the full sense, we must still ask: Have we all the books and only those books which were written by inspired men as authoritative documents in regard to the truths of Christianity? This question is readily answered in the affirmative. The collection of the various writings into a canon was the business of the early Church. Not that the Church made the canon, or authoritatively decided what books were canonical; for the earlier synods and councils took no action on the subject. The synod of Laodicea, which is supposed by many to have settled the canon, was merely provincial. The later assemblies only declared what books were received. Indeed, the question is one of fact, not of dogma. Still we have good reason for believing that the Church was guided by the Spirit of God in making the collection, for He who prepared such a book would provide for its purity. And this belief is supported by external and internal evidence.
There is evidence that the collection was begun, on the model of the Old Testament Canon, in the first century; and the principal books, the Gospels, the Acts, the thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of Peter, and the first of John, in a body, were in general use in the second century, and were read, either entire or by sections, in public worship, after the manner of the Jewish synagogue, for the edification of the people.
All the doubts in regard to certain books have arisen from the scrupulous care of the early Church. Few writers of the first four centuries allude to any books as canonical, which are not contained in the New Testament as we have it. The mass of literature rejected as either apocryphal or merely human, though orthodox and genuine, proves that the early Christians were not lacking in the critical discernment needed for this task.
Historical evidence establishes the fact that the twenty-seven books now, in all cases, constituting the New Testament, were reckoned parts of it so far back as the fourth century; that while there were doubts in the beginning of that century as regards seven of the books, the testimony in favor of their place in the Canon is preponderant, that in favor of the others being well-nigh unanimous, during the interval between the beginning of the fourth century and periods immediately following the dates at which they were respectively written,
The present unanimity, long continued as it is, presents of itself strong evidence. A few individual scholars have doubted the canonicalness of some of the books, and the reasons for their doing so can readily be discovered. Luther, for example, placed at the end of his translation of the New Testament the Epistles of the Hebrews, of James, and Jude, and the Book of the Revelation, saying, they had not originally been so highly regarded as the others. His hostility to the Epistle of James arose from the apparent disagreement with his doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Lutheran Church, however, never denied these books a place in the Canon.
None of these books can be regarded as canonical works of a secondary grade (deutero-canonical), for the Bible, as a Divine-human book, unique in its character and inspiration (see § 4), cannot embrace any parts of this description.
Those fathers of the fourth century who enumerate the books concur in accepting all those and only those which now constitute the New Testament. Among these, Rufinus, Jerome, Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, may be named. It should be added, however, that allusions are made to doubts: in the Eastern Church as respects the Book of Revelation; in the Western Church, the Epistle to the Hebrews. These doubts ceased after the third Council of Carthage (A. D. 397).
Eusebius of Caesarea accepts twenty-one books, throwing doubt upon the other six, five Catholic Epistles and the Book of Revelation. The Epistle to the Hebrews was little doubted in the Eastern Church. Without citing the passage from Eusebius, or enumerating the other early authors who either do not mention, or cast doubt upon, these books, we may remark that in each case good reasons can be assigned for the doubts and omissions (see Special Introduction to the several books). The existence of such doubts shows the caution of the Church. In view of this caution we are abundantly justified in laying down the principle, that books are not to be rejected, because their canonicalness has been impugned, but if the existence of such doubts can be satisfactorily accounted for, we should accept every book for which the evidence is greatly preponderating. The insertion of a book differs from the insertion of a word or clause, and is to be discussed upon principles which differ from those of strictly textual criticism.
In all fairness the evidence in favor of the least supported book is to be regarded as preponderant. It exceeds that in favor of the genuineness of the very writings which record the doubts, and also of the Greek and Latin classics which no one rejects. In regard to the more important books, the evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive. They are proven genuine, and as such have been received into the canon of the New Testament.
§ 4. The Character of the New Testament
A book purporting to be written by a Christian author might be universally regarded as genuine and yet not be entitled to a place in the Canon of the New Testament. There must be something else in its character to warrant insertion there. A book could only be entitled to a place in the New Testament Canon, which was regarded by Christians as sacred, authoritative, and inspired, just as the canonical books of the Old Testament were regarded by Jews and Christians alike.
