I. Preliminary Remarks.
1. A book is genuine
if written by the man whose name it bears, or to whom it is ascribed; or when, as in the case of several books of the Old Testament, the author is unknown, it is genuine if written in the age and country to which it is ascribed. A book is authentic
which is a record of facts as opposed to what is false or fictitious; and we call it credible
when the record of facts which it professes to give is worthy of belief. Authenticity and credibility are, therefore, only different views of the same quality.
In the case of a book that deals mainly with principles, the question of authorship is of subordinate importance. Thus the book of Job, with the exception of the brief narratives with which it opens and closes, and which may belong to any one of several centuries, is occupied with the question of Divine providence. It is not necessary that we know what particular man was its author, or at what precise period he wrote. We only need reasonable evidence (as will be shown hereafter) that he was a prophetical man, writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But the case of the gospel narratives is wholly different. They contain a record of the supernatural appearance and works of the Son of God, on the truth of which rests our faith in the gospel. So the apostle Paul reasons: |If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.| 1 Cor.15:14. It is, then, of vital importance that we know the relation which the authors of these narratives held to Christ. If they were not apostles or apostolic men, that is, associates of the apostles, laboring with them, enjoying their full confidence, and in circumstances to obtain their information directly from them -- but, instead of this, wrote after the apostolic age -- their testimony is not worthy of the unlimited faith which the church in all ages has reposed in it. The question, then, of the genuineness of the gospel narratives and that of their authenticity and credibility must stand or fall together.
2. In respect to the origin of the gospels, as also of the other books of the New Testament, the following things should be carefully remembered:
First. There was a period, extending, perhaps, through some years from the day of Pentecost, when there were no written gospels, their place being supplied by the living presence and teachings of the apostles and other disciples of our Lord.
Secondly. When the need of written documents began to be felt, they were produced, one after another, as occasion suggested them. Thus the composition of the books of the New Testament extended through a considerable period of years.
Thirdly. Besides the gospels universally received by the churches, other narratives of our Lord's life were attempted, as we learn from the evangelist Luke (1:1); but those never obtained general currency. The churches everywhere received the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, because of the clear evidence which they had of their apostolic origin and trustworthiness; and because, also, these gospels, though not professing to give a complete account of our Lord's life and teachings, were nevertheless sufficiently full to answer the end for which they were composed, being not fragmentary sketches, but orderly narratives, each of them extending over the whole course of our Lord's ministry. The other narratives meanwhile gradually passed into oblivion. The general reception of these four gospels did not, however, come from any formal concert of action on the part of the churches, (as, for example, from the authoritative decision of a general council, since no such thing as a general council of the churches was known till long after this period;) but simply from the common perception everywhere of the unimpeachable evidence by which their apostolic authority was sustained.
The narratives referred to by Luke were earlier than his gospel. They were not spurious, nor, so far as we know, unauthentic; but rather imperfect. They must not be confounded with the apocryphal gospels of a later age.
3. In respect to the quotations of Scripture by the early fathers of the church, it is important to notice their habit of quoting anonymously, and often in a loose and general way. They frequently cite from memory, blending together the words of different authors, and sometimes intermingling with them their own words. In citing the prophecies of the Old Testament in an argumentative way, they are, as might have been expected, more exact, particularly when addressing Jews; yet even here they often content themselves with the scope of the passages referred to, without being particular as to the exact words.
With the above preliminary remarks, we proceed to consider the evidences, external and internal, for the genuineness of the gospel narratives.
II. External Evidences. 4. Here we need not begin at a later date than the last quarter of the second century. This is the age of Irenaeus in Gaul, of Tertullian in North Africa, of Clement of Alexandria in Egypt, and of some other writers. Their testimony to the apostolic origin and universal reception of our four canonical gospels is as full as can be desired. They give the names of the authors, two of them -- Matthew and John -- apostles, and the other two -- Mark and Luke -- companions of apostles and fellow-laborers with them, always associating Mark with Peter, and Luke with Paul; they affirm the universal and undisputed reception of these four gospels from the beginning by all the churches; and deny the apostolic authority of other pretended gospels. In all this, they give not their individual opinions, but the common belief of the churches. It is conceded on all hands that in their day these four gospels were universally received by the churches as genuine and authoritative records of our Lord's life and works, to the exclusion of all others.
