Matthew 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

THE present Commentary may in many respects claim to be considered as new in its design and construction, and as an attempt to supply a need which has been long and seriously felt by meditative readers of God’s Holy Word.

We have at present no Commentary of the New Testament which addresses itself especially to that large and increasing class of cultivated English readers who, believing the Holy Scriptures to be what an ancient writer has defined them to be—“the true sayings of the Holy Ghost”—and knowing and feeling them to be living and abiding words, desire to realise them, and to be able intelligently to apply them to their daily wants and to the general context of life around them. This class largely includes those who are unable to read the Holy Scriptures in their original languages, and to whom the many valuable commentaries, based on the original text, which this country and Germany now freely supply, are unavailing and inaccessible. And yet, even if they could read them, they would hardly find in them all they want. They might find lucid explanations of difficulties, well-chosen historical illustrations, judicial discussion of disputed interpretations, candid investigation of real or supposed discrepancies; still there would be something yet wanting which, after all, they would feel was that which they most needed, and for which, even amid all this affluence of exegetical detail, they were to some extent looking in vain. This something, this lacking element, even in commentaries of this higher class, it is the especial object and design of our present Commentary at any rate to attempt to supply; and it may briefly be defined to be this—the setting forth of the inner life of Scripture, and that, too, not without reference to the hopes, fears, needs, aspirations, and distinctive characteristics of the restless age in which we are now living.

No class feels more sensibly the need of this vital element in the interpretation of Holy Scripture than the large and intelligent body of thoughtful men and women to which we are especially addressing ourselves. They feel the storm and stress of intellectual difficulties; they realise, often vividly and acutely, the trials to which the childlike faith of early days is now being increasingly subjected; they see old landmarks disappearing, old truths undergoing modification and change, and, in their deepening anxiety, they turn, with the true instinct of the Christian soul, to that which they inwardly feel changes not—the enduring and abiding Word of God. They turn to it; and it speaks to them, for it is a living Word; but its consolations are often only imperfectly appreciated, its truths far from fully realised, its promises very inadequately recognised to be the true moving principles of a pure, chivalrous, self-denying, and holy life. They need the sympathetic interpreter. They need one to guide them, who has thought as they think, who feels as they feel—one who, from no mere ecclesiastical standpoint, or the supposed vantage-ground of some half-selfish theological adjustment, but simply from the reverent, loving, and prayerful study of the Book of Life, sets forth to them its ever fresh truths, its ever new aspects, its ever pertinent and timely consolations. Such is the commentator and such the commentary that is now more than ever needed by the earnest general reader in these closing years of a progressive and eventful century.

That these high aims have been realised in this present volume is more than any editor, however hopeful, and however confident in the ability of those with whom he is working, could by any means with propriety assert. Yet this may be said—that the attempt has been made with the full recognition, not only of the importance of the work, but of the peculiar aspects it must necessarily assume, and also of the general spiritual characteristics of those for whom it is chiefly designed—thoughtful English readers, who desire to understand the written Word, feel its power, realise its message, estimate its difficulties, and recognise its living adaptation to all the complex relations and problems of modern religious life. If the New Testament is truly what we believe it to be, it must have a message to every age and generation; this message, especially as concerns our own times, is what we are now endeavouring to set forth fully, candidly, and unreservedly, to the Christian reader.

It would be too much to say that this has never been attempted before. Works like those of Bengel may remind us that men to whom the Holy Spirit has vouchsafed a singular interpretative faculty, and, with it, that almost greater gift of bringing its results home alike to the heart and to the perceptions of the reader—works such as these, as marvellous in the fruitful brevity of their comments as profound in their spiritual power, may well remind us that He who inspired the Word has never left Himself without clear and faithful interpreters of it. This we fully believe and recognise; still we may also express our belief that it is more particularly in our own times that the need for such an attempt as the present has distinctly emerged, and so that anything novel which it may involve is due to the circumstances of the case, and to the plain fact that, as the needs are new, so that which attempts to meet the needs must have some elements which are new also. Thus far our work may be considered to occupy new ground, and in many respects to be considered a new Commentary: new, because it includes new elements; new. because it meets new needs.

But what are these new needs? What is it that has really called into existence such attempts as this present Commentary may in some degree represent? The answer is not far to seek. Modern criticism has made it in many minds doubtful whether Scripture is what it declares itself to be—living and enduring, not only a record of salvation, but a bearer of it to the soul; not only, as the early writers commonly regarded it, a source of illumination to the mind, but a life-influencing and life-modifying power, as fresh and as potent now as when its words were first heard in the Christian Church. Modern criticism has declared all such views to be dreams and enthusiasms, perhaps harmless, but certainly illusory; enthusiasms which may be regarded by the calm student of history as either the not unnatural results of traditional reverence, or the sequences of that great movement in the religious life of Western Europe that transferred infallibility from a Church to a Book, and invested with supernatural attributes the documents of an early Christianity which, it is asserted, itself never so regarded them. And these chilling doubts have crept into the souls of thousands. The early love and reverence for the blessed Book, and especially for the New Testament, has become silently transmuted into a calm and cold acceptance of it as the record of a wondrous era in this poor world’s changing history; as a group of documents setting forth a morality purer than the mind of man had ever realised; as the sad, strange story of a blessed life, half real, half ideal, to which eighteen centuries have tendered their irrepressible homage; as this, and perhaps as all this, and yet as nothing beyond it—history, and nothing more. Many and many a weary soul, and those not the least noble among us, are at this very hour feeling all this, and feeling it too with the sad inward consciousness that the soul remains unsatisfied; that the dew of early belief has dried up, and that nothing has ever supplied its place; and that if only it were possible that that dew could rise again all yet might be well: that the lost might yet be found, and a hope in something higher than the mere development of our humanity might again take its leading place among the lights and forces of the soul. Many a one would give half a life if only it could be made certain that the New Testament might be completely accepted as true, and that its words once more might be heard as the voice of God speaking through the lips and with the utterance of mortal man.

These are some of the needs of the present time, and it is to meet them, and to show that God’s word is really what it claims to be; that it is truth—vivid, fresh, and enduring truth; that it is light, and not light only—but life, life speaking to life—to show this, and to meet these needs is one of the chief purposes of our present Commentary. It is under these aspects that it may lay claim to the title of a new Commentary—new, as thus meeting new needs; new, as seeking to supply guidance amid newly developing difficulties and perplexities.

But this—as, indeed, we have already implied—is very far from being our only purpose. There are, thank God, thousands and tens of thousands to whom this Book of Life is what it ever was, and who perhaps feel themselves more potently drawn to it than ever. Numbers of quiet and godly souls there now are, weary with the controversies of the times, who are turning now, as men turned in stirring days gone by, to the Holy Scriptures, and are making them their ultimate Book of appeal—ultimate whether in regard of the homely needs of daily Christian life, or of those blessed hopes and promises that bring nearer the unfolding future. And these too are seeking for a Commentary that may really meet and sympathise with their aspirations—a Commentary that may help them to realise the blessed story, to see things as with modern, and yet as with reverential and believing eyes, and to hear with the ears of to-day the message, the great life-giving message, that is now just as pertinent and applicable to all the varying circumstances of modern life as it was when to listening disciples and thronging multitudes it was declared that God’s kingdom was nigh at hand. Everything that thus brings back the past and places it, as it were, among the realities of the present, is what the modern religious mind is now consciously or unconsciously seeking. Its chief care is to make its own what it knows was designed to be its own; and it welcomes readily and gladly any or every form of interpretation that seems to have this purpose or object in view.

It is for these—for this large and increasing class of really earnest readers of God’s Holy Word—that this Commentary has been more especially composed. Though, as has been already said, the deep needs of those who have not yet realised the Book to be what it is have ever been present to our minds; and though every effort has been made indirectly to set forth that greatest of all evidential arguments, the deep life of the written Word, to each truth-seeking and unbiased reader; yet our chief thought has been for those who desire more fully to realise that which, by the mercy of God, they have never been tempted to doubt. How many there are who are now earnestly seeking for that which we are here endeavouring to present to them! The student of Holy Scripture, the Christian father of the family where God’s Word is loved and reverenced, the upgrowing children, the teacher in the Sunday-school or the instructor of the Bible-class, and, last and chief of all, that large class of English readers who feel themselves more and more drawn to God’s Word by the very restlessness of the times in which they are living. All these, and such as these, are now earnestly craving to have Scripture brought home to their hearts, and that too not merely by interpretation of difficulties, but by meditative comments—comments of our time and age, comments that help to make the Book not only better understood, not only more reverenced, but more and more loved, more and more felt to be life to the inner soul as well as light to the appreciative mind.

These, then, are the two broad classes of readers—those who doubt the full authority of Scripture, but who would rejoice to have those doubts dissipated, and that much larger class that (by God’s blessing) doubt not, but desire more fully to realise and to understand: these are the two classes who have been ever present to the thoughts of the writers of this Commentary, and for whom especially they have undertaken this work. May the favour and grace of God the Holy Ghost rest upon it, and bless it both to the writers and to the readers.

Thus far our thoughts have been directed to our readers. Let a few words be added in reference to the writers who are associated together in this responsible work. They are men of different minds and of different modes of individual thought, but all have one common purpose—all are animated by one common feeling of love and reverence for God’s Holy Word, all have for it that sympathy which shows itself most clearly and most truly when it tries to impart that feeling to others, and to share with them a common love. Free and candid thoughts will be found in these pages; difficulties will not be passed over; if they cannot, as yet, be explained, the avowal will be made with all Christian simplicity, and the direction in which the solution appears to lie, pointed out by way of suggestion and reasonable inference—suggestion and inference, but nothing more. No attempt will be made merely to rehabilitate what may have the sanction of honoured names or ancient authority; still less merely to reproduce some current and conventional explanation, which is not only felt, to be what it is by every intelligent reader, but is even distinctly harmful and repellent to the reverential searcher. The truth is very dear to the writers of this Commentary, and their reverence for it is too great to allow them ever to set forth as truth any explanations in which they themselves have not the fullest and completest confidence. Yet let no one for a moment suppose that in these pages he will find traces of unfixed opinions or of fluctuating and half-persuaded sentiments as to the real nature of God’s Holy Word. No: each one of our little company knows in Whom and in What he has trusted—knows and believes that truth, heavenly truth, is present in every verse, even though he may not be able to see it in its clearness, or set it forth in its fulness; and knows it, too, by that best and truest of all teachings—the silent witness of Scripture to the inward soul, deepened by life’s experiences—that testimonium animæ, which bears the conviction no arguments can supply, no merely outward reasoning can do more than passingly substantiate. Candour, and candid seeking after truth, the reader will find; and with it that sympathy of spirit in difficulties which alone makes the writer and the reader truly to be at one. This, we humbly believe, each one who may read these pages will find legibly traced on them; but on the one great truth that Holy Scripture alike is God’s Word and contains God’s Word, there will be found no hesitancy or fluctuation. Let this be called an assumption at the very outset which perfect impartiality ought never to make—let it be called prejudice, inherited bias, or bear whatever other name our own unstable age may think fit to apply to it; such, at any rate, is the conviction of the writers of this Commentary, and such the general attitude of mind under which they have addressed themselves to their responsible work.

And now, lastly, a few comments on the details of this work, as regards both the matter and manner of interpretation.

In the first place, the Authorised version is that on which the Commentary is formed; and this for obvious reasons. This is a work for general readers, to whom the Authorised version will for years to come be the form in which God’s Word is presented to them. As such it stands as our text, and as that which the notes are designed to illustrate. But while it rightly occupies that place, care has been taken never to fail to indicate whensoever and wheresoever there is sound reason for believing that the words do not reflect the true text or the true meaning of the original. Mere minutiæ of textual criticism are not enumerated; mere shades of interpretation which leave the real meaning substantially the same are not specified. The reader, however, may in all cases feel confident that nothing in this department of the work is passed over which it is proper for the faithful student of Holy Scripture to have presented to his consideration. The notes will remind him that there is real need for a revision of our Authorised version, perhaps more even in its textual than in its grammatical aspects; but at the same time he will not fail to observe how comparatively few the passages are in which the true meaning of the original is entirely obscured. There are many in which its full meaning is very inadequately expressed; but, by the overruling mercy and providence of God, distinctly erroneous forms of words appear very rarely either in the text or in the translation.

The Notes, as already has been to some extent implied, are designed for earnest searchers and earnest readers who have either no knowledge of the original language, or only such a knowledge as may be at best but a precarious guide. Hence the references in the Notes are in all cases to works accessible by means of translation to English readers. Such references are not numerous, but, wherever they appear, they will be found to direct the reader to illustrative matter, which will much help his true appreciation of the passage under consideration. The effect, not only on the general power of rightly apprehending the meaning of a passage, but on the memory, and, if we may so speak, on the spiritual interest in the inspired words under consideration, will be found greatly enhanced by an attention to a well-chosen reference, and by an honest perusal of the source of illustration, or of further information to which the reader may be directed References, whether to Scripture or to works that illustrate it, are of the greatest and most real importance. If thoughtfully and conscientiously made, and as thoughtfully and conscientiously referred to by the reader, they are of lasting profit. But the choice must be well considered and well tested, and the number of references carefully limited. Full confidence must exist in this matter between the commentator and his reader; and such confidence we trust and believe will be found to arise between the writers and readers of this Commentary.

But the broad purpose of the Notes—not only to explain and to illustrate, but to bring home to the heart of the reader the sacred text to which the Notes are appended—has never been lost sight of or merged in mere exegetical detail. On the one hand all real or seeming difficulties have been candidly set forth, and the inferences which may be thought to flow from them discussed and analysed. Nothing has been kept back from the reader. The truth, so far as a knowledge of it has been vouchsafed to the interpreter, has been stated fully and an reservedly; and where difficulty yet remains, no attempt has been made to hide it by any of the plausibilities of a mere conventional or traditional exegesis. If that which lies before us is God’s word, revealed to man through the instrumentality of man, then difficulties there must be; yet difficulties of such a nature as, if rightly and reverently discussed, will, in the sequel, only still more clearly and convincingly display the blessed fulness of the manifold and multiform wisdom of God. On the other hand, where the meaning is plain, and the inferences from it presumably certain, there, with equal freedom and unreserve, these inferences have been drawn, and the results—results often in contrast with the current superficial estimates of a mere popular theology—laid seriously before the reader. Our work is for the thoughtful and earnest, for those who seek truth and love truth, for those who desire to be guided by God’s Word, and to realise its message in days of doubt and transition; and to withhold from such what would seem to be the full counsel of God, would be to miss the first great duty of a conscientious interpreter. Such, in broad and general terms, is the prevailing aspect of the notes and exegesis of this Commentary.

Two useful supplements to these Notes will be found in the case of the sacred books here commented upon. In the first place, an Introduction is prefixed to each portion of Scripture; in which everything that is judged to be likely to illustrate the scope, circumstances, or general details of the inspired writing, is placed succinctly—but yet, it is hoped, with no want of completeness—before the general reader. In the second place, wherever it may have seemed necessary, an Excursus has been appended to the Notes, for the benefit of the student who might desire a fuller and more technical treatment of the subject than would be consistent with the general scope of the Commentary. By this means the many points which require a separate consideration will be found so far critically, as well as fully, discussed, as to leave no reader, to whatever class he may belong, uninformed in regard of the last and best results, in each particular, of modern interpretation.

To the whole work an Introduction is prefixed, from which it is hoped that both the general and the critical reader will derive trustworthy information both as to the literary history of the sacred documents, and the deeply interesting story of the noble English version which is the text of this Commentary. Such information will be found useful to the reader at every step of his progress. He will practically see and realise that the outward elements of God’s inspired Word have had a great and even mysterious history, and that if we may humbly see His blessed inspiration in the written words, no less clearly may we trace His providence in the outward manner in which those words have come down to us. No really faithful student of God’s Holy Word will do well to pass over this portion of the work. No reader, however moderately versed in knowledge of this kind, will fail to derive from these pages information which he will readily comprehend, and at once find to interest him still more deeply in the sacred words which form the subject of the providential history.

One brief and closing paragraph may allude to the work of the Editor, and, if I may here speak in the first person, the aspects under which I have regarded the responsible office, and the manner in which I have endeavoured to perform the duties allotted to me. My care has simply been to help each writer, wheresoever it might seem necessary, to set forth his own views with clearness and cogency. Without perfect independence on the part of the writers—and such writers, let me add, as we have had the good fortune to secure for this Commentary—no good results could be looked for, no realisation of our great and common objects could ever be attained. Where it has seemed necessary, I have used an Editor’s freedom in suggesting partial reconsideration; but I have deemed it right to leave the writer wholly free to maintain that line of interpretation which, after such reconsideration, he still felt it his duty to take. All I have asked is that he should make it plain that it was a view for which he was individually responsible. Where I have simply differed from the writer in points on which interpreters of different minds have differed and will differ to the end, there I have in no way sought to indicate my own opinion, feeling sure that the writer had considered this opinion (for I lay claim to no originality) among those which had passed in review before him. Each writer, in a word, is responsible for his own commentary and his own interpretations. It has been my care only to see, by close and careful reading, that the writer did not fail, from any oversight, to set forth these interpretations fully and clearly. To express here any opinion on what is now submitted to the reader would be indecorous and unusual; yet this I must ask leave to say—that I can wish no better wish to any reader, than that he may derive the same interest and advantage that I have derived from the perusal of this volume of our Commentary.

I return now to the company and brotherhood of those with whom I am associated, and with them pray to our merciful God and Father that this our work may be blessed by His divine favour, and that His heavenly truth may be brought more and more home to the hearts of the readers of His Holy Word. We have striven, at a critical time in the history of religious opinion, to show forth the fulness of that Word, its light and its life; and we now commend these results of our labours to all who love Him of whom the Scriptures speak from the beginning to the end—Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Saviour, our King, and our God; to Whom, with the Father and the eternal Spirit, be all honour and glory, for the ages of eternity.




I. The language in which we commonly speak of the volume which all Christians accept as being, in some sense, their rule of faith and life, presents many terms more or less technical in character, each of which has a distinct history of its own, not without interest. The whole volume for us is the BIBLE, or more fully, the HOLY BIBLE, containing the OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. Sometimes we use the SCRIPTURE, or the SCRIPTURES, or the HOLY SCRIPTURES, as a synonym for the Bible. With these we sometimes find, bound up in the same volume, “the books called APOCRYPHA,” which are distinguished in the Sixth of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England from the “CANONICAL BOOKS of the Old and New Testament.” It is desirable that the student of the New Testament should know, at least in outline, something as to the meaning and history of each of these terms.

II. Of all the words so used, SCRIPTURE, or THE SCRIPTURES, is that which stands highest, as far as the claims of antiquity and authority affect our estimate. It had come to be used by the Jews before our Lord’s time as contrasting—as the Moslem now contrasts, in reference to the Koran—those who had a written rule, or book, as the rule of faith and life, with those who had not. The books that had been written in “sundry times and divers manners” (see Note to Hebrews 1:1, for the true meaning of the words), and which, after various processes of sifting, editing, and revising, were then received as authoritative, were known as “the Writings,” “the Scriptures,” as in Matthew 21:42, Luke 24:27, John 5:39, sometimes with the addition of the term “holy,” or “sacred” (2Timothy 3:15). It was because they studied this literature (grammata), that the interpreters of the Law were known as “scribes” (grammateis). When these books were quoted, it was enough to say, “It is written” (e.g., Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:6; Matthew 21:13; Matthew 26:24), or, with more emphasis, “the Scripture saith” (e.g., Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17), or to cite this or that “Scripture” (Mark 12:10).

It may be noted, however, that the later terminology of the Jews in their classification of the Sacred Books differed from this. They applied the term “Writings” (Kethubim), or “Holy Writings” (from which we get the Greek Hagiographa, with the same meaning) to one portion only of the collection, and that, in some sense, the one which they reckoned as the lowest. First came the LAW, including the Five Books of Moses, whence the term Pentateuch (= the five-volumed Writing); (2) the earlier Prophets, including under that head Joshua, Judges , 1 and 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings; and (3) the later Prophets, including (a) the three Greater Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and (b) the twelve Minor Prophets, as we have them; (4) the Kethubim, or “Writings,” including the following groups of books:—(a) Psalms, Proverbs, Job; (b) the five Megilloth, or Rolls, the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther; (c) Daniel. Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles. So far as the later Jews wanted one word for the whole of what we call the Old Testament, they used the term Mikra (= “what is read or recited”), a word which has the interest of being connected with the Koran, or sacred book, of Islam.

III. The Greek word for BIBLE (Biblion) occurs in our version as “book,” in 2Timothy 4:13, Revelation 10:2; Revelation 5:1, but not apparently with any specially distinctive sense. It is just possible that in the first of these passages St. Paul may refer to what he elsewhere calls the Scriptures. (See Note on 2Timothy 4:13.) This sense, however, did not begin to attach to the word by itself till the twelfth or thirteenth century. Greek writers indeed, talked, as was natural, of the sacred or holy “books” on which their faith rested; and, as in the Council of Laodicea, drew up catalogues of such books, or spoke of the whole universe as a book, or “bible,” in which men might read the wisdom and the love of the Creator. It was natural, as the word came to be used, like other Greek terms, in the Western churches, that transcribers, or binders, of the “sacred books” should label them as Biblia Sacra. As the centuries passed on, however, men forgot the origin of the word, and took Biblia, not for a neuter plural, as it really was, but for a feminine singular; and so we get the origin of the “Holy Bible,” betraying itself in most European languages, as, e.g., in La Bible, La Bibbia, die Bibel, by the feminine form of the noun. We are able to fix, within comparatively narrow limits, the date of the introduction of the word so used into our English language. It was unknown to our Saxon fathers. They used ge-writ, the “Writing,” or following Jerome’s felicitous phrase, Bibliothekè, the “library” or collection of books. “Bible” came into use through the Norman conquest and the prevalence of French. Chaucer uses it in his earlier poems (House of Fame, Book 3, 1. 244) as applicable to any book. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, l. 437, his latest work, it stands as “the Bible,” with its new distinctive honours. Wycliffe’s translation of what was headed as the Holy Bible, and the frequent use of the term in the Preface to this translation, probably gained for it a wide acceptance, and all idea of its plural meaning having dropped out of sight, the definite article acquired a new significance, and it was received, as ninety-nine readers out of a hundred receive it now, as the Bible, the Book above all other books.

