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who love these studies; and to discuss it with a person of your Lordship’s learning, and most amiable candour, I consider as highly honourable to me.
Considering this business as one that necessarily draws my attention to the sacred writings, (which, with whatever view we look into them, with due attention, cannot fail to reward our search,) this amicable controversy has charms for me as well as for your Lordship. And since, as you justly observe, “studying the Scriptures" may be "compared to repeating philosophical experiments,” * in the course of which the most unexpected discoveries are often made, f I hope we shall neither of us desist from this investigation, till nothing more shall remain that we shall be able to advance in order to complete it.
To be as little tedious as possible, I shall touch but slightly, if at all, upon any topics on which I shall be able to advance nothing that shall appear to myself to be new, or materially to affect what your Lordship has advanced on the saime subject. By this means the whole of the evidence on the greater part of the several topics will soon be produced, and the controversy will pretty quickly come to its proper termination ; at least all the evidence that each of us shall be able to collect will be before the public, whose decision will follow in due time.
'To introduce as much distinctness as I can into the conduct of this argument, and thereby to make it less tiresome to your Lordship, and to our readers, I shall, in this, and all the subsequent Letters, discuss each article in a separate Section.
Of the Testimony of the Christian Fathers. In the first place, I wish your Lordship to reconsider the testimony of the early Christian fathers, wbich appears to me to be more decisive than you seem to be aware of, and to attend to some circumstances relating to it, which you seem to have overlooked.
Notwithstanding you endeavour to qualify some of my authorities, you do not deny, that it was a received opinion with several of the Christian fathers, and especially some of the earliest of them, that our Saviour's ministry did not extend much beyond a year. Your Lordship thinks you can account for this ; but when you shall reconsider the reasons you have produced, I cannot help thinking you will be sensible that they are altogether insufficient for the purpose.
* Reply, p. 16. (P.)
"Something unexpectedly arises to the critic, or philosopher, wbich delights and decides him." Ibid.
You say, “ They thought that the three first evangelists recorded only our Lord's actions for one year, after John's imprisonment; and they seem to have put this most public part of Jesus's ministry for the whole of it.”
Now I wonder your Lordship should not have considered both how they came to do this, and likewise what is the necessary consequence of supposing even thus much. Even Eusebius, the first who extended our Lord's ministry beyond two years and a half, † and, as far as appears, all other writers, till the very moderns, supposed that the three first evangelists related only the events of one year ; that is, they go upon the idea, that only one year intervened between the imprisonment of John and the death of Christ. But this space, by your Lordship's own confession, includes all the events that Mr. Mann and myself endeavour to bring within the compass of a year.
So that, whatever the ancients thought of that part of our Lord's ministry which preceded the imprisonment of John the Baptist, (which they suppose to be recorded by John,) they all agreed with me in every thing that your Lordship finds the hardest to be reconciled to in my hypothesis.
Whatever journeys your Lordship puts to my account, the same you must put to theirs; and every mile you make our Saviour to walk per day, affects them just as much as myself. We also perfectly agree in the time allowed for the instruction of the apostles, and every thing else that you can say was of much importance to our Lord's great object ; nor is it possible your Lordship can make us differ much with respect to the various perambulations of all Galilee, the time taken up by the mission of the twelve, or the seventy, &c. And yet all the absurdity and embarrassment that you imagine you find in the scheme is put to the account of us poor moderns only. This is, indeed, very hard, when all the ancients to a man, of whatever duration they made the whole of Christ's ministry, are equally chargeable with it, and led us into it.
Your Lordship says, “ It is unknown to us what events Eusebius ranged between the imprisonment of John and the miraculous feeding of the five thousand: and therefore his distribution of them may have been indefensible.”* But it cannot be unknown to us what events he ranged between the imprisonment of John and the death of Christ, because it is all that is related by the three other evangelists, and all that your Lordship particularly objects to in my hypothesis.
In fact, your Lordship differs more from those of the ancients whom you quote against me than I do, and much more materially. I agree with them with respect to all the busy part of our Lord's life, that is, every thing in which your Lordship can pretend to find any difficulty, and I differ from them only with respect to a period in which there are few or no proper events recorded. Whereas your Lordship agrees with them with respect to neither.
Admitting what Eusebius and all the ancients supposed, (and on what good authority can we dispute it?) that the three first evangelists related the events of only one year of our Lord's life, can your Lordship think it credible, that they should all confine themselves to the last of three or four, when the whole was equally before them? Was there no event in the whole compass of the two or three preceding years that they thought worth singling out and recording This would be more especially extraordinary in the case of Luke, who relates the circumstances of our Saviour's birth so very minutely, and his visit to Jerusalem at twelve years
A total silence in such a writer as this, to the two or three first years of the opening of our Lord's ministry, is altogether unaccountable.
