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not to have discovered this circumstance must imply greater inattention and stupidity than almost any man, and much more a body of men, and a series of writers, can possibly be suspected of. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that the distinct mention of the three passovers which we now find in the Gospel of John would necessarily have precluded any such opinion as that our Lord's public ministry did not continue more than one complete year; whereas, excepting the case of Irenæus only, (who, however, does not pretend to have had this support of his opinion, and whose prejudices may well enough be accounted for,) this was the opinion of all the learned fathers for several centuries. After the time of Irenæus, if not before, the subject was certainly attended to, and even then both Austin and Jerome, two of the most learned men of their time, evidently considered our Lord's public ministry as included within the space of little more than two years.
That even Eusebius, who probably first adopted the hypothesis that has prevailed ever since, had not, however, this reading (on whatever else he might ground his opinion), I still think very probable. For, consistently with this, I do not see how he could maintain, as he does, that the three first evangelists have recorded the actions of our Saviour for one year only, viz. after the imprisonment of John the Baptist; since events that, I believe, all Harmonists refer to periods before this passover, are noticed by the other evangelists as having happened after the imprisonment of John ; and a whole year at least must necessarily have intervened between this passover and that in which our Lord suffered. According to your Lordship's own arrangement of the facts, a very great part of the evangelical history belongs to the time before this passover ; for you make it the third of our Lord's ministry, and you place the imprisonment of John presently after the first passover ; consequently your Lordship’s idea of the distribution of events in the Gospel history is widely different indeed from that of Eusebius. * Nor do I think it possible to form a Harmony agreeable to his idea of all the events recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke falling within one year, and retain this reading.
Having now replied to all your Lordship’s objections to my hypothesis, you will allow me to express my regret that you should have reprobated it without considering all the arguments by which it is supported. I should have been particularly glad to have known in what light several, at least, of the most considerable of them appear to the mind
of a person so ingenuous as your Lordship. I shall take the liberty on this occasion to recall some of them to your Lordship's attention, and I wish that, if you should think proper to reconsider this subject, you would make some observation with respect to them.
If the internal evidence had been all that we could have access to, we must have been obliged to acquiesce in it, and have been content to make the most of it. But it appears to me very extraordinary that, when positive external evidence is actually within our reach, no regard whatever should be paid to it. Now it happens that many of the most respectable of the early Christian writers have given their decisive evidence in favour of our Lord's public ministry having continued only one complete year; and their being ever so fanciful and weak in some things cannot affect their testimony to such a fact as this, which must have been within the knowledge of their immediate predecessors; and their mentioning it without the least doubt or hesitation on the subject, implies that they had no idea of there being any other opinion about it. The earliest writers were certainly the most likely to have the best information concerning this fact; and if any misapprehension should arise about it, it is most likely to have arisen in later ages.
Your Lordship, I observe by the way, dates the first year of our Saviour's ministry by A.D. 30. Now it is, I believe, the unanimous opinion of the ancients, that our Lord was crucified when the Gemini were consuls, which was A.D. 29. If by A.D. your Lordship means not the year of the vulgar era, but the true year of the life of Jesus, besides its being a singular method of notation, it will, I think, involve your Lordship in great difficulties with respect to the received chronology of other capital events of those times.
Neglecting the proper external evidence, I wish your Lordship had attended more particularly to the conduct of Luke compared with itself only. He dates, with remarkable circumstantiality, the beginning of the preaching of John, from which it is almost a certainty that it was A.D. 28, or the fifteenth year of the proper reign of Tiberius, after the death of Augustus ; and, according to the course of his narrative, as all persons must have concluded if no other gospel had been extant, it was in the year immediately following this, that Christ suffered. This, therefore, must have been A.D. 29, the very year in which the Gemini were consuls. Now would he not have prevented this necessary inference, if he had been aware that it was not agreeable to the truth ;
having, according to your idea of his conduct, omitted every pote of time that could possibly distinguish the three or four years which you suppose to have intervened between these events ?
On the hypothesis that I have adopted, his conduct is quite natural ; for he gives a precise date for the preaching of John, but does not give any date for the death of Christ, because, according to his narrative, it evidently happened the year following. Surely he who has dated with so much precision the less important event of the preaching of John, would not have failed to fix the date of the more important event, the death of Christ, if he had not taken it for granted, that it might be easily and certainly inferred from the course of his narrative.
With respect to the omission of any mention of our Lord's attendance at the public feasts of the Jews, which is certainly a difficulty on your Lordship’s hypothesis, you are pleased to say, that “ from his baptism" to the second pass. over, “ Jesus was so employed in the great work of his mi. nistry, that he went not up to Jerusalem at any Jewish feast, except that recorded, John ch. ii.” Now surely he who expressly said, (Matt. iii. 15,) that it became him is to fulfil all righteousness," would not neglect so important a part of the duty of a Jew. And if his ministry lasted, as you suppose, three years and a balf, he had surely time enough to attend to the proper duties of it, without omitting others which were acknowledged to be of universal obligation. Besides, his appearance at the public feasts must have been of particular consequence to the publication of his credentials as the Messiah, and indeed of his preaching in general; because every male Jew was obliged to attend at all those feasts, so that there would have been nobody left in the country with whom he could exercise whatever it is that you mean by “the great work of his ministry," but the women and children, the old and the infirm.