IV. The history of the terms the OLD and the NEW TESTAMENT leads us into a region of yet higher interest. They have their starting point in the memorable distinction drawn between the Covenant that had been made with Israel through Moses, and the New Covenant, with its better promises, which was proclaimed for the future, in Jeremiah 31:31. That promise received a fresh significance, and was stamped for ever on the minds of the followers of Christ, by the words which were spoken on the night of the Last Supper, when He told the Apostles that it was ratified by His own blood. (See Note on Matthew 26:28, where Covenant, and not “Testament,” is the right rendering.) The stress laid on the distinction between the two Covenants in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7-10) was, as it were, the natural development of that thought; and the repetition of the words of institution, as we find them in 1Corinthians 11:25, at every celebration of the Supper of the Lord, secured for it a universal acceptance in all the churches. For a time, the essential outlines of the New Covenant—the terms, as it were, of the New Contract—were conveyed chiefly or exclusively by the oral teaching of the Apostles and their immediate followers. But soon the New Covenant, like the Old, gathered round it a literature of its own. Without anticipating what will have to be said hereafter as to the history of individual books, it lies on the surface that within sixty or seventy years after the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, there were written records of His words and deeds, Epistles purporting to be written by His Apostles and disciples, revelations of the future of His kingdom. In course of time, but probably not till the fourth century, the books so received came naturally enough to be known as the Books of the New Covenant (diathehè), as distinguished from those of the Old; and so in the Council of Laodicea, in A.D. 320, we have lists of the books which were recognised as belonging to each (Can. 59). The Greek word for Covenant was never naturalised, however, in the Latin of the Western and African churches, and the writers of those churches were for a time undecided as to what equivalent they should use for it, and wavered between fædus, a “covenant”; instrumentum, a “deed”; and testamentum, a “will.” The earlier Latin writers, such as Tertullian (adv. Marcion, 6:1), use both the two latter words, but state that the last was the more generally accepted term. As such, it passed first into the early Latin versions of the Scriptures, and then into St. Jerome’s Vulgate, and so became familiar through the whole of Latin Christendom. If we confine its meaning to its strict legal sense of “will,” it must be admitted to be a less accurate rendering than foedus of the general sense of the Greek diathehè (Hebrews 9:16 is, of course, an exception; see Note there), and the latter word has accordingly been adopted by some of the more scholarly Protestant theologians, such as Beza, as part of their terminology. So in the writings of the French Reformed Church, the New Testament appears as La Nouvelle Alliance. Luther, with a certain characteristic love for time-honoured words, used Testament throughout, and though some recent German writers have used Bund, it does not seem likely to gain general acceptance. In the history of the English versions we find Wycliffe, as was natural in a translation from the Vulgate, using “Testament” uniformly. Tyndale, in spite of his usual tendency to change the familiar terms of Latin theology, was probably in part influenced by Luther’s example, and retained “Testament” throughout. He was followed in the other English translations, till we come to that known as the Geneva version, where it is replaced by “Covenant” in most passages, still retaining, so to speak, its place of honour in Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20, and Hebrews 9:16, and it has thus secured a position from which it will not be easy to dislodge it. In strict accuracy, we ought to speak, as the title-page of our Bible does, of the Books of the New Testament, but the natural tendency of popular speech to economy of utterance leads men to speak of the “New Testament” as including the books.

V. In the Sixth of the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Church, we find the phrase CANONICAL SCRIPTURES, and that term also has a noteworthy history of its own. We start from the Greek word kanôn, connected with “canna,” “cane,” “canalis,” “channel,” “canal,” “cannon”—all the words implying the idea of straightness—and find its primary meaning to be that of a “reed,” or rather (for that belongs to the earlier form, kanè), of a rod; then of a rod used as a carpenter’s rule; thence, by a natural use of metaphors, it was employed, chiefly by Alexandrian critics and grammarians, for a “rule” in ethics, or rhetoric, or grammar. So the great writers of Greece were referred to as being the Canon or standard of accuracy. In the LXX. version of the Old Testament, the word is found only once, in Micah 7:10. The passage is very obscure, but it is apparently used in the sense of a column or bar of some sort, as it is also in Judith 13:8. The figurative sense had become dominant in the time of the New Testament, and so we find St. Paul using it in Galatians 6:16, Philippians 3:16, for a “rule” of faith and life, and in 2Corinthians 10:13; 2Corinthians 10:16, for one which marked out a man’s appointed line of work. So Councils made Canons, or Rules, for the churches. So those who were bound by the rules of cathedrals and collegiate churches were called Canonici, or Canons. So the fixed invariable part of the Roman liturgy was known as the Canon of the Mass.

At even an earlier period than that to which these later illustrations refer, the word had come into use as belonging to the language of theology. Clement of Alexandria speaks of the Canon of the Church being found in the agreement of the Law and the Prophets with the traditional teaching of the New Covenant (Strom. vi., p. 676). Chrysostom and other commentators find the Canon, or Rule, of Faith in Scripture. Tertullian, obviously Latinising the same word, speaks of the doctrine which the Church had received from the Apostles or embodied in a creed, as the regula fidei. Alexandria appears in this, as in other instances, to have been the main source of ecclesiastical terminology. In Origen we find the next application of the word, and he speaks (in books of which we have only the Latin version) of the Scripturœ Canonicæ, the libri regulares, the libri canonizati—of books that are “in the Canon.” Here there is a slight change of meaning. The books are not only the rule of the Church’s faith; they are themselves in conformity with a standard. They find their place in a list which is accepted by the Church as the rule of what is or is not Scripture. So Athanasius speaks of books that are in this sense “canonised,” and the Council of Laodicea (Can. 39) of those that are not so. Amphilochius (circ. A.D. 380) takes up the language of the Latin translator of Origen, and uses it for the actual Catalogue of Books. With Jerome the term is in frequent use in this sense, and from his writings it passed into the common language of Latin Christendom, and so into that of modern Europe, and men spoke of the Canonical Scriptures as those which were in the Canon.

VI. The history of the word has to be followed by the history of the origin and growth of the thing. Without anticipating what will find a more fitting place in the Introduction to each several book, viz., the traces which each has left of itself in early ecclesiastical writings, and the evidence which we have in those traces of its genuineness, it lies on the surface that the Christian Society had a literature of some kind at a very early period. There were the “Words of the Lord Jesus,” quoted by St. Paul as known (Acts 20:35), and quoted as Scripture (1Timothy 5:18). There were Epistles that were cited in the same way (2Peter 3:16). There were “many” records of the life and teaching of Christ (Luke 1:1). The “memoirs” of the Apostles were read publicly in Christian assemblies, and these were known as Gospels (Justin, Apol. c. 66). Besides these books, which are now in the Canon, we find a Gospel of the Hebrews, and of St. Peter, a Revelation bearing the name of the same Apostle, an Epistle to the Laodiceans, and so on. It was obvious that men would want some standard by which to discern the genuine from the spurious; and as lists of the Old Testament had been drawn up at an early period of the Church, by Melito of Sardis (A.D. 180) and others, so, as we have seen, the Church of Alexandria, the centre of the criticism of early Christendom, supplied the thing, as it had supplied the word. The process by which such a list was drawn up must be left, in part, to imagination, but it is not difficult to picture to ourselves, with little risk of error, what it must almost necessarily have been. A man of culture and great industry, imbued with the critical habits of his time, such, e.g., as was Origen, finds a multitude of books before him professing to have come down from the time of the Apostles. He takes them one by one, and examines the claims of each, Has it been read in church at all, and if so, where, and in how many churches? Has it been quoted by earlier writers? Has it been one of a group assigned to the same writer, with the same characteristics of style as the other books so assigned? Whence has it come? Who can report its history? It is obvious that the answer to these questions was to be found in a process of essentially personal inquiry, of the exercise of private judgment, of the critical reason working upon history. And so, to take the earliest instance of such a list which we can connect with a name, we find Origen giving one which includes the four Gospels by name, the Epistles of St. Paul (the names of the Epistles, however, are not given, nor even the total number of them), the two Epistles of St. Peter, the second being noted as open to question, the Revelation, and one “acknowledged” Epistle by St. John. Elsewhere he mentions the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the traditions which assigned it to St. Paul, St. Luke, and Clement of Rome respectively. Another, without a name, but commonly known as the Muratorian Canon, from that of the scholar who first found it among the MSS. of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, is assigned, on internal grounds, to a period about A.D. 170. It is imperfect both in the beginning and the end, and though in Latin, bears every mark of having been translated from the Greek. It had obviously mentioned the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, for it begins “in the third place, Luke the physician wrote a Gospel.” It then names St. John, the Acts, the Epistles of St. Paul, enumerating nine Epistles to seven churches; the three Epistles now known as Pastoral, and that to Philemon. It rejects two, to the Laodiceans and Alexandrians, as spurious; recognises a Revelation of St. Peter, two Epistles and the Revelation of St. John; and strangely enough, for a list of books of the New Testament, includes the Wisdom of Solomon,[1] and the Pastor, or Shepherd of Hermas. The whole fragment is of extreme interest, as representing a transition stage in the formation of the Canon, exhibiting at once the spirit of critical investigation which was at work, and the uncertainty which more or less attended the process of inquiry. A nearly contemporaneous version of the New Testament writings in the Syriac, known as the Peschito (= the “simple” or “true” version), exhibits nearly the same results. It includes fourteen Epistles, by St. Paul, that to the Hebrews being assigned to his authorship, but omits 2 Peter , 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. A like catalogue is given in the fourth century (circ. A.D. 330), by Eusebius, Bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, and Amphilochius of Asia Minor (circ. A.D. 380). The former divides the books into two classes, the one those which are generally recognised, and the other those that were still open to question (Antilegomena); and the latter list includes 2 Peter 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. This may be taken, though not exhaustive, as a sufficient account of the evidence supplied by individual writers, and as they include representatives of Alexandria, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, and Rome, it may fairly be considered as embodying the general consent of the Christian Church in the fourth century.

[1] The facts connected with this remarkable book are briefly—(1) That it is not named by any pre-Christian writer; (2) that it is not quoted by any writer before Clement of Rome; (3) that it presents innumerable points of resemblance in phraseology and style to the Epistle to the Hebrews. These facts have led the present writer to the conviction that they are both by the same author, the one written before, and the other after, his conversion to the faith in Christ. (See two papers “On the Writings of Apollos,” in the Expositor, Vol. I.)

These individual testimonies were confirmed about the same period by the authority of two local Councils of the Church. That held at Laodicea in A.D. 363 (?) gives a list of the “Books of the Old Testament” that ought to be read, agreeing with the Hebrew Canon, except that it inserts Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah, and in its catalogue of the “Books of the New Testament,” gives a complete list of those now received, without noting, as Eusebius notes, any difference between them, with the one exception that it makes no mention of the Apocalypse, and that it assigns the Epistle to the Hebrews to St. Paul. That known as the third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), enumerates among the “Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament,” Tobias (= Tobit), Judith, and the two books of Maccabees, and in its list of those of the New, includes, without any exception, all the books that are now recognised, and does so on the ground that this was what had been received from “the Fathers.”

The history of this growth of the Canon of the New Testament is in many ways instructive. It has been often thrown in the teeth of those who urge the right of private judgment as against the authority of the Church of Rome, or of the Church in her Councils generally, that we have no ground for our acceptance of the Scriptures themselves, and especially for that of the Scriptures of the New Testament, but that authority. The facts that have been stated exhibit a process which leads naturally and necessarily to the very opposite conclusion. What we have traced is the exercise, at every stage, of private judgment, of criticism working upon history; and it is not till this has done its work that Councils step in to recognise and accept the results that have been thus obtained. And when this is done, be it observed, it is not by any (Ecumenical or General Council, nor by the Church which claims to have been founded by St. Peter, nor by the Bishop who claims to be his successor, but by two Synods, in comparatively remote provinces, who confine themselves to testifying what they actually found. Other men had laboured, and they entered into their labours. The authority of the Church, so far as it was asserted, rested on the previous exercise of free inquiry and private judgment. How far later inquiry may have modified the results of the earlier, throwing doubt on what was then accepted as certain, or establishing the genuineness of what was then looked upon as doubtful, compensating for its remoteness by its wider range and manifold materials, by its skill in following up hints and tracing coincidences designed or undesigned—this is a question which in its bearing on individual books of the New Testament will be best discussed in the Introduction to each of those Books.

VII. Side by side with the Books as belonging to the Old or New Testament thus recognised as Canonical, there were those which had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. These were known either as being simply “uncanonised” or “uncanonical,” as not being in the list which formed the standard of acceptance. Such as continued, from their having formed part of the generally accepted Greek version of the Old, to be read in churches or quoted by devout scholars, were described by a term which had already become conspicuous as applied to the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, the book Ecclesiasticus, and were known as “ecclesiastical,” and these included all, or nearly all, the books which we commonly know as the APOCRYPHA. Later writers, especially among the more liberal or critical Roman Catholic writers since the Council of Trent, have invented and applied the term Deutero-canonical to those books, as recognising that they do not stand on the same level as those included in the older Canons of Laodicea and Carthage. The Council itself (Sess. 4), however, had the courage of its convictions, and setting aside the authority of earlier councils, and of the great Father to whom it owed its Vulgate, drew no such distinction. It added to the Canon of Scripture, not, indeed, all the books that we know as the Apocrypha, but the greater part of them: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the additions to Esther and Daniel, and the two books of Maccabees. It declared that all these books were to be received with the same reverence as the other sacred writings. It placed the traditions of the Church on the same level with the sacred books thus defined. It pronounced its anathema on all who did not accept its Canon of Scripture, or despised its traditions. It deliberately proclaimed to all men that this was the foundation of its faith.

The history of the word APOCRYPHA exhibits a curious instance of a change from honour to dishonour. Primarily it simply meant “hidden” or “secret.” In this sense we find it in Luke 8:17; Colossians 2:3; Ecclesiasticus 23:19. It was used accordingly by teachers who claimed a higher esoteric wisdom which they embodied in secret, i.e., in this sense, apocryphal, writings. Traces of such a boast, even among Jews and Christians, are found in 2 Esdr. (obviously a post-Christian book), where the scribe is instructed to reserve seventy books for “such only as be wise among the people” (2 Esdras 14:46), in distinction from the twenty-four (this, and not two hundred and four, is probably the right reading) of the Hebrew Canon. The books thus circulated, with their mysterious pretensions, imposing on the credulity of their readers, were “hidden” in another sense. No man knew their history or their authorship. They were not read in the synagogues of the Jews, or, for the most part, in the churches of Christians. They deserved to be hid, and not read. And so the word sank rapidly in its connotation, and became a term of reproach. Already, in the time of Tertullian (de Animâ, c. 12) and Clement of Alexandria (Strom. i. 19, 69), it is used in the sense which has ever since attached to it, of spurious and unauthentic. Its present popular application dates from the time of St. Jerome. In Greek churches and Latin churches that used a version based upon that of the LXX., the position occupied by many of the books now included under that word, secured for them the same respect as the other books; they were quoted as “Scripture,” as “inspired,” as “prophecy.” Where, on the contrary, men were brought into contact with Judaism, and so with the Hebrew Canon, they were led to draw the distinction which has since obtained. So Melito of Sardis (A.D. 180), in his Canon of the Old Testament, follows that of the Jews, and Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386) adds only Baruch and the later Esther. Jerome, bent upon a new version from the Hebrew, and with the natural instincts of a scholar, looked on the Greek version of the LXX. as being faulty, not only in its translation, but in its text. For him the Hebrew Canon was the standard of authority, and he applied without hesitation the term Apocrypha, as equivalent to spurious, to all that were not included in it (Prol. Gal.). Augustine shrank from so bold an application of the word. Western Christendom, as a whole, followed his lead, rather than that of Jerome. The doubtful books kept their ground in the MSS. of the Latin Vulgate, and were read and quoted freely as Scripture. It was not till the revival of the study of Hebrew in Western Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, warmly pursued as it was by Luther and his fellow-workers, that the old line of demarcation was drawn more boldly than ever. Luther, following the example of the LXX. that had been printed at Strasburg in 1526, when he published his complete German Bible, in 1534, placed all the books that Jerome had not received together, with the title of “Apocrypha—i.e., books which are not of like worth with Holy Scripture, but are good and useful to be read.” His example was followed by Cranmer in the English Bible of 1539, and has obtained in all later versions and editions. The effect of this has been, to some extent, that the word has risen a little in its meaning. While the adjective is used as equivalent to “spurious,” and therefore as a term of opprobrium, we use the substantive with a certain measure of respect. The “Apocrypha” are not necessarily thought of as “apocryphal.”

Among the books that are now so named, one, 2 Esdras, is certainly of post-Christian origin, and some critics have ascribed the same date to the Wisdom of Solomon, and Judith. These, however, either in the circumstances of the history they contain, or by their pseudonymous authorship, obviously claim attention as belonging to the Old Testament, and are therefore rightly classed among its Apocrypha. The New Testament, however, was not without an apocryphal literature of its own—spurious Gospels of Peter, of the Infancy of Jesus, of Nicodemus, of Matthew, of James; spurious Acts of Philip, of Andrew, of Matthew, of Thomas, of Pilate, of Bartholomew, of John; spurious Epistles of St. Paul to the Laodiceans and to Seneca; spurious Revelations of St. Peter. None of these, however, ever attained to the respectable position occupied by most of the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. They met a vulgar curiosity as to the unrecorded facts of the childhood of Jesus, as to the work that He had done behind the veil in the Descent into Hades. They were read more or less widely, and formed the nucleus of a popular Christian mythology which has left its traces in literature and art. The legends as to the childhood of the Virgin, her betrothal to Joseph when his rod alone budded, and those of all her other suitors remained as they had been before; as to her physical virginity, that remained unaltered after the birth of the Divine Child; the fantastic notions that the gold which the Magi brought was the same as that which the Queen of Sheba had brought to Solomon; that the wood of the Cross had been grown in Paradise as the tree of life; that Calvary was named from the skull of Adam, and that it received the first drops of the blood by which the children of Adam were redeemed; the release of the souls of the Patriarchs from the limbo (limbus, the “outer fringe”) of Hades into Paradise—all these had their origin in the Apocryphal Gospels; and their appearance in the art of the Renaissance period, as, e.g., in the paintings of Raffaelle and others, is a proof of the hold they had taken upon the imagination—one can hardly say, the mind—of Christendom. But from first to last, happily, they were not received by a single teacher with the slightest claim to authority, nor included in any list of books that ought to be read by Christians publicly or privately. Here and there, as we have seen, books that we now receive were for a time questioned. Here and there, other books might be quoted as Scripture, or bound up with the sacred volume, as the Epistle of Clement is with the Alexandrian MS., or the “Shepherd” of Hermas with the Sinaitic; but none of these spurious Gospels, Acts, or Epistles were ever raised for a moment to the level of the Canonical Scriptures. They remained in the worst sense of the word as Apocrypha. The Canon of the New Testament has never varied since the third Council of Carthage. If we have to receive the statement that there was “never any doubt in the Church” about any one of them, with some slight modification, it is yet true that that doubt was never embodied in the decrees of any Synod, and extended no further than the hesitation of individual critics.


I. Introductory.—We might have expected, had we been framing the history of a Revealed Religion according to our wishes or à priori assumptions, that, so far as it depended on written records, those records would be preserved through successive ages as an authentic standard of appeal. Facts are, however, against all such theories of what ought to have been. Not a single autograph original of any book is known to exist now, nor does any writer of the second or third century say that he had seen such an original. Failing this, we might have fallen back on the notion that each transcriber of the books would be guarded by a supernatural guidance against the usual chances of transcription; that each translator would be taught how to convey the meaning of the original without error in the language of his version. Here also we have to accept facts as we find them. There has been no such perpetual miracle as this theory would require, extending, as it does extend when pushed to its logical conclusions, to the infallibility of every compositor in a printer’s office who had to set the type of a Bible in any language. Manuscripts vary, versions differ, printed Bibles are not always free from error. Here also we trace the law in things spiritual which we recognise in things natural.

“ Pater ipse colendi

Haud facilem esse viam voluit.”

[“The Father from whose gift all good things flow,

No easy path hath oped His truth to know.”]

Here also the absence of any immunity from error has tried men’s faith and roused them to labour, and labour has received its reward. Accepting probability as the only attainable result, the probability which they have actually attained is scarcely distinguishable from certainty. Experience shows that, had they begun with postulating infallibility somewhere, and accepting its supposed results, inquiry would have ceased, criticism would have slumbered, and errors would have crept in and multiplied without restraint.

II. The Process of Transcription.—Dealing, then, with facts, we have to realise to ourselves in what way copies of the books of the New Testament were multiplied. It is obvious that prior to the invention of printing, two methods of such multiplication were possible. A man might place a MS. before him, and copy it with his own hand, or he might dictate it to one or more writers. The former was probably the natural process when Christians were few and poor, when it was a labour of love to transcribe a Gospel or an Epistle for a friend or a Church. The latter became natural, in its turn, when the books were in sufficient demand to be sold by booksellers, or when Christian societies were sufficiently organised, as, e.g., in monasteries, to adopt the methods of the trade. Each process had its own special forms of liability to error. Any one who has corrected a proof-sheet will be able to take a measure of what they are in the former. Any one who has had experience of the results of a dictation lesson can judge what they are in the latter. We may assume that in most cases, where the work was done systematically, there would be a process for correcting the errors of transcription, analogous to that of correcting the errors of the press now. MSS. of the New Testament, as a matter of fact, often bear traces of such correction by one or more hands.

