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21. If I understand plenary inspiration rightly, I hold it to the utmost, as entirely consistent with the opinions expressed in this section. The inspiration of the sacred writers I believe to have consisted in the fulness of the influence of the Holy Spirit specially raising them to, and enabling them for, their work,—in a manner which distinguishes them from all other writers in the world, and their work from all other works. The men were full of the Holy Ghost—the books are the pouring out of that fulness through the men,—the conservation of the treasure in earthen vessels. The treasure is ours, in all its richness : but it is ours as only it can be ours,—in the imperfections of human speech, in the limitations of human thought, in the variety incident first to individual character, and then to manifold transcription and the lapse of ages.
22. Two things, in concluding this section, I would earnestly impress on my readers. First, that we must take our views of inspiration not, as is too often done, from à priori considerations, but ENTIRELY FROM THE EVIDENCE FURNISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES THEMSELVES: and secondly, that the MEN were INSPIRED, the BOOKS are the RESULTS OF THAT INSPIRATION. This latter consideration, if all that it implies be duly weighed, will furnish us with the key to the whole question.
OF CONSTRUCTING A FORMAL HARMONY
1. From very early times attempts have been made to combine the narratives of our Three Gospels into one continuous history. As might have been expected, however, from the characteristics of those Gospels above detailed, such Harmonies could not be constructed without doing considerable violence to the arrangement of some one or more of the three, and an arbitrary adoption of the order of some one, to which then the others have been fitted and conformed. An examination of any of the current Harmonies will satisfy the student that this has been
2. Now on the supposition that the Three Gospels had arisen one out of the other, with a design such as any of those which have been previously discussed (with the exception of e) in § ii. 2, 3, such a Harmony not only ought to be possible, but should arise naturally out of the several narratives without any forcing, or alteration of arrangement. Nay, on the supplementary theory of Greswell and others, the last written Gospel should itself be such a History as the Harmonizers are in search of. Now not only is this not the case, but their Harmonies
contain the most violent and considerable transpositions they are obliged to have recourse to the most arbitrary hypotheses of repetition of events and discourses,—and after all, their Harmonies, while some difficulties would be evaded by their adoption, entail upon us others even more weighty and inexplicable.
3. Taking, however, the view of the origin of the Gospels above advocated, the question of the practicability of Harmonizing is simply reduced to one of matter of fact :-how far the three Evangelists, in relating the events of a history which was itself one and the same, have presented us with the same side of the narrative of those events, or with fragments which will admit of being pieced into one another.
4. And there is no doubt that, as far as the main features of the Evangelic history are concerned, a harmonious whole is presented to us by the combined narrative. The great events of our Lord's ministry, His baptism, His temptation, His teaching by discourses and miracles, His selection of the Twelve, His transfiguration, His announcement of His sufferings, death, and resurrection, His last journey to Jerusalem, His betrayal, His passion, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection,these are common to all; and as far as they are concerned, their narratives naturally fall into accordance and harmony. But when we come to range their texts side by side, to supply clause with clause, and endeavour to construct a complete History of details out of them, we at once find ourselves involved in the difficulties above enumerated. And the inference which an unbiassed mind will thence draw is, that as the Evangelists wrote with no such design of being pieced together into a complete History, but delivered the apostolic testimony as they had received it, modified by individual character and oral transmission, and arranged carefully according to the best of their knowledge, --so we should thus simply and reverentially receive their records, without setting them at variance with each other by compelling them in all cases to
say the same things of the same events.
5. If the Evangelists have delivered to us truly and faithfully the apostolic narratives, and if the Apostles spoke as the Holy Spirit enabled them, and brought events and sayings to their recollection, then we may be sure that if we knew the real process of the transactions themselves, that knowledge would enable us to give an account of the diversities of narration and arrangement which the Gospels now present to us. But without such knowledge, all attempts to accomplish this analysis in minute detail must be merely conjectural : and must tend to weaken the Evangelic testimony, rather than to strengthen it.
6. The only genuine Harmony of the Gospels will be furnished by the unity and consistency of the Christian's belief in their record, as true to the great events which it relates, and his enlightened and intelligent appreciation of the careful diligence of the Evangelists in
arranging the important matter before them. If in that arrangement he finds variations, and consequently inaccuracies, on one side or the other, he will be content to acknowledge the analogy which pervades all the divine dealings with mankind, and to observe that God, who works, in the communication of His other gifts, through the medium of secondary agents—has been pleased to impart to us this, the record of His most precious Gift, also by human agency and teaching. He will acknowledge also in this, the peculiar mercy and condescension of Him who has adapted to universal human reception the record of eternal life by His Son, by means of the very variety of individual recollections and modified reports. And thus he will arrive at the true Harmonistic view of Scripture ; just as in the great and discordant world he does not seek peace by setting one thing against another and finding logical solution for all, but by holy and peaceful trust in that Almighty Father, who doeth all things well. So that the argument so happily applied by Butler to the nature of the Revelation contained in the Scriptures, may with equal justice be applied to the books themselves in which the record of that revelation is found,--that 'He who believes the Scriptures to have proceeded from Him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in them, as are found in the constitution of nature.'
OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW.
1. The author of this Gospel has been universally believed to be, TIE APOSTLE MATTHEW. With this belief the contents of the Gospel are not inconsistent; and we find it current in the very earliest ages (see testimonies in the next section).
2. Of the Apostle Matthew we know very little for certain. He was the son of Alphæus (Mark ii. 14), and therefore probably the brother of James the less. His calling, from being a publican to be one of the Twelve, is narrated by all three Evangelists. By St. Mark and St. Luke he is called Levi ; in this Gospel, Matthew. Such change of name after becoming a follower of the Lord, was by no means uncommon; and the appearance of the apostolic, not the original name, in the Gospel proceeding from himself, is in analogy with the practice of Paul, who always in his Epistles speaks of himself by his new and Christian appellation. (On the doubts raised in ancient times respecting the identity of Matthew and Levi, see note on Matt. ix. 9.)
3. The Apostle Matthew is described by Clement of Alexandria as belonging to the ascetic Judaistic school of early Christians. Nothing is known of his apostolic labours out of Palestine, which Eusebius mentions generally. Later writers fix the scene of them in Ethiopia, but also include in their circle Macedonia, and several parts of Asia. Heracleon, as cited by Clement of Alexandria, relates that his death was natural. This is implicitly confirmed by Clement himself, and by Origen and Tertullian, who mention only Peter, Paul, and James the greater, as martyrs among the Apostles.
ITS ORIGINAL LANGUAGE.
On this point, which cannot be supposed of great interest to the English reader, he may be contented to be informed thus much, that it has been disputed among biblical scholars, whether this Gospel was originally composed in Hebrew, or in Greek :-that the testimony of the early Church is unanimous, that it was written in Hebrew:—but that some doubt is thrown upon the sufficiency of this testimony, from a probability that some at least of the Fathers mistook the apocryphal “ Gospel according to the Hebrews” for the Gospel of St. Matthew :and that the phænomena of the Gospel itself are strongly against the idea that it was written originally in any other language than that in which we now possess it: viz. in Greek. For the further treatment of the question, I must refer to my
Greek Testament, Vol. I., Prolegomena, ch. ii. & ii.
FOR WHAT READERS AND WITH WHAT OBJECT IT WAS WRITTEN.
1. An opinion has generally prevailed, both in ancient and modern times, that Matthew originally drew up his Gospel for the use of the Jewish converts in Palestine. And internal notices tend to confirm this inference. We have fewer interpretations of Jewish customs, laws, and localities, than in the two other Gospels. The whole narrative proceeds more upon a Jewish view of matters, and is concerned more to establish that point, which to a Jewish convert would be most important,that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Hence
the commencement of His genealogy from Abraham and David; hence the frequent notice of the necessity of this or that event happening, because it was so foretold by the Prophets ; hence the constant opposition of our Lord's spiritually ethical teaching to the carnal formalistic ethics of the Scribes and Pharisees.
2. But we must not think of the Gospel as a systematic treatise drawn up with this end continually in view. It only exercised a very general and indirect influence over the composition, not excluding narratives, sayings, and remarks which had no such tendency, or even partook of an opposite one.
3. Grecian readers were certainly also in the view of the Apostle ; and in consequence, he adds interpretations and explanations, such, for example, as ch. i. 23 ; xxvii. 8, 33, 46, for their information.
4. In furtherance of the design above mentioned, we may discern (with the caution given in 2) a more frequent and consistent reference to the Lord as a King, and to his Messianic kingdom, than in the other Gospels. Designing these remarks not as a complete Introduction to the Gospels, but merely as subsidiary to the following Commentary, I purposely do not give instances of these characteristics, but leave them to be gathered by the student as he proceeds.
AT WHAT TIME IT WAS WRITTEN.
The testimony of the early Church is unanimous, that Matthew wrote first among the Evangelists. Clement of Alexandria, who dissented from the present order of our Gospels, yet placed those of Matthew and Luke first. Origen's testimony is, that tradition in his time reported Matthew to have written first. And Irenæus relates that Matthew wrote his Gospel while Peter and Paul were preaching and founding the Church in Rome. Without adopting this statement, we may remark that it represents a date, to which internal chronological notices are not repugnant. It seems, from ch. xxvii. 8, and xxviii. 15, that some considerable time had elapsed since the events narrated; while, from the omission of all mention of the destruction of Jerusalem, it would appear that the Gospel was published before that event. All these marks of time are, however, exceedingly vague, especially when other notices are taken into account, which place the Gospel eight years after the Ascension (so Theophylact and Euthymius) ;—fifteen years after the Ascension (Nicephorus) :-at the time of the stoning of Stephen (Cosmas Indicopleustes).