Irenaeus was a native of Asia Minor, of Greek descent; but the seat of his labors was Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, of the former of which places he became bishop after the martyrdom of Pothinus, about A.D.177. He was born about A.D.140, and suffered martyrdom under Septimius Severus A.D.202. In his youth he was a disciple of Polycarp, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle John. In a letter to one Florinus, which Eusebius has preserved, (Hist. Eccl., 5.20,) he gives, in glowing language, his recollections of the person and teachings of Polycarp, and tells with what interest he listened as this man related his intercourse with the apostle John and the others who had seen the Lord, |how he recounted their words, and the things which he had heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and teaching.| And he adds that these things which Polycarp had received from eye-witnesses he related |all in agreement with the Scriptures;| that is, obviously, with the gospel narratives. Pothinus, the predecessor of Irenaeus at Lyons, was ninety years old at the time of his martyrdom, and must have been acquainted with many who belonged to the latter part of the apostolic age. Under such circumstances, it is inconceivable that Irenaeus, who knew the Christian traditions of both the East and the West, should not have known the truth respecting the reception of the gospels by the churches, and the grounds on which this reception rested, more especially in the case of the gospel of John. Tischendorf, after mentioning the relation of Irenaeus to Polycarp the disciple of John, asks, with reason: |Are we, nevertheless, to cherish the supposition that Irenaeus never heard a word from Polycarp respecting the gospel of John, and yet gave it his unconditional confidence -- this man Irenaeus, who in his controversies with heretics, the men of falsification and apocryphal works, employs against them, before all other things, the pure Scripture as a holy weapon?| (Essay, When were Our Gospels Written, p.8.) The testimony of Irenaeus is justly regarded as of the most weighty character. The fact that he gives several fanciful reasons why there should be only four gospels, (Against Heresies, 3.11,) does not invalidate his statement of the fact that the churches had always received four, and no more. We always distinguish between men's testimony to facts of which they are competent witnesses, and their philosophical explanations of these facts.
Tertullian was born in Carthage about A.D.160, and died between A.D.220 and 240. About A.D.202 he joined the sect of the Montanists; but this does not affect his testimony respecting the origin and universal reception of the four canonical gospels. His works are very numerous, and in them all he insists with great earnestness that the gospel narratives, as also the other apostolic writings, have been received without corruption, as a sacred inheritance, from the apostolic churches. His work against Marcion, whom he accuses of employing a mutilated gospel of Luke, is particularly instructive as showing how deep and settled was the conviction of the early Christians that nothing could be a gospel which did not proceed from apostles or apostolic men; and how watchful they were against all attempts to mutilate or corrupt the primitive apostolic records. In defending the true gospel of Luke against the mutilated form of it employed by Marcion, he says: |I affirm that not in the apostolic churches alone, but in all which are joined with them in the bond of fellowship, that gospel of Luke which we most firmly maintain, has been valid from its first publication; but Marcion's gospel is unknown to most of them, and known to none, except to be condemned.| This testimony of Tertullian is very important, as showing his full conviction that Marcion could not deny the universal reception, from the beginning, of the genuine gospel of Luke. And a little afterwards he adds: |The same authority of the apostolic churches will defend the other gospels also, which we have in like manner through them, and according to them,| (Against Marcion, 4.5.) Many more quotations of like purport might be added.
Clement of Alexandria was a pupil of Pantaenus, and his successor as head of the catechetical school at Alexandria in Egypt. He was of heathen origin, born probably about the middle of the second century, and died about A.D.220. He had a philosophical turn of mind, and after his conversion to Christianity made extensive researches under various teachers, as he himself tells us, in Greece, in Italy, in Palestine, and other parts of the East. At last he met with Pantaenus in Egypt, whom he preferred to all his other guides, and in whose instructions he rested. The testimony of Clement to the universal and undisputed reception by the churches of the four canonical gospels as the writings of apostles or apostolic men, agrees with that of Tertullian. And it has the more weight, not only on account of his wide investigations, but because, also, it virtually contains the testimony of his several teachers, some of whom must have known, if not the apostles themselves, those who had listened to their teachings.
In connection with the testimony of the above-named writers, we may consider that of the churches of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, in a letter addressed by them to |the churches of Asia and Phrygia,| which Eusebius has preserved for us, (Hist. Eccl., 5.1,) and which describes a severe persecution through which they passed in the reign of Antoninus Verus, about A.D.177. In this they say: |So was fulfilled that which was spoken by our Lord, 'The time shall come in which whosoever killeth you shall think that he doeth God service.'| In speaking again of a certain youthful martyr, they first compare him to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, affirming, in the very words of Luke, that he |had walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless,| (Luke 1:6;) and then go on to describe him as |having the Comforter in himself, the Spirit, more abundantly than Zacharias,| where they apply to the Holy Spirit a term peculiar to the apostle John. Here, then, we have indubitable testimony to the fact that the gospel of John, as well as of Luke, was known to the churches of Gaul in the west and Asia Minor in the east in the days of Pothinus, bishop of these churches, who suffered martyrdom in this persecution. But Pothinus was ninety years old, so that his knowledge of these gospels must have reached back to the first quarter of the second century, when many who had known the apostles were yet living.
5. These testimonies, let it be carefully remembered, apply not to one part of Christendom alone, but to all its different and distant divisions; and that, too, long before there was any attempt to bring the judgment of the churches into harmony by means of general councils. The orthodox churches planted in the different provinces of the Roman empire, though in substantial harmony with each other, had nevertheless their minor differences, which were sometimes discussed with much warmth. In their relation to each other, they were jealous of their freedom and independence. The history of the so-called Antilegomena (Disputed Books of the New Testament, chap.6) shows that the reception of a writing as apostolic in one division of Christendom, did not insure its reception elsewhere. Had it been possible that a spurious book should be imposed as genuine on the churches of one region, it would certainly have met with opposition in other regions; but our four canonical gospels were everywhere received without dispute as the writings of apostles or apostolic men. This fact admits of but one explanation: the churches had from their first appearance indubitable evidence of their genuineness.