III. The Sources of Variation.—Experience shows that in such a process as that described, various readings, more or less of the nature of errors, may arise in many different ways. In some cases they may be entirely involuntary. The eye may mistake what it reads, or pass over a word, or, misled by two lines that end with the same word or syllable, omit even a whole line (as in the omission in many MSS. of “He that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also,” in 1John 2:23), or, where contractions are employed freely as they were by most Greek writers, might omit or insert the mark that indicated contraction. Thus in the famous passage of 1Timothy 3:16, the two renderings, “God was manifest in the flesh,” and “Who was manifested,” represent respectively the readings ΘΣ (Θεὸς, God) and ΘΣ (δς, Who). Or the ear might mistake the sound of vowels, and so we find Christos for Chrestos (= “gracious”) in 1Peter 2:3, or Hetairoi (= “companions”) for Heteroi (= “others”) in Matthew 11:16, or Kamilon (= “a rope”) for Kamelon (= “a camel”) in Luke 18:25. In not a few cases, however, the element of will came in, and the variation was made deliberately as an improvement on what the transcriber had before him. Taste, grammatical accuracy, the desire to confirm a doctrine, or to point a moral, or to soften down a hard saying, or avoid a misconstruction, or bring about a closer agreement between one book and another in passages where they were more or less parallel, all these might come into play, according to the temperament and character of the transcribers. Thus, e.g., one set of MSS. gives in Luke 15:16, would fain have filled his belly; and another, aiming apparently at greater refinement, would have been satisfied, or filled. Some, as has been said, give “God was manifested in the flesh,” in 1Timothy 3:16, and some “Who was manifested.” So, we find “the only begotten Son” and “the only begotten God” in John 1:18. Some in Acts 20:28 give “the Church of God,” which He hath purchased with His own blood,” and some, “the Church of Christ,” or “the Church of the Lord.” 1John 5:7, which speaks of the “three that bear record in heaven,” and which is not found in any Greek MS. earlier than the thirteenth century, is manifestly an interpolation of this nature. So some give and some omit the italicised words in the following passages:—

“Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause,” Matthew 5:22.

“Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly,” Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6.

“When men speak all manner of evil against you falsely,” Matthew 5:11.

“This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting,” Mark 9:29.

“That ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer,” 1Corinthians 7:5.

Or the alteration might be made to avoid a difficulty, as when we find “I go not yet up to this feast” for “I go not up,” in John 7:8, or “Joseph and His mother” for “His father and His mother,” in Luke 2:33; or to make one Gospel correspond with another, as when we find “Why callest thou Me good?” for “Why askest thou concerning that which is good?” in Matthew 19:17; or to bring the Gospel into closer accord with liturgical usage, as when the doxology was inserted in the Lord’s Prayer, in Matthew 6:13, or the full confession of faith, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, put into the mouth of the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts 8:37; or to insert introductory words, “the Lord said,” “Jesus said unto His disciples,” as in some of the Gospels in our Prayer Book; or mere grammatical accuracy might lead the transcriber to reject forms and modes of spelling which the grammarians pronounced inaccurate. The last class, however, affecting form only, does not come under the notice of the student of a translation, nor need it be much dwelt on even by those who study the original.

IV. Canons of Criticism.—Men who gave themselves to the work of classifying phenomena such as these, soon found that they had a sufficient basis for the results of an induction. It was easy to note the causes of error, and to frame canons, or rules, by which, in addition to the weight of evidence drawn from the number or antiquity of MSS. and the like, to judge of the authority of this or that reading. Thus, e.g., it has been laid down (1) that cœteris paribus, the shorter of two various-readings, is more likely to be the true one; (2) that the same holds good of the more difficult of two readings; or, (3), of one that agrees less closely with another parallel passage. In each case there was a probable motive for the alteration which made the text easier or more complete, while no such motive was likely to work in the opposite direction. Other rules, not resting, as these do, on antecedent probability, but on the nature of the materials with which criticism has to deal, will follow on a survey of those materials.

V. Manuscripts.—The extant MSS. of the New Testament are classed roughly in two great divisions, determined by their style of writing. Down to the ninth or tenth century the common usage was to write in capital letters, which, as having been originally of a bold and large type, like those which we use for the title-page of a folio-Bible, were spoken of as literœ unciales (“letters an inch big”). The word is thus applied by St. Jerome, and from this use of it the whole class of MSS. so written are known as Uncials. Somewhat later a smaller running-hand came to be employed, and the later MSS. are accordingly known as Cursive. They begin to appear in the tenth century, and extend to the sixteenth. The invention of printing did away with the demand for copies multiplied by transcription, and with the exception of one or two conspicuous instances of spurious MSS. of parts of the New Testament palmed off upon the unwary as genuine antiquities, none are extant of a later date. Experts in such matters acquire the power of judging, by the style of writing, or the material employed, of the date of a MS. belonging to either class, and in their judgment there are no extant MSS. of any part of the New Testament earlier than the fourth century. Most critics, however, are agreed in assigning a date as early as A.D. 350 to the two known respectively as the Sinaitic, as having been discovered by Tischendorf in the monastery of St. Catherine, on Mount Sinai, and the Vatican, so named as being the great treasure of the library of the Papal palace. Two others, the Alexandrian—sent by Cyril Lucaris, Patriarch of Constantinople, to Charles I., as a precious Codex, or MS., that had been brought from Alexandria—and the Codex Ephraem—so called from its having been found underneath the text of the works of Ephraem, a Syrian Father of the fourth century—are ascribed to the middle of the fifth century.[2] The Cambridge MS., or Codex Bezae, so called because it was given by Theodore Beza, the French Reformer, to the University of Cambridge in 1562, belongs probably to the latter part of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century. Others—some complete, and some existing only in fragments, either as originals or as palimpsests—came later, in the seventh or eighth, or even as low as the eleventh century.

[2] This way of using up old MSS., by partially effacing what had first been written with pumice stone, and then writing what was thought of more importance, was a common practice in monasteries. The works of many ancient authors have probably fallen a sacrifice to this economy. MSS. so used are known as palimpsests, literally, “re-scraped.”

As a matter of convenience, to avoid the constant repetition of the names of these and other MSS., a notation has been adopted by which letters of the alphabet stand for them, as follows:—

א(Aleph) for the Sinaitic. This contains the whole of the Greek version of the Old Testament, as well as the New, and the Shepherd of Hermas, an allegorical book more or less of the Pilgrim’s Progress type, ascribed to the second century. It represents the early text that was received at Alexandria.

A.The Alexandrian, containing the Old and New Testaments, a Greek Evening Hymn, a Psalm ascribed to David after the slaughter of Goliath, some Psalms ascribed to Solomon, and the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. It is mutilated in parts of St. Matthew and St. John. It represents the text received at Constantinople.

B.The Vatican, containing the Old and New Testaments. This agrees generally with א, as representing the Alexandrian text of the fourth century.

C.The Codex Ephraem; contains portions of most of the Old and New Testaments, 2 Thess. and 2 John having disappeared in the process of cutting up and re-making. It agrees generally with א and B, but has been corrected at Constantinople, and so gives later readings in the margin.

D.The Codex Bezæ; contains the Gospels and Acts only, with a Latin version. The presence of the latter shows a Western origin, and the Greek seems to have been copied by an illinstructed scribe. The Greek text is peculiar, and has more interpolations than any other MS. The Latin represents the version that preceded the Vulgate.

L.The Paris Codex, containing the Gospels only, and with several gaps. It agrees generally with א and B.

The MSS. that come between D and L, and others, are not of sufficient importance to claim mention here. It is obvious, as every transcription involves the risk of fresh errors, that the later MSS. must be primâ facie of less authority than the more ancient, and hence it is not thought necessary to give in this place any detailed account of the cursive MSS. It is, of course, possible, as some have urged, that they may represent a text more ancient than that of any uncial; but it is clearly against common sense and the laws of evidence to accept a bare possibility on one side against a strong probability on the other, and all that can be allowed in their favour is that where the uncials differ they may come in and help, so far as they can be shown to give an independent testimony, to turn the scale in favour of this or that reading. MSS. that are manifestly copied from the same original, or come from the same school of transcribers, are obviously not independent, and their value is proportionately diminished.

The following Table of New Testament MSS., from Dr. Scrivener’s Introduction, p. 225, will show the range of materials with which criticism has to deal, and the relative proportions of the two classes:—






Acts and Catholic Epistles



St. Paul’s Epistles






Evangelistaria (Service Books containing Gospels for the year)




Apostles (do. containing Epistles for do)






Many of these, however, are imperfect, some containing only a few chapters or even verses.

VI. Versions.—Over and above MSS. of the actual text ^ of the Greek Testament, we have an important subsidiary help in the translations which were made as soon as the Canon was more or less complete, into this or that language. If we know when a translation was made, we can infer, in most cases with very little room for doubt, what Greek text it was made from; and so can, in some cases, arrive at that which represents an earlier text than any existing MS. Of these versions the most important are—

(1) The Syriac, commonly known as the “Peschito,” i.e., the “simple” or “accurate” version, made in the second century. Later Syriac versions were made in the fifth and sixth centuries.

(2) The early Latin version, before Jerome, commonly known as the Italian version. Most of the MSS. belong to the fourth, fifth, or sixth centuries.

(3) Jerome’s Latin version, known as the Vulgate (i.e., made in the common or vulgar tongue), represents, of course, the Greek text received in the churches of Palestine, perhaps also in that of Rome, in the fourth century. The most ancient MSS. of this version are of the sixth century.

(4) The Gothic, made by Ulphilas, the Apostle of the Goths, when they settled on the Danube in the fourth century.

(5) The Æthiopic, in the fourth century.

(6) The Armenian, in the fifth century.

VII. Quotations in the Fathers.—One other element of evidence, often of considerable importance, comes to the help of the textual critic. The early writers of the Christian Church, of whom we speak commonly as the Fathers, read Scripture, studied it sometimes very carefully, and almost in the modern spirit of critical accuracy, lived in it, and quoted it perpetually in their writings. In some cases, of course, they might quote from memory, subject to the risks incident to such quotations; but as soon as they felt that they were writing for educated men, in the presence of adversaries who would easily fasten upon a blunder or misquotation, they would naturally strive after accuracy, and verify their quotations as they proceeded. The Greek Fathers occupy obviously the first place as giving the words of the text of the Greek Testament, and of these the most important are—Clement of Rome (circ. A.D. 91-101), Justin Martyr (A.D. 140-164), Clement of Alexandria (ob. A.D. 220), Origen (ob. A.D. 254), Irenæus, where we have the Greek text of his works (ob. A.D. 200), Athanasius (ob. A.D. 373), Eusebius (ob. A.D. 338), Chrysostom (ob. A.D. 407). The earlier writers are obviously of more authority than the later. That of Origen, on account of his indefatigable labours, and the critical character of his mind, stands as the highest authority of all. Alone, or almost alone, among the early Fathers, he notes, again and again, the various-readings which he found even then existing, as for example “Gadarenes” and “Gergesenes” in Matthew 8:28; “Bethabara” and “Bethany” in John 1:28; “Barabbas” alone, and “Jesus Barabbas,” in Matthew 27:17. Of the Latin Fathers, Tertullian (ob. A.D. 240), Cyprian (ob. A.D. 257), Ambrose (ob. A.D. 397), Augustine (ob. A.D. 430), Jerome (ob. A.D. 420), are the most important, as giving in their quotations the text of the earlier Latin versions, and so enabling us to judge upon what Greek text they had been based.

VIII. Results.—As a rule it is found that the lines of evidence from these classes of materials tend to converge. The oldest MSS., the oldest versions, the quotations from the earlier Fathers present, though not a universal, yet a general agreement. Where differences arise the judgment of one editor may differ from that of another, as to the weight of conflicting witnesses or internal probability; but as correcting the text upon which the Authorised version was based, there is now something like a consensus of editors on most important passages. It has not been thought desirable in this Commentary to bring the evidence in detail before the reader in each individual case; but, as a rule, the readings which are named as “better” than those of our printed Bibles, are such as are supported by convergent evidence as above described, and adopted by one or more of the most eminent scholars in New Testament criticism.

IX. Printed Text of the Greek Testament.—It may seem strange at first that the Hebrew text of the Old Testament should have been printed for European use, at Soncino, in 1488, thirty-three years before the Greek text of the New. In the one case, however, we must remember that there was a large Jewish population in almost every great city in Germany, Italy, and France, wanting: copies for their synagogues and for private use. In the other, the Latin of the Vulgate satisfied ecclesiastics, and as yet there was not a sufficient number of Greek students even in the Universities of Europe to create a demand for books in that language. During the last quarter of the fifteenth century, however, the knowledge of Greek spread rapidly. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks, refugees fled to Italy and other parts of Western Europe, bringing with them Greek MSS. and offering themselves as instructors. In 1481 a Greek Psalter was printed at Milan, and in a reprint at Venice in 1486 the hymns of Zacharias and the Virgin were added as an appendix, being thus the first portions of the New Testament to which the new art was applied. In 1504 the first six chapters of St. John were appended tentatively to an edition of the poems of Gregory of Nazianzus, published at Venice. About the same time (1502) under Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the great Cardinal Ximenes, who had founded a University at Alcala, began a grand work on a princely scale. It was by far the noblest task to which the art of printing had as yet been applied. It was to give the Hebrew of the Old Testament, with the Chaldee Targum, or Paraphrase, and the LXX. or Greek version, and the Vulgate. Hebrew and Greek lexicons were appended, and something like a dictionary of proper names. MSS. were borrowed from several quarters, chiefly from the Vatican Library at Rome. The work went on slowly; and was not completed till 1517, four months before the Cardinal’s death; nor published till 1522, after it had received the approval of Leo X. in 1520. The edition is commonly known as the Complutensian from Complutum, the Latin name of Alcala. Meantime Erasmus, the head of the Humanists, or Greek scholars of Germany, had been employed in 1515 by Froben, the head of an enterprising publishing house at Basle, to bring out a Greek Testament, which was to get the start of the Complutensian. The work was done hurriedly in less than a year, and the book appeared in February, 1516. But little care had been taken in collecting MSS., and in some cases we find somewhat bold conjectural interpolations. The omission of 1John 5:7 was, however, a sign that a spirit of honest criticism was at work. Erasmus had not found it in any Greek MS., and therefore he would not insert it. A second edition appeared in 1519, and in 1522 a third, in which, through fear of giving offence, he had restored the disputed text on the strength of a single MS. of the thirteenth century, now in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and known as the Codex Montfortianus. Later editions followed in 1527 and 1535.

Paris, however, soon took the lead in meeting the demand, now rapidly increasing, partly through the labours of Erasmus, and partly through the theological excitement of the time, for copies of the Greek Testament. After an edition by Simon de Colines (Colinæus), in 1543, of no great importance, the foremost place was taken by Robert Etienne (or Stephanus), and maintained afterwards by his son Henry. His first edition, based upon collations of MSS. in the Royal Library at Paris with the Complutensian text, appeared in 1546; another in 1549. A third, in 1550, was on a larger scale, and gave for the first time—thus marking an epoch in the progress of textual criticism—a systematic collection of various-readings to the number of 2,194. A fourth edition, published in 1551 at Geneva, and therefore intended primarily, we may believe, for the use of the pastors and students of the Reformed Church there, is remarkable as giving for the first time the present division into verses. The work of Henri Etienne went on, guided in 1556 by Beza, and the text, as revised by him (not very critically), was printed in successive editions in 1565, 1576, 1582, and 1598. The name of the great Reformer stamped the work with a sanction which most Protestant students recognised. The editions were widely circulated in England, where as yet no Greek Testament had issued from the press; and this and the earlier text of Etienne were probably in the hands of the translators of the Authorised version.

The house of Elzevir, at Leyden, famous for the beauty of type and the “diamond” editions which we now associate with the name, took up the work at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and a Greek Testament, almost perfect in typography, was issued in 1624, and another in 1633. Both were based, as far as the text was concerned, upon the later editions of Etienne and Beza, and in the Preface to the latter, the editor assured the reader that he could now rely on having an undisputed text (textum ab omnibus receptum). The boast was not without foundation, and it tended, for a time at least, to secure its own fulfilment. Most English editions in the seventeenth century reproduced it with hardly any variation, and the Textus receptus, though no critic now receives it as a whole, still keeps its ground as a standard of comparison. We measure the value of MSS., for the most part, by the extent to which they differ from or agree with it.

The spirit that craves for accuracy as an element of truth, was, however, still active in England, as elsewhere. The arrival of the Alexandrian MS. (see above) attracted the notice of scholars. They began to feel the importance of versions as bearing on the text, and in Bishop Walton’s famous Polyglot Bible, the Syriac, Arabic, Persian, and Æthiopic versions were printed side by side with the text of Etienne, and various-readings were given, though not very fully, from the Alexandrian, the Cambridge, and fourteen other MSS. The work of collecting and comparing these and other materials was carried on for thirty years with unremitting industry by Dr. John Mill, Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and in 1706 the labours of his life were crowned, just before his death, by the publication of an edition of the Greek Testament in two folio volumes, which, while practically retaining the text of Etienne—i.e., the Textus receptus, contained a far larger mass of materials, and a more thorough examination of their relative value than had ever been before attempted. The Prolegomena extended over 180 pages; the various-readings were reckoned at 30,000. The shallow scepticism of the Free-thinkers of the time assumed that all grounds for certainty as to the contents of the New Testament writings had vanished. Timid and prejudiced theologians took up the cry that textual criticism was dangerous. It found, however, a sufficiently able apologist in Richard Bentley, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He urged with great power and success, in a pamphlet published under the pseudonym of Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, in 1714, that truth has no need to fear truth; that if the existence of the various-readings is compatible with the Christian faith, the knowledge of their existence cannot be fatal to it; that it was with the New Testament, as with other ancient books, a help and not a hindrance, to have to edit from many MSS., and not from one only, which might chance to be defective; that every fresh discovery of variations was, therefore, a step to certainty; and that the result had been to fix the range of possible uncertainty within such narrow limits that no single fact or doctrine of the religion of Christ was imperilled by it. Bentley himself aspired to take a high place among the workers whom he thus defended, and, in 1716, sketched out a plan for printing a revised Greek text, on principles which presented a singular approximation to those that have since been acted on by Lachmann and Tregelles. He believed that it was possible to ascertain from the uncial MSS., the early versions, and the early Fathers, what text was received in the fifth century, and was prepared to reject all later variations. Acting on those principles, he proposed to use the materials which Mill’s indefatigable labours had collected.

Bentley was, however, involved in personal troubles and disputes which hindered the accomplishment of his purpose, and for a long series of years the work was left to be carried on by the scholars of Germany, while English students were content to accept, with scarcely any inquiry, the text which was known as Mill’s, but which practically hardly differed at all from the Textus receptus. Among the former the most conspicuous was Bengel (1734), whose essentially devout Commentary bore witness that criticism did not necessarily lead to scepticism, that he was a verbal critic mainly because he believed in verbal inspiration. He was followed by Griesbach (1774-1806), Scholz (1830-36), and by Lachmann (1831), who avowedly looked on himself as Bentley’s disciple, working on his lines, and completing the work which he had left unfinished. The list culminates in Tischendorf, the labours of whose life in collating and publishing, often in facsimile, MSS. of the highest value (among others the Codex Ephraim) were crowned by the discovery, in 1859, of the Sinaitic MS. Two countrymen of our own—Dr. S. P. Tregelles (d. 1876), and the Rev. Dr. Scrivener—may claim a high place in the list of those who, with unshaken faith, have consecrated their lives to the work of bringing the printed text of the Greek Testament to the greatest possible accuracy. Alford and Wordsworth, in their editions of the Greek Testament, though not professing to do more than use the materials collected by others, have yet done much to bring within the reach of all students the results of textual criticism. In Dr. Tregelles’s Introduction to the New Testament, Dr. Scrivener’s Introduction to New Testament Criticism, and Mr. Hammond’s Outlines of New Testament Criticism, in the Clarendon Press Series, the student who wishes to go more fully into the subject will find ample information. Of these Lachmann and Tregelles are, perhaps, the boldest in setting aside the Textus receptus in deference to the authority of the uncial MSS. and the early Fathers; Scrivener and Wordsworth, and more recently Mr. Maclellan, in maintaining the probability that the cursive MSS., upon which the Textus receptus was mainly based, though themselves of late date, may represent an ancient text of higher authority than that of the oldest existing uncials.


I. The Earlier Versions.—Wherever men have believed in earnest that they had the ground-work of their faith in God mainly or wholly in a written record, it is natural that they should desire, if their religion has any life and energy, to have that book in the speech to which they were born, and in which they think. The religious life of our early English, or Anglo-Saxon, forefathers, after their conversion by Augustine, was a deep and earnest life; and as soon as schools and monasteries gave men the power to study the Scriptures in the Latin of the Vulgate translation, portions of them were translated into Anglo-Saxon. There were versions of the Psalms in the eighth century. Bede, as in the well-known narrative of his scholar Cuthbert, died (A.D. 735) in the act of finishing the last chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Alfred prefixed a translation of the Ten Commandments, and some other portions of Exodus, to his Code of Laws (A.D. 901). The Homilies of Ælfric (ob. A.D. 1005) must have made many passages of Scripture familiar to lay as well as clerical readers. In the tenth century the four Gospels were translated; a little later, the Pentateuch, and other portions of the Old Testament. Most of these were made of necessity from the Vulgate, without reference to the originals. Hebrew was utterly unknown, and the knowledge of Greek, which Theodore of Tarsus (ob. A.D. 690) brought with him to the See of Canterbury, did not spread. Here and there only, as in the case of Bede, who spent his life in the Monastery of Jarrow, founded by Benedict Biscop, do we find any traces of it, and even in him it hardly goes beyond the explanation here and there of a few isolated terms. There are no signs that he had studied a single chapter of a Gospel in the Greek. It was natural, when the Norman rule, introducing a higher culture through the medium of two languages, one of which was dead, and the other foreign, repressed the spontaneous development of that which it had found in existence, that these versions should drop into disuse, and be forgotten. At the best they were but tentative steps to a goal which was never reached.