Your Lordship should likewise have better considered how these ancient writers came to adopt this opinion, supposing it not to be true ; for the account your Lordship gives of it has not, in my opinion, a sufficient appearance of probability, and is not countenanced by the only evi. dence you have produced in favour of it.
Your Lordship says, “ It is likewise very clear that their notion was founded on a mistaken interpretation of Isaiah Ixi. 2;" + meaning what he says of “the acceptable year of the Lord.” Now, à priori, it is much more probable that a particular text should be accommodated to a well-known fact, and be imagined to refer to it, than that a fact which could not but have been well known in the apostolical age, should, in the age immediately succeeding, come
to be disbelieved on account of the interpretation of a particular text, and a text which must have been grossly mistaken before it could have been imagined to bear such a sense. When all the prophetical language is highly figurative, who would have thought of interpreting such an expression as “the acceptable year of the Lord” literally, if it had not been countenanced by an opinion previously established on better authority, viz. that our Lord did not preach publicly more than one year?
Your Lordship produces two authorities in proof of the opinion having been derived from the prophecy, and not the interpretation of the prophecy from the opinion. The first is that of Clemens Alexandrinus, who himself maintained the opinion. His words, as your Lordship quotes them, are, “And that he must preach only a year is thus written. He sent me to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” * Now in this I am far from seeing any proof that the interpretation of the prophecy gave rise to the opinion.
On the contrary, the construction that I should put upon it would be, that it was an attempt to accommodate a particular text to a received opinion.
Your Lordship's other authority is from Irenæus, who combats the opinion, and, speaking of the Valentinians, who held it, says, “Duodecimo mense dicunt eum passum-et ex propheta tentant hoc ipsum confirmare. Scriptum enim est, vocare annum Dei acceptum. And again, Illi autem, ut figmentum suum de eo quod scriptum est, vocare annum Dei acceptum, affirment, dicunt eum uno anno prædicasse.””+ That is, that “he suffered in the twelfth month they endeavour to confirm from the prophet, for it is written, to proclaim the acceptable year of God. For they, to support their imagination from the preceding words, say that he preached one year.” This I even think less to your
Lordship's purpose. This writer is so far from saying that the Valentinians derived their opinion from the prophecy, that he evidently supposes the opinion to have had an existence previous to their interpretation of the prophecy, and only charges them with an endeavour to strengthen their opinion by the prophecy.
In short, my Lord, every thing at which your Lordship revolts in the system that I contend for, appears to have been universally received among Christians in the primitive times; and Valentinus, who was a man of learning, but, like too
* Reply, p. 130. (P.)
† Ibid. p. 131. (P.)
many others of that age, deeply tinctured with the philo. sophy of Plato, adopted it, not as having any connexion with his heresy, but only making a bad use of his ingenuity, as Origen did afterwards, and giving a whimsical reason for an acknowledged fact. But, my Lord, what is there in the Scriptures themselves for which whimsical reasons have not been given ? And if every thing was to be rejected because some have argued weakly in support of it, nothing of the most genuine scripture history would be left.
After your Lordship's general concession, and the preceding remarks upon it, I have no occasion to scrutinize every particular evidence. I shall, therefore, only make slight remarks on a few of them, and then proceed to other general observations relating to the subject.
I wonder your Lordship should so much as mention the Epistles of Ignatius,* as if they could add any strength to your argument with critics of the present age, when your Lordship must know that such eminent critics as Salmasius, Blondel and Daillé contend, not that the larger epistles only, but the lesser also are spurious. The candid Mosheim says, “ The whole question relating to the Epistles of St. Ignatius in general seems to me to labour under much obscurity, and to be embarrassed with many difficulties.”+ As to the larger epistles, which your Lordship quotes after Mr. Whiston, & I believe that even the Papists in general reject them.
Dr. Lardner says, that, “ whether the smaller epistles themselves are the genuine writings of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, is a question that has been much disputed ;" though, upon the whole, he is of opinion that they are genuine, with some interpolations.
It is true that Tertullian, in one place, says that “our Lord was revealed in the 12th year of Tiberius," though in another place he determines the death of our Lord to the 15th of Tiberius. But to make this writer consistent with himself, and with all the other Christian fathers, who uni.
* “ For the duration of four or three years at the least, we have the express testimony of Ignatius, in his larger Epistle to the Trallians, p. 10; and that cited as his in the Chronicon Paschale at the eighteenth of Tiberius, that Christ was three decads of years old when he was baptized, and afterwards preached the Gospel three years."
The bishop, however, adds, as the opinion of Lardner, (in Credib.) “ that, according to the general opinion of learned men, Ignatius's larger epistles are interpolated." Reply, pp. 133, 134. See Lardner', II. p. 68. + Eccl. Hist. Cent. i. Pt. ii. Ch. ii. Sect. xx. I. p. 91.
Reply, p. 138. (P.) See Lardner, 11. p. 68. Ś Credil. Pt. ii. (P.) Works, II. pp. 68, 69.