6. Let it be further remembered that this testimony relates not to books of a private character, that might have lain for years hidden in some corner; but to the public writings of the churches, on which their faith was founded, of which they all had copies, and which it was the custom, from the apostolic age, to read in their assemblies along with the law and the prophets. (Justin Martyr Apol., 1.67.) Earnestness and sincerity are traits which will not be denied to the primitive Christians, and they were certainly not wanting in common discernment. Let any man show, if he can, how a spurious gospel, suddenly appearing somewhere after the apostolic days, could have been imposed upon the churches as genuine, not only where it originated, but everywhere else in Christendom. The difficulty with which some of the genuine books of the New Testament gained universal currency sufficiently refutes such an absurd supposition.
7. We are now prepared to consider the testimonies of an earlier period. Here Justin Martyr is a very weighty witness, since he lived so near the apostolic age, and had every facility for investigating the history of the gospel narratives. He was born near the beginning of the second century, and his extant works date from about the middle of the same century. Before his conversion to Christianity he was a heathen philosopher earnestly seeking for the truth among the different systems of the age. Of his undoubtedly genuine works, there remain to us two Apologies (defences of Christianity) and a Dialogue with Trypho a Jew, designed to defend the Christian religion against its Jewish opponents. In these he quotes the gospel of Matthew very abundantly; next in number are his quotations from Luke. His references to Mark and John are much fewer, but enough to show his acquaintance with them. He never quotes the evangelists by name, but designates their writings as |The Memoirs of the Apostles;| and more fully, |The memoirs which I affirm to have been composed by his| -- our Lord's -- |apostles and their followers,| Dialog., ch.103, |which,| he elsewhere says, |are called gospels,| Apol.1.66, and in a collective sense, |the gospel,| Dialog., ch.10. It should be carefully noticed that he speaks in the plural number both of the apostles who composed the gospels and their followers. This description applies exactly to our canonical gospels -- two written by apostles, and two by their followers.
The attempt has been made in modern times to set aside Justin's testimony, on the alleged ground that he quotes not from our canonical gospels, but from some other writings. The groundlessness of this supposition is manifest at first sight. Justin had visited the three principal churches of Rome, Alexandria, and Ephesus. It is certain that he knew what gospels were received by them in his day as authentic, and that these are the very gospels which he quotes, affirming that they were the writings of apostles and their followers. Now, that the gospels which Justin used should have been wholly supplanted by others in the days of Irenaeus, who was of full age at the time of Justin's death, is incredible. But Irenaeus, in common with Clement, Tertullian, and others, quotes our four canonical gospels as alone possessing apostolic authority, and as having been always received by the churches. It follows that the |Memoirs| of Justin must be the same gospels. We cannot conceive that in this brief period an entire change of gospels should have been made throughout all the different and distant provinces of the Roman empire, at a time when concerted action through general councils was unknown; and that, too, in so silent a manner that no record of it remains in the history of the church. The supposition that the gospels known to Justin were different from those received by Irenaeus ought not to be entertained without irrefragable proof. But no such proof exists. |An accurate examination in detail of his citations,| says Semisch, Life of Justin Martyr, 4.1, |has led to the result that this title| -- the Memoirs of the
Apostles -- |designates the canonical gospels -- a result in no way less certain because again called in question in modern days.|
The agreement of his quotations with our present gospels is of such a character and extent as can be explained only from his use of them. The variations are mainly due to his habit of quoting loosely from memory. |Many of these citations,| says Kirchhofer, |agree, word for word, with the gospels; others with the substance, but with alterations and additions of words, with transpositions and omissions; others give the thought only in a general way; others still condense together the contents of several passages and different sayings, in which case the historic quotations are yet more free, and blend together, in part, the accounts of Matthew and Luke. But some quotations are not found at all in our canonical gospels,| (see immediately below;) |some, on the contrary, occur twice or thrice.| Quellensammlung, p.89. note. Two or three more important variations are, perhaps, due to the readings in the manuscripts employed by Justin, since the later church fathers, who, as we know, employed the canonical gospels, give the same variations. Finally, Justin gives a few incidents and sayings not recorded in our present gospels. As he lived so near the apostolic times he may well have received these from tradition; but if in any case he took them from written documents, there is no proof that he ascribed to such documents apostolic authority. In one passage, he accurately distinguishes between what he gives from tradition or other written sources, and what from the apostolic records. |When Jesus came,| he says, |to the river Jordan, where John was baptizing, as he descended to the water, both was a fire kindled in the Jordan, and as he ascended from the water, the apostles of this very Christ of ours have written that the Holy Spirit as a dove lighted upon him.| Dial., ch.88.