II. Wycliffe.—The stirrings of spiritual and intellectual life in the thirteenth century, mainly under the influence of the Franciscan and Dominican Orders in the Universities of Europe, led, in the first instance, to the development of a logical and metaphysical system of theology, of which the works of the great schoolmen, Peter Lombard (ob. A.D. 1164) and Thomas Aquinas (ob. A.D. 1274), furnish the most complete examples. This was, for the most part, subservient to the great scheme of a spiritual universal monarchy on the part of the Bishop of Rome, which found its most prominent representatives in Innocent III. (ob. A.D. 1216) and Boniface VIII. (ob. A.D. 1303). The teaching of Scripture was still formally the basis of that of the schoolmen, but it was Scripture as found in the Vulgate and commented on by the Fathers; and, practically, the comments and glosses of the doctors took the place of the text. Against this, whenever men found themselves on any ground, political or theological, opposed to Rome, there was, in due course, a natural reaction. Roger Bacon (ob. A.D. 1292), who certainly knew some Greek and a little Hebrew, is loud in his complaints of the corrupt state of the current text of the Vulgate, and of its defects as a translation. Devotional minds turned then, as always, to the Psalms, as giving utterance at once to the passionate complaints and the fervent hopes of men in dark and troublous times; and three English versions of them belong to the first half of the fourteenth century. It was significant, as an indication of what was ripening for the future, that the first book of the New Testament to be translated into English should have been the Revelation of St. John. The evils of the time were great. Men’s minds were agitated by wild communistic dreams of a new social order, and by the false revelation of a so-called Everlasting Gospel, ascribed to the Abbot Joachim of Calabria (ob. A.D. 1202). It seemed to John Wycliffe, in A.D. 1356, that men would find the guidance which they needed in the Apocalypse, and with this accordingly he began. He soon formed, however, the wider plan of making the whole Bible accessible to his countrymen. It seemed to him, as John of Gaunt put it in a speech before the King’s Council, a shameful thing that other nations, French, Gascons, and the Bohemians, who, in the person of the wife of Richard II. had supplied England with a queen, should have the Scriptures in their own tongue, and that Englishmen should not. The next step accordingly was a translation of the Gospels, with a commentary; and by 1380 there was a complete English New Testament. A version of the Old Testament was begun by Nicholas de Hereford, and carried on to the middle of the book of Baruch, which then stood after Jeremiah, when, as is seen in the original MS. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, his work was interrupted, probably by an ecclesiastical prosecution, which first summoned him to London, and then drove him into exile. Wycliffe, or some fellow-worker, finished it before his death, in 1384. A few years afterwards it was carefully revised throughout by another disciple, John Purvey, whose text is that commonly printed (as in Forshall and Madden’s edition) as Wycliffe’s version.

There is much that is touching in the history of the work thus accomplished, as Purvey describes it in his Preface. It was hard to get at the true text of the Vulgate; harder often to understand it. He felt that it was a task that required the consecration of all powers, “to live a clean life, and be full devout in prayer; “but he laboured on in the belief that his toil would not be fruitless. “By this manner, with good living and great travail, men may come to clear and true translating, and true understanding of Holy Writ, seem it never so hard at the beginning.” A work so begun and completed could hardly fail of success. It met a great want, and in spite of all the difficulty and cost of multiplying books by hand, and the active measures taken by Archbishop Arundel, under Henry V. (ob. A.D. 1413), not fewer than 170 copies of the whole, or part, of one or other of the versions, most of them of the Revised text, are still extant. The greater part appear to have been made between 1420 and 1450; nearly half of them being of a portable size, as if men desired to have them in daily use. The book was clearly in great demand, and though the “Lollardie,” with which it was identified, was suppressed by the strong arm of persecution, it doubtless helped to keep alive the spirit of religious freedom.

Wyclinffe’s version did not profess to have been made from the original, and it had, therefore, against it all the chances of error that belong to the translation of a translation. Thus, to confine ourselves to a few instances from the New Testament, the “Pontifex,” which stands for High Priest in Hebrews 9:11; Hebrews 9:25, and elsewhere, Is rendered by “Bishop”; the “knowledge of salvation,” in Luke 1:77, appears, as from the scientia salutis of the Vulgate, transformed into the “science of health”; for “repent,” in Matthew 3:2, we have “do ye penance”; formystery,” in Ephesians 5:32, “sacrament.” The “villages” of the Gospels are turned into “castles” (Luke 10:38); the “soldiers” into “knights”; “pearls” into “margarites”; “unlearned men” into “idiots.”

III. Tyndale.—The work of giving an English Bible to the English people had to be done over again, in one sense, under happier conditions. Under the influence of the great Renaissance movement, Greece “had risen from the grave,” to modify a well-known saying, “with Plato in one hand for the scholars of Italy, but with the New Testament in the other for those of Germany and England.” The printing-presses of all countries were at work to multiply and transmit the labours of all scholars from one country to another. The results, as far as the printed text of the Greek Testament is concerned, have already been described above. An impulse had been given to the study of Greek at Oxford by Grocyn (ob. A.D. 1519) and Linacre (ob. A.D. 1524), who went to Italy to learn what was almost as a newly-discovered language, and was carried forward by Colet, the founder of St. Paul’s School (ob. A.D. 1519), and Sir Thomas More (ob. A.D. 1535), who, as a layman, gave lectures in one of the city churches on the Epistle to the Romans. Lexicons and grammars began to issue from the press. Erasmus, the great scholar of the age, studied Greek at Oxford, and taught it at Cambridge from 1509 to 1524. It was in vain that the adherents of the old scholastic methods urged that the study of Greek would probably make men Pagan, and that those who read Hebrew were in danger of becoming Jews; in vain that the editors of the Complutensian Bible compared the position of the Vulgate version of the Old Testament with the Hebrew text on one side, and the LXX. version on the other, to that of Christ crucified between the two thieves. Culture asserted the claim of classical studies to be the literœ humaniores of education, and men were not slow to discover that without a true and thorough “humanity” in that sense of the word, there could be no true theology.

Foremost in the great work which, carried on step by step through nearly a century, ended in 1611 in what is known as the Authorised version,[3] stands the name of William Tyndale. Born in 1484, studying at Oxford under Grocyn and Linacre, carrying on his Greek studies under Erasmus at Cambridge in 1510, attracted by the new theology of Luther, as he had been before by the new learning of his great rival, he formed the purpose of turning laymen into theologians. Himself a “priest,” and more devout and thoughtful than his fellows, he was among the first—perhaps in England quite the first—to realise the truth, that the work of the ministers of the Church was to be not priests, in the scholastic and mediæval sense, but preachers of the Word. At the age of thirty-six he declared his purpose, “if God spared his life, to make a boy that driveth a plough to know more of Scripture than the Pope; “and from that purpose, through all the changes and chances of his lite, he never swerved, even for a single hour.

[3] The name seems to have been attached to it from the fact that it was undertaken at James L’s command, and dedicated to him, and that the title-page spoke of it as “appointed to be read in churches.” Historians have, however, sought in vain for any Act of Parliament, Vote of Convocation, Order in Council, or other official document so appointing it. Practically, it has tacitly received its sanction from being exclusively printed by the King’s printers’ and the University presses; but simply as a matter of strict law, the Act of Parliament which authorised the Great Bible remains unrepealed, and that is, therefore, still the only version authorised by law.

The main features of that life can be stated here but very briefly. Bent upon his work, and knowing that Tunstal, Bishop of London, stood high in repute among the scholars and humanists of the time, he came up to London, in 1522, in the hope of enlisting his support, and presented himself with a translation of one of the Orations of Isocrates as a proof of his competency. He was met with delays and rebuffs, and found that he was not likely to gain help from him or any other prelate. He was forced to the conclusion that, “not only was there no room in my Lord of London’s palace to translate the New Testament, but also there was no place to do it in all England.”

He accordingly went abroad, first to Hamburg, and began with versions of St. Matthew and St. Mark with marginal notes; thence to Cologne, where his work was interrupted by one of Luther’s bitterest opponents, Cochlaeus; thence, with his printed sheets, to Worms, four years after Luther’s famous entry into that city. From its presses came two editions—one in octavo, the other in quarto—in 1525. They appeared without his name. Six thousand copies were struck off. They soon found their way to England. Their arrival had been preceded by rumours which roused an eager desire in some, fear and a hot enmity in others. The King and the Bishops ordered it to be seized, or bought up, and burnt. Tunstal preached against it at St. Paul’s Cross, declaring that he had found 2,000 errors in it. Sir T. More wrote against it as being both heretical and unscholarly. The Reforming spirit was, however, gaining ground. Tyndale defended himself successfully against More’s criticisms. The books were eagerly read by students and tutors at Oxford and Cambridge. They were given by friend to friend as precious treasures. The very process of buying up created a demand which was met by a fresh supply. The work of destruction was, however, thorough. Of six editions, three genuine, three surreptitious, there were probably 15,000 copies printed. Of these, in strange contrast to the 170 MS. copies of Wycliffe’s version, some four or five only, the greater part incomplete and mutilated, have come down to our own time.

Meanwhile Tyndale went on with his work. The prominence of the Jewish element at Worms, the synagogue of which is said to be one of the oldest in Western Europe, may have helped him to a more accurate knowledge of Hebrew. Jewish editions of the Old Testament had been published by Bomberg in 1518 and 1523. A new Latin translation from the Hebrew text was published by Pagninus in 1527. Luther’s Pentateuch had appeared in 1523; the Historical Books and Hagiographa in 1524. A like work was carried on simultaneously by Zwingli and other scholars at Zurich. Tyndale was not slow to follow, and the Pentateuch appeared in 1530; Jonah in 1534. The latter year witnessed the publication of a revised edition of his New Testament, of three unauthorised editions at Antwerp, with many alterations of which Tyndale did not approve, by George Joye, an over-zealous and not very scrupulous disciple. In Tyndale’s own edition, short marginal notes were added, the beginnings and endings of the lessons read in church were marked, and prologues prefixed to the several books. The state of things in England had been altered by the king’s divorce, and marriage with Anne Boleyn, and in return for her good offices on behalf of an Antwerp merchant who had suffered in his cause, Tyndale presented her with a copy (now in the British Museum) printed upon vellum, and illuminated. The inscription Anna Regina Angliœ, in faded red letters, may still be traced on the gilded edges. So far, Tyndale lived to see of the travail of his soul; but his work was nearly over. The enemies of the Reformation in Flanders hunted him down under the persecuting edicts of Charles V., and in October, 1536, he suffered at the stake at Vilvorde, near Brussels, breathing the prayer of longing hope, as seeing far off the Pisgah vision of a good land on which he was not himself to enter, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” So passed to his rest the truest and noblest worker in the English Reformation.

The labours of Tyndale as a translator of the New Testament were important, not only because he prepared the way as a pioneer for those who were to follow him, but because, to a great extent, he left a mark upon the work which endures to this day. The feeling that his task was to make a Bible for the English people kept him from the use of pedantic “ink-horn” terms belonging to the vocabulary of scholars, and varying with their fashions, and gave him an almost instinctive tact in choosing the phrases and turn of speech, which happily have not yet disappeared, and we may add, are not likely to disappear, in any process of revision. And this, we must remember, required at the time a courage which we cannot easily estimate. The dominant feeling of ecclesiastics was against translating the Bible at all. Those who did not openly oppose it, such as Gardiner and those who acted with him, surrounded their consent with reservations of all kinds. The dignity of Scripture was to be secured by keeping its language as distinct as possible from that of the common people. Time-honoured and ecclesiastical words, on which the Church had, as it were, stamped its seal, were to be used as largely as possible. Tyndale’s leading idea was precisely the opposite of this. He felt that the scholastic theology of the time had so surrounded the language of Christ and His Apostles with new associations, that their meaning, or what has been called their connotation, was practically altered for the worse; and it seemed to him that the time was come for laying the axe to the root of the tree by the exclusion of the terms which had thus been spoilt for common use. And at first the work was done with a thoroughness in which subsequent revisers have not had the courage to follow him. “Congregation” uniformly instead of “church,” “favour” often instead of “grace,” “mystery” instead of “sacrament,” “overseer” instead of “bishop,” “repentance” instead of “penance,” “elder” instead of “priest,” “love” instead of “charity,” “acknowledge” instead of “confess.” It was just this feature in Tyndale’s work that roused the keenest indignation on the part of the Bishops of the English Church, and even of scholars like Sir Thomas More; and made Ridley (the uncle of the martyr) say of it, not untruly as appearances went, that his translation was “accursed and damned (condemned) by the consent of the prelates and learned men.” If we wish to picture to ourselves what might have been the result had Tyndale acted as the “prelates and learned men” would have had him act, we may see it in the Rhemish New Testament. If we ask what shape his translation might have taken had he been only a scholar and a critic, we may find the answer in the fragments of a translation left by Sir John Cheke, the great scholar—

“Who first taught Cambridge and King Edward Greek.”

The first process would have given us “azymes” for “unleavened bread”; “evacuated from Christ” (Galatians 5:4); “the justifications of our Lord” (Luke 1:6); “longanimity” (Romans 2:4); “sicer,” for “strong drink” (Luke 1:15); “replenished with fear” (Luke 5:26); “the specious gate of the Temple” (Acts 3:2); “a greater host” (Hebrews 11:4); “contemning confusion” (Hebrews 12:2); the “consummator, Jesus” (Ibid.)—and so on through a thousand instances. The second, with a pedantry of a different kind, would have given “biword” for “parable,” “frosent” for “apostle,” “freshmen” for “proselytes,” “uprising” for “resurrection,” “gainbirth” for “regeneration,” and the like. Instead of such monstrosities, we have a version which represents as accurate a scholarship as was possible under the then conditions of culture, and the faithfulness of one who felt that what he was dealing with contained God’s message to mankind, and never consciously tampered with its meaning. Two testimonies to its value may well close this brief account of it. One is from the pen of the most eminent of modern English historians. “The peculiar genius—if such a word may be permitted—which breathes through it, the mingled tenderness and simplicity, the Saxon simplicity, the preternatural grandeur, unequalled, unapproached, in the attempted improvements of modern scholars—all are here—and bear the impress of the mind of one man, William Tyndale” (Froude, History of England, 3 p. 84). The other comes from one who seems to have felt keenly the change which he found when he had to quote the phrases of the Rhemish version, almost, as it were, to think in it, instead of those with which his youth and manhood had been familiar, and after which he now sighs with the vain wish that, being what it is, it was with Rome and not against her. “It was surely a most lucky accident for the young religion that, while the English language was coming to the birth with its special attributes of nerve, simplicity, and vigour, at its very first breathings Protestantism was at hand to form it upon its own theological patois, and to educate it as the mouth-piece of its tradition. So, however, it was to be; and soon,

‘As in this bad world below

Holiest things find vilest using.’

the new religion employed the new language for its purposes, in a great undertaking—the translation of its own Bible; a work which, by the purity of its diction and the strength and harmony of its style, has deservedly become the very model of good English, and the standard of the language to all future times” (J. H. Newman, Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics, p. 66).

IV. Tyndale’s successors.—In this, as in the history of most great enterprises, it was true that “one soweth, and another reapeth.” Other men, with less heroism and less genius, entered into the labours of the martyr of Vilvorde. The limits of this Introduction exclude a full account of the work of his successors. It will be enough to note briefly the stages through which it passed till it reached what was to be its close and consummation for more than two centuries and a half.

(1) First in order came COVERDALE (born, 1485; died, 1565), afterwards, under Elizabeth, Bishop of Exeter. In him we find a diligent and faithful worker, and we owe to him the first complete translation of the whole Bible, published in 1535. Partly, perhaps, from his inferior scholarship, partly from a wish to conciliate at once the followers of Luther and those who had been accustomed to the Vulgate, he did not even profess to have had recourse to the original text, but was content with announcing on his title-page that it was “truly translated out of the Douche” (i.e., German) “and Latyn.” Tyndale for the New Testament, Luther’s version and the Zurich Bible of Zwingli for the Old, were his chief authorities; but he was less consistent than Tyndale, and deliberately defends his inconsistency, in not excluding the words that had become associated with scholastic definitions. He uses, e.g., “penance” as well as “repentance,” “priest” as well as “elder,” “charity” as well as “love.” “Congregation,” however, keeps its ground as against “church.” Reprints of this version appeared in 1536 and 1537. and even in 1550 and 1553. Among smaller facts connected with this version we may note that the Latin Biblia, and not Bible, appears on the title page; that the Hebrew letters forming the name of Jehovah are also there; and that the alphabetic elegies of the Book of Lamentations have the Hebrew letters attached to their respective verses. There are no notes, no chapter headings, nor division into verses.

(2) MATTHEW’S BIBLE appeared in 1537, and is memorable as having been dedicated to Henry VIII. and his Queen, Jane Seymour, and set forth “with the kinge’s most gracyous license.” Who the Thomas Matthew was, by whom the book purports to be translated, no one knows. There was no scholar of repute of that name; and though his name is attached to the dedication, the exhortation to the study of Scripture has the initials J. R. as a signature. Possibly, Thomas Matthew was, as some have supposed, a simple alias assumed by John Rogers, afterwards the proto-martyr of the Marian persecution, in order that the name of one who was known to have been a friend of Tyndale’s might not appear with an undue prominence on the title-page. Possibly he was a layman, who made hiinself responsible for the cost of printing. The book was printed in large folio. Through Cromwell’s influence, which was then in the ascendant, backed by Cranmer’s—partly also, we may conjecture, through Matthew’s name appearing as the translator instead of Rogers’s—the king’s license was obtained without difficulty. The publishers (Grafton and Whitchurch) were bold enough to ask for a monopoly for five years; to suggest that “every curate” (i.e., parish priest) should be compelled to buy one copy, and every abbey six. As a literary work, Rogers’s translation is of a composite character. The Pentateuch and New Testament are reprinted from Tyndale, the Books of the Old Testament, from Ezra to Malachi, from Coverdale. From Joshua to 2 Chronicles we have a new translation. The most noticeable feature of the book was found in the marginal notes, which made a kind of running commentary on the text, and which were, for the most part, of a strong Lutheran character. It is scarcely conceivable that the king could have read, with any care, the book to which he thus gave his sanction. As it was, a copy was ordered to be set up in every parish church, and Matthew’s Bible was the first Authorised version.

(3) It was, perhaps, in part, owing to the antagonism which Rogers’s notes naturally roused, that it was scarcely published before another version was begun under Cromwell’s authority. Coverdale was called on to undertake the task of revision, and he and Bonner (names strangely joined) were for a time acting together in getting it printed at Paris, and transmitting the sheets to London. The notes disappeared, and a marginal hand took their place, indicating the “dark places” that required the comment which Coverdale was not allowed to write. This also came out in an extrasized folio, and is known, therefore, as the GREAT BIBLE, It had no dedication, but there was an elaborate frontispiece title-page, engraved, probably, from Holbein’s designs, representing the king on his throne, giving the Verbum Dei to Cromwell and Cranmer, while they in their turn distribute it to clergy and laity. It appeared with a preface by Cranmer in 1540, and a copy of it was ordered to be set up in every church. Other editions followed, two in the same year, and three in 1541. In the third and fifth of these two new names appear on the title-page (the first two editions having been issued without the name of any translator) as having revised the work—Tunstal, then Bishop of Durham, and Heath, Bishop of Rochester. The impulse which Tyndale had given had told even on the man to whom he had applied in vain for support at the outset of his career, and as by the strange irony of history, he who had been foremost in condemning Tyndale’s version as dangerous, full of errors, and heretical, was now found giving the sanction of his name to a translation which was, at least, largely based on that version. It is significant that under this editorship even the marginal “hands” of Coverdale’s unfulfilled intentions disappeared, and the Bishops were thus committed to what twenty years before they had shrunk from and denounced, the policy of giving to the English people a Bible in their own tongue without note or comment. It was well that all this was done when it was. Cromwell’s fall, in July, 1540, was followed by a time of reaction, in which Gardiner and Bonner gained the ascendant. They did not, however, venture to recall the step that had thus been taken, and the Great Bible, chained to its desk in every church, and allowed, for some years, at least, to be read out of service-time to any who chose to listen, did a work which not even the king’s proclamations against discussing its teaching, nor Bonner’s threats to withdraw the Bibles unless the discussions were suppressed, were able to undo. It remained the Authorised version, recognised in the Liturgical Reforms under Edward VI., and from it accordingly were taken the Psalms, which appeared in the Prayer Books of that reign, and have kept their place through all revisions to the present day. The version, as a whole, was based upon Coverdale and Tyndale, with alterations made more or less under the influence of the Latin versions of Erasmus for the New Testament, and the Vulgate for the Old. All readers of the English Prayer Book Psalms have accordingly the means of comparing this translation with that of the Authorised version;[4] and, probably, the general impression is in favour of the Prayer Book version as being, though less accurate, more rhythmical and harmonious in its turns of phraseology; often with a felicitous ring in its cadences, that seems, even when the Psalms are read, to carry with it a music of its own. A certain ostentation of learning is seen in the appearance of the Hebrew names of books, such, e.g., as Bereschith (Genesis), Velle Shemoth (Exodus). On the other hand, by what was obviously the hasty substitution of what was thought a more respectful term than Apocrypha, the books which are now classed under that head are said to be “called Hagiographa” (i.e., “sacred writings”), because they “were read in secret and apart.”

[4] The use of the “Morians’ land” (i.e., the land of the Moors), in the Prayer Book, where the Bible version has “Ethiopia” (Psalm 68:31; Psalm 87:4), may be noted as a prominent instance of the influence of Luther’s version, which gives Mohrenland, working through Coverdale. Besides the Psalms we find traces of this version in the Sentences of the Communion Service, and in phrases such as “worthy fruits of penance” and the like. From it, too, come the quotations in the Homilies.

(4) Nearly contemporaneous with the Great Bible—issuing from the press, indeed, before it—another translation was published in London (1539), by RICHARD TAVERNER, who had been a student at Cardinal College, afterwards Christ Church, at Oxford. It affords the attraction of the running commentary on the text, which the editors of the Great Bible had deliberately omitted, and on this ground found the acceptance which is indicated by two editions, folio and quarto, of the whole Bible, and two, quarto and octavo, of the New Testament, in the same year, followed by a subsequent reprint. It never occupied, however, any position of authority, nor had it any traceable influence on subsequent versions. It deserves to be noted, however—as if each translation was to have something specially memorable connected with it—as an instance of a layman’s scholarship and devotion, of the assertion of a layman’s right to translate, publish, comment on, the Sacred Books. The work which Taverner had done in this way was so far recognised, that in the reign of Edward VI. he received a special license to preach, and performed his office with an almost ostentatious disregard of conventional rules of costume, preaching, not in the dress of his university degree, but in velvet hat, damask gown, gold chain, and sword.