‘It is written,’ ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ ‘God spake by the mouth of his holy prophet:’ such are the formulas of citation from the Old Testament, used by Christians, by Christ Himself. The record of Him who was Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, could not be less highly esteemed. Whatever of inspiration Christ recognized in the sacred books of the Jews, we must a fortiori recognize in the books of the New Testament, or deny their place in the Canon. Our Lord’s own words predict such an inspiration, and the volume itself abundantly evidences it.
The Apostles all drew their doctrine from personal contact with the divine-human history of the crucified and risen Saviour, and from the inward illumination of the Holy Ghost, revealing the person and work of Christ in them, and opening to them His discourses and acts. This divine enlightenment is inspiration, governing not only the composition of the sacred writings, but also the oral instructions of their authors; not merely an act, but a permanent state. The Apostles lived and moved continually in the element of truth. They spoke, wrote, and acted from the Spirit of truth; and this, not as passive instruments, but as conscious and free agents. For the Holy Ghost does not supersede the gifts and peculiarities of nature, ordained by the Lord; it sanctifies them to the service of the kingdom of God. Inspiration, however, is concerned only with moral and religious truths, and the communication of what is necessary to salvation. Incidental matters of geography, history, archaeology, and of mere personal interest, can be regarded as directed by inspiration only so far as they really affect religious truth.
The New Testament presents, in its way, the same union of the divine and human natures, as the person of Christ. In this sense also ‘the Word was made flesh and dwells among us.’ The Bible is thoroughly human (though without error) in contents and form, in the mode of its rise, its compilation, its preservation, and transmission; yet at the same time thoroughly divine both in its thoughts and words, in its origin, vitality, energy, and effect; and beneath the human servant-form of the letter the eye of faith discerns ‘the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’
It is therefore to be studied, carefully and with the help of all the light which human learning can shed upon it, for it is a human book; but also and chiefly in a devout manner under the illuminating influence of the same Spirit who inspired its authors; for it is a Divine book. That Spirit is promised to the prayerful reader, and without that help, the study will only be that of the ‘natural man ‘ who ‘receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’
§ 5. Organic Arrangement of the New Testament.
1. While the New Testament forms one harmonious whole, it was written by different men, inspired indeed, and yet free and conscious agents. The peculiar character, education, and sphere of the several writers therefore necessarily show themselves in their writings. The truth of the gospel, in itself infinite, can adapt itself to every class, every temperament, every order of talent, and every habit of thought. Like the light of the sun, it breaks into various colors according to the nature of the bodies on which it falls; like the jewel, it emits a new radiance at every turn. The harmony will appear more fully as we recognize the minor differences; the fulness of the truth will be manifest as we discover the various types of Apostolic teaching.
These types result mainly from the historical antithesis between Jewish and Gentile Christians. We read of Apostles of the circumcision, and Apostles of the un-circumcision. The former represented the historical, traditional, conservative principle; the latter, the principle of freedom, independence, and progress. Subordinate differences of temperament, style, etc., have also been noticed. James has been distinguished as the Apostle of the law; Peter as the Apostle of hope; Paul as the Apostle of faith; and John as the Apostle of love. The four Gospels also present similar differences; the first having close affinity to the position of James, the second to that of Peter, the third to that of Paul, the fourth being the work of John himself
The books of the New Testament may be arranged according to the three types of doctrine.
(1.) The Jewish-Christian type, embracing the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (and to some extent the Revelation of John). These, originally designed mainly, though not exclusively, for Jewish-Christian readers, exhibit Christianity in its unity with the Old Testament, as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.
(2.) The Gentile-Christian type, embracing the writings of Paul, the third Gospel, and the book of the Acts (written by his disciple Luke), and the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is anonymous, but written either by Paul himself or one of his immediate disciples. Here Christianity is apprehended in its absolute and universal character, justification is emphasized in opposition to Judaistic legalism, and the creative power of divine grace, producing life and freedom, constantly placed in the foreground.
(3.) The perfect unity of Jewish and Gentile Christianity meets us in the writings of John, in his doctrines of the absolute love of God in the incarnation of the Eternal Logos, and of brotherly love, resting on this divine foundation. Less logical than Paul, he is more mystical, and speaks from immediate intuition.
These three types of doctrine together exhibit Christianity in the whole fulness of its life; they form the theme for the variations of the succeeding ages of the Church. But Christ is the key-note, harmonizing all the discords and resolving all the mysteries of the history of His kingdom.
