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THE ORIGIN OF OUR THREE GOSPELS.
1. It remains then, that the three Gospels should have arisen independently of one another. But supposing this, we are at once met by the difficulty of accounting for so much common matter, and that narrated, as we have seen, with such curious verbal agreements and discrepancies. Thus we are driven to some common origin for those parts. But of what kind? Plainly, either documentary (i. e. contained in writings), or oral. Let us consider each of these in turn.
2. No documentary source could have led to the present texts of our Gospels. For supposing it to have been in the Hebrew language (or Aramaic, the dialect of Palestine at the time), and thus accounting for some of the variations in our parallel Greek passages, as being independent translations, we shall still have no solution whatever of the more important discrepancies of insertion, omission, and arrangement. To meet these, the most complicated hypotheses have been advanced,-all perfectly capricious, and utterly inadequate, even when apprehended, to account for the phænomena. The various opponents of the view of an original Gospel have well shewn besides, that such a Gospel could never have existed, because of the omission in one or other of our three, of passages which must necessarily have formed a part of it; e. g. Matt. xxvi. 6-13 (see there) omitted by St. Luke'. I believe then that we may safely abandon the idea of any single original Gospel, whether Aramaic or Greek.
3. Still it might be thought possible that, though one document cannot have originated the text of the common parts of our Gospels, several documents, more or less related to one another, may have done so, in the absence of any original Gospel. But this, it will be seen, is but an imperfect analysis of their origin; for we are again met by the question, whence did these documents take their rise? And if they turn out to be only so many modifications of a received oral teaching respecting the actions and sayings of our Lord, then to that oral teaching are we
Those who maintain the anointing of Matt. xxvi. 6 to be the same with that of Luke vii. 36, forget that it is incumbent on them in such cases to shew sufficient reason for the inversion in order of time. It is no reply to my argument, to say that St. Luke omits the anointing at Bethany, because he had related it before in ch. vii. Had he not had St. Matthew's Gospel before him, it is very likely that he may have inserted an incident which he found without date, in a place where it might illustrate the want of charity of a Pharisee; but having (on their hypothesis) St. Matthew's Gospel before him, and the incident being there related in strict sequence and connexion with our Lord's Death, it is simply inconceivable that he should have transposed it, and obliterated all trace of such connexion, deeply interesting and important as it is.
referred back for a more complete account of the matter. That such evangelical documents did exist, I think highly probable; and believe I recognize such in some of the peculiar sections of Luke; but that the common parts of our Gospels, even if taken from such, are to be traced back further, I am firmly convinced.
4. We come then to enquire, whether the common sections of our Gospels could have originated from a common oral source. If by this latter is to be understood,—one and the same oral teaching every where recognized, our answer must be in the negative: for the difficulties of verbal discrepancy, varying arrangement, insertion, and omission, would, as above, remain unaccounted for. At the same time, it is highly improbable that such a course of oral teaching should ever have been adopted. Let us examine the matter more in detail.
5. The Apostles were witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In this consisted their especial office and work. Others besides them had been companions of our Lord:-but peculiar grace and power was given to them, by which they gave forth their testimony (Acts iv. 33). And what this testimony included, we learn from the conditions of apostleship propounded by Peter himself, Acts i. 21, 22: that in order to its being properly given, an Apostle must have been an eye and ear witness of what had happened from the baptism of John until the ascension i. e. during the whole official life of our Lord. With the whole of this matter, therefore, was his apostolic testimony concerned. And we are consequently justified in assuming that the substance of the teaching of the Apostles consisted of their testimony to such facts, given in the Holy Ghost and with power. The ordinary objection to this view, that their extant discourses do not contain Evangelic narrations, but are hortatory and persuasive, is wholly inapplicable. Their extant discourses are contained in the Acts, a second work of the Evangelist Luke, who having in his former treatise given all which he had been able to collect of their narrative teaching, was not likely again to repeat it. Besides which, such narrative teaching would occur, not in general and almost wholly apologetic discourses held before assembled unbelievers, but in the building up of the several churches and individual converts, and in the catechization of catechumens. It is a strong confirmation of this view, that Luke himself in his preface refers to this original apostolic narrative as the source of the various narrations, which many had taken in hand to draw up, and states his object in writing to be, that Theophilus might know the certainty of those sayings concerning which he had been catechized.
It is another confirmation of the above view of the testimony of the apostolic body, that St. Paul claims to have received an independent knowledge, by direct revelation, of at least some of the fundamental parts
of the Gospel history (see Gal. i. 12: 1 Cor. xi. 23; xv. 3), to qualify him for his calling as an Apostle.
6. I believe then that the Apostles, in virtue not merely of their having been eye and ear witnesses of the Evangelic history, but especially of their office, gave to the various Churches their testimony in a narrative of facts: such narrative being modified in each case by the individual mind of the Apostle himself, and his sense of what was requisite for the particular community to which he was ministering. While they were principally together, and instructing the converts at Jerusalem, such narrative would naturally be for the most part the same, and expressed in the same, or nearly the same words: coincident however not from design or rule, but because the things themselves were the same, and the teaching naturally fell for the most part into one form. It would be easy and interesting to follow the probable origin and growth of this cycle of narratives of the words and deeds of our Lord in the Church at Jerusalem,-for both the Jews, and the Hellenists,-the latter under such teachers as Philip and Stephen, commissioned and authenticated by the Apostles. In the course of such a process some portions would naturally be written down by private believers, for their own use or that of friends. And as the Church spread to Samaria, Cæsarea, and Antioch, the want would be felt in each of these places, of similar cycles of oral teaching, which when supplied would thenceforward belong to and be current in those respective Churches. And these portions of the Evangelic history, oral or partially documentary, would be adopted under the sanction of the Apostles, who were as in all things, so especially in this, the appointed and divinely-guided overseers of the whole Church. This common substratum of apostolic teaching,— never formally adopted by all, but subject to all the varieties of diction and arrangement, addition and omission, incident to transmission through many individual minds, and into many different localities,— I believe to have been the original source of the common part of our three Gospels.
7. Whether this teaching was wholly or in part expressed originally in Greek, may admit of some question. That it would very soon be so expressed, follows as a matter of course from the early mention of Grecian converts, Act vi., and the subsequent reception of the Gentiles into the Church; and it seems to have been generally received in that language, before any of its material modifications arose. This I gather from the remarkable verbal coincidences observable in the present Greek texts. Then again, the verbal discrepancies of our present Greek texts entirely forbid us to imagine that our Evangelists took up the usual oral teaching at one place or time; but point to a process of alteration and deflection, which will now engage our attention.
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 (Hora 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