With all this harmony, the Christian doctrine appears in the New Testament in different forms according to the peculiar character, education, and sphere of the several sacred writers. The truth of the gospel, in itself infinite, can adapt itself to every class, to every temperament, every order of talent, and every habit of thought. Like the light of the sun, it breaks into various colors according to the nature of the bodies on which it falls; like the jewel, it emits a new radiance at every turn.
Irenaeus speaks of a fourfold |Gospel.| In like manner we may distinguish a fourfold |Apostle,| or four corresponding types of apostolic doctrine. The Epistle of James corresponds to the Gospel of Matthew; the Epistles of Peter and his addresses in the Acts to that of Mark; the Epistles of Paul to the Gospel of Luke and his Acts; and the Epistles of John to the Gospel of the same apostle.
This division, however, both as regards the Gospels and the Epistles, is subordinate to a broader difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity, which runs through the entire history of the apostolic period and affects even the doctrine, the polity, the worship, and the practical life of the church. The difference rests on the great religious division of the world, before and at the time of Christ, and continued until a native Christian race took the place of the first generation of converts. The Jews naturally took the Christian faith into intimate association with the divinely revealed religion of the old covenant, and adhered as far as possible to their sacred institutions and rites; while the heathen converts, not having known the law of Moses, passed at once from the state of nature to the state of grace. The former represented the historical, traditional, conservative principle; the latter, the principle of freedom, independence, and progress.
Accordingly we have two classes of teachers: apostles of the Jews or of the circumcision, and apostles of the Gentiles or of the uncircumcision. That this distinction extends farther than the mere missionary field, and enters into all the doctrinal views and practical life of the parties, we see from the accounts of the apostolic council which was held for the express purpose of adjusting the difference respecting the authority of the Mosaic law.
But the opposition was only relative, though it caused collisions at times, and even temporary alienation, as between Paul and Peter at Antioch. As the two forms of Christianity had a common root in the full life of Christ, the Saviour of both Gentiles and Jews, so they gradually grew together into the unity of the catholic church. And as Peter represents the Jewish church, and Paul the Gentile, so John, at the close of the apostolic age, embodies the higher union of the two.
With this difference of standpoint are connected subordinate differences, as of temperament, style, method. James has been distinguished as the apostle of the law or of works; Peter, as the apostle of hope; Paul, as the apostle of faith; and John, as the apostle of love. To the first has been assigned the phlegmatic (?) temperament, in its sanctified Christian state, to the second the sanguine, to the third the choleric, and to the fourth the melancholic; a distribution, however, only admissible in a very limited sense. The four gospels also present similar differences; the first having close affinity to the position of James, the second to that of Peter, the third to that of Paul, and the fourth representing in its doctrinal element the spirit of John.
If we make the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity the basis of classification, we may reduce the books of the New Testament to three types of doctrine: the Jewish Christian, the Gentile Christian, and the ideal or unionistic Christian. The first is chiefly represented by Peter, the second by Paul, the third by John. As to James, he must be ranked under the first type as the local head of the Jerusalem wing of the conservative school, while Peter war, the oecumenical head of the whole church of the circumcision.