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OF THE FOUR EVANGELISTS, AND THEIR WRITINGS.
BEFORE we proceed any farther in the History of our Blessed Saviour's life, it may not be amiss to give some short account of the four evangelists that have recorded it. I call them four, because whatever spurious pieces gained credit in the world afterwards, the tradition of the church, from the beginning of the second century, makes it evident, that the Gospels then received were only the four Gospels which we now own.
St Matthew, who stands in the front of these evangelists, and is generally allowed to be the first who committed the Gospel to writing, was the son of Alpheus, a Galilean by birth, a Jew by religion, and a publican by profession. Among the Jews, as well as other nations, the custom at this time prevailed of having more names than one; and therefore we find his brother evangelists, St Mark (a) and Luke (b), giving him the name of Levi, with a civil intent to avoid all mention of his former not so reputable profession before he was called to the apostleship; but (what is no less an instance of his own modesty) in the Gospel written by himself, he not only takes the name by which he was most commonly known, but generally adds the odious epithet to it of " Matthew the Publican;" intending thereby, no doubt, to magnify the grace of God, and the condescension of our Blessed Saviour, who did not disdain to take into the highest dignity of the Christian church those whom the world rejected and accounted vile.
(c) Whether he was born in Nazareth or no, it is certain that his ordinary abode was at Capernaum, (d) because his proper business was to gather the customs on goods that came by the Sea of Galilee, and the tribute which passengers were to pay that went by water; for which purpose there was a customhouse by the sea-side, where Matthew had his office, or toll-booth," there sitting at the receipt of custom." Our Lord having lately cured a famous paralytic, retired out of the town to walk by the sea side, where he taught the people that flocked after him; and having espied Matthew in his office, he asked him to become one of his disciples; whereupon, without any manner of hesitation, without staying so much as to settle his accounts, and put his affairs in order *, "he left all and followed him."
(a) Chap, ii. 14.
(b) Chap. v. 27. [This seems to me a complete confutation of Dr Marsh's hypothesis-that Levi was the original name of the apostle recorded in his supposed Hebrew document, and therefore retained by St Mark and St Luke, but exchanged by St Matthew himself, not because Levi was a mistake in the same original document, but because it would have instantly reminded the Jews of his former occupation, which was peculiarly offensive to them. But had this been the case, surely the man who was so cautious of giving offence, would not, in his catalogue of the apostles, have mentioned himself by the denomination of Matthew the Publican, which rendered the supposed change of name perfectly useless. There is no room for doubt, therefore, but that Matthew and Levi were both original names of the evangelist.]
(c) Kirslin, in Vità 4 Evang. says he was, part xxii. (d) Cave's Lives of the Apostles.
* [This is certainly not probable, because it would not have been just. Matthew was in duty bound to settle his accounts with his employers, and Christ, who wrought a miracle to procure money to pay tri bute for himself and St Peter, would never have admitted among his followers a man who had not rendered an account, and a faithful account, of the taxes or custom which he had received as a publican. The mistake arises from the supposition that on the very day on which St Matthew was called, he not only followed our Lord, but made the feast for him which is mentioned; but this is nowhere said or even insinuated. Undoubtedly Matthew would rise and go a little way with Christ when thus called; but it is not to be supposed that he was prepared on that day to
We cannot but suppose, that as he lived in Capernaum, the place of our Lord's usual From the be residence, and where his sermons and miracles were so frequent, he must have been ac- ginning of the quainted with his person and doctrine before this time; and, consequently, in a good Matth. ii. 8. preparation to receive the call with gladness. And that he did so, a good evidence it Mark xi. 23. seems to be, his entertaining our Lord and his disciples at dinner next day in his house; whither he invited several of his own profession, in hopes, no doubt, that our Saviour's company and converse might make the like impression upon them.
Luke vi. 1.
