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tences, paragraphs, long passages, are word for word the very same; a few expressions have been slightly varied, a particle transposed, a tense or a case altered, but the differences being no greater than would arise if a number of persons were to write from memory some common passages which they knew almost by heart. That there should have been this identity in the account of the words used by our Lord seems at first sight no more than we should expect. But it extends to the narrative as well; and with respect to the parables and discourses, there is this extraordinary feature, that whereas our Lord must have spoken in the ordinary language of Palestine, the resemblance between the evangelists is in the Greek translation of them; and how unlikely it is that a number of persons in translating from one language into another should hit by accident on the same expressions, the simplest experiment will show.
Now waiving for a moment the inspiration of the Gospels; interpreting the Bible, to use Mr. Jowett's canon, as any other book, what are we to conclude from phenomena of this kind? What in fact do we conclude when we encounter them elsewhere? In the lives of the saints, in the monkish histories, there are many parallel cases. A mediæval chronicler when he found a story well told by his predecessor seldom cared to recompose it; he transcribed the words as they stood into his own narrative, contented perhaps with making a few trifling changes to add a finish or a polish. Sometimes two chroniclers borrow from a third. There is the same identity in particular expressions, the same general resemblance, the same divergence, as each improves his original from his independent knowledge by addition or omission; but the process is so transparent, that when the original is lost the existence of it can be inferred with certainty.
Or to take a more modern parallel-we must entreat our readers to pardon any seeming irreverence which may appear in the comparison-if in the letters of the corre
spondents of three different newspapers written from Virginia or Tennessee, we were to read the same incidents told in the same language, surrounded it might be with much that was unlike, but neverthelesss in themselves identical, and related in words which, down to unusual and remarkable terms of expression, were exactly the same, what should we infer?
Supposing it was in the description of a battle, or the translation of a speech of some German commander to his division; if we were to find but a single paragraph in which two of three agreed verbally, we should regard it as a very strange coincidence. If all three agreed verbally, we should feel certain it was more than accident. If throughout their letters there was a recurring series of such passages, no doubt would be left in the mind of any one that either the three correspondents had seen each other's letters, or that each had had before him some common narrative which he had incorporated in his own account. It might be doubtful which of these two explanations was the true one; but that one or other of them was true, unless we suppose a miracle, is as certain as any conclusion in human things can be certain at all. The sworn testimony of eyewitnesses who had seen the letters so composed would add nothing to the weight of a proof which without their evidence would be overwhelming; and were the writers themselves, with their closest friends and companions, to swear that there had been no intercommunication, and no story pre-existing of which they had made use, and that each had written bonâ fide from his own original observation, an English jury would sooner believe the whole party perjured than persuade themselves that so extraordinary a coincidence would have occurred.
Nor would it be difficult to ascertain from internal evidence which of the two possible interpretations was the real one. If the writers were men of evident good faith; if their stories were in places widely different; if they made no allusion to each other, nor even referred to
one another as authorities; finally, if neither of them in giving a different account of any matter from that given by his companions, professed either to be supplying an omission or correcting a mistake, then we should have little doubt that they had themselves had no communication, but were supplementing, each of them from other sources of information, a central narrative which all alike had before them.
How far may we apply the parallel to the Synoptical Gospels? In one sense the inspiration lifts them above comparison, and disposes summarily of critical perplexities. There is no difficulty which may not be explained by a miracle; and in that aspect the points of disagreement between them are more surprising than the similarities. It is on the disagreements in fact that the labours of commentators have chiefly been expended. Yet it is a question whether on the whole inspiration does not leave unaffected the ordinary human phenomena; and it is hard to suppose that where the rules of judgment in ordinary writings are so distinct, God would have thus purposely cast a stumbling-block in our way, and contrived a snare into which our reason should mislead us. That is hard to credit; yet that and nothing else we must believe if we refuse to apply to the Gospel the same canons of criticism which with other writings would be a guide so decisive. It may be assumed that the facts connected with them admit a natural explanation; and we arrive therefore at the same conclusion as before: that either two of the evangelists borrowed from the third, or else that there was some other Gospel than either one of those which are now extant; existing perhaps both in Hebrew and Greek; existing certainly in Greek, the fragments of which are scattered up and down through St. Mark, St. Matthew, and St. Luke, in masses sufficiently large to be distinctly recognizable.
That at an early period in the Christian Church many such Gospels existed we know certainly from
the words of St. Luke. also alludes to words used by our Lord which are not mentioned by the evangelists, which he assumed nevertheless to be well known to his hearers. He speaks too of an appearance of our Lord after his resurrection to five hundred brethren; on which the four Gospels are also silent. It is indisputable therefore that besides and antecedent to them there were other accounts of our Lord's life in use in the Christian Church. And indeed, what more natural, what more necessary, than that from the day on which the apostles entered upon their public mission, some narrative should have been drawn up of the facts which they were about to make known? Then as little as now could the imagination of men be trusted to relate accurately a story composed of stupendous miracles without mistake or exaggeration; and their very first step would have been to compose an account of what had passed, to which they could speak with certainty, and which they could invest with authoritative sanction. Is it not possible then that the identical passages in the Synoptical Gospels are the remains of something of this kind, which the evangelists in their later, fuller, and more complete histories, enlarged and expanded? The conjecture has been often made, and English commentators have for the most part dismissed it slightingly; not apparently being aware that in rejecting one hypothesis they were bound to suggest another; or at least to admit that there was something which required explanation, though this particular one did not seem satisfactory. Yet if it were so, the external testimony for the truth of the Gospel history would be stronger than before. It would amount to the collective view of the first congregation of Christians, who had all immediate and personal knowledge of our Lord's miracles and death and resurrection.