(5) THE GENEVA BIBLE. The last five years of the reign of Henry VIII. were conspicuously a time of reaction, but it kept, as has been said, within limits. The old horror of Tyndale’s name revived, and all books bearing his name were ordered to be destroyed. The notes in all editions that had them—i.e., Matthew’s and Taverner’s—were to be erased. No women, except those of noble and gentle birth, no men below what we should call the upper middle-class, were to read the Bible, publicly or privately, to others, or by themselves. Coverdale’s New Testament was proscribed, as well as Tyndale’s, and this involved in most instances the destruction of the whole Bible that bore his name. Gardiner proposed that a translation should be made by the Bishops (Tunstal and Heath now disavowing the work of revision, for which the title-page of the Great Bible made them responsible), and urged the retention in the original Latin of every ecclesiastical or theological term, and even of others, such as oriens, simplex, tyrannus, in which he seemed to see a peculiar and untranslatable force. That project happily fell through. The matter was discussed in Convocation, and referred to the universities, but nothing more was done. The Great Bible kept its position as the Authorised translation.

Under Edward VI. the attention of Cranmer and the other reforming bishops was occupied with the more urgent work of liturgical reformation, and though many reprints of both Bibles and New Testaments issued from the press, and were eagerly purchased, nothing was done towards a new revision, beyond the appointment of two foreign reformers, Fagius and Bucer, to professorships at Cambridge, with a view to their undertaking such a work. The former was to take the Old Testament, the latter the New. They were to write notes on dark and obscure places, and reconcile those that seemed repugnant to each other. Their work was hindered by illness, and the accession of Mary, in 1553, put a stop to this or any like enterprise.

The work was, however, done for England, though not in England, and in 1557, the last year of Mary’s reign, a New Testament, with copious notes, was printed at Geneva, with an introductory epistle by Calvin. The work appeared anonymously, but it was probably by Whittingham, one of the English refugees, who had married Calvin’s sister. For the first time in the history of the English Bible the chapters were divided into verses, after the manner with which we are familiar, and so the facility of reference and verifying quotations was enormously increased. The example of such a division had been set, as stated above (Introduction on the Text of the New Testament), in the Greek Testament published by Stephens (or Etienne) in 1551; but there the verses were only noted in the margin, as is done, for example, in the Oxford reprint of Mill’s Greek Testament. It was also the first translation printed in Roman type, and so presenting a clearer and easier page to the reader. The work was carried on by Whittingham, Coverdale, and others, after the accession of Elizabeth, for two years, and the whole Bible was published in 1560. Of all English versions before that of 1611, it was by far the most popular. Size, price, type, notes, division into verses, made it for more than half a century the household Bible of the English people. In most of the editions after 1578 it was accompanied by a useful Bible Dictionary. It was found in every family. It was the text-book of every student. It came in opportunely to fill up the gap which had been caused by the wholesale destruction of Bibles in the latter years of Henry VIII., and during the whole reign of Mary. It was only slowly displaced by that which we now know as the Authorised version—several editions being printed after 1611—and from one point of view it may be questioned whether there was not loss as well as gain in the displacement. The presence of notes, even if they were, like those of the Geneva Bible, somewhat over-dogmatic and controversial in their tone, was yet at once an incentive and a help to a thoughtful study of Scripture. The reader could find some answer—often a clear and intelligent answer—to the questions that perplexed him, and was not tempted, as a Bible without note or comment tempts men, to a mechanical and perfunctory perusal. For good or for evil, and it is believed that the former greatly predominated. it was the Geneva version that gave birth to the great Puritan party, and sustained it through its long conflict in the reigns of Elizabeth and James. So far as the religion of the peasantry of Scotland has been stamped with a more intelligent and thoughtful character than that of the same class in England, the secret may be found in the more enduring influence of this version among them. Among its other distinctive features it may be noted (1) that it omitted the name of St. Paul in the title of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and left the authorship an open question, and (2) that it avowed the principle of putting words not in the original in italics. One of the English editions of this version is that commonly known as the “Breeches Bible,” from its use of that word instead of “aprons” in Genesis 3:7.

As compared with the Great Bible, the Geneva version shows a careful work of comparison and revision. In the Old Testament the revisers were helped both by the Latin and the French translations of foreign Protestant scholars, especially by the Latin New Testament of Theodore Beza, and by the notes attached to it. Beza’s scholarship was above the level of that of most of his contemporaries, and in many instances the corrections which were introduced on his authority in the Geneva version have been recognised by later revisers, and have found their place in the Authorised version. On the other hand, he was somewhat over-bold in dealing with the Greek text of the New Testament, substituting conjecture for the patient work of laborious criticism; and in this respect his influence was mischievous. On the whole, however, the work was well and faithfully done, and was so far a great step forward to the consummation in which the English people were to rest for more than two centuries and a half.

(6) The BISHOPS’ BIBLE. The popularity of the Geneva version, its acknowledged superiority to the Great Bible which was then the Authorised version of the Church of England, coupled, perhaps, with a slight feeling of alarm at the boldness of the marginal notes, led Archbishop Parker, about 1563—though he had forwarded the re-publication of that version in England—to undertake the work of revision, by committing the several books of Scripture to individual scholars, or groups of scholars. Many of these (Sandys, Guest, Horne, Grindal, and others) were bishops, and when the book appeared, in 1568, it soon became known by the title which now attaches to it, of the Bishops’ Bible. It was published, like most of the Bibles intended for use in church, in a stately folio. It has no dedication, but a portrait of Elizabeth appears on the engraved title-page, and others of Leicester and Burleigh appear, with strange, almost ludicrous, inappropriateness, before the Book of Joshua and the Psalms. It does not appear to have distinctly received the queen’s sanction, but a vote of Convocation ordered copies to be bought by every archbishop and bishop, and placed in his hall or dining-room, for the convenience of strangers, by all cathedrals, and, as far as possible, for all churches. Fresh issues, more or less revised, appeared in 1572 and 1578. The Bishops’ Bible is memorable, as to a certain extent fulfilling Coverdale’s intention, which had been adjourned sine die by the successive editors of the Great Bible, and, for the first and last time, there was thus a quasi-authorised commentary on the whole Bible. It aimed, too, more than most previous versions, at reproducing the exact spelling of Hebrew names, as, e.g., in giving Izhak for Isaac, and affixing the final u to names like Hezekiahu, Josiahu, and the like. It classified the books both of the Old and New Testament as legal, historical, sapiential, and prophetic. Passages were marked to be omitted when the chapters were read as the lessons for the day. In the edition of 1572 there was, for the first time, a map of Palestine, with degrees of latitude and longitude; and elaborate genealogical tables were prefixed to it. The judgment of most scholars is unfavourable to this version in the Old Testament, but the New shows considerable scholarship, carrying on its work of revision at each successive issue.

(7) The RHEMISH VERSION of the New Testament, followed by the DOUAY VERSION of the Old, was intended partly to refute the charge that the Church of Rome was opposed altogether to the work of translation; partly to show that she had scholars who were not afraid to challenge comparison with those of the Reformed Churches. It appeared at Rheims in 1582, and had copious notes, mostly of a controversial character. It was just such a version as Gardiner would have welcomed, based avowedly on the Vulgate as more authoritative than the Greek, and on the text of the Vulgate that had been stamped by Clement VIII. with Papal sanction, retaining, as far as possible, all technical and theological terms, such as depositum (1Timothy 6:20), exinanited (Philippians 2:7), penance, chalice, priest (for “elder”), host (for “sacrifice”), advent (for “coming”), co-inquination (2Peter 2:13), peregrination (1Peter 1:17), prepuce, azymes, and the like. (See III., p. 11, for other examples.) In many cases, but naturally more in the Old Testament than the New, they were content to rest in a rendering which had simply no meaning at all. Two specimens may be sufficient to show to what extent stones were thus offered to English Catholics instead of bread.

Ephesians 6:12. Our wrestling is . . . against princes and potentates, against the rectors of the world of this darkness, against the spirituals of wickedness in the celestials.

Hebrews 13:16. Beneficence and communication do not forget, for with such hosts God is premerited.

In not a few cases, however, the words of Latin use which were thus introduced had become current in the language of English religious writers, and a list of considerable length might be made of words which the revisers under James I. were not afraid to take from the Rhemish Testament in place of those which were found in the Bishops’ Bible or the Geneva version. Among these we may note, “charity” for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, “church” for “congregation” in Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17.

V. The Authorised Version. The position of the Church of England on the accession of James I., in 1603, in relation to the translations of Scripture then current, presented two conflicting currents of feeling. On the one hand, the Bishops’ Bible occupied the position of authority. On the other, that of Geneva had gained a stronger hold on the affections of the English people,[5] and to a large extent, of the English clergy also. The Puritan party wished to dislodge the Bishops’ Bible from its pre-eminence, and to make way for one more after the pattern of Geneva. The king and the court divines disliked the bolder tone of many of the notes of the latter version. Some few, perhaps, of the school afterwards developed by Laud and Montagu on the one side, by Falkland and Chillingworth on the other, fretted under the yoke of the Calvinistic dogmatism which pervaded both. Accordingly, when the Puritan petition, known, from the supposed number of signatures, as “millenary,” led to the Hampton Court Conference, the campaign was opened by Dr. Reynolds, President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who, urging some special faults in the Bishops’ Bible (the passages selected, Galatians 4:25, Psalm 105:28; Psalm 106:30, were, it must be said, singularly unimportant) pleaded for a new revision. Bancroft, Bishop of London, made the somewhat peevish answer, “that if every man’s humour were to be followed, there would be no end of translating.” The king, however, interposed. He saw in the task of revision just the kind of work which met his tastes as a scholar. He saw in it also an opportunity for getting rid of the obnoxious Geneva Commentary. It was settled then and there, Bancroft withdrawing his opposition on this concession, that the forthcoming version should be issued without note or comment. Fifty-four scholars were selected (only forty-seven, however, are named), probably by the bishops who had most influence with the king, and arranged in six groups, to each of which a given portion of the Bible was assigned. Comparatively few of the names on this list have now any special interest for the general English reader. Of those who are still remembered, we may name Andrewes, afterwards Bishop of Winchester; Abbot, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury; Overall, the author of the latter part of the Church Catechism; Saravia, the friend of Hooker; Sir Henry Savile, famous as the editor of Chrysostom; Reynolds, who had, as we have seen, been the first to urge revision. The king recommended the translators to the patronage of the bishops, and invited cathedrals to contribute to the expenses of the work. As far as can be traced, the labour was, from first to last, like that of the present revisers of the Authorised version, a labour of love, without payment, or hope of payment, beyond the occasional hospitality of this or that college, which might, perhaps, offer free quarters to a company that included one of its own members. After nearly three years of labour the new Bible appeared in 1611. It bore, as our Bibles still bear, on its title-page, the claim to be “newly translated out of the original tongue; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised,” and to be “appointed to be read in churches.” The latter announcement, confirmed as it has been by general acceptance, has led to the title of the “Authorised version,” which has since commonly attached to it. Singularly enough, however, there is nothing, as has been said above, but the printer’s title-page as the warrant for this assumption of authority. A fresh revision was talked of under the Long Parliament in 1653, and a committee of scholars appointed in 1656. They met at the house of Lord Keeper Whitelock, and the list included the names of Walton, the editor of the great Polyglot Bible, and Cudworth, the famous metaphysician, but nothing came of the Conference.

[5] Of the Bishops’ Bible there were thirteen editions in folio, six in quarto, and only one in octavo. Of the Geneva version, 1568 and 1611, there were sixteen in octavo, fifty-two in quarto, eighteen in folio.—Westcott, History of the English Bible, p. 140.

The principles on which the translators were to act were definitely laid down for them in fifteen rules, probably drawn up under Bancroft’s direction: (1) The Bishops’ Bible was to be taken as a basis, and altered as little as possible. (2) Names of prophets and others were to be retained in their common form. This was directed against the plan which had been adopted in the Bishops’ Bible. (3) The old ecclesiastical words were to be kept. “Church” was to be used instead of “congregation.” This was against Tyndale and the versions that had followed him, with special reference to the Genevan. (4) Weight was to be given, where a word had different senses, to the authority of the ancient Fathers. (5) The received division of chapters was to be altered not at all, or as little as might be. (6) There were to be no marginal notes, except such as were purely verbal, alternative renderings, and the like. (7) Marginal references should be given at discretion. The next six rules prescribed the details of the work: the revision by one company of the work of another, and the like. The 14th pointed to Tyndale’s translation, Matthew’s, Coverdale’s, Whitchurch’s (the Great Bible), and the Geneva version, as to be followed where it was thought desirable.

In their preface, written by Dr. Miles Smith—a far more interesting document than the dedication which we find in all our Bibles—some further rules of action are stated as having guided them. They contrast their careful work, extending through three years or more, with the seventy-two days of the legend of the Septuagint. They speak respectfully of previous English versions. They profess to have consulted both ancient and modern translations: Chaldee, Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French (probably the Geneva version), Italian (probably Diodati’s), Dutch (certainly Luther’s). They defend their practice of varying the renderings of Hebrew or Greek words, partly on the legitimate ground that one English word will not always express the different meanings of the same word in the original, partly on the somewhat fantastic plea of fairness, that as many English words as possible might have the honour of being admitted to the sacred volume. A careful comparison shows that in the New Testament their chief standards of comparison were Beza’s, the German, and even the Rhemish version, from the last of which, as stated above, they adopted many words and phrases,[6] and with which the direction to retain the old ecclesiastical terms at times brought them into close agreement. The general acceptance which the Authorised version met with, both from scholars and the great mass of readers, may fairly be admitted as evidence that the work was done carefully and well. The revisers were never satisfied, as those of Rheims or Douay sometimes were, with an absolutely unmeaning translation. They avoided archaisms to the best of their power, and with equal care avoided the “ink-horn terms” of a pedantic scholarship. They followed the earlier English versions in the majestic simplicity which, as a rule, had characterised them from Tyndale onwards, and aimed, not unsuccessfully, at greater accuracy. Where they failed, it was chiefly through the circumstances under which they worked. In one respect, their deliberate choice of a wrong method, in seeking to vary the renderings of Greek or Hebrew words as much, instead of as little, as possible, has involved them in many mistakes, leading to a false emphasis or a false antithesis, hindering the English reader from seeing how one passage throws light upon another, and making the use of an English concordance of little or no value as a help to interpretation. For other defects they were, perhaps, less responsible. The text of the New Testament was as yet in an unsettled state, and Stephens’s (or Etienne’s) edition, which they took as their standard, was based on the later, not the earlier MSS. They had learnt Greek through Latin, and were thus led (1) through the comparative incompleteness of the Latin conjugation, to confound tenses of the Greek verbs, imperfect, aorist, perfect, pluperfect, which were really distinct; (2) through the absence of a Latin definite article, to pass over the force of the Greek article, or to exaggerate it into a demonstrative pronoun; (3) through the imperfect analysis of the use of the Greek prepositions to give not unfrequently a sense, when the preposition is used with one case, which rightly belongs to it only when it is used with another. (4) The two centuries and a half which have passed since have naturally rendered some words obsolete or obsolescent, have lowered or altered the meanings of others, and have enlarged the range of the English vocabulary so as to take in words which would be as legitimately at the disposal of the revisers now as any, which were then in use, were at the command of the revisers of 1611. Mr. Aldis Wright’s Bible Word-Book, and the papers by Canon Venables in the Bible Educator, on “Bible Words,” may be consulted as authorities on the subjects of which they treat.

[6] See Weetcott’s History, p. 352.

A few of the minor, but not unimportant, details of the Authorised version still remain to be noticed. (1) The two editions printed in 1611 were both in the Old English black letter. Roman type was used in the reprint of 1612. (2) All the editions contained the Apocrypha till 1629. (3) Printers, or the editors employed by printers, have from time to time modified, though without authority, the spelling of the edition of 1611, so as to keep pace with the real or supposed improvements of later usage. (4) The careful use of italics to indicate the use of words which, though not expressed in the original, were yet essential to the meaning, was, from the outset, a special characteristic of the Authorised version. This, too, has, from time to time, been modified by successive editors. The text printed in the present volume represents, in this respect, that of 1611, but the Cambridge edition of 1638 is said, in this respect, to be more carefully edited. (5) The marginal readings and references of the edition of 1611 have in like manner been largely added to or varied by subsequent editors, notably by Dr. Paris in the Cambridge edition of 1762, and Dr. Blayney, who superintended the Oxford edition of 1769. Useful as these are as suggesting possible alternative translations or the comparison of really parallel passages, they cannot be regarded as having the slightest claim to authority, properly so called. Some few corrections of the version itself were also made by these or other editors, on their own responsibility, as, e.g., “about” for “above” in 2Corinthians 12:12, “unto me” for “under me” in Psalm 18:47. Mistakes in printing have made some editions memorable—“vinegar” for “vineyard” in Matthew 21:28; “not” omitted from the Seventh Commandment, in 1632; “righteousness” for “unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13), in 1653. (6) The marginal dates of the common English Bibles, which first appear in Bishop Lloyd’s Bible in 1701, are also, it should be noted, though often helpful, altogether without authority. They represent, as now printed, the chronology adopted by Archbishop Ussher, and are, like all such systems, open to correction, as research brings to light fuller or more authentic materials, or criticism corrects the conclusions of earlier scholars. In some cases, as, e.g., in assigning A.D. 60 to the Epistle of St. James, A.D. 96 to the Revelation of St. John, A.D. 58 to the Epistle to the Galatians, the dates assigned assume theories which many recent scholars have rejected. (7) The chapter-headings of our printed Bibles have remained with but little alteration, but they, too, will call for a careful revision. That the right of revision has been exercised, however, appears from the changes that have taken place in the heading of Psalms 149 from the form which it presented in 1611, “The Psalmist exhorteth to praise God . . . for that power which He hath given to the Church to bind the consciences of men,” to its present text, which omits the last six words. In many instances the headings assume, somewhat too decisively, the character of a commentary, rather than a summary. Thus, while Psalms 16, 22, 69 are dealt with in their primary historical aspect, Psalms 2, 45, 47, 72, 110 are referred explicitly to “Christ’s kingdom.” “The Church” appears as the subject of Psalms 76, 80, 87, where it would have been historically truer to say Israel. Psalms 109 is referred to Judas as the object of its imprecations. The Song of Solomon receives throughout an elaborate allegorical interpretation. Isaiah 53 is referred specifically to “the scandal of the Cross,” Isaiah 61 to “the office of Christ,” Micah 5 to “the birth and kingdom of Christ,” and so on. Luke 7 assumes the identity of the “woman that was a sinner” with Mary Magdalene. In Acts 6 the Apostles are said to “appoint the office of deaconship to seven chosen men.” In Acts 20 Paul is said to “celebrate the Lord’s Supper.” Apart altogether from the question whether the interpretation in these and other like cases is or is not correct, it is clear that the headings go beyond the function which properly belongs to them, and trench upon the work of the commentator, which the revisers of 1611 deliberately renounced. That there was an element of loss in that renunciation has been already stated, but we may well believe that on the whole it has been well that we have the Bible in its completeness, without the addition of any comments reflecting the passing ecclesiastical or Calvinistic dogmatism characteristic of the early part of the seventeenth century, which would in all probability have been clothed, sooner or later, by popular and clerical feeling, with a fictitious authority, or even been invested by legal decisions, or Acts of Parliament, with a real one. It is well, in the long-run, that every commentary on the whole or any part of Scripture should be submitted freely to the right and the duty of private judgment.



I. It is, of course, an important question whether we have in the four Gospels received by the Church as canonical, the evidence of contemporary writers—two of them claiming to be eye-witnesses—or writings of a generation, or two generations, later, the after-growth of the second century, fathered upon authors whose names belonged to the first. The question when the Gospels were written is, it may be admitted, one which cannot be answered precisely within a decade or so of years; nor would it be right to overstate the argument by asserting that we have any evidence external to the New Testament of the existence of the Gospels in their present form earlier than Papias (ob. A.D. 170), who names St. Matthew and St. Mark, and Irenæus (A.D. 130-200) and Tertullian (A.D. 160-240), who name all four. The existence in A.D. 170 of a harmonised narrative of the Gospel history by Tatian, known as the Diatessaron (i.e., the Gospel as stated by the Four), and the mention of St. Luke in the MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, known from the name of its first editor as the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 150-190?), point to the conclusion that four Gospels bearing the same names as those now received, and presumably, till proof is given of the contrary, identical with them, were recognised and read publicly as authoritative documents in the middle of the second century. And, obviously, they occupied at that time a position of acknowledged superiority to all other like documents. Men invent reasons, more or less fantastic, such as those which Irenæus gives (Contr. Hæres. iii. 11)—the analogy of the four elements, or the four winds—why there should be neither more nor less than four. It is scarcely too much to say that this reputation could hardly have been gained in less than half a century from the time when they first came to be generally known; and so we are led to the conclusion that they must have been in existence at a date not later than A.D. 100-120.

II. An examination of the earliest Christian writings outside the canon of the New Testament is to some extent disappointing. There are very few references to the Gospel narratives in the Epistles that bear the name of Clement or Ignatius or Barnabas. They assume the broad outlines of the Gospel history, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. They contain echoes and fragmentary citations from the Sermon on the Mount, and other portions of our Lord’s ethical teaching which had most impressed themselves on the mind and conscience of His disciples; but it must be admitted that we could not infer from them that the writers had in their hands the Gospels as we have them. We may go further, and say that it is antecedently probable that their knowledge was more or less traditional, and that the general acceptance of the Gospels, and therefore, so far as their writings are concerned, even the existence of the Gospels, may have been of later date. On the other hand, it must be remembered that these letters are, in the strictest sense of the word, occasional, and not systematic. They are directed, each of them, to a special purpose, under circumstances that did not naturally lead the writers to speak of the facts of the Gospel record—even of those of which, on any assumption, they must have had, at least, a traditional knowledge.