From his election to the apostolate he continued constantly with our Lord during his abode upon earth; and after his ascension, for the space of eight years preached the Gospel in several parts of Judea : But being now to betake himself to the conversion of the Gentiles, he was entreated by the Jews, who had been converted to the Christian faith, to commit to writing the history of our Lord's life and actions, and to leave it among them, as a standing record of what he had preached to them; which accordingly he did, and so composed the Gospel which we have now under his name.
(a) The countries in which he preached were chiefly Parthia † and Ethiopia; in the latter of which he converted multitudes, settled churches, and ordained ministers to confirm and build them up, and, having signalized his zeal in the ministry of the Gospel, and his contempt of the world in a life +2 of most exemplary abstinence, he is most probably thought to have suffered martyrdom at Nadabar, a city in Ethiopia; but of the time and manner of his death no certain account is transmitted to us.
At the request of the Jewish converts, (as we said) and, as some add, at the command of the rest of the apostles, St Matthew wrote his Gospel about eight or nine years after our Lord's resurrection *: for that it was extant before the dispersion of the apo stles is plain from Bartholomew carrying it with him into India, where (as Eusebius (6) informs us) it was found by Panætus, when he went to propagate the faith in those parts, and by such as retained the knowledge of Christ was reputed a valuable trea
As it was primarily designed for the benefit of the Jewish converts 5, whatever
make, as St Luke says he made, a great feast in his
(a) Cave's Lives of the Apostles.
As for what is related by Nicephorus, of his going into the country of the cannibals, and constituting Plato, one of his followers, bishop of Myr. mena; of Christ's appearing to him in the form of a beautiful youth, and giving him a wand, which he pitching into the ground, it immediately grew up into a tree; of his strange converting the prince of that country; of his numerous miracles, peaceable death, and sumptuous funeral, with abundance more of the like nature, they are justly to be reckoned among those fabulous reports that have no ground, either of truth or probability to support them. Cave's Lives of the Apostles.
+ Clemens Alexandrinus tells us, that he abstain ed from the eating of flesh, and that the chief of his diet was herbs, roots, seeds, and berries. Pædag. lib. ii. c. 1.
* [There are various opinions respecting the era
of the writting of St Matthew's Gospel, and it is by
+3Those who maintain that St Matthew wrote in
A. M. 4034, some moderns may say to the contrary, the voice † of all antiquity must carry it &c. or 5439. against them, that it was originally wrote in Hebrew, not in the ancient pure Hebrew, (for that in a great measure was lost among the vulgar) but in a language commonly used at that time by the Jews of Palestine, (and therefore still called the Hebrew tongue, because wrote in Hebrew characters) which was the Syriac, with a mixture of Hebrew and Chaldee.
30, &c. Vulg. Er. 28
This Gospel of St Matthew was for a long time in use among the Jews who had been converted to Christianity, and when, some time before the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, they retired to Pella, they carried it thither along with them; from whence it was diffused into Decapolis, and all the countries beyond Jordan, where the Judaizing Christians still made use of it in the time of Epiphanius (a) and Eusebius (b) of Cæsarea. But these Christians (c) did not preserve this sacred depositum with all the fidelity they should have done. They added to it several things, which perhaps they might have heard from the mouths of the apostles, or from their immediate disciples, and this in time brought it under the suspicion of other believers. The Ebionites, at length, got it into their hands, and by their additions and defalcations, in favour of some errors they had fallen into concerning the divinity of our Saviour, and the virginity of the Blessed Mother, so corrupted it, that at length it was given up by other churches which adhered to the form of sound doctrine. It continued however a long time in its primitive purity in the hands of the Nazarenes, or first believers in Palestine, who (though they were zealous in the observation of the law) embraced no such opinions as the Ebionites did, nor made any alterations in the Gospel *. But after the extinction of this sect, we hear no more of the genuine Gospel of St Matthew, because the ancient
not have been interpreted into Greek, nor would he
would think, be adapted to the general use and capacity of those for whom it was wrote. The dispute, however, is about matter of fact, and this is a fact attested by all the ancients, many of whom had seen the original, and were capable of making a judgment of it. Whitby's Prefatory Discourse to the four Evangelists, and Calmet's Dictionary under the word Matthew.