2. Accordingly we may properly speak of a progress of doctrine in the New Testament. The great facts of salvation are recorded in the Gospels. But during the life of our Lord the full significance of these facts could not be known. Nor could a brief story of the events themselves contain the applications of the great facts without losing to a great extent its historical character. Hence, the Epistles were needed to explain the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and the writers of them were better fitted to explain them when they wrote than during the presence of our Lord on earth. Indeed, the book of Acts (chap. 10, 11.) notably asserts an enlargement of Peter’s apprehension of the scope of Christianity. (Comp. chap. 15) To learn the full meaning of the gospel the whole New Testament must be studied in the relation of its parts, even as the whole was written for our learning. This is the more necessary, since the Epistles were, for the most part, written before the Gospels. They, however, assumed a knowledge of gospel facts, the meaning of which they explain. The Gospels, on the other hand, may be said to assume the existence of the explanatory Epistles already written.
3. The usual division of the books is: Historical (the four Gospels and Acts), Doctrinal (all the Epistles), Prophetical (the Book of the Revelation). It should be remarked that the Book of Acts was originally included among the Epistles. It forms a transition from the historical to the doctrinal books, giving the historical basis for the Epistles, by narrating the foundation of the Church by the Apostles. The three classes of books are related to each other, as regeneration, sanctification, and glorification; as foundation, house, and dome. Jesus Christ is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all. In the Gospels He walks in human form upon the earth, accomplishing the work of redemption. In the Acts and Epistles he founds the Church, and fills and guides it by His Spirit. And, at last, in the visions of the Apocalypse, He comes again in glory, and with his bride reigns forever upon the new earth and in the city of God.
4. Chronological Order of the Books. This cannot be determined with absolute certainty. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was probably written first (A. D. 53), the writings of John were composed last, viz., towards the close of the century. The date of the Synoptic Gospels cannot be fixed, except in the case of Luke, which there is good reason for believing was written A. D. 60-62. Matthew and Mark probably did not appear much earlier (see § 9).
For all practical purposes, the following classification is sufficient:—
A. D, 53-58, first series of Pauline Epistles: 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans.
A. D. 61-64, second series of Pauline Epistles: Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, Philippians; probably Hebrews.
A. D. 60-70, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Epistles of James, and 1 Peter.
Uncertain date, but before 67: The Pastoral Epistles (2 Timothy written last) 2 Peter, Jude.
A. D. 70-100, probably late in the century: Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Apocalypse.
§ 6. Preservation of the Text of the New Testament.
The original manuscripts of the various books of the New Testament have all been lost. The ancient Fathers contain scarcely an allusion to them. They were written on frail and perishable materials. The possession of them might have spared much labor, but a superstitious adoration of them and a relaxing of zeal, research, and investigation, would doubtless have been the consequence. The text was of course exposed to variations and corruptions from the ignorance, carelessness, or caprice of transcribers. All the results of learning show, however incontestably, that, while many words, clauses, and verses, and a few paragraphs are of doubtful genuineness, as a whole, the Greek text of the New Testament is in a far better condition than that of any ancient work, the Hebrew Scriptures excepted.
The science which investigates this subject is called Biblical Criticism. It has been pursued by men of all shades of belief and of no belief. They have attempted to discover the precise words of the New Testament, as originally written, or, in other words, to secure a pure and entire text; pure, in containing no word or letter not belonging there; entire, in containing every such word and letter in its proper place. The labor bestowed upon these investigations has been immense; it has been conducted upon approved principles, and in an unbiased manner. The result has been a triumph for Christianity.
In arriving at its conclusions, N. T. criticism avails itself of certain sources of information, termed, in general, authorities. As the notes in this commentary refer to these authorities, it may be well to enumerate them.
I. ANCIENT MANUSCRIPT COPIES of the New Testament (or parts of it) are about 1600 in number. This enumeration not only includes all the fragments, but is based on a division of the New Testament into four parts (indicated below), so that a manuscript containing the whole New Testament is reckoned four times. A few were written as early as the fourth and fifth century, others are but little older than the earliest printed copies. Some contain the whole Bible, others the New Testament alone, and some only a small part of the latter. The Gospels are found in the greatest number of copies; next in frequency rank the Pauline Epistles, then the Catholic Epistles and Acts, while the Revelation is found in fewest.