III. When we come to the writings of Justin Martyr (A.D. 103-167), the case is altered. He, as having passed into the Church of Christ from the schools of philosophy, was a man of wider culture than any Christian writer since St. Paul. The circumstances of his life led him into controversy with Jews who questioned the claim of Jesus to be the Christ, and in his argument with them, his references to the acts and words of Christ are numerous and often of great length. It is true that he does not cite any Gospel by name, but mentions them generally as “the memoirs” or “records” that are “known as Gospels,” and are read in the weekly meetings of the churches (Apol. i. 66), and that where he quotes from these “memoirs” it is at times with such considerable variations of detail as regards their facts, and of expression as regards their teaching, that it has been urged by some writers—notably by the unknown author of “Supernatural Religion”—that he probably had in his hands some book other than any of the four which we now acknowledge. Against this it may be pleaded, however, that the habits of the age, and the special circumstances of Christian writers, were unfavourable to accurate quotation. The Jewish Scriptures, in their Greek form, were collected into a volume, and could be bought at Alexandria, or perhaps in any great city, without difficulty; but such Apostolical writings as those of which Justin speaks were scarcely likely to be multiplied by either the Jewish or heathen scribes who supplied the stalls or shops of booksellers; nor is it probable that the Christian Church was at that time sufficiently organised to command booksellers of its own. A treasured copy, in the hands of the bishop or elder of each Christian community, read publicly at its meetings, was, we may well believe, in that early stage of the growth of the new society, enough to meet its wants. The members of that society listened, and remembered and reproduced what they had heard with the variations which, under such conditions, were inevitable. And even if we were to admit, hypothetically, the conclusion which has thus been drawn, the result would, after all, be neither more nor less than this—that there was in Justin’s time a fifth Gospel in existence, agreeing in all material points with the four, or, at least, with three out of the four. To most men it would seem improbable that such a Gospel should have left no traces of its existence outside the quotations or references from which that existence has been thus inferred, that it should have supplied the most scholarly of the early Christian writers with all his knowledge of the life and teaching of the Christ, and then have vanished like a meteor. But if it did exist, then it would simply follow that we have, in the unknown Gospel supposed to be quoted by Justin, a fifth independent witness confirming, at least in substance, the records of the other four.

IV. There are, however, writings which even the most sceptical critics allow to be earlier than the Epistles of Clement and Ignatius. The Epistles of the New Testament are—excluding for the present the so-called Antilegomena (2 Peter 2, 3, John, Jude)—documents of an antiquity that may well be called primitive. They did not come together into a volume till perhaps the middle of the second century, or later. The letters of each writer may be cited accordingly, as giving a perfectly independent testimony. Let us ask, therefore, what evidence they supply as to the existence, either of the first three Gospels, or of a common narrative, written or oral, which they embody, each with variations of its own. For the present we limit the inquiry to these three. The fourth Gospel stands apart from them in a distinct position of its own, and the evidence in favour of its having come from the Apostle whose name it bears will be found in the Introduction to it.

Take, then, (1) the EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES. Its contents point to its being, perhaps, the very earliest document in the New Testament. The absence of any reference to the controversy between the Judaisers and the followers of St. Paul, leads naturally to the conclusion that it was written before that controversy—prior, i.e., to the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15. There is absolutely no ground for thinking, as men have thought, that he writes either against St. Paul’s doctrine, that a man is justified by faith, or against the perversion of that doctrine by St. Paul’s followers. The dead faith which he condemns is not a faith in Christ, as having atoned for sin, but the mere confession of the primary article of Jewish monotheism—“Thou believest that there is one God” (James 2:19). Taking the EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES, therefore, as the earliest witness, what do we find there? Not, we must freely admit, any reference to the Gospel narrative; but, on the other hand, a mind whose thoughts and mode of teaching had been manifestly formed on the model of the Sermon on the Mount. He, too, teaches by beatitudes (James 1:12; Matthew 5:10-11), and the one beatitude is an echo of the other. To him, also, God is emphatically the giver of all good things (James 1:17; Matthew 7:11). He, too, dwells on the danger of hearing without doing (James 1:22; Matthew 7:24). To him the grass withering before the scorching sun and the hot wind of the desert, is the type of all that is most fleeting in fortune or in character (James 1:11; Matthew 6:30; Matthew 13:6). He, too, connects the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with that freedom from “respect of persons,” which even the scribes acknowledged to be a leading feature in His character, and which, therefore, He would condemn in those who professed to be His disciples (James 2:1; Matthew 22:16). He shares his Master’s implied condemnation of the “gorgeous raiment” of those whom the world honours (James 2:2; Matthew 11:8). To him, as to Christ, to keep the law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is the condition of entering into life (James 2:8; Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:40), and that law, as having been thus confirmed by the great King, is for him the royal, the kingly law. He re-states the law that the merciful, and they alone, will obtain mercy (James 2:13; Matthew 5:7; Matthew 7:1). He warns men against the risks of claiming without authority the function of teachers, and forgetting that we all need the guidance of the one divine Teacher (James 3:1; Matthew 23:8). The same familiar illustration of the tree and its fruits is used by him to set forth the relation of character and acts (James 3:12; Matthew 7:16). To clothe the naked and to feed the hungry are with him, as with the Christ, elements of the perfect life (James 2:15; Matthew 25:35-36). He has the same word of stern reproof for the “adulterous generation” in which he lived (James 4:4; Matthew 12:39), and which he reminds of the truth that they cannot be the friends at once of God and of the world (James 4:4; Matthew 6:24). He knows that humility is the condition of true exaltation (James 4:10; Matthew 23:12). He, too, speaks of the Father as One who, though willing to save, is able also to destroy (James 4:12; Matthew 10:28), and protests, in words that are almost an echo of our Lord’s, against the far-reaching schemes of man’s covetousness (James 4:13-16; Luke 12:16-20). To him the coming of the Lord is the goal to which all things tend (James 5:8; Matthew 24:27). It is nigh, even at the doors (James 5:9; Matthew 24:33). He condemns, as his Lord had done, the rash use of oaths, and tells men, in the very words used by Christ, that their speech should be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay (James 5:12; Matthew 5:34-36). He prescribes anointing with oil as a means of healing the sick, even as our Lord had done (James 5:14; Mark 6:13). With him, as in our Lord’s miracles, the healing of the sick is associated with the forgiveness of their sins (James 5:15; Matthew 9:2). It will hardly be contended that so continuous a series of parallelisms between the Epistle of St. James and the Gospel of St. Matthew is purely accidental. But if it is not so, if there is evidence of a connection of some kind between them, then we have to choose between the hypotheses (1) of both drawing from the common source of the current traditional knowledge of our Lord’s teaching; or (2) of the Evangelist incorporating into his report of that teaching what he had learnt from St. James; or (3) of St. James being a reader of a book containing the whole, or part, of what we now find in St. Matthew’s Gospel. (See Introduction to St. Matthew.)

I turn to the FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER. The opening words attach to the “blood of Christ” the same importance which He Himself had attached to it (1Peter 1:2; Mark 14:24). He takes up the words in which his Lord had bidden men watch with their loins girded (1Peter 1:13; Luke 12:35). He points the contrast between seeing and believing, even as Christ had pointed it (1Peter 1:8; John 20:19). He has learnt to interpret the prophets as his Lord had taught him, as foretelling the sufferings that were appointed unto Christ (1Peter 1:2; Luke 24:44-45). He sees in the blood of Christ a ransom for many (1Peter 1:18; Mark 10:45), and knows that God has raised Him from the dead (1Peter 1:3). He teaches that there must be a new birth wrought in men by the divine word (1Peter 2:23; John 3:3; John 3:5). He sees in Christ the stone which the builders rejected (1Peter 2:4; 1Peter 2:7; Mark 12:10), in the crisis through which Israel was passing, the time of its “visitation” (1Peter 2:12; Luke 20:44). He remembers, using the self-same unusual word which occurs in almost immediate sequence in the Gospel record, how the calm recognition of the claims of civil rulers had “put to silence” (literally, muzzled) the ignorance of foolish men, and can therefore call on men to follow their Lord’s example for His sake (1Peter 2:15; Matthew 22:21; Matthew 22:34). He remembers also the marvellous silence of his Master at His trial before the Sanhedrin, and the livid scars left by the scourges of the soldiers (1Peter 2:23-24; Mark 14:60-61; Mark 15:15). Slaves were to recollect, when they were buffeted, that they were suffering as Christ had suffered (1Peter 2:20; Mark 14:65). It was by that suffering that the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), had drawn to Him the sheep that had gone astray over whom He had yearned with an infinite compassion (1Peter 2:25; Matthew 9:36). He has learnt the lesson of not returning evil for evil (1Peter 3:9; Matthew 5:39). He knows the beatitude that had been pronounced on those who suffer for righteousness’ sake (1Peter 3:14; Matthew 5:10). He knows, too, that Jesus Christ, having preached to the “spirits in prison” (there is, at least, a possible connection here with Matthew 27:52-53), went into heaven, and is at the right hand of God (1Peter 3:22; Mark 16:19). As if remembering the sin into which he fell because he had not watched unto prayer, he urges others to watch (1Peter 4:7; Mark 14:37). He had learnt, by a living personal experience, how man’s love, meeting God’s, covers the multitude of sins (1Peter 4:8; John 21:15-17). Revilings do but bring to his memory yet another beatitude which he had heard from his Lord’s lips (1Peter 4:14; Matthew 5:10). He reminds men how his Lord had commended His spirit to the Father (1Peter 4:19; Luke 23:46). He writes, as being himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ (1Peter 5:1). He has learnt to see in Him the chief Shepherd, under whom he himself and all other pastors are called to serve (1Peter 5:4; John 10:14). His call to others to be “sober and watchful,” because their adversary, the devil, was “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour,” speaks of the experience of one who had been told that Satan desired to have him that he might “sift him as wheat” (1Peter 5:8; Luke 22:31).

The doubts which have from time to time been raised as to the SECOND EPISTLE OF ST. PETER, prevent my laying much stress on the evidence which it supplies in this matter. My own belief is that the scale turns in favour of its genuineness. In any case, it is as early as any document later than the New Testament writings. Looking to it, then, we note the recognition of the distinction between calling and election, which Peter had himself specially been taught (2Peter 1:10; Matthew 20:16). The writer remembers how the Lord Jesus had shown him that the putting off of his “tabernacle” should be quick and sudden (2Peter 1:14; John 21:18). He uses of his own “decease” the self-same word which had been used of that of Christ (2Peter 1:15; Luke 9:31). The vision of the brightness of the Transfiguration, and the voice from the excellent glory, are still living in his memory (2Peter 1:17-18; Mark 8:2-7). In this, as in the former Epistle, he has been taught to see lessons connected with the coming of Christ, which did not lie on the surface, in the history of Noah and the Flood, to which our Lord had directed men’s attention (1Peter 3:20-21; 2Peter 3:5-7; Matthew 24:37). Here also, then, we have documents, one of which, at least, is acknowledged as belonging, without the shadow of a doubt, to the Apostolic age, and which abound in allusive references to what we find recorded in the Gospels. In this case it is, of course, more than probable that the writer spoke from personal recollection, and that we may have here the testimony, not of one who had read the Gospels, but of one from whom the information which they embody had been in part, at least, derived. And, assuming the Second Epistle to be by him, we have there a direct intimation of his intention to provide that that information should be embodied for those for whom he wrote in some permanent form (2Peter 1:15). For the evidence which leads to the conclusion that the Second Gospel grew out of that intention, see Introduction to St. Mark.

V. We pass to the EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS, which, whether we assume, as seems to me most probable, the authorship of Apollos, or that of St. Paul, or one of his fellow-labourers, Barnabas, or Luke, or Clement, belongs also to the Apostolic age. The writer of that Epistle acknowledges the fact of the Ascension (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 12:2). He distinguishes himself (Hebrews 2:3-4), just as St. Luke does, from those who had actually heard the word of salvation from the lips of the Lord Himself, but he has heard from them of the Temptation and the Passion of the Christ (Hebrews 2:18), of His perfect sinlessness (Hebrews 4:15), of His tolerant sympathy for all forms of ignorance and error (Hebrews 5:2), of the prayers and supplications, the strong crying and tears, of the garden and the cross (Hebrews 5:7). The Messianic prophecy of Psalms 110, to which prominence had been given by our Lord’s question in Matthew 22:42, becomes the centre of his argument. He knows, as one who had traced the descent from David, as given by St. Matthew and St. Luke, that our Lord had sprung out of Judah (Hebrews 6:14). The New Covenant, of which Christ had spoken as being ratified by his blood, fills the next great place in his argument (Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 13:24; Luke 22:20). He finds a mystical meaning in the fact that the scene of that blood-shedding was outside the gate of Jerusalem, (Hebrews 13:12; John 19:20). To him, as to St. Peter, the name of Jesus, on which he most loves to dwell, is that He is, as He described Himself, the Great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20; John 10:14).

VI. We pass, as next in order, to the EPISTLES OF ST. PAUL, taking them, as is obviously more natural in such an inquiry, in their chronological sequence. It is not without significance that the earliest of these, the FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS, opens with a reference to a Gospel of which St. Paul speaks as his (1Thessalonians 1:5; 1Thessalonians 2:2). It is, of course, true that he uses that word in its wider sense, not as a book, but as a message of glad tidings; but then that message consisted, not in a speculative doctrine, but in the record of what the Lord Jesus had done, and suffered, and taught, and how He had been raised from the dead (1Corinthians 11:23; 1Corinthians 15:1; 1Corinthians 15:3), and so the facts of the case suggest the conclusion that the name was given at a later stage—later, but how soon we cannot say—to the book, because the book so called embodied the substance of what had previously been taught orally. He knows that those whose faith in God exposes them to persecution are, in this respect, followers of the Lord, reproducing the pattern of His sufferings (1Thessalonians 1:6). He warns men of a “wrath to come,” such as the Baptist had proclaimed (1Thessalonians 1:10; Luke 3:7), and assumes the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Second Coming from Heaven (1Thessalonians 1:10; 1Thessalonians 3:13), as ideas already familiar. The key-note of his preaching, as of that of the gospel, is that men have been called to a kingdom of which Christ is the Head (1Thessalonians 2:12; Luke 4:43). In words which reproduce the very accents of our Lord’s teaching, he tells men that “the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1Thessalonians 5:2; Luke 12:39). For him also the times of trouble that are to precede that coming are as the travail-pangs of the world’s new birth (1Thessalonians 5:3; Matthew 24:8). The echoes of the voice that calls men, not to sleep, but to “watch and be sober,” are ringing in his ears, as they had done in those of St. Peter (1Thessalonians 5:6; Luke 21:34-36). In the SECOND EPISTLE the coming of the Son of Man is painted more fully, as Christ Himself had painted it. He is to come with “the sound of a trumpet, and with angels of His might” (2Thessalonians 1:7; Matthew 24:31; Matthew 25:31; Luke 21:27), and the sentence which He will then pass on the impenitent is characterised as “eternal” (2Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 25:46). He, too, has learnt, though as with a fresh revelation of details, that the day of the Lord is not, as men dreamt, at hand, that the end is not “by and by” (2Thessalonians 2:2; Luke 21:9). He appeals to a body of traditions—i.e., of oral teaching, which certainly included portions of the Gospel history and of the teaching of Christ (2Thessalonians 2:15; 1Corinthians 11:23; 1Corinthians 15:1-2).

The EPISTLES TO THE CHURCH OF CORINTH present the same general features as to the Coming of Christ, the revelation of Jesus Christ from Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Judgment (1Corinthians 15:20-28). Their greater fulness naturally presents more points of contact with the Gospel history on which they rest. We meet with the names of Cephas (which we find in that form in John 1:43, and not elsewhere in the Gospels) and of the brethren of the Lord as familiar to that Church (1Corinthians 1:10; 1Corinthians 3:22; 1Corinthians 9:5). The command which Christ had given to His disciples to baptise all nations is known and acted on (1Corinthians 1:14). The story of the Cross is the theme of the Apostle’s preaching (1Corinthians 1:18). Christ is to him the impersonation of the Divine Wisdom (1Corinthians 1:30; Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52; Luke 11:49). He employs the imagery, which Christ had employed, of the Wise Builder who erects his fabric on a firm foundation (1Corinthians 3:10; Luke 6:48). He knows the lessons taught by the parable of the Steward (1Corinthians 4:2; Luke 12:42), and by that of the Unprofitable Servant (1Corinthians 4:7; Luke 17:10). The rule of the Sermon on the Mount for those who suffer persecution is his rule also (1Corinthians 4:12-13; Luke 6:27-28). He illustrates the spread of spiritual influence for good or evil by the same image that gives its distinctive character to the parable of the Leaven (1Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 5:9; Luke 13:20), and connects this with the sacrifice of Christ as the true Passover, on the day of that Feast (1Corinthians 5:7; Luke 22:15). He has received the thought that the saints shall judge the world (1Corinthians 6:2; Matthew 19:28), and on that ground urges men to submit now to injustice (1Corinthians 6:6-7; Luke 6:29-30). His thoughts of the holiness of marriage rest on the same grounds as those of Jesus (1Corinthians 6:16; Matthew 19:5-6); and he, too, has learnt to see in man’s body a temple of the Eternal Spirit (1Corinthians 6:20; John 2:21). Outward freedom and slavery are looked on by him as nothing compared with the true freedom of the spirit (1Corinthians 7:22-23; John 8:36). He regards the life of the unmarried, when the choice is made for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake, as higher than that of the married (1Corinthians 7:32; Matthew 19:12). The special danger of over-anxiety about earthly things is to him known by the same word that our Lord had used (1Corinthians 7:32-34; Luke 10:19). The very adverb which he employs to express freedom from it, is taken from St. Luke’s account of Martha as “cumbered” about much serving (1Corinthians 7:35; Luke 10:40). He too echoes, in view of the troubles that were coming on the earth, the beatitude pronounced on the wombs that never bare (1Corinthians 7:40; Luke 23:29). With him, also, it is not that which goes into the mouth that affects our acceptance with God (1Corinthians 8:8; Mark 7:18); and that which he seeks to avoid in eating or drinking is the offending others (1Corinthians 8:13; Luke 17:1). His thoughts of the name, the function, the rights of an Apostle, are based upon our Lord’s commission given to the Twelve and to the Seventy (1Corinthians 9:4-14; Luke 9:3; Luke 10:7). He refers the last to the express commandment of Christ (1Corinthians 9:14; Luke 10:7), and yet rises beyond those rights to the higher law of giving without receiving (1Corinthians 9:18; Matthew 10:8). He uses the same unusual word for persistent “wearying” that St. Luke had used (1Corinthians 9:27; Luke 18:5). The narrative of the Last Supper, with all the symbolic significance of its words and acts, with all the associations of the events that came before and after it, is assumed as part of the elementary knowledge of every Christian (1Corinthians 10:16-17; 1Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 22:19-23). His account of the appearances of our Lord after His resurrection, though manifestly independent, includes some of those recorded in the Gospels (1Corinthians 15:3-7; Luke 24:34-36); and his teaching as to the “spiritual body” of the Resurrection agrees with the phenomena which they report (1Corinthians 15:42-44; Luke 24:36; John 20:19). His Master’s law of veracity in speech is his law also (2Corinthians 1:18; Matthew 5:37), as it had been that of St. James. Our Lord’s formula of asseveration, Hebrew as it was, is his formula (2Corinthians 1:20; Luke 4:24, et al.). His thoughts of his mission as a minister of the New Covenant are based on our Lord’s words (2Corinthians 3:6; Luke 22:20). The words in which he speaks of the believer as “transfigured” from glory to glory, are manifestly an allusive reference to the history of Christ’s transfiguration (2Corinthians 3:18; Matthew 17:2). He looks forward to the manifestation of all secrets before the judgment seat of Christ (2Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10; Matthew 25:31), and, almost as in Christ’s own language, he states the purpose of His death (2Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 1:4; Mark 10:45). He thinks of Him as being made sin for us—i.e., as being numbered with the transgressors (2Corinthians 5:21; Mark 15:28), and dwells on the outward poverty of His life (2Corinthians 8:9; Luke 9:58), and its inward meekness and gentleness (2Corinthians 10:1; Matthew 11:29).

We turn to the EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS. There the Apostle’s knowledge of the higher truths of the gospel has come to him, as it came to Peter, not by flesh and blood, but by a revelation from the Father (Galatians 1:12; Galatians 1:16; Matthew 16:17). References to external facts are, however, not wanting. The names of James, Cephas, and John are mentioned as already familiar to his Galatian converts (Galatians 2:9). He echoes the very syllables of the prayer of Gethsemane (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:16; Mark 14:36). He mentions the birth of Christ (“made of a woman”) in a way which at least suggests an acquaintance with St. Luke’s account of the Incarnation (Galatians 4:4; Luke 1:31). He sums up all duties of man to man in the self-same law which Christ had solemnly affirmed (Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:9; Luke 10:27). His list of the works of the flesh reads like an echo of our Lord’s list of “the things that defile a man” (Galatians 5:19-21; Mark 7:21-22).

In the EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS we have comparatively few of these references, but the great facts of the birth from the seed of David (Romans 1:3), and the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are assumed throughout (Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20). The command to meet cursing with blessing is repeated (Romans 12:14; Luke 6:28), as is also that of paying tribute to whom tribute is due (Romans 13:7; Luke 20:25). He has learnt the lesson that nothing that goes into the mouth can defile a man (Romans 14:14; Mark 7:18). In Romans 16:25 he seems even to point to the existence of “prophetic writings,” or “scriptures,” as containing the substance of the gospel which he preached; and if we adopt the view that he refers here, not to the older prophets, but to contemporary writings (as St. Peter apparently does in the “prophetic word” of 2Peter 1:19), then we have a coincidence confirming St. Luke’s statement that there were many such writings anterior to his Gospel (Luke 1:1), and explaining St. Paul’s use of the term “scripture,” as applied to a quotation from that Gospel (1Timothy 5:8; Luke 10:7).