Besides these articles, I hope your Lordship will not fail particularly to consider the extreme improbability of Herod's not being able to distinguish between John and Jesus on the supposition of our Saviour having preached so long as you make him to have done before the death of John, viz. two years and a half, and two whole years of it after his imprisonment,
Your Lordship will also please to attend to the very remarkable omission of all notes of time for so inany years as you suppose to be omitted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and give some attention to the other articles advanced by me in my eighth Section. * But without considering the plan of my Harmony, or the arguments that I have advanced in favour of it, I wish your Lordship would cast your eye deliberately over your own, and consider how very little of the Gospel history you include in the transactions of the first year of our Lord's public ministry. You suppose him to work some miracles, not specified, at Jerusalem, and to discourse with Nicodemus; to make disciples in Judea ; but without specifying either discourses or miracles, in a residence of several months. You farther make him travel through Samaria, cure the nobleman's son at Cana, preach one sabbath at Nazareth, call Simon and Andrew, cure the demoniac at Capernaum, a leper in the neighbouring country, and also a paralytic person, and, finally, to call Matthew to attend him. řhis is all that is recorded in the first year.
* Notes, p. 15. (P.)
Compare this with the business which you throw into the second, and especially the third year, and I cannot help thinking that the distribution will appear to your Lordship’s attentive reconsideration exceedingly unnatural. The first events would necessarily make the greatest impression on the minds of our Saviour's followers and historians, and sub. sequent transactions of a similar nature would be those that would be passed over in silence; a conduct which on the first view of my calendar, † appears to be actually observed, according to the hypothesis that I have adopted.
I shall not here enter into any discussion of other incidental points of difference between your Lordship and myself, as that of the inspiration of the evangelists as writers, & which you adopt, and which I consider as nothing less than a millstone about the neck of Christianity, and from which I would, therefore, willingly disengage it.
Supra, pp. 54–56.
+ See supra, p. 118, Note *. Bishop Newcome having referred to Dr. Middleton's “Reflections on the Variations, or Inconsistencies, which are found among the Four Evangelists, in their different Accounts of the same Facts,” adds, “ Dr. Priestley in his late Harmony, has revived Mr. Mann's opinion with regard to our Lord's ministerial year. Dr. Middleton and Dr. Priestley on the subject of the Four Gospels, bear a great resemblance to each other: which I mention as a fact in the history of opinions, and that the attention of the reader may be raised to positions advanced by men of such abilities.
“ Each denies the plenary and constant inspiration of the evangelists; each thinks that his opinion on this subject promotes the cause of Christianity; each appeals to fact in proof of it; each allows imperfect information, and irreconcileable and erroneous accounts in these writers; and each admits their evidence in important facts, while he rejects it in some minute and circumstantial ones.” Pref. p. iii.
With respect to the subject of this Letter, I am happy in agreeing with your Lordship, that “all the real difficulties in harmonizing the gospels,-- will at length yield to the efforts of rational criticism," * and, notwithstanding my attachment to other pursuits, I hope I can also with truth, say with your Lordship, that “the advancement of sacred literature is the end of my studies, and the object of my ambition." + With the greatest respect for your Lordship's character, I am, my Lord,
Very humble Servant,
J. PRIESTLEY. Calne, August, 1779.
LETTER II. My LORD, It is with sincere pleasure that I find your Lordship has entered so largely into the discussion of the question concerning " the duration of our Lord's ministry," I as I flatter myself that some new light will, by this means, be thrown upon it, whether it be decided to general satisfaction or not. I should have made this reply much sooner, had not a tedi. ous illness, from which I several times had little hope of recovery, and likewise a total change in my situation and affairs (which left me no opportunity of consulting books, or writing any thing) intervened. But as soon as ever I found myself in tolerable health, and sufficiently at leisure, I sat down to read your Lordship’s letter to me, with care, and to write what I now present to your Lordship, and our readers, in reply to it.
If my address to your Lordship be not in a very high degree respectful, I do assure you it does not by any means correspond with my feelings and intentions. The discussion of this question, which I find is interesting to many Christian critics, and this is, I believe, the first time that it has ever been properly discussed,) is of itself highly agreeable to me,
• Preface, p. iii.
See “The Duration of our Lord's Ministry particularly considered: in Reply to a Letter from Dr. Priestley on that Subject, prefixed to his English Harmony of the Evangelists. By William Newcome, D.D., Bishop of Waterford."Dublin, 1780.