It has been doubted whether certain references to the gospel of John can be found in Justin's writings; but it seems plain that the following is a free quotation from chapter 3:3-5: |For Christ said, Except ye be born again, ye shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven. But that it is impossible that they who have once been born should enter into the wombs of those who bare them is manifest to all.| Apol.1.61. To affirm that a passage so peculiar as this was borrowed by both the evangelist John and Justin from a common tradition, is to substitute a very improbable for a very natural explanation. Besides, Justin uses phraseology peculiar to John, repeatedly calling our Saviour |the Word of God,| and |the Word made flesh;| affirming that he |was in a peculiar sense begotten the only Son of God,| |an only begotten One to the Father of all things, being in a peculiar sense begotten of him as Word and Power, and afterwards made man through the Virgin;| and calling him |the good Rock that sends forth (literally, causes to bubble forth -- compare John 4:14) living waters into the hearts of those who through him have loved the Father of all things, and that gives to all who will the water of life to drink.| These and other references to John may be seen in Kirchhofer's Quellensammlung, pp.146, 147.
8. Another early witness is Papias, who was bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, in the first half of the second century. He wrote |An Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord,| in five books. This work has perished; but fragments of it, with notices of its contents, are preserved to us by Eusebius and other writers. As Papias, according to his own express testimony, gathered his materials, if not from apostles themselves, yet from their immediate disciples, his statements are invested with great interest. Of Matthew he says, Eusebius Hist. Eccl., 5.39, that he |wrote the oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and every one interpreted them as he could.| He speaks of this interpretation by each one as he could as something past, implying that in his day our present Greek gospel of Matthew (of the apostolic authority of which there was never any doubt in the early churches) was in circulation, whether it was or was not originally composed in Hebrew, a question on which learned men are not agreed. Of Mark he affirms that, |having become Peter's interpreter, he wrote down accurately as many things as he remembered; not recording in order the things that were said or done by Christ, since he was not a hearer or follower of the Lord, but afterwards| -- after our Lord's ascension -- |of Peter, who imparted his teachings as occasion required, but not as making an orderly narrative of the Lord's discourses.| Hist. Eccl., 3.39. The fact that Eusebius gives no statement of Papias respecting the other two gospels is of little account, since his notices of the authors to whom he refers, and of their works, are confessedly imperfect.
Eusebius notices, for example, Hist. Eccl.4.14, the fact that Polycarp, in his letter to the Philippians, |has used certain testimonies from the First Epistle of Peter;| but says nothing of his many references, in the same letter, to the epistles of Paul, in some of which he quotes the apostle by name. We have, nevertheless, through Eusebius, an indirect but valid testimony from Papias to the authorship of the fourth gospel, resting upon the admitted identity of the author of this gospel with the author of the first of the epistles ascribed to John. Speaking of Papias, Eusebius says: |But the same man used testimonies from the First Epistle of John.| Hist. Eccl., 3.39, end. The ascription to John of this epistle, is virtually the ascription to him of the fourth gospel also. Eusebius speaks of Papias as a man |of very small mind.| The correctness of this judgment is manifest from the specimens which he gives of his writings; but it cannot invalidate the evidence we have from the above passages of the existence, in Papias' day, of the gospels to which he refers. As to the question whether these were our present canonical gospels of Matthew and Mark, it is sufficient to say that neither Eusebius nor any of the church fathers understood them differently.
9. A very interesting relic of antiquity is the Epistle to Diognetus, of which the authorship is uncertain. Its date cannot be later than the age of Justin Martyr, to whom it is ascribed by some. It is, notwithstanding some erroneous views, a noble defence of Christianity, in which the author shows his acquaintance with the gospel of John by the use of terms and phrases peculiar to him. Thus he calls Christ |the Word,| and |the only begotten Son,| whom God sent to men. In the words, |not to take thought about raiment and food,| section 9, there is an apparent reference to Matt.6:25, 31.
In addition to the above testimonies might be adduced some fragments of early Christian writers which have been preserved to us by those of a later day; but for brevity's sake they are omitted.
10. Following up the stream of testimony, we come now to that of the so-called apostolic fathers; that is, of men who were disciples of apostles, and wrote in the age next following them. Holding, as they do, such a near relation to the apostles, and familiar with the oral traditions of the apostolic age, we cannot expect to find in them such frequent and formal references to the books of the New Testament as characterize the works of later writers. They quote, for the most part, anonymously, interweaving with their own words those of the sacred writers.
One of the earliest among the apostolic fathers is Clement of Rome, who died about A.D.100. Of the numerous writings anciently ascribed to him, his First Epistle to the Corinthians is admitted, upon good evidence, to be genuine. In this we find words which imply a knowledge of the first three gospels. Citing evidently from memory, in a loose way, he says: |For thus he| -- the Lord Jesus -- |spake, 'Be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; forgive, that ye may be forgiven; as ye do, so shall it be done to you; as ye give, so shall it be given to you; as ye judge, so shall ye receive judgment; as ye are kind, so shall ye receive kindness; with what measure ye measure, with that it shall be measured to you.'| And again: |For he said, 'Woe unto that man; it were better for him that he had not been born, than that he should offend one of my elect.'|
Ignatius was bishop of the church at Antioch, and suffered martyrdom A.D.107, or according to some accounts, 116. In his epistles, which are received as genuine, are manifest quotations from the gospel of Matthew, and some apparent though not entirely certain allusions to the gospel of John.
