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ON THE THREE FIRST GOSPELS GENERALLY.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THREE FIRST GOSPELS.
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. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. 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”. 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 Matt. xxiii. 37 ; xxvii. 57, and parallels ; also Matt. iv. 12 as compared with iv. 25,—Matt. viii. 10, xvi. 1); it could not however have been gathered from their narrative with any historical precision.
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 Old Testament 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 eyewitnesses ; nay, in the preface to St. Luke's Gospel, while he vindicates his diligent care in tracing down the course of events from the first, he
? An exception to this apparently occurs, if we adopt the remarkable reading “ Judæa,” Luke iv. 44. But it is hardly to be pressed, especially as it does not imply any journey to the capital.
implicitly disclaims such authority. This claim is, however, advanced in direct terms by St. John (see below, ch. v. § 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 St. 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
Matt. xi. 27 : Luke x. 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 St. John's Gospel for their proper place, 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.
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.
THEIR INDEPENDENCE OF ONE ANOTHER.
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 orders. To support these hypotheses,
3 1. That Matthew 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
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. 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, (a) they found those other Gospels insufficient, and were anxious to supply what was wanting ; or, (b) they believed them to be erroneous, and purposed to correct what was inaccurate; or, (c) they wished to adapt their contents to a different class of readers, incorporating at the same time whatever additional matter they possessed ; or (d) 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 (@) 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 (a) 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
advances, and sometimes maintains with considerable ingenuity, the hypothesis of a supplemental relation of the three taken in order. 2. Matthew, Luke, Mark.-So Griesbach, Fritzsche, Meyer, De Wette, and others.
3. Mark, Matthew, Luke.-So Storr and others, and recently, Mr. Smith of Jordanhill.
4. Mark, Luke, Matthew.–So Weisse, Wilke, Hitzig, &c.
the shorter Gospel of St. Mark follows upon the fuller one of St. Matthew, or St. Luke, or both. We have then only to examine those in which St. Mark stands first. Either then St. Luke supplemented St. Matthew, —or St. Matthew, St. Luke. But first, both of these are inconceivable as being expansions of St. 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, St. Luke could not have supplemented St. Matthew; for there are most important portions of Matthew which he has altogether omitted (e. g. ch. xxv. much of ch. xiii. ch. xv.) ;-nor could St. Matthew have supplemented St. Luke, for the same reason, having omitted almost all of the important section, Luke ix. 51–xviii. 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 (b), 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 (c) in any way account for the phænomena of our present Gospels. For, even taking for granted the usual assumption, that St. Matthew wrote for Hebrew Christians, St. Mark for Latins, and St. Luke for Gentiles in general,—w 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 (d) 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 Matt. viii. 28 ff. as compared with the same in Mark v. 1 ff. Luke viji. 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 subjectmatter 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?
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.