+ All the antients, with one consent, assure us, that St Matthew wrote in Hebrew. Papias, Irenæus, Origen, Eusebius, St Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, St Jerom, St Austin, St Chrysostom, the author of the Latin Commentary on St Mark, which is ascribed to St Chrysostom, and the author of the Synopsis of the Scripture, which bears the name of Athanasius, are a cloud of witnesses who depose this; and therefore strange it is that any should question its being originally written in that language, when the thing is so universally and uncontroulably asserted by all antiquity, not one, that I know of, after the strictest enquiry I could make, dissenting in this matter, and who certainly had far greater opportunities of being satisfied in these things than we can have at so great a distance. Du Pin's History of the canon, vol. 11. c. 2. and Cave's lives of the apostles.
(a) Epiphan. Hæres. 29. c. 7.
(b) Hist. Eccl. lib. iii. c. 25.
(c) Calmet's Dict. and Preface to St Matthew's Gospel.
[For an accurate account of the ancient sects called Nazarenes and Ebionites, and of the particu lar tenets by which they were distinguished, see Bishop Horsley's Tracts in Controversy with Dr Priestly.]
Greek version which, in the apostolic times, was made from it, having always preserved From the beits primitive integrity, did, long before this, universally prevail, and was looked as authentic as the original; for though its author be uncertain, yet every one who mentions it, always ascribes it to some one apostle or other (a).
When St Matthew began to write, the great question among the Jews was, Whether our Blessed Saviour was the true Messiah or no? and the main tendency of his Gospel seems to prove this. For he shews by his mighty deeds that he was the Christ, the Son of God; that his mother Mary was a virgin; that he was not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; and that his miracles were not magical operations, nor the effects of any human art, but incontestible proofs of the power of God, and of his Divine mission. (b) St Ambrose observes, that none of the apostles have entered so far into the particulars of our Saviour's actions †, as has St Matthew; that none of them have related the history of the wise men coming from the East, or the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, and some others, but he; that, in short, he has given us more rules for the conduct of life, and more lessons of morality suitable to our necessities, than any; and all this, (c) in a natural and easy style (though sometimes mixed with Hebraisms), such as becomes an historian, and especially a sacred historian, whose narration should be free from affectation, and all such trifling ornaments as do not agree with the gravity and dignity of his subject.
Though the name of Mark seems to be of Roman extraction, yet the evangelist now before us was born of Jewish parents, and originally descended from the tribe of Levi. What his proper name was, or upon what change or accident of life he might assume this, we have no manner of intelligence; but as it was no unusual thing for the Jews, when they went into the European provinces of the Roman empire, to conform to the customs of the country, and, while they continued there, to be called by some name of common use; so some have conjectured, that when Mark attended upon St Peter to Rome, he might at that time take upon him this name, which (as he never returned to Judea to reassume his own) he for ever after retained. In the writings of the apostles we read of several called by this name. There is John (d), whose sirname was Mark; (e) Mark, the sister's son of Barnabas; Mark (ƒ), who was employed in the ministry; Mark, whom St Paul calls his fellow-labourer (g); and Mark, whom St Peter (h) styles his son; but which of these was the evangelist, or whether the evangelist might not be a person distinct from each of these, has been a matter of some doubt among the learned.
That he was one of the seventy disciples, and, among them, one of those who took offence at our Lord's discourse of (i) "eating his flesh and drinking his blood," some of the ancients have affirmed; but Eusebius (k), from Papias, who was bishop of Hierapolis, and lived near those times, tells us positively that he was no hearer or follower of our Saviour. He was converted by some of the apostles, and most likely by St Peter, to whom he was a constant retainer, and served him in the capacity of an amanuensis and an interpreter. (1) For, though the apostles were divinely inspired, and, among
(a) [See the Appendix to this Dissertation.] (b) Ambros. Pref. in Luc.