These manuscripts are distinguished as uncial and cursive, according to the mode of writing. The letters in those of the former class are square, perpendicular, and of a large size; while the latter class are written in a running hand (hence cursive). The uncial MSS. are older and more valuable, but of course fewer in number. Two are as old as the fourth century, but some only date back to the close of the ninth century. For convenience in reference, the capital letters of the Roman and Greek alphabets are used to designate the uncial manuscripts; the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet has been brought into requisition to meet a special case (the Codex Sinaiticus). The cursives are designated by Arabic numerals (and also by small letters). The fourfold division, indicated above, has resulted in a fourfold enumeration; so that while I refers to the same manuscript throughout the New Testament (excluding the Apocalypse), with three exceptions, every other manuscript containing more than one part, has a different number for each part. For example, one of the best cursives Isaiah 33 for the Gospels, 13 for the Acts and Catholic Epistles, 17 for the Pauline Epistles. Another excellent cursive is not only numbered four times (69, 31, 37, 14), but cited by Scrivener, as ‘m’ for Acts and Epistles, ‘f’ for the Apocalypse. Few of the cursives have any independent value, but are very useful in showing the origin and history of variations, and in aiding us to decide where the testimony of the older MSS. is divided. The number of uncial manuscripts, including fragments, does not exceed sixty, but if they are reckoned according to the fourfold division, and over sixty lectionaries added, the sum total amounts to 154.
Fifty-six uncials contain the Gospels, in whole or in part; fourteen the Acts; six the Catholic Epistles; fifteen the Pauline Epistles; five the Apocalypse. Scarcely one third are complete, however, except in the case of the Catholic Epistles and Apocalypse.
Two belong to the fourth century, one entire, the other nearly so, two, both comparatively perfect, with some fragments, to the fifth century. Seven with many fragments belong to the sixth century. Small as these numbers are, it will be found that the material is very great, when compared with that on which the text of the Greek and Latin classical authors rests.
The two oldest manuscripts, which are most valuable in determining the text, were not available until a few years ago; one (the Sinaitic) was discovered in 1859, the other (the Vatican), though known before, was almost inaccessible, until 1868. The number of doubtful passages has been greatly diminished, since it has been possible to use these two authorities for critical purposes. It may safely be said that since 1859 more progress has been made in determining the words of the New Testament, more unity of opinion among scholars secured, than during all the centuries since the days of Jerome. We add a sketch of the five most ancient MSS. designated respectively N, B, A, C, D.
H (Aleph). Codex Sinaiticus. The most entire (and probably the most ancient) manuscript. It was discovered by Tischendorf in 1859, at the Convent of St. Catherine, near Mount Sinai; hence the name. It is now at St. Petersburg, the monks having been persuaded to sell it to the Russian Emperor as protector of the Greek Church. No other MS. was so speedily applied to critical purposes. At first Tischendorf thought it was written in the first half of the fourth century; afterward he placed it about the middle of that century. While of itself it would not establish a reading, yet there were a great number of passages where the authorities had been so evenly balanced, that the discovery of a new witness was sufficient to remove the doubts.
B. Codex Vaticanus. This is also of the fourth century, possibly written by one of the scribes employed on N. It is in the Vatican Library at Rome. Not so complete as N, it still seems to be more correct. Its value for critical purposes was well-nigh neutralized by the jealous guardianship of the Papal government. The citations made previous to 1868, when the facsimile edition was issued, are not always trustworthy. B in the Apocalypse refers to another Vatican manuscript.
A. Codex Alexandrinus. So called because it was brought from Alexandria by Cyril Lucar, patriarch, first of Alexandria, then of Constantinople, and by him presented to Charles I. of England (1628). It is now in the British Museum. It is defective, and carelessly written, so that while it is third in age (probably of the fifth century), it is far from being of equal value with N and B. From its location, however, whatever value it has became the common possession of scholars.
C. Codex Ephraemi Syri. The name is derived from the fact that some of the works of Ephraem the Syrian were written over the original contents. It is of the fifth century, and now in the Library at Paris. More than one third is wanting. It is not preserved with sufficient care.
D. Codex Beza; so called because the Reformer Beza first procured it from the monastery of St. Irenæus at Lyons. He possessed it about twenty years, and then presented it, in 1581, to the University of Cambridge in England, where it is now in a good state of preservation. It dates from the sixth century, but contains only the Gospels and Acts in Greek and Latin.
These five manuscripts, excepting D, are in Greek alone; some of the others contain Latin versions also, as for example Δ of the Gospels, D of the Pauline Epistles (sixth century).