The EPISTLES OF THE FIRST IMPRISONMENT—i.e., PHILIPPIANS, EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS—speak of Christ as “the beloved” of the Father (Ephesians 1:6; Luke 9:35). “Apostles and prophets” are joined together, as Christ had joined them, and in close connection with the Wisdom of God as sending them (Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 4:11; Luke 11:49). The parable of the Bridegroom and the Bride is recognised and developed (Ephesians 5:25; Matthew 22:1; Matthew 25:1; Luke 14:16), and our Lord’s citation from Genesis 2:24 re-cited (Ephesians 5:31; Mark 10:7). The writer knows that there is no respect of persons with the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; Matthew 22:16). He takes up and expands the thought of the “whole armour,” the “panoply” of God, which is mightier than the “panoply” of evil (Ephesians 6:13; Luke 11:22). He sees that the true redemption or deliverance of men is found in the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14; Luke 1:77; Luke 3:3). He expresses the perfect law of the believer’s life in saying that all personal or corporate acts should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17; 1Corinthians 5:4; Matthew 18:20). That Name is above every name, because He who bore it, having been in the form of God, had emptied Himself of that glory, and had come to be in the likeness of man, and even in His manhood had humbled Himself still further, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:6-9; Luke 1:32; Luke 2:51).

The PASTORAL EPISTLES—1 TIMOTHY, 2 TIMOTHY, TITUS—carry on the evidence. It is with him one of the faithful sayings, which are as the axioms of Christian doctrine, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1Timothy 1:15; Luke 5:32), to give Himself as a ransom for all men (1Timothy 2:6; Matthew 20:28). The earliest type of the Church’s creed includes the Incarnation, the Visions of Angels, the Ascension, as they are recorded by St. Luke (1Timothy 3:16; Luke 22:43; Luke 24:4; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:10). He lays down as the rule of discipline for the trial of offenders, that which, though previously acknowledged, had yet, in a specially solemn manner, been re-affirmed by Christ (1Timothy 5:19; Matthew 18:16). He dwells on the good confession which Jesus Christ had witnessed before Pontius Pilate (1Timothy 6:13; Luke 23:3). He speaks of the far-off judgment in Christ’s own words, as simply “that day” (2Timothy 1:18; Matthew 7:22). He refers once more to his own gospel as witnessing both to the Resurrection of Christ and His descent from David (2Timothy 2:8). He states again, almost in the very words of Christ, the law of retribution according to which He will deny hereafter those who deny Him now, and will cause those who endure to be sharers in His kingdom (2Timothy 2:12; Luke 9:26). Baptism is for him the washing of a new birth, and that by the working of the Spirit (Titus 3:5; John 3:5). What has been said of the Second Epistle of St. Peter holds good of this last group of the Epistles that bear St. Paul’s name. If they are not actually by him, they are yet unquestionably documents that carry us back to a period not later than the close of the First Century or the very beginning of the Second.

VII. The examples that have thus been collected are, it is believed, sufficient to show that the Epistles of the New Testament abound in references, not only to the great facts and doctrines of the Faith, but to the acts and teaching of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. And it must be remembered that there was nothing in the circumstances of the case to lead the writers to more than these incidental and allusive references. They were writing, not the Commentaries or the Sermons which belonged to a later age, but Epistles called for by special necessities, and not naturally suggesting, any more than analogous documents do now, a reference to the details of the Gospel history; and therefore the fact that the allusions are as numerous as they are, may fairly be accepted as a proof that their memories were saturated, as it were, with the acts and the words of the life of Jesus. These formed the basis of the oral instruction given to every convert (Luke 1:3). They were part of the traditions of every Church, of the gospel as preached by every Apostle and Evangelist. I do not say that they prove the existence of the first three Gospels as written books, but they prepare the way for all the special evidence—external and internal—which may be adduced on behalf of each of them, and show that they represent what was the current teaching of the Apostle’s age. It is probable enough, looking to the literary activity of that time in all cities of the empire, that there were, as St. Luke says (Luke 1:1), and as Papias implies (see Introduction to St. Matthew), many writers who undertook the task of embodying these floating traditions in writing. If out of these only three have survived, it is a natural inference that they were recognised as the most accurate or the most authoritative.

VIII. And it is at least a presumption in favour of the Gospels with which we are now dealing that they are ascribed to persons whose names were not of themselves clothed with any very high authority. A later writer, compiling a Gospel for Jewish Christians, would hardly have been likely to select the publican Apostle, the object of scorn and hatred alike to his own countrymen and to the Gentiles, instead of St. Peter or St. Andrew; or the subordinate attendant on the Apostles, whose help St. Paul had rejected because he had shown himself wavering and faint-hearted (Acts 13:13; Acts 15:38); or the physician whose name just occurs incidentally in the salutations of three of St. Paul’s later Epistles (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24; 2Timothy 4:11). And yet, when we know the names, and track out the history of the men, we see that in each case they explain many of the phenomena of the books to which they are severally attached, and furnish many coincidences that are both interesting and evidential. In the case of one Gospel, that of St. Luke, there is besides this, as the Notes on it will show, so close an agreement between its vocabulary and that of St. Paul, that it is scarcely possible to come to any other conclusion than that the one writer was intimately acquainted with the other. It may be added that whether from the sceptical point of view, or that of those who accept the first three Gospels as a real record of our Lord’s words, there is primâ facie evidence that they took their present form before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 72. The warnings of the great prediction of Matthew 23, Mark 13, Luke 21, as to “the abomination of desolation,” and “Jerusalem compassed with armies,” the counsel that men should “flee to the mountains” regardless of what they left behind them, the expectation suggested in them of the coming of the Son of Man immediately after the tribulation of those days, all indicate, on either hypothesis, a time of anxious and eager watching—a looking-for of those things that were coming on the earth, which exactly corresponds with the period between the persecution under Nero and the invasion of Titus, and does not correspond to any period either before or after. There had not been time when the Gospels were written for men to feel the doubt and disappointment which showed themselves in the question, “Where then is the promise of His coming?” (2Peter 3:4).

IX. The book known as the Acts of the Apostles is so manifestly the sequel to the Gospel of St. Luke that it can hardly be put in evidence as an independent witness. On the other hand, it contains elements of evidence, reports of speeches, and the like, that are independent. It shows (Acts 20:35) that in the churches of Asia Minor, in the very region in which Papias afterwards wrote on the “sayings” or “oracles” of the Christ, the “words of the Lord Jesus” were recognised as at once familiar and authoritative, and that among those words were some that are not found I in any of the extant Gospels. A series of coincidences, obviously undesigned, with the Epistles of St. Paul, in regard to facts, as seen, e.g., in Paley’s Horœ Paulinœ, and yet more in respect of style and phraseology, as above stated, makes it all but certain that the two writers were contemporary. The fact that the last incident recorded in the Acts is St. Paul’s arrival at Rome, makes it, primâ facie, probable that the book was written shortly after the expiration of the two years of his sojourn there, with the mention of which the book concludes—i.e., about A.D. 65. But if so, then the Gospel to which it is a sequel could not well have been later, and thus the former conclusion gains an additional confirmation.

X. The elements of agreement and of difference in the first three Gospels fall in, it is obvious, with the view thus given of their origin and history. It is scarcely probable, though we are not justified in assuming it to be impossible, that any notes of our Lord’s discourses or parables, or shorter sayings, were taken at the time, or that records of His miracles were then and there reduced to writing. But in the East, as elsewhere, the memory of men is often active and retentive in proportion to the absence of written aid. Men recite long poems or discourses which they have learnt orally, or get into the way of repeating long narratives with comparatively slight variations. And so, when the Church was enlarged, first in Palestine and afterwards at Antioch and the other churches of the Gentiles, new converts would be instructed freely in the words and acts of the Master from whom they took the name of Christians. As the church spread beyond the limits of Judæa, as it came to include converts of a higher culture, as it spread to countries where those who had been eye-witnesses were few and far between, there would naturally be a demand for documents which should preserve what had first been communicated by oral tradition only, and that demand was certain in its turn to create the supply. It was natural that each of the three great sections of the Church—that of the Hebrew section of the circumcision, represented by James the Bishop of Jerusalem; that of Hellenistic Judaism mingling with the Gentiles, as represented by St. Peter; that of the more purely Gentile churches that had been founded by St. Paul—should have, each of them, in the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke respectively, that which satisfied its wants. Each of those Gospels, as will be seen, had its distinctive features—St. Matthew conspicuous for the fullest report of discourses, St. Mark for graphic and vivid detail, St. Luke for a wider range of topic and of teaching, as the work of one who had more the training of a skilled historian, and who, though not an eye-witness, based his record upon fuller and more directly personal inquiries. For the circumstances which led to the composition of the fourth Gospel, and the position which it occupied in relation to the Three, see Introduction to St. John.

XI. The difference in tone and phraseology between the Gospels and the Epistles may fairly be urged as evidence of the earlier date, if not of the books themselves, yet of the teaching which they embody. (1) Throughout the Gospels the term by which our Lord most commonly describes Himself is the “Son of Man,” and it occurs not less than eighty-four times in all. It expressed at once our Lord’s fellowship with our humanity, and His specially Messianic character as fulfilling the vision of Daniel 7:13. The faith of the disciples after the Resurrection and Ascension naturally fastened, however, on the higher truth that the Lord Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God; and the term so familiar to us in the records of the Gospels is not found in one solitary passage through the whole body of the Epistles, and the only examples of its use outside the Gospels are in Acts 7:56, Revelation 1:13. In the latter of these two passages, it is doubtful, from the absence of the article, whether it is used in the same distinctive sense as in the Gospels, or as meaning simply “a son of man.” The broad distinction thus presented can hardly be explained except on the hypothesis that the Gospel report of our Lord’s teaching is faithful, and, at least, substantially accurate, unaffected by the phraseology and theology even of the earliest periods of the Church’s history. (2) Hardly less striking is the contrast between the two groups of books as regards the use of another term—that of the Church, or Ecclesia—as describing the society of Christ’s disciples. In the Acts and Epistles it meets us at every turn, 112 times in all. In the Gospels we find it in two passages only, Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17. Here also we may point to the fact as a proof that the reports of our Lord’s teaching as preserved in the Gospels were entirely unaffected by the thoughts and language of the Apostolic Church, and bear upon them the face of originality and genuineness. (3) The absence of any reference in the Gospels to the controversies of the first century is another argument of like nature. We speak, and within due limits, legitimately enough, of the characteristic tendencies and aims of St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, of their connection with this or that Apostle or school of thought. But if tendencies and aims had prevailed over honesty and faithfulness in reporting, how strong would have been the temptation to put into our Lord’s lips words that bore less or directly on the questions which were agitating men’s minds—on the necessity or the nullity of circumcision, on justification by faith or works, on eating things sacrificed to idols, on the reverence due to bishops and elders! All these things are, it need hardly be said, conspicuous by their absence. They are after-growths, which the teaching of Christ recorded in the Gospels does not even touch. The only controversies which it knows are those with Pharisees and Sadducees. The writers of the Gospels must have dealt faithfully with the materials which they found ready to their hands, and those materials must have been collected while the words and acts of Jesus were yet fresh in the memories of those who saw and heard them.

XII. It is indirectly a further argument in favour of the early date of these three Gospels that so little has come down to us outside their contents, as to the words and acts of Jesus. It lies in the nature of the case, as is, in part, seen by the success which attended the gleaning of which we have just spoken by St. Luke, in part also by the bold hyperbole of St. John’s language as he dwelt on the things that Jesus had said or done (John 21:25), that there must have been much that has found no permanent record. The Apocryphal Gospels—few of them, if any (with the possible exception of the Acta Pilati and the Descent into Hades, known as the Gospel of Nicodemus), earlier than the fourth century—give little else but frivolous and fantastic legends. Here and there only are found fragments which may be authentic, though they lie outside the limits of the Canonical Gospels. Such as they are, it is interesting and may be profitable to gather up even these fragments so that nothing may be lost; but the fact that these are all, may fairly be ascribed to the prestige and authority which attached to the Four that we now recognise, and to these only.

I give accordingly, in conclusion, the following sayings, reported as having been among the sayings of the Lord Jesus:—

(1) Quoted by St. Paul in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

(2) An addition to Luke 6:4, in Codex D, “And on the same day Jesus saw a man working at his craft on the Sabbath-day, and He said unto him, ‘Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, then art thou blessed; but if thou knowest not, then art thou accursed, and art a transgressor of the Law.’” There seems no reason why we should not receive the saying as authentic. Its teaching is in harmony with our Lord’s reported words and acts, and it brings out with a marvellous force the distinction between the conscious transgression of a law recognised as still binding, and the assertion of a higher law as superseding the lower.

(3) Quoted by Origen (in Joann. xix.), “Be ye trustworthy money-changers.” The word is the same as that used in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:27), and may well nave been suggested by it. The saying appears to imply a two-fold parable. The disciples of Christ were to be as the money-changers (a) in their skill to distinguish the counterfeit coin from the true—to know, as it were, the ring of what was stamped with the King’s image and superscription from that which was alloyed and debased; and (b) in the activity with which they laboured, and the wisdom which guided their labours so that their Lord, at His coming, might receive His own with usury.

(4) An addition in Codex D, to Matthew 20:28, “But ye seek (or, perhaps, taking the verb as in the imperative, seek ye) to increase from little, and from greater to be less.”

(5) From the Epistle of Barnabas, c. 4, “Let us resist all iniquity, and hold it in abhorrence.”

(6) From the same, c. 7, “They who wish to see Me, and to lay hold on My kingdom, must receive Me by affliction and suffering.”

(7) From the Gospel of the Hebrews, quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. ii. 9, § 45), “He that wonders [i.e., apparently, with the wonder of reverential faith] shall reign, and he that reigns shall be made to rest.”

(8) From Clement of Alexandria (Strom. ii. 9, § 45), “Wonder thou at the things that are before thee.” Both this and the preceding passage are quoted by Clement to show that in the teaching of Christ, as in that of Plato, wonder is at once the beginning and the end of knowledge.

(9) From the Ebionite Gospel, quoted by Epiphanius (Hoer. xxx. 16), “I came to abolish sacrifices, and unless ye cease from sacrificing, the wrath (of God) will not cease from you.”

(10) Quoted by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iv. 6, § 34) and Origen (de Oratione, c. 2), “Ask great things, and small shall be added to you: ask heavenly things, and there shall be added unto you earthly things.”

(11) Quoted by Justin (Dial. 100 Tryph. c. 47), and Clement of Alexandria (Quis dives, c. 40), “In the things wherein I find you, in them will I judge you.”

(12) From Origen (Comm. in Jeremiah 3, p. 778), “He who is nigh unto Me is nigh unto the fire: he who is far from Me is far from the kingdom.” Ignatius (ad Smyrn. c. 4) has a like saying, but not as a quotation, “To be near the sword is to be near God.”

(13) The Pseudo-Clement of Rome (Ephesians 2:8), “If ye kept not that which was little, who will give you that which is great?”

(14) From the same (as before), “Keep the flesh pure, and the seal without stain.” (The “seal” probably refers to Baptism as the sign of the Covenant.)

(15) From Clement of Alexandria, as a quotation from the Gospel according to the Egyptians (Strom. iii. 13, § 92), and the Pseudo-Clement of Rome (Ep. ii. 12). Salome, it is said, asked our Lord when His kingdom should come, and the things which He had spoken be accomplished; and He answered, “When the two shall be one, and that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” Another like saying is given by the Pseudo-Linus, “Unless ye make the left as the right, and the right as the left, and that which is above as that which is below, and that which is behind as that which is before, ye know not the kingdom of God.” In the first of these we may trace a feeling analogous to that expressed by St. Paul in Galatians 3:28; 1Corinthians 7:29.

(16) Origen (in Matthew 13:2), “For them that are infirm was I infirm, and for them that hunger did I hunger, and for them that thirst did I thirst.”

(17) Jerome (in Ephesians 5:3), “Never be ye joyful, except when ye have seen your brother (dwelling) in love.”

(18) Ignatius (ad Smyrn. c. 3). Our Lord, after His Resurrection, said to Peter, “Take hold, handle Me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon.” This is obviously a reproduction of Luke 24:39—the peculiarity being the use of the word “demon” for “spirit.”

(19) The Clementine Homilies, xii. 29, “Good must needs come, but blessed is He through whom it comes.”

(20) Clement of Alexandria (Strom. v. 10, § 64), “My mystery is for Me, and for the sons of My house.” The Clementine Homilies (19:20) gives another version, “Keep My mysteries for Me, and for the sons of My house.”

(21) Eusebius (Theophania, iv. 13), “I will choose these things to Myself. Very excellent are those whom My Father that is in Heaven hath given Me.”

(22) Papias (quoted by Irenæus, v. 33, 3). “The Lord said, speaking of His kingdom, The days will come in which vines shall spring up, each having ten thousand stocks, and on each stock ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand bunches, and on each bunch ten thousand grapes, and each grape when pressed shall give five-and-twenty measures of wine. And when any saint shall have laid hold on one bunch, another shall cry, ‘I am a better bunch, take me; through me bless the Lord.’” This is followed by a like statement as to the productiveness of ears of corn, and then by a question from Judas the traitor, who asks, “How shall such products come from the Lord?” and who receives the answer, “They shall see who come to Me in these times.”

The above extracts are taken from Dr. Westcott’s Introduction to the Gospels, App. C. In some of them, as has been said above, there is no internal difficulty in receiving the words as they stand, as not unworthy of the Teacher to whom they are ascribed. In others, as notably in (15) and (22), whatever nucleus of truth there was at first has been encrusted over with mystic or fantastic imaginations. None, of course, can claim any authority, but some, pre-eminently, perhaps, (2), (3), and (10), are at least suggestive enough to be fruitful in deep thoughts and salutary warnings.


I. The Christian Church found itself, as we have seen, in the middle of the second century, in possession of the four Canonical Gospels, and of these alone, as authentic records of the words and acts of its Lord. Each was obviously but a fragmentary memoir. They were almost as obviously, though, in part, derived from common sources, independent of each other. It was natural, as soon as they came to be read and studied by men with anything like the culture of historians, that they should wish to combine what they found separate, and to construct, as far as might be, a continuous narrative. So, as we have seen, Tatian, of the Syrian Church, compiled his Diatessaron (circ. A.D. 170), a book which, though now altogether lost, was once so popular that Theodoret (Hœr. i. 20) states in the fifth century that he had found not fewer than 200 copies in the churches of his own diocese; and about half a century later, a like work was undertaken by Ammonius of Alexandria. The historical mode of study fell, however, for many centuries into disuse, and it was not till the revival of learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that attempts, more or less elaborate, were made, first by Gerson, the famous Chancellor of the University of Paris (ob. A.D. 1429), to whom some have attributed the authorship of the De Imitatione Christi, and Osiander, the friend of Luther (A.D. 1561), to place all the facts recorded in the four Gospels in their order of chronological sequence. Since that time Harmonies have multiplied, and while, on the one hand, they have often helped the student to see facts in their right relation to each other, they have, on the other, it may be feared, tended to perplex him by their divergent methods and consequently discordant conclusions.

II. It may be admitted that the four Gospels do not lend themselves very readily to this process. That of St. John, which is most precise in its notes of time, as connecting well nigh every incident which it records with a Jewish feast, is the one which stands most apart, with only here and there a connecting-link, from the other three, confining itself almost exclusively to our Lord’s ministry in Judæa, as they confine themselves to His work in Galilee. The two which have so much in common, St. Matthew and St. Mark, that the one has been thought, though wrongly, to be but an abridgment of the other, differ so much in their arrangement of the facts which they record (see Notes on Matthew 8, 9) that it is clear that either one or both must have been led to adopt an order which was not that of actual sequence. St. Luke, though aiming, more than the others, at chronological exactness (Luke 1:3), was dependent on the reports of others. Probably the very mode in which facts and sayings were for several years transmitted orally and separately, made it often difficult to assign to each event its proper place in the series. The assumption, on which some have started, that the order in each Gospel must be accepted as free from the possibility of error in the order of its incidents, has led to an artificial and arbitrary multiplication of similar events, such as would at once be dismissed as untenable in dealing with any other histories. Men have found in the Gospels three blind men at Jericho, and two anointings at Bethany. The counter-assumption that no two events, no two discourses in the Gospels could be like each other and yet distinct, has led to equally arbitrary and fantastic curtailment of the facts. Men have assumed the identity of the feeding of the Five and of the Four Thousand; of the anointing which St. Luke records in Luke 7, in the house of Simon the Pharisee, with that which the other Gospels record as taking place in the house of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-11); of the cleansing of the Temple in John 2, at the commencement of our Lord’s ministry, with that which the other Gospels relate as occurring at its close (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48).

III. Admitting, however, these elements of difficulty and uncertainty, it yet remains true that they are more than balanced by the advantage of being able to connect one Gospel with another, and to read the narratives of the first three in their right relation to those of the fourth. If difficulties present themselves, so also do coincidences, often of great significance and interest. It is believed, therefore, that it will be a gain for the readers of this Volume to have, ready at hand for reference, such a harmonised table of its contents. That which follows is based, though not without variations here and there, made in the exercise of an independent judgment, upon the arrangement of the Synopsis Evangelica of the great German scholar, Tischendorf, as that in its turn was based upon a like work of Wieseler’s. It has been thought expedient, as generally in the Notes of this Commentary, to give results rather than to discuss the views which have been maintained on each point that has been thought open to discussion by this or that writer. It is not pretended that what is now presented is throughout free from uncertainty, and where the uncertainly exists it will be indicated in the usual way, by a note of interrogation—(?).

IV. It will be expedient, however, to state briefly what are the chief data for the harmony that follows, both in relation (A) to external history, and (B) to the internal arrangement of the Gospel narrative that follows:—

A.—(1) Luke 3:1 fixes the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius. This may be reckoned, either from the death of Augustus (A.U.C. 767), or from A.U.C. 765, when he associated Tiberius with himself as sharing the imperial power. The latter calculation is the one generally adopted. As our Lord is stated to have been at that time “about thirty years of age,” this would place His birth in A.U.C. 752 or 750. (2) The narrative of Matthew 2:1 shows the birth of Jesus to have preceded the death of Herod the Great, which took place shortly before the Passover of A.U.C. 750 or B.C. 4. (3) John 2:20 fixes the first Passover in our Lord’s ministry as forty-six years from the beginning of Herod’s work of reconstruction, on which he entered in A.U.C. 734—i.e., in A.U.C. 780; and this agrees with St. Luke’s statement as to His age at the commencement of His ministry.

