Page images

8. It will be observed that I am now speaking of those sections which our Gospels possess IN COMMON, and witHOUT REFERENCE TO THEIR ORDER. The larger additions, which are due to peculiar sources of information,—the narratives of the same event which have not sprung from a common source,—the different arrangement of the common sections, with all these I am not now concerned.

9. The matter then of those sections I believe to have been this generally-received oral narrative of the Apostles of which I have spoken. Delivered, usually in the same or similar terms, to the catechumens in the various Churches, and becoming the text of instruction for their pastors and teachers, it by degrees underwent those modifications which the various Gospels now present to us. And I am not now speaking of any considerable length of time, such as might suffice to deteriorate and corrupt mere traditional teaching,—but of no more than the transmission through men apostolic or almost apostolic, yet of independent habits of speech and thought,-of an account which remained in substance the same. Let us imagine the modifications which the individual memory, brooding affectionately and reverently over each word and act of our Lord, would introduce into a narrative in relating it variously and under differing circumstances :—the Holy Spirit who brought to their remembrance whatever things He had said to them (John xiv. 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 original text of the Gospels continually brings before the reader instances of both of these. I have given a few of them in a note to this portion of the Introductory matter in my Greek Testament. 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 of its own kind. 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 narrations, 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 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 results of many years' study of the sacred text since it was first published:

That the Three first 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 Matt. viii. 28 ff. precedes a whole course of events which in Mark v. 1 ff. : Luke viii. 26 ff. it follows. Such again is the difference in position between the pair of incidents related Matt. viii. 19—22, and the same pair of incidents found in Luke ix. 57–61. 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

Vol. I.-17]

doubt that the pairs of incidents above cited from St. Matthew and St. 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 (St. Matthew and St. Mark), and formally alluded to by our Lord Himself in connexion. (Matt. xvi. 9, 10. Mark viii. 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 vii. 36 ff., and that at Bethany by Mary the sister of Lazarus, in Matt. xxvi. 6 ff. : Mark xiv. 3 ff. : John xi. 2; xii. 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 Matthew, 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 St. Matthew's discourses to have been mere combinations 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 xi. 37 ff., and the subsequent solemn and public reiteration of them in Jerusalem at the final close of the Lord's ministry in Matt. xxiii. Compare also the parable of the pounds, Luke xix. 11 ff., with that of the talents, Matt. xxv. 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,—St. Matthew, as an Apostle, was himself an eye-witness 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 know19]

b 2

« PreviousContinue »