If we compare St Matthew with the three other evangelists, we may perceive a remarkable difference in the order and succession of our Saviour's actions, from Chap. iv. 22. to chap. xiv. 13. which has much perplexed chronologers and interpreters. Some pretend that St Matthew should be followed, but others think it more reasonable to submit to the authority of the other three, especially since St Mark, who follows him close enough in every other thing, forsakes bim in this particular. However this be, it can prove
ginning of the Gospels to Matth. ix. 8.
Mark ii. 23.
Luke vi. 1.
&c. or 5439.
A. M. 4034, other miraculous powers, had the gift of languages conferred on them; yet the interpretation of tongues seems to be a gift more peculiar to some than others, and it might be St Mark's talent, either by word or writing, to expound St Peter's discourses to those Vulg. Ær 28. who understood not the language wherein they were delivered.
[Such is the account of St Mark, which has been very generally received in this country since the publication of Cave's lives of the apostles, and fathers of the Christian church. "It is probable, however, that the evangelist is the same person as the Mark who is mentioned in various parts of the New Testament, especially in Acts xii. 12. where it appears that St Peter was intimate in the house of his mother. Moreover, the Mark who is mentioned Acts xii. 12. accompanied St Paul on his travels (a)." Hence we may conclude, with great probability, that St Mark the evangelist, Mark the son of Mary, who some time attended St Paul, and Mark, who is mentioned by St Peter in his first epistle, are one and the same person; for the objections which have been made to their identity, by Cave and others, have been fully answered by Lardner.
It appears from Acts xii. 12. that St Mark's original name was John, the sirname Mark having probably been adopted by him when he left Judea to go into foreign countries, agreeably to a practice which in that age was common among the Jews. appears also, from the same passage, that his mother's name was Mary, that she lived in Jerusalem, that the Christians of that city frequently assembled in her house, and that, by consequence, she was a Christian herself. From Col. iv. 10. we learn that he was a cousin or nephew of St Barnabas; from Acts xii. 25. that he accompanied St Paul and St Barnabas on their visit to the Gentiles; from Ch. xiii. 13 that he departed from them and returned to Jerusalem; and from Ch. xv. 36-40. that in consequence of his departure, St Paul, having refused to take him on his next journey, he accompanied St Barnabas alone, who then quitted St Paul. To St Paul, however, he was afterwards reconciled, and became again his fellow-labourer in the Gospel; for he was with him during his imprisonment in Rome, as appears from Coloss. iv. 10. and Philem. 2+. In the latter passage St Paul ranks him among his fellow-labourers, and in the former he mentions his design of sending him to Colosse. It is evident from 1 Pet. v. 13. that St Mark accompanied St Peter also, by whom he was so highly esteemed as to be called his son, probably for the same reason and in the same sense that Timothy is thus called by St Paul (b). It is therefore evident, from what has been said, that St Mark was a native Jew, and could be no stranger to the character of our Lord and his miracles from his earliest years, whether he was one of his personal followers, or converted afterwards to the faith by St Peter; but that he was of the tribe of Levi, as Cave asserts, is by no means certain. It is indeed true that his uncle Barnabas was a Levite; but this will not prove that Mark was likewise a Levite, for it is a mistake that the Jewish families never married out of their respective tribes, as is clearly proved by the case of Christ and John the Baptist. Their mothers are by St Luke called cou sins, though Mary was certainly of the family of David and tribe of Judan, and Elizabeth as certainly of the daughters of Aaron.
At whatever time St Mark was converted to the faith, he appears to have accompanied St Peter when he went to Rome, and to have remained there preaching the Gospel till the martyrdom of that apostle; and it was during his residence at Kome, that, according to the concurring testimony of all antiquity, he composed, at the request of the Christians of those parts, the Gospel which goes under his name (c).] and which St Peter revised and approved. From Italy he went into Egypt; and having fixed his chief residence in Alexandria, he there, and in the country round about, pro
(b) See 1 Tim. i. 1. and
(a) [Compare Acts xii. 12 with verse 25th of the same chapter.