Under (B) the chief points are those which are common to all four Gospels. (1) The baptism of Jesus; (2) the imprisonment of the Baptist; (3) the feeding of the Five Thousand; (4) the last entry into Jerusalem, followed by the Crucifixion. In addition to these, as notes of time peculiar to the Gospels that contain them, we note (1) St. Luke’s second-first Sabbath (see Note on Luke 6:1), which, however, is for us too obscure to be of much service as a landmark, and the successive feasts mentioned by St. John, sc., (2) the Passover of John 2:13; (3) the unnamed Feast of John 5:1; (4) the Passover of John 6:4, coinciding with the feeding of the Five Thousand, and therefore important in its bearing on the other Gospels; (5) the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:2; (6) the Feast of the Dedication in John 10:22; and, lastly, (7) the final Passover (John 12:1), in common with the other three. The last-mentioned Feast, however, while it serves, on the one hand, to connect the history with that of the other Gospels, introduces a new difficulty. It cannot be questioned that the impression naturally left by Matthew 26:17-19, Mark 14:12-16, Luke 22:7-13, is that the meal of which our Lord partook with the disciples was the actual Passover. It can as little be questioned that the impression naturally left by John 13:1; John 13:29; John 18:28, is that the Passover was eaten by the Jews on the evening after the Crucifixion. The question is hardly important except as bearing upon the trustworthiness or authority of the Gospel narratives, and a discussion of the various solutions of the problem will be found in the Notes on the passages of St. John above referred to. The view which commends itself to the present writer, as most probable, is that which assumes our Lord and the disciples to have eaten the actual Passover at the same hour as the majority of the other Jews were eating it, and that the priests and others who took part in the proceedings against our Lord postponed their Passover, under the pressure of circumstances, till the afternoon, not the evening, of Friday (John 18:28). That Friday, it may be noted, was the Preparation, not for the Passover as such, but for the great Sabbath of the Paschal week. (See Excursus F. on St. John.)

A further, but minor, difficulty presents itself as to the hour of the Crucifixion. Mark 15:26 names the “third hour”—i.e., 9 a.m.; and the “sixth hour,” or noon, is fixed by the first three Gospels as the time when the mysterious darkness began to fall upon the scene (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). St. John, on the other hand, names “about the sixth hour” (John 19:14) as the time when Jesus was condemned by Pilate. Here, however, the explanation lies almost on the surface. St. John used the Roman reckoning, and the Three the Jewish; so that their “early in the morning,” and his “about 6 A.M.” came to the same thing. (See, however, Note on John 4:6.)

V. A word ought, perhaps, to be said in explanation of the fact that we place the birth of Jesus, not as might have been expected, in A.D. 1, but in B.C. 4. The mode of reckoning by the “year of our Lord” was first introduced by Dionysius the Little, a monk of Rome, in his Cyclus Paschalis, a treatise on the computation of Easter, in the first half of the sixth century. Up to that time the received computation of events through the western portion of Christendom had been from the supposed foundation of Borne (B.C. 754), and events were marked accordingly as happening in this or that year, Anno Urbis Conditœ, or by the initial letters A.U.C. In the East some historians continued to reckon from the era of Seleucidæ, which dated from the accession of Seleucus Nicator to the monarchy of Syria, in B.C. 312. The new computation was naturally received by Christendom (it first appears as a date for historical events in Italy in the sixth century), and adopted, without adequate inquiry, till the sixteenth century. A more careful examination of the data presented by the Gospel history, and, in particular, by the fact that the birth of Christ preceded the death of Herod, showed that Dionysius had made a mistake of four years, or perhaps more, in his calculations. The received reckoning had, however, taken too firm a root to be disturbed by re-dating all events. in history since the Christian era; and it was accordingly thought simpler to accept it, and to rectify the error, as far as the Gospel history was concerned, by fixing the birth of Christ at its true date, B.C. 4.



5.Birth of John the Baptist, June (?), October (?); birth of Jesus, December (?).

4.Census under Quirinus, or Cyrenius; birth of Jesus, January (?), April (?); Presentation in the Temple; Flight into Egypt, March; death of Herod, just before the Passover; return of Joseph and Mary to Nazareth (?), (Matthew 2:19-23).

3.Augustus assigns Judæa to Archelaus, Galilee to Antipas; birth of Apollonius of Tyana (?).





2.Birth of John the Apostle (?).

3.Birth of Seneca (?).


5.‘Birth of St. Paul (?).

6.Death of Hillel; deposition of Archelaus; Judœa a Roman province.

7.Insurrection of Judas of Galilee,


9.First visit of Jesus to the Temple (Luke 2:41-52); Passover.





14.Death of Augustus; Tiberius, Emperor.





18.Tiberias built by Antipas; death of Livy and Ovid.

19.Jews expelled from Italy.

20.Death of Joseph (?).





25.Pontius Pilate appointed Procurator of Judæa.

26.Preaching of John the Baptist, January (?), or in the previous Autumn (?), (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-18).

—Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22).

—The. Temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13; John 1:19-34).

—Call of Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathanael (John 1:35-51).

—The marriage at Cana (John 2:1-11).

—PASSOVER IN JERUSALEM (John 2:13-25); Nicodemus (John 3:1-21); Jesus baptises in Judæa (John 3:22-36); John the Baptist imprisoned (Matthew 14:3-5; Mark 6:17-20; Luke 3:19-20); Jesus returns through Samaria (John 4:1-42) into Galilee (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14).


26.Jesus again at Cana; healing of the son of the king’s officer of Capernaum (John 4:43-54).

—The first sermon at Nazareth; DAY OF ATONEMENT (?); October (?); settlement at Capernaum (Luke 4:16-30).

27.FEAST OF PASSOVER, March (?); PENTECOST, May, A.D. 26 (?); TABERNACLES, October, A.D. 26 (?); or, PURIM, February, A.D. 27 (?), most probably the last, at Jerusalem; the cripple at Bethesda (John 5:1-9).

—Jesus begins His public ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15).

—Call of Peter, Andrew, James, and John (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11, ?).

—Miracles at Capernaum (Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:31-41).

—Mission-journey through Galilee, including Chorazin (?), Bethsaida (?), &c. (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:38-39; Luke 4:42-44).

—Leper healed (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-15).

—Capernaum: paralytic healed (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:18-26).

—Capernaum: call of Levi = Matthew (Matthew 9:9-17; Mark 2:13-22; Luke 5:27-28).

—Near Capernaum: second-first Sabbath, March (?), April (?), (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5).

—Capernaum: the withered hand healed en the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-13; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11).

—Choice of the Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16).

—The Sermons on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7) and on the Plain (Luke 6:26-49).

—Capernaum: centurion’s servant healed (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).

—Nain: widow’s son raised to life (Luke 7:11-17).

—Messengers sent by John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-19; Luke 7:18-35).

—House of Simon the Pharisee; the woman that was a sinner (Luke 7:36-50).

—Journey through Palestine, followed by devout women (Luke 8:1-3).

—The charge of casting out devils by Beelzebub (Matthew 12:22-37; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:14-26).

—Visit of the Mother and Brethren of Jesus (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21).

—The first teaching by parables (Matthew 13:1-53; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18; Luke 13:18-21).

—Sea of Galilee: the tempest calmed (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25).

—The Gadarene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39).

—The daughter of Jairus raised to life (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:22-43; Luke 8:40-56).

—Nazareth; second discourse in the synagogue (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6).

—Renewed journey through Galilee (Matthew 9:35-38; Mark 6:6).

—Mission of the Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:1-42; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6).

—Execution of John the Baptist, March (?), (Matthew 14:6-12; Mark 6:21-29).

—Herod the Tetrarch hears of Jesus (Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9).

—Return of the Twelve to Bethsaida; feeding of the Five Thousand; PASSOVER (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).


27.Sea of Galilee: Jesus walks on the waters (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21).

—Gennesaret: works of healing (Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-56).

—Capernaum: SABBATH AFTER PASSOVER; discourse on the Bread of Life (John 6:22-65).

—Pharisees from Jerusalem charge the disciples with eating with unwashed hands (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).

—Coasts of Tyre and Sidon: daughter of Syro Phœnician woman healed (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:25-30).

—Deaf and dumb (Matthew 15:29-31; Mark 7:31-37).

—Feeding of the Four Thousand (Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9).

—Pharisees and Sadducees demand a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:10-12).

—Bethsaida: blind man healed (Mark 8:22-26).

—Cæsarea Philippi: Peter’s confession (Matthew 16:13-28; Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1; Luke 9:18-27; John 6:66-71, ?).

—Hermon (?); Tabor (?): the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).

—Base of Hermon (?): demoniac healed (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43).

—The Passion foretold (Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45).

—Capernaum (?): payment of didrachma, or Temple-rate, April (?), May (?), (Matthew 17:24-27).

—Rivalry of disciples, and consequent teaching (Matthew 18:1-35; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50).

—Journey through Samaria; new disciples; Jerusalem: FEAST OF TABERNACLES, October (Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:51-62; John 7:1-53).

—Jerusalem: the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53 to John 8:11).

—Jerusalem: discourse in Temple; blind man healed at Siloam (John 8:21-59; John 9:1-41).

—Jerusalem: the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

—Mission and return of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-24).

—Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

—Bethany: Jesus in the house of Martha (Luke 10:38-42).

—Disciples taught to pray (Luke 11:1-13).

—Two blind men healed (Matthew 9:27-31).

—Demoniac healed: subsequent teaching (Matthew 9:32-34; Matthew 12:38-45; Luke 11:14-36).

—Peræa (?); Galilee (?): teaching on various occasions (Luke 11:37 to Luke 13:21).

—Jerusalem: FEAST OF DEDICATION, December 20-27 (John 10:22-39).

28.January. Jesus on the east side of Jordan (John 10:40-42).

—Jesus begins to prepare for the journey to Jerusalem; message from Herod (Luke 13:22-35).

—East side of Jordan: teaching, including parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Piece of Money, Prodigal Son, Unjust Steward, the Rich Man and Lazarus, &c. (Luke 14:1 to Luke 17:10).

—Progress towards Jerusalem (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1; Luke 17:11).

—The ten lepers; teaching, including parables of Unjust Judge, Pharisee and Publican (Luke 17:12 to Luke 18:14).

—Teaching as to divorce and infants (Matthew 19:3-15; Mark 10:2-16; Luke 18:15-17, infants only).

8.Dialogue with the rich young ruler (?), (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30).

—Parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

—Bethany: raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46).

—Ephraim: retirement of Jesus (John 11:47-54).

—Bequest of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45).

—Jericho: two blind men healed (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43).

—Jericho: Jesus in the house of Zacchæeus (Luke 19:1-10).

—Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-28).

—Bethany: Jesus anointed by Mary; EVENING OF SABBATH BEFORE THE PASSOVER.

—Bethany and Jerusalem: FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK: kingly Entry into the city (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-19).

—SECOND DAY OF THE WEEK: Bethany and Jerusalem; the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14; Mark 11:20-25).

—Cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48).

—Parables; discussions with Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and lawyers (Matthew 21:23 to Matthew 22:46; Mark 11:27; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:1-44).

—The last discourse against the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47).

—The widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

—The Greeks in Jerusalem (?); the voice from heaven (John 12:20-36).

—Prophetic discourse of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the second Advent (Matthew 24:1-42; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36).

—The parables of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Talents, the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:1-46).

—THIRD DAY OF THE WEEK: passed by Jesus in Bethany and Gethsemane (?), Jerusalem (?);


compact of Judas with the chief priests (Matthew 26:1-5; Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:1-2; Mark 14:10-11;

Luke 22:1-6).

28.FOURTH DAY OF THE WEEK: nothing recorded; Bethany (?), Gethsemane (?), Jerusalem (?)

—FIFTH DAY OF THE WEEK: Peter and John sent from Bethany to Jerusalem; THE PASSOVER SUPPER; the Feast of the New Covenant; dialogue and discourses.

—Gethsemane (Matthew 26:17-46; Mark 14:12-42; Luke 22:7-46; John 13:1 to John 17:26).

—SIXTH DAY OF THE WEEK: 3 A.M., Jesus taken in Gethsemane; brought before Annas; Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:47-75; Mark 14:43-72; Luke 22:47-62; John 18:2-18).

—6 A.M. The trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin; their second meeting; Jesus sent to Pilate; suicide of Judas.

—Jesus before Pilate, Herod, and Pilate again; the people demand release of Barabbas; Jesus led to Golgotha (Matthew 26:59 to Matthew 27:34; Mark 14:55 to Mark 15:23; Luke 22:63 to Luke 23:33; John 18:19 to John 19:17).

—9 A.M. The Crucifixion (Matthew 27:35-44; Mark 15:24-32; Luke 23:33-43; John 19:18-27).

—Noon to 3 P.M. Darkness over the land; death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45-56; Mark 15:29-41; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30).

—6 P.M. Embalmment and entombment by Joseph of Arimathæa, Nicodemus, and devout women; priests apply for a guard over the sepulchre (Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42).

—SABBATH: disciples and women rest (Luke 23:56).

—FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK: the Resurrection (see Notes on Matthew 28 for the order of the manifestations), (Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-43; John 20:1 to John 21:25).

—TEN DAYS BEFORE PENTECOST (?): the Ascension (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:44-53).

[The dates in this Table are based upon an independent study of the Gospel records. Those in the margin of the Gospels themselves are taken from the Authorised version as commonly printed, and represent the system of Chronology adopted by Archbishop Usher. Dates more or less varying have been given by other writers.—E. H. P.]





Late Dean of Wells.




I. The Author.—The facts presented by the New Testament records are few and simple. In Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27, we find Levi, the son of Alphæus, sitting at the receipt of custom (better, perhaps, at the customhouse) in Capernaum. He is identified by Matthew 9:9 with the “man that was called Matthew.” The second name may have been given by our Lord, as Peter was given to Simon, or taken by him of his own accord. Its meaning, as “God-given,” like Theodorus, Theodoretus, Dorotheus, Adeodatus, made it a suitable name for one to take for whom old things had passed away, and all things had become new, and who thanked God for that unspeakable gift; and its historical associations with the name of the great Mattathias, the father of the Maccabæan heroes, made it—as we see in the case of Matthias, another form of the name (see Note on Acts 1:23)—one of the names which, like Judas and Simon, had become popular with all true patriots. In the lists of the Apostles, his name is always found in the second group of four, with Thomas, James (or Jacob) the son of Alphæus, and Judas the son (or brother) of James (see Notes on Matthew 10:3). If, as seems probable, we recognise in Mark 2:14 the same Alphæus as in Mark 3:18, we have another instance, in addition to the sons of Jona and of Zebedee, of two, or possibly three, brothers called to act together as Apostles. A probable conjecture leads us a step further. The name of Matthew is coupled, in all the lists in the Gospels, with that of Thomas—sometimes one, sometimes the other name taking precedence—and as Thomas, or Didymus (John 11:16; John 21:2), signifies “Twin,” there is, primâ facie, good ground for the inference that he was so known as the twin-brother of Matthew. The Alphæus who is named as the father of the second James in the lists of the Apostles, is commonly identified with the Clopas of John 19:25, where the Authorised version wrongly gives Cleophas. This cannot, however, be regarded as certain, and there are serious considerations against it. Mary, the wife of Clopas, is described (Mark 15:40) as the mother of James the less and Joses. But the union of these two names (as in Mark 6:3) suggests that the Evangelist speaks of the brethren of our Lord, and therefore, not of James the Apostle. Either, therefore, Clopas and Alphæus are not different forms of the same name, or, if they are, the two forms were used for the sake of clearness, to distinguish the father of the three or four Apostles from the father, on this assumption, of the four “brethren” of our Lord.

Assuming these facts, the circumstances of the call of Matthew gain a fresh interest. The brothers of the Evangelist may have been already among the disciples who had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, or at least as a great Prophet, Matthew may have seen and heard Him as He taught in the synagogue of Capernaum. The event which immediately preceded his call, had been the healing of the man sick of the palsy, and the proclamation that the Son of Man had power on earth to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 3:17-26). We are led to believe, by the readiness with which he obeyed the call of Jesus, that the good seed had already been sown. But he was a publican. He had chosen for himself a calling more lucrative than that of the fisherman or the peasant, but one which brought with it an evil repute and a sense of degradation. The Pharisees shrank from his touch. His companions were “publicans and sinners” like himself. Could he any longer claim to be a “son of Abraham?” (Luke 19:9.) Would the new Teacher deign to receive him, or even speak to him? To one in such a state of feeling, the command, “Follow Me,” would be in itself a gospel. Regardless, apparently, of its being one of the traditional fast-days, which the Pharisees were observing with their usual strictness (see Note on Matthew 9:14), he called together his friends and neighbours, mostly of the same calling as himself, and gave them a farewell feast, that they too might hear “the words of grace,” in which his soul had found the starting-point of a new life (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15; Luke 5:29). Of the rest of his life, we know but very little. Called now to be a disciple, he, with his brothers, was chosen afterwards, much, we may believe, to his own astonishment, to be one of the Twelve who were the special envoys of the anointed King. The union of his name with that of Thomas suggests the inference that the two twins were joined together in the work of proclaiming the gospel. He is with the other disciples in the upper chamber after the Ascension, and on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13; Acts 2:1). From that date, as far as the New Testament is concerned, he disappears from view. A comparatively late tradition (Euseb. Hist. iii. 24; Clem. Alex. Strom. vi.) represents him as having preached for fifteen years in Judæa, and ultimately died a martyr’s death in Parthia or Ethiopia (Socrates, Hist. i. 19). Clement of Alexandria, however, speaks of his dying a natural death. The fact that Thomas also is reported to have founded churches in Parthia and Ethiopia (Euseb. Hist. iii. 1) is, at least, in harmony with the thought that then, as before, during their Lord’s ministry on earth, they had been fellow-workers together to the end. An independent tradition that Pantænus, the great Alexandrian Missionary, had found the Gospel of St. Matthew among the Indians (Euseb. Hist. v. 10) points in the same direction. His asceticism led him to a purely vegetarian diet (Clem. Alex. Pœdag. ii. 1, § 16). A characteristic saying is ascribed to him by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. vii. 13)—“If the neighbour of an elect man sin, the elect man himself has sinned, for had he conducted himself as the Word (or, perhaps, as Reason) commands, his neighbour would have felt such reverence for his life as to refrain from sin.” The thought thus expressed is obviously one that might naturally come from the lips of the Apostle, who had not only recorded the Sermon on the Mount, but had framed his life upon its teaching. (Comp. especially Matthew 5:13-16.)

II. The Authorship and Sources of the Gospel.—As has been said above (Introduction to the First Three Gospels), the very obscurity of St. Matthew’s name and the odium attached to his calling, made it antecedently improbable that a later pseudonymous writer would have chosen him as the Apostle on whom to affiliate a book which he wished to invest with a counterfeit authority. On the other hand, assuming his authorship as a hypothesis calling for examination, there are many coincidences which at least render it probable. His occupation as a publican must have involved a certain clerkly culture which would make him, as it were, the scholar of the company of the Twelve, acquainted, as his calling required him to be, with Greek as well as Aramaic, familiar with pen and paper. Then, or at a later date, as growing out of that culture, he must have acquired that familiarity with the writings of the Old Testament which makes his Gospel almost a manual of Messianic prophecy.[7] The external evidence begins, as we have seen, with Papias (A.D. 170), who states that Matthew compiled a record of the “oracles” or “sayings” of the Lord Jesus (Euseb. Hist. iii. 39). As the work of Papias is known to us only by a few fragmentary quotations, we have, of course, no adequate data for proving the identity of the book which he names with what we now know as the Gospel according to Matthew. But the account which he gives of it shows a precise agreement with the prominence given in that Gospel more than in any other to our Lord’s discourses; and it is, to say the least, a strained hypothesis, hardly likely to suggest itself except for the sake of a foregone conclusion, to assume the existence of a vanished Gospel bearing Matthew’s name, and afterwards superseded by the work of a pseudonymous writer. Papias, it may be added, is described by Eusebius (Hist. iii. 39) as having been a hearer of St. John and a friend of Polycarp. He describes himself as caring less for what he found in books—thus implying the existence of many narratives such as St. Luke speaks of (Luke 1:1)—than from what he gathered by personal inquiry from the elders who remembered the Apostles, and who could thus repeat what the Lord Jesus had taught. To him the “living voice,” still abiding with the Church, was the most precious of all records, and upon these he based what appears to have been the first Commentary on the Gospel-history and the words of Jesus. He names Aristion and John the Presbyter as his two chief informants. Eusebius, while admitting his industry in thus collecting the fragments of apostolic tradition, looks on him as wanting in discernment, and mingling with what was authentic matter that which was strange and legendary. Among these fragments he seems to have included the narrative of the woman taken in adultery (“a woman accused before the Lord of many sins,” Euseb. Hist. iii. 39), which, though found at present in St. John, bears every mark of having been inserted in that Gospel after it had left the hands of its writer. (See Notes on John 8:1-11.)

[7] In St. Matthew’s Gospel there are no less than eleven direct citations from the Old Testament, not including those reported as spoken by our Lord. In St. Mark there are two, of which one is doubtful; in St. Luke three; in St. John nine. It is, on any view, striking, that this reference to the teaching of the older Scriptures should characterise the Gospels of the two Apostles rather than those of the two Evangelists who wrote specially for Gentiles.

III. The Aim and Characteristics of the Gospel.—There was a widely-diffused tradition, as early as the second century, that the Gospel of St. Matthew had been written primarily for Hebrew Christians. By many it was believed that it had been written originally in the Hebrew or Aramaic of the time, and that we have only a version of it. So Papias writes that Matthew composed his Gospel in the Hebrew tongue, and that each interpreted it as he could (Euseb. Hist. iii. 39); and the statement is repeated by Irenæus (Hœr, iii. 1), who adds, that it was written while St. Peter and St. Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome, i.e., circ. A.D. 63-65, and by Jerome (Prœf. in Matt.). There is, however, no evidence of the actual existence of such a Hebrew Gospel, and the Greek text now received bears no marks of being a translation. The belief that it was, in the intention of the writer, meant for readers who were of the stock of Abraham, receives, at any rate, abundant confirmation from its internal peculiarities. It presents, as we have already seen, numerous parallelisms with the