It is difficult to arrange the other uncial manuscripts in order of value, nor is it important for our present purpose. If however N, B, A, C agree in support of a reading, their testimony ordinarily outweighs that of all the others, uncials and cursives. If these authorities are sustained by 1 and 33 among the cursives, it is difficult to defend another reading, even though supported by all other authorities and by internal probability.
It might be supposed that these copies were sufficient to establish the correct text. They certainly do show the general accuracy with which the New Testament was copied. But as in the centuries from the date of the oldest copy slight changes crept in, which can be traced by a comparison of the manuscripts, we infer that similar changes took place during the interval between the fourth century and the date at which the various books were written. Such changes are alluded to by the early Christian writers. The object of criticism is to obtain a more perfect text than that of the oldest manuscripts; and much progress has been made in doing so, by means of all authorities extant.
II. ANCIENT VERSIONS.—These are valuable for determining the exact text, in proportion to their age, the immediacy of the translation (i.e., when made directly from the Greek), their literalness, and the close affinity of the language they use to the Greek. Hence the most important versions are the Syriac and the Latin. The former are the oldest, the latter very ancient, and most closely allied in language to the original. The ancient Syriac versions are four in number, two of them fragmentary. The oldest is the Peshito, probably made in the second century. It omits five smaller books of the N. T., which some have supposed were not in general circulation so early. It is not slavishly literal, but evidently was made from an accurate copy of the original. A manuscript (of the fifth century), discovered by Dr. Cureton in the British Museum, supposed by some to contain a more ancient version, probably presents a form of the Peshito, older than that preserved elsewhere. The Philoxenian version was made at the beginning of the sixth century, under the auspices of Philoxenus, Bishop of Hierapolis in Syria. It is very literal, but its value is lessened by the poor condition of its text. It omits the Apocalypse. The Jerusalem-Syriac version, found in a manuscript in the Vatican, is of the fifth century. It is confined to the Gospels.
The other known Oriental versions are the Coptic, Thebaic, and Bashmuric (all Egyptian); the Ethiopic, the Armenian (all five ancient), the Persian, Arabic, and Georgian (these are not from the original).
Latin Versions. There is some dispute about the earliest version in this language. It would appear, however, that one was made in Africa in the second century; that this underwent changes in the course of centuries, so as to produce the impression in the days of Augustine and Jerome, that several had been made. The form of this version used in Northern Italy was called the Itala, by Augustine. We have many remains of this ancient version, and they are exceedingly valuable, far more so than the mass of the later Greek manuscripts. The best known Latin version is the Vulgate. This was originally in the main a revision by Jerome of the older version. But it has been re-revised from the days of Charlemagne to the time of Pope Clement VIII. (1592). The authorized edition of the Roman Catholic Church, of the last named date, differs from another authorized edition of 1590, and both editions vary from the original Vulgate. Great efforts have been made by scholars to discover the exact text of the latter, since this is the most valuable help in criticism which can be obtained from versions. A large number of manuscripts of the Vulgate exist; the oldest, called Codex Amiatinus, dates back to A. D. 541, nearer the time of Jerome than our most ancient Greek manuscripts are to the Apostolic age.
The other Western versions are the Gothic (fourth century, literal and valuable), made by Ulfilas, and the Slavonic (ninth century, of no special value).
III. FATHERS.—Much help is derived from the works of the early fathers, especially from commentaries in which the Greek text is quoted. The mass of doctrinal and homiletical works are of little critical value. Among the Greek fathers whose writings are valuable in this department, we mention: Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Eusebius, Athanasius, CEcumenius, and Theophylact (the last two belong to the eleventh century, but are very useful). Many Latin fathers are valuable for establishing the text of the old Latin version, but for the Greek, Jerome (d. 419) is worth all the rest; next to him rank Tertullian (d. 220) and Augustine (d. 430).
In using these authorities and determining the text, critics are governed by certain general rules deduced from the habits of transcribers and the laws of human nature. Griesbach, a German editor of the New Testament, has given the best statement of these rules, but in the application of them to special cases the judgment of scholars necessarily differs. Very often reasons can be drawn from the context and from the passage itself, for or against certain readings. These are termed internal grounds. Then, too, the origin of the readings deemed inaccurate must be accounted for, and this affects the evidence very often. In discussing the text of the classical authors scholars often make conjectural alterations, i.e., change words into what they suppose the author wrote. This is not allowed in N. T. criticism. Nor is it ever necessary, since we have so many authorities and so many variations. There is less guess-work here than in the editions of any other ancient book.