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the apostle John. He suffered martyrdom about the year 166. Of his writings, only one short epistle, addressed to the Philippians, remains to us; but this abounds in references to the books of the New Testament, especially the epistles of Paul. Of quotations from the gospel of Matthew, the following are examples: |Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.| |Blessed are the poor in spirit, and those that suffer persecution for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.| |The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.| For the gospel of John, Polycarp's testimony, though indirect, is decisive. In his letter to the Philippians, he quotes from the First Epistle of John, |For every one who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist.| 1 John 4:3. But that the gospel of John and this first epistle both proceeded from the same author, is a conceded fact.
The recently discovered Sinai Codex, the oldest known codex in the world, contains the entire Epistle of Barnabas in the original Greek. In this we find, among other references to the first three gospels, one to the written gospel of Matthew of the most decisive character: |Let us be mindful, therefore, lest perchance we be found as it is written, 'Many are called, but few are chosen.'| Matt.20:16; 22:14. The form of quotation, |as it is written,| is employed by the writers of the New Testament only of citations from Scripture. In these words the writer places the gospel of Matthew in the same rank as the Scriptures of the Old Testament. That he was the Barnabas mentioned in the New Testament as the companion of Paul cannot be maintained; but the composition of the epistle is assigned, with probability, to the beginning of the second century, though some place it as late as its close.
The testimony of other apocryphal writings of early date might be adduced, but for the sake of brevity it is here omitted. It may be seen in the essay of Tischendorf, already referred to.
11. A different class of witnesses will next be considered -- the ancient Syriac version, the old Latin version, and the Muratorian fragment on the canon of the New Testament -- all of which bear testimony to our canonical gospels.
The ancient Syriac version, commonly called the
Peshito -- simple, that is, expressing simply the meaning of the original, without allegorical additions and explanations, after the manner of the Jewish Targums -- is admitted by all to be of very high antiquity. Learned men are agreed that this version cannot well be referred to a later date than the close of the second century, and some assign it to the middle of the second century, at which time the Syrian churches were in a very flourishing condition, and cannot well be supposed to have been without a version of the Holy Scriptures. The Peshito contains all the books of the New Testament, except the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the Epistle of Jude, and the Apocalypse. It testifies to the existence of our four gospels, not only when it was made, but at an earlier date; since we must, in all probability, assume that some considerable time elapsed after the composition, one by one, of the books of the New Testament, before they were collected into a volume, as in this Syriac version.
Respecting the Old Latin version, (in distinction from Jerome's revision, commonly called the Vulgate, which belongs to the fourth century,) various opinions have been maintained. Some have assumed the existence of several independent Latin versions of the New Testament, or of some of its books; but the preferable opinion is that there were various recensions, all having for their foundation a single version, namely, the Old Latin; which, says Westcott, Canon of the New Testament, ch.3, |can be traced back as far as the earliest records of Latin Christianity. Every circumstance connected with it indicates the most remote antiquity.| It was current in north Africa, at least soon after the middle of the second century. Though it has not come down to us in a perfect form, it contains, along with most of the other books of the New Testament, our four canonical gospels; and its testimony is of the greatest weight.
The Muratorian Fragment on the Canon is the name given to a Latin fragment discovered by the Italian scholar, Muratori, in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, in a manuscript bearing the marks of great antiquity. Its date is determined by its reference to the shepherd of Hermas, which, says the Fragment, Hermas |wrote very recently in our times, while the bishop Pius, his brother, occupied the chair of the church at Rome.| The later of the two dates given for the death of Pius is A.D.157. The composition of the Fragment must have followed soon afterwards. Though mutilated at the beginning, as well as the end, its testimony to the existence of the four canonical gospels is decisive. In its present form, it opens with the end of a sentence, the beginning of which is lost. It then goes on to say, |The third gospel according to Luke.| After mentioning various particulars concerning Luke, as that he was a physician whom Paul had taken with him, that he did not himself see the Lord in the flesh, etc., it adds, |The fourth of the gospels, that of John, of the number of the disciples,| to which it appends a traditional account of the circumstances of its composition. With the truth or falsehood of this account we have at present no concern; the important fact is that this very ancient canon recognizes the existence of our four canonical gospels.
12. The heretical sects of the second century furnish testimony to the genuineness of our canonical gospels which is of the most weighty and decisive character. Though some of them rejected certain books of the New Testament and mutilated others, it was on doctrinal, not on critical grounds. Had they attempted to disprove on historic grounds the genuineness of the rejected portions of Scripture, it is certain that the church fathers, who wrote against them at such length, would have noticed their arguments. The fact that they did not, is conclusive proof that no such attempt was made; but from the position which the leaders of these heretical sects occupied, it is certain that, could the genuineness of the canonical gospels, or any one of them, have been denied on historic grounds, the denial would have been made.