But perhaps the external history of the four Gospels may throw some light upon the question, if indeed we can speak of light where all is a cloud of uncertainty. It would
seem as if the sources of Christianity, like the roots of all other living things, were purposely buried in mystery. There perhaps exist no ancient writings whatever of such vast moment to mankind of which so little can be authentically known.
The four Gospels in the form and under the names which they at present bear became visible only with distinctness at the end of the second century of the Christian era. Then it was that they assumed the authoritative position which they have ever since maintained; and were selected by the Church out of the many other then existing narratives as the supreme and exclusive accounts of our Lord's life. Irenæus is the first of the Fathers in whom they are found attributed by name to St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John; that there were four true evangelists, and that there could be neither more nor less than four, Irenæus had persuaded himself because there were four winds or spirits, and four divisions of the earth, for which the Church being universal required four columns; the cherubims had four faces, to each of which an evangelist corresponded; four covenants had been given to mankind-one before the Deluge in Adam, one after the Deluge in Noah, the third in Moses, the fourth and greatest in the New Testament; while again the name of Adam was composed of four letters. It is not to be supposed that the intellects of those great men who converted the world to Christianity were satisfied entirely with arguments so imaginative as these; they must have had other closer and more accurate grounds for their decision; but the mere employment of such figures as evidence in any sense shows the enormous difference between their modes of reasoning and ours, and the difficulty of deciding at our present distance from them how far their conclusions were satisfactory.
Of the Gospels separately the history is immediately lost in legend.
The first notice of a Gospel of St. Matthew is in the well-known words of Papias, a writer who in early life might have seen St. John. The works of Papias are lost-a misfor
tune the more to be regretted because Eusebius speaks of him as a man of very limited understanding, πανὺ σμίκρος τὸν νοῦν. Understanding and folly are words of undetermined meaning; and when language like that of Irenæus could seem profound it is quite possible that Papias might have possessed common-place faculties which would have been supremely useful to us. A surviving fragment of him says that St. Matthew put together the discourses of our Lord in Hebrew and that every one interpreted them as he could. Pantonus, said by Eusebius to have been another contemporary of the apostles, was reported to have gone to India, to have found there a congregation of Christians which had been established by St. Bartholomew, and to have seen in use among them this Hebrew Gospel. Origen tells the same story, which in his time had become the universal Catholic tradition, that St. Matthew's was the first Gospel, that it was written in Hebrew, and that it was intended for the use of the Jewish converts. Jerome adds that it was unknown when or by whom it was rendered into a Greek version. That is all which the Church had to say; and what had become of that Hebrew original no one could tell.
That there existed a Hebrew Gospel in very early times is well authenticated; there was a Gospel called the Gospel of the Ebionites or Nazarenes, of which Origen possessed a copy, and which St. Jerome thought it worth while to translate; this too is lost and Jerome's translation of it also; but the negative evidence seems conclusive that it was not the lost Gospel of St. Matthew. Had it been so it could not have failed to be recognized, although from 'such accounts of it as have been preserved it possessed some affinity with St. Matthew's Gospel. In one instance indeed it gave the right reading of a text which has perplexed orthodox commentators, and has induced others to suspect that that Gospel in its present form could not have existed before the destruction of Jerusalem. The Zachariah the son of Barachiah
said by St. Matthew to have been slain between the temple and the altar, is unknown to Old Testament history, while during the siege of Jerusalem a Zachariah the son of Barachiah actually was killed exactly in the manner described. But in the Ebionite Gospel the same words are found with this slight but important difference that the Zachariah in question is there called the son of Jehoidah, and is at once identified with the person whose murder is related in the Second Book of Chronicles. The later translator of St. Matthew had probably confused the names.
Of St. Mark's Gospel the history is even more profoundly obscure. Papias, again the highest discoverable link of the Church tradition, says that St. Mark accompanied St. Peter to Rome as his interpreter; and that while there he wrote down what St. Peter told him or what he could remember St. Peter to have said. Clement of Alexandria enlarges the story; according to Clement when St. Peter was preaching at Rome the Christian congregation there requested St. Mark to write a Gospel for them; St. Mark complied without acquainting St. Peter, and St. Peter when informed of it was uncertain whether to give or withhold his sanction till his mind was set at rest by a vision.
Irenæus on the other hand says that St. Mark's Gospel was not written till after the death of St. Peter and St. Paul. St. Chrysostom says that after it was written St. Mark went to Egypt and published it at Alexandria; Epiphanius again that the Egyptian expedition was undertaken at the express direction of St. Peter himself.
Thus the Church tradition is inconsistent with itself, and in all probability is nothing but a structure of air; it is bound up with the presence of St. Peter at Rome; and the solitary ground for supposing that St. Peter was ever at Rome at all is the passage at the close of St. Peter's First Epistle, where it pleased the Fathers to assume that the 'Babylon' there spoken of must have been the city of the Cæsars. This passage alone, with the wild stories
(now known to have originated in the misreading of an inscription) of St. Peter's conflict with Simon Magus in the presence of the Emperor, form together the light and airy arches on which the huge pretences of the Church of Rome have reared themselves. If the Babylon of the epistle was Babylon on the Euphrates, and there is not the slightest historical reason to suppose it to have been anything else, the story of the origin of St. Mark's Gospel perishes with the legend to which it was inseparably attached by Church tradition.
Of St. John's Gospel we do not. propose to speak in this place; it forms a subject by itself; and of that it is enough to say that the defects of external evidence which undoubtedly exist seem overborne by the overwhelming proofs of authenticity contained in the Gospel itself.
The faint traditionary traces which inform us at least that St. Matthew and St. Mark were supposed to have written Gospels fail us with St. Luke. The apostolic and the immediately post - apostolic Fathers never mention him as having written a history of our Lord at all. There was indeed a Gospel in use among the Marcionites which resembled that of St. Luke as the Gospel of the Ebionites resembled that of St. Matthew; in both the one and the other there was no mention of our Lord's miraculous birth; and later writers accused Marcion of having mutilated St. Luke; but apparently their only reason for thinking so was that the two Gospels were like each other; and for all that can be historically proved that of the Marcionites may have been the older of the two. What is wanting externally however is supposed to be more than made up by the language of St. Luke himself. The Gospel was evidently composed in its present form by the same person who wrote the Acts of the Apostles. In the latter part of the Acts of the Apostles the writer speaks in the first person as the companion of St. Paul; and the date of this Gospel seems to be thus conclusively fixed at an early period in the apostolic age. There
is at least a high probability that this reasoning is sound; yet it has seemed strange that a convert so eminent as 'the most excellent ' Theophilus to whom St. Luke addressed himself should be found impossible to identify. Most excellent' was a title given only to persons of high rank; and it is singular that St. Paul himself should never have mentioned so considerable a name; and again there is something peculiar in the language of the introduction to the Gospel itself; though St. Luke professes to be writing on the authority of eye-witnesses he does not say he had spoken with eye-witnesses; so far from it that the word translated in the English version 'delivered' is literally 'handed down;' it is the verb which corresponds to the technical expression for 'tradition; and the words translated 'having had perfect understanding of all things from the first' might be rendered more properly having traced or followed up all things from the beginning.' And again as it is humanly speaking certain that in St. Luke's Gospel there are passages, however it is to be explained, which were embodied in it from some other source; so though extremely probable it is not absolutely certain that those passages in the Acts in which the writer speaks in the first person are by the same hand as the body of the narrative. If St. Luke had anywhere directly introduced himself, if he had said plainly that he the writer who was addressing Theophilus had personally joined St. Paul, and in that part of his story was relating what he had seen and heard, there would be no room for uncertainty; but there is no other instance in literature of a change of person introduced abruptly without explanation. The whole book is less a connected history than a series of episodes and fragments of the proceedings of the apostles; and it is to be noticed that the account of St. Paul's conversion as given in its place in the first part of the narrative differs in one material point from the second account given later in the part which was unquestionably the work
of one of St. Paul's companions. There is a possibility-it amounts to no more, and the suggestion is thrown out for the consideration of those who are better able than this writer to judge of it-that in the Gospel and the Acts we have the work of a careful editor of the second century. Towards the close of that century a prominent actor in the great movement which gave their present authority to the four Gospels was Theophilus Bishop of Antioch; he it was who brought them together, incorporated into a single work-in unum opus; and it may be after all that in him we have the long-sought person to whom St. Luke was writing; that the Gospel which we now possess was compiled at his desire out of other imperfect Gospels in use in the different Churches; and that it formed a part of his scheme to supersede them by an account more exhaustive, complete and satisfactory.
To this hypothesis indeed there is an answer which if valid at all is absolutely fatal. We are told that although the names of the writers of the Gospels may not be mentioned until a comparatively late period, yet that the Gospels themselves can be shown to have existed, because they are habitually quoted in the authentic writings of the earliest of the Fathers. If this be so the slightness of the historical thread is of little moment, and we may rest safely on the solid ground of such a fact as that. But is it so? That the early Fathers quoted some accounts of our Lord's life is abundantly clear; but did they quote these? We proceed to examine this question-again tentatively only -we do but put forward certain considerations on which we ask for fuller information.
If any one of the primitive Christian writers was likely to have been acquainted with the evangelists that one was indisputably Justin Martyr. Born in Palestine in the year 89, Justin Martyr lived to the age of seventy-six; he travelled over the Roman world as a Christian missionary; and intellectually he was more than on a level with most educated Oriental Christians. He