The science of Biblical criticism was scarcely known when the common English version was made. It is well, therefore, to lay before the reader a brief account of the printed text of the Greek Testament, which was used by the translators of that version. The first printed edition of the whole Greek Testament was that contained in the Complutensian Polyglott, prepared at the expense of Cardinal Ximenes (1514-1519), but not published until 1522, when the Pope gave his permission. No old MSS. were used in preparing this edition. Erasmus hastily prepared an edition for the press, which was published in 1516, before the Complutensian appeared. The last editions of Erasmus (1527, 1535) were compared with the Complutensian, but no MSS. older than the tenth century were used. Then followed the editions of Robert Stephens of Paris. The first (1546), and second (1549), are called Mirificœ, from the first word of the preface; the third (1550), called Regia, follows the fifth edition of Erasmus very closely, but Stephens used a number of good MSS. in preparing it. Beza’s editions are dated respectively, 1559, 1565, 1582, 1589,1598. From the edition of 1589, and the third edition of Stephens 1550, the translation of our present English Bible was chiefly but not invariably taken. ‘Beza was a better commentator than critic, but had good materials for his work. The Elzevir editions are the work of an unknown editor, who followed Stephens’ Regia very closely. He gives no readings not found in the editions of Stephens and Beza, and probably consulted no Greek MSS. These editions were printed by Elzevir of Leyden; the first (1624) contains the Received Text,—a phrase borrowed from the preface to the second (1633). One hundred years elapsed before a critical edition of the Greek Testament was published. The pioneer was ). A. Bengel, the pious, pithy, and learned commentator. Wetstein largely increased the material. Then followed Griesbach, who may be deemed the founder of the science. Among the latest editors we name Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, Westcott and Hort.
Lachmann marks a new epoch in Biblical criticism. He first carried out the correct principle already suggested by Bentley and Bengel, which aims to substitute for the comparatively late and corrupt textus receptus the oldest attainable text from Nicene and ante-Nicene sources. His resources were defective, but since the discovery of the Sinaitic Bible, and the critical editions of the Vatican and other important MSS., we are enabled to ascertain with a tolerable degree of certainty and growing unanimity, the text which comes nearest to the apostolic original. The number of variations is very great, but the vast majority are isolated errors, analogous to those now termed typographical. Many more at the first glance are recognized as errors and accounted for. In about two thousand places there is room for a difference of opinion.
Of these probably not more than three fourths affect even the shadings of the sense; while those passages where a disputed reading modifies the doctrinal bearing do not exceed one hundred in number. Further, it can confidently be asserted that were all these altered, they would not affect the Scripturalness of any evangelical truth. In fact, the great number of authorities, with all their variations, is the best security for a correct text. The textual critic is likely to be most confident that we have the exact words written by the authors of the N. T. writings.
According to the careful collations of Professor Abbot of Harvard University, the authorized E. V. agrees with Beza (1589) against Stephens (1550) in about 97 passages; with Stephens against Beza in about 47; and in about 67 it differs very immaterially from both. See the details in Schaff’s Revision of the English Version of the Holy Scriptures, New York, 3d ed.,1877, pp. 28-30
II. SPECIAL INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPELS.
§ 7. The Gospels.
1. NAME. The word ‘gospel’ means good news, glad tidings. It is used to translate a Greek word which at first signified a present in return for good tidings, or a sacrifice offered in thanksgiving for good news, then the good news itself. In the New Testament it always means the glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ. The word is now used in this sense; but as applied to the four books of the New Testament, which contain the records of our Lord’s life on earth, it evidently means the writings which contain the glad tidings. The gospel is one, there are four Gospels in the latter sense. These are properly termed the Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, etc., not the Gospel of Matthew, etc. There are four human writings, forming the one Divine record of the gospel. They do not assume to be full biographies of Jesus, but aim to give a selection of the characteristic features of his life and works, for the practical purpose of leading their readers to living faith in Him as the promised Messiah and Saviour of the world. The style is simple, unadorned, and straightforward. Never were histories written so purely historical. The authors, in noble modesty and self-denial, entirely suppress their personal views and feelings, retire in worshipful silence before their great subject, and strive to set it forth in its own power to subdue, without human aid, every truth-loving and penitent heart.