Marcion, one of the most distinguished leaders of those who separated themselves from the orthodox church, came to Rome in the second quarter of the second century. He separated Christianity from all connection with Judaism, making the Jehovah of the Old Testament a different being from the God of the New Testament. His gospel, called by the ancients the gospel of Marcion, is admitted to have been a mutilated copy of Luke's gospel. Of course it became necessary that he should reject the first two chapters of this gospel, (which alone he received,) since they contain our Lord's genealogy in the line of Abraham and David, and should otherwise alter it to suit his views. On the same grounds, he altered the epistles of Paul also. That Marcion was not ignorant of the other three gospels, but rejected them, is plain from the words of Tertullian, who accuses him, Against Marcion, 4.3, of attempting |to destroy the credit of those gospels which are properly such, and are published under the name of apostles, or also of apostolic men; that he may invest his own gospel with the confidence which he withdraws from them.| His real ground for rejecting some books of the New Testament and mutilating others was that he could judge better of the truth than the writers themselves, whom he represented to have been misled by the influences of Jewish prejudices. Accordingly Irenaeus well says of the liberties taken by Marcion, Against Heresies, 1.27: |He persuaded his disciples that he was himself more trustworthy than the apostles who have delivered to us the gospel; while he gave to them not the gospel, but a fragment of the gospel.|
A distinguished leader of the Gnostics was Valentinus, who came to Rome about A.D.140, and continued there till the time of Anicetus. His testimony and that of his followers is, if possible, more weighty than even that of Marcion. His method, according to the testimony of Tertullian, was not to reject and mutilate the Scriptures, but to pervert their meaning by false interpretations. Tertullian says, Against Heretics, ch.38: |For though Valentinus seems to use the entire instrument, he has done violence to the truth with a more artful mind than Marcion.| |The entire instrument| -- Latin, integro
instrumento -- includes our four canonical gospels. Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus have preserved quotations from Valentinus in which he refers to the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. See Westcott, Canon of the New Testament, 4.5. Respecting the gospel of John in particular, Irenaeus says, Against Heresies, 3.11, that |the Valentinians make the most abundant use of it.| Heracleon, whom Origen represents as having been a familiar friend of Valentinus, wrote a commentary on John, from which Origen frequently quotes; but if Valentinus and his followers, in the second quarter of the second century, used |the entire instrument,| they must have found its apostolic authority established upon a firm foundation before their day. This carries us back to the age immediately succeeding that of the apostles, when Polycarp and others who had known them personally were yet living. The testimony of the Valentinians, then, is of the most decisive character.
Another prominent man among the heretical writers was Tatian, a contemporary and pupil of Justin Martyr, who, according to the testimony of Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Theodoret, composed a Diatessaron, that is, a four-fold gospel; which can be understood only as a harmony of the four gospels which, as has been shown, were used by Justin; or of such parts of these gospels as suited his purpose; for Tatian, like Marcion, omitted all that relates to our Lord's human descent. With this Diatessaron, Theodoret was well acquainted; for he found among his churches more than two hundred copies, which he caused to be removed, and their places supplied by the four canonical gospels.
As to other gospels of the second century, which are occasionally mentioned by later writers, as |The Gospel of Truth,| |The Gospel of Basilides,| etc., there is no evidence that they professed to be connected histories of our Lord's life and teachings. They were rather, as Norton has shown, Genuineness of the Gospels, vol.3, chap.4, doctrinal works embodying the views of the sectaries that used them.
13. We have seen how full and satisfactory is the external evidence for our four canonical gospels. Considering how scanty are the remains of Christian writings that have come down to us from the first half of the same century, we have all the external evidence for that period also that could be reasonably demanded, and it is met by no rebutting testimony that rests on historic grounds. The authorship of no ancient classical work is sustained by a mass of evidence so great and varied, and the candid mind can rest in it with entire satisfaction.
III. Internal Evidences. 14. Here we may begin with considering the relation of the first three gospels to the last, in respect to both time of composition and character.
And first, with respect to time. The first three gospels -- frequently called the synoptical gospels, or the synoptics, because from the general similarity of their plan and materials their contents are capable of being summed up in a synopsis -- record our Lord's prophecy of the overthrow of Jerusalem. The three records of this prediction wear throughout the costume of a true prophecy, not of a prophecy written after the event. They are occupied, almost exclusively, with the various signs by which the approach of that great catastrophe might be known, and with admonitions to the disciples to hold themselves in readiness for it. Matthew, for example, devotes fifty verses to the account of the prophecy and the admonitions connected with it. Of these, only four, chap.24:19-22, describe the calamities of the scene, and that in the most general terms. Now, upon the supposition that the evangelist wrote before the event, all this is natural. Our Lord's design in uttering the prophecy was not to gratify the idle curiosity of the disciples, but to warn them beforehand in such a way that they might escape the horrors of the impending catastrophe. He dwelt, therefore, mainly on the signs of its approach; and with these, as having a chief interest for the readers, the record of the prediction is mostly occupied. It is impossible, on the other hand, to conceive that one who wrote years after the destruction of the city and temple should not have dwelt in more detail on the bloody scenes connected with their overthrow, and have given in other ways also a historic coloring to his account. We may safely say that to write a prophecy after the event in such a form as that which we have in either of the first three gospels, transcends the power of any uninspired man; and as to inspired narratives, the objectors with whom we are now dealing deny them altogether.