2. DIVISION. The first and fourth Gospels were composed by the Apostles Matthew and John, the second and third, under the influence of Peter and Paul, and by their immediate disciples, Mark and Luke; hence they are likewise of apostolic origin and canonical authority. Postponing to another place a discussion of the peculiarities of each, we here call attention to the most obvious distinction. The first three Gospels, while beginning the history at different points, confine themselves in their accounts of our Lord’s ministry, to events which occurred in Galilee, until the final journey to death at Jerusalem; John specifically mentions the visits to Jerusalem, and tells of His ministry in Judea with some detail. The first three Evangelists are mere historians; they deal mainly in facts, and give the parables and the popular discourses of Christ concerning the kingdom of heaven. The fourth not only claims to be an eye-witness, but interprets, speaking with authority; the discourses of Christ in the fourth Gospel relate mostly to his Person and his relation to the Father; they are more metaphysical and theological, as they were addressed mostly to the leaders of the Jewish hierarchy, the Pharisees. The other three proceed, moreover, on a common outline. Hence they are termed the Synoptic Gospels, their authors the Synoptists.
The fourth Gospel was called very early, the spiritual Gospel (κατα πνεῡμα). Luther says it is ‘the one true, tender, main Gospel’; Ernesti names it, ‘the heart of Christ.’ It is doubtless the sublimest of all literary compositions. Needed by the Church when it was written and ever since, to supplement the Synoptic Gospels, there is no evidence that the Apostle wrote it with such a conscious purpose. Certainly it detracts nothing from their trustworthiness or value. It does not transcend them in their estimate of the Divine character of Christ; nor is it less historical, though more profound. All were needed, all are alike true, alike inspired. ‘And thus the fourth Gospel could not properly compensate either of the other three with us, though, as the Gospel of the full idealization of the real life of Jesus in the perfect, personal life of love, it must evidently stand as the conclusion, the completion, and the crown of the Gospel books’(Lange).
We learn from both the Acts and the Epistles that from the very first the story of Jesus Christ was told by the Christian preachers, was in fact the substance of their message. It is probable that this story, being constantly repeated in public worship and in private circles, took stereotyped form, the more readily, on account of the reverence of the first disciples for every word of their divine Master. This oral tradition was not subject to great changes, since in the absence of books the memory was more accurate, and the Jews were of all people most literally exact in their preservation of words accounted sacred. There is no objection to supposing that this oral tradition was the common basis of the Synoptic Gospels. No doubt written documents in certain parts of our Lord’s history were also used (see Luke 1:1-4). Scholars have puzzled themselves greatly to discover the various component parts of the Synoptic Gospels (see § 9. 1), but generally agree in assuming the existence of this oral tradition. The mistake, too often made, is in supposing that such oral tradition comprised all that was historically accurate, that what each added is of less authority, or in other words, that this oral tradition, could we discover exactly what it was, is more correct and authoritative than our canonical Gospels. This we cannot admit. The analogy of a written Revelation in the Old Testament is against it; the nature of the case does not favor it; the Gospels themselves afford no grounds for it, and to adopt such a view is to give up written records, incomparable in their simplicity and air of truthfulness, and to seek an ignis fatuus. Whatever theory be adopted as to the origin of the Synoptic Gospels, we hold to their truthfulness in their integrity.
§ 8. Harmony and Chronology.
1. HARMONY. The four Gospels being the four representatives of the one gospel, there is a remarkable agreement in substance, while the greatest independence is to be noticed. As however our Lord’s life on earth was one, attempts have been made from the earliest times to construct a harmony, as it is called, i.e., to present all the events recorded by all the Evangelists in strict chronological order, and also to make one fuller account by using all the details mentioned by the several Evangelists when telling of the same event. No such harmony can claim to be infallibly correct. Perhaps the efforts of harmonists have often been injudicious; certainly some of the theories adopted by them have been used with success by the adversaries of our religion.
It should be observed that no one of the Evangelists pretends to give a full history, hence each may have omitted details of which he was well aware. Further, no one of them wrote all that was true, for then four truthful histories could not exist. It would be preposterous to assert this. These two facts dispose of a great mass of objections raised against the details of the Gospels, as involving discrepancies. On the other hand great caution must be exercised