But there are, in the record of this prophecy, some special indications of the time when the evangelists wrote. According to Matthew, the disciples asked, ver.3: |When shall these things| -- the destruction of the buildings of the temple -- |be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world?| These questions our Lord proceeded to answer in such a way that the impression on the minds of the hearers (to be rectified only by the course of future events) must have been that the overthrow of the temple and city would be connected with his second coming and the end of the world. |Immediately after the tribulation of those days,| says Matthew, |shall the sun be darkened,| etc. The probable explanation of this peculiar form of the prophecy is that it does actually include all three events; the fulfilment which it had in the destruction of the city and temple by the Romans being only an earnest of a higher fulfilment hereafter. But however this may be, it is important to notice that the evangelists, in their record of the prophecy, are evidently unconscious of any discrepancy, real or apparent, that needs explanation; which could not have been the case had they written years after the event predicted. |It may be safely held,| says Professor Fisher, Supernatural Origin of Christianity, p.172, |that had the evangelist been writing at a later time, some explanation would have been thrown in to remove the seeming discrepancy between prophecy and fulfilment.|
It should be further noticed that the evangelists Matthew and Mark, in reference to |the abomination of desolation| standing in the holy place, throw in the admonitory words, |Let him that readeth understand.| These are not the Saviour's words, but those of the narrators calling the attention of believers to a most important sign requiring their immediate flight to the mountains. Before the overthrow of the city these words had a weighty office; after its overthrow they would have been utterly superfluous. Their presence in such a connection is proof that the record was written before the event to which it refers.
Admitting the genuineness and authenticity of the book of Acts, (which will be considered hereafter,) we have a special proof of the early composition of the gospel according to Luke. The book of Acts ends abruptly with Paul's two years residence at Rome, which brings us down to A.D.65, five years before the destruction of Jerusalem. The only natural explanation of this fact is that here the composition of the book of Acts was brought to a close. The date of the gospel which preceded, Acts 1:1, must therefore be placed still earlier.
If, now, we examine the gospel of John, we find its internal character agreeing with the ancient tradition that it was written at Ephesus late in the apostle's life. That it was composed at a distance from Judea, in a Gentile region, is manifest from his careful explanation of Jewish terms and usages, which among his countrymen would have needed no explanation. No man writing in Judea, or among the Galileans who habitually attended the national feasts at Jerusalem, would have said, |And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh,| 6:4; |Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand,| 7:2, etc. The absence of all reference to the overthrow of the Jewish polity, civil and ecclesiastical, may be naturally explained upon the supposition that the apostle wrote some years after that event, when his mind had now become familiar with the great truth that the Mosaic institutions had forever passed away to make room for the universal dispensation of Christianity; and that he wrote, too, among Gentiles for whom the abolition of these institutions had no special interest. In general style and spirit, moreover, the gospel of John is closely allied to his first epistle, and cannot well be separated from it by a great interval of time; but the epistle undoubtedly belongs to a later period of the apostle's life.
From the language of John, chap.5:2, |Now there is at Jerusalem, by the sheep-gate, a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches,| -- it has been argued that, when John wrote, the city must have been still standing. But Eusebius speaks of the pool as remaining in his day, and why may not the porches, as useful to the Roman conquerors, have been preserved, at least for a season?
We have seen the relation of John's gospel to the other three in respect to time. It must have been written several years later than the last of them; perhaps not less than fifteen years. If, now, we look to its relation in regard to character, we must say that it differs from them as widely as it well could while presenting to our view the same divine and loving Saviour. Its general plan is different. For reasons not known to us, the synoptical gospels are mainly occupied with our Lord's ministry in Galilee. They record only his last journey to Jerusalem, and the momentous incidents connected with it. John, on the contrary, notices his visits to Jerusalem year by year. Hence his materials are, to a great extent, different from theirs; and even where he records the same events -- as, for example, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and the last supper -- he connects with them long discourses, which the other evangelists have omitted. Particularly noticeable are our Lord's oft-repeated discussions with the unbelieving Jews respecting his Messiahship, and his confidential intercourse with his disciples, in both of which we have such treasures of divine truth and love. How strikingly this gospel differs from the others in its general style and manner every reader feels at once. It bears throughout the impress of John's individuality, and by this it is immediately connected with the epistles that bear his name. It should be added that in respect to the time when our Lord ate the passover with his disciples there is an apparent disagreement with the other three gospels, which the harmonists have explained in various ways.
The essential point of the above comparison is this: Notwithstanding the striking difference between the later fourth gospel and the earlier three, it was at once received by all the churches as of apostolic authority. Now upon the supposition of its genuineness, both its peculiar character and its undisputed reception everywhere are easily explained. John, the bosom disciple of our Lord, wrote with the full consciousness of his apostolic authority and his competency as a witness of what he had himself seen and heard. He therefore gave his testimony in his own independent and original way. How far he may have been influenced in his selection of materials by a purpose to supply what was wanting in the earlier gospels, according to an old tradition, it is not necessary here to inquire; it is sufficient to say that, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, he marked out that particular plan which we have in his gospel, and carried it out in his own peculiar manner, thus opening to the churches new mines, so to speak, of the inexhaustible fulness of truth and love contained in him in whom |dwelleth all the fulness of the godhead bodily.| And when this original gospel, so different in its general plan and style from those that preceded, made its appearance, the apostolic authority of its author secured its immediate and universal reception by the churches. All this is very plain and intelligible.
But upon the supposition that the gospel of John is a spurious production of the age succeeding that of the apostles, let any one explain, if he can, how it could have obtained universal and unquestioned apostolic authority. Its very difference from the earlier gospels must have provoked inquiry and examination, and these must have led to its rejection, especially at a time when some who had known the apostle yet survived; and no one now pretends to assign to it a later period.
15. We will next consider the relation of the first three gospels to each other. Here we have remarkable agreements with remarkable differences. The general plan of all three is the same. It is manifest also, at first sight, that there lies at the foundation of each a basis of common matter -- common not in substance alone, but to a great extent in form also. Equally manifest is it that the three evangelists write independently of each other. Matthew, for example, did not draw his materials from Luke; for there is his genealogy of our Lord, and his full account of the sermon on the mount, not to mention other particulars. Nor did Luke take his materials from Matthew; for there is his genealogy also, with large sections of matter peculiar to himself. Mark has but little matter that is absolutely new; but where he and the other two evangelists record the same events, if one compares his narratives with theirs, he finds numerous little incidents peculiar to this gospel woven into them in a very vivid and graphic manner. They come in also in the most natural and artless way, as might be expected from one who, if not himself an eye-witness, received his information immediately from eye-witnesses. The three writers, moreover, do not always agree as to the order in which they record events; yet, notwithstanding the diversities which they exhibit, they were all received from the first as of equal authority.
The natural explanation of this is that all three wrote in the apostolic age, and consequently had access, each of them independently of the other two, to the most authentic sources of information. These sources (so far as the evangelists were not themselves eye-witnesses) lay partly, perhaps, in written documents like those referred to by Luke, 1:1, partly in the unwritten traditions current in the apostolic churches, and partly in personal inquiry from eye-witnesses, especially, in the case of Mark and Luke, from apostles themselves. From these materials each selected as suited his purposes, and the churches everywhere unhesitatingly received each of the three gospels, notwithstanding the above-named variations between them, because they had undoubted evidence of their apostolic authority. We cannot suppose that after the apostolic age three gospels, bearing to each other the relation which these do, could have been imposed upon the churches as all of them equally authentic. We know from the history of Marcion's gospel how fully alive they were to the character of their sacred records. On apostolic authority they could receive -- to mention a single example -- both Matthew's and Luke's account of our Lord's genealogy; but it is certain that they would not have received the two on the authority of men who lived after the apostolic age.
16. In the gospel narratives are numerous incidental allusions to passing events without the proper sphere of our Lord's labors, to social customs, and to the present posture of public affairs, civil and ecclesiastical. In all these the severest scrutiny has been able to detect no trace of a later age. This is a weighty testimony to the apostolic origin of the gospels. Had their authors lived in a later age, the fact must have manifested itself in some of these references. The most artless writer can allude in a natural and truthful way to present events, usages, and circumstances; but it transcends the power of the most skilful author to multiply incidental and minute references to a past age without betraying the fact that he does not belong to it.
17. Every age has, also, its peculiar impress of thought and reasoning in religious, not less than in secular matters. Although the gospel itself remains always the same, and those who sincerely embrace it have also substantially the same character from age to age, there is, nevertheless, continual progress and change in men's apprehension of the gospel and its institutions, and consequently in their manner of reasoning concerning them. No man, for example, could write a treatise on Christianity at the present day without making it manifest that he did not belong to the first quarter of the present century. The primitive age of Christianity is no exception to this universal law. Under the auspices of the apostles it began to move forward, and it continued to move after their decease. The pastoral epistles of Paul bear internal marks of having been written in the later period of his life, because they are adapted to the state of the Christian church and its institutions that belonged to that, and not to an earlier period. If, now, we examine the writings of the so-called apostolic fathers -- disciples of the apostles, who wrote after their death -- we find in them circles of thought and reasoning not belonging to the canonical writings of the New Testament, least of all to the canonical gospels, though they are evidently derived from hints contained in these writings, whether rightly or wrongly apprehended. In this respect, the works of the apostolic fathers are distinguished in a very marked way from those which bear the names of the apostles themselves or their associates.
18. Another decisive argument lies in the character of the Greek employed by the evangelists, in common with the other writers of the New Testament. It is the Greek language employed by Jews, (or, in the case of Luke, if his Jewish origin be doubted -- see Col.4:11, 16 -- by one who had received a Jewish training under the influence of the Greek version of the Old Testament,) and therefore pervaded and colored by Hebrew idioms. This peculiar form of the Greek language belongs to the apostolic age, when the teachers and writers of the church were Jews. After the overthrow of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jewish nation, and the death of the apostles and their associates, it rapidly disappeared. Thenceforward the writers of the church were of Gentile origin and training, in accordance with the Saviour's memorable words: |The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.|
These internal proofs, coinciding as they do with a mass of external evidences so great and varied, place the genuineness of the four canonical gospels on a foundation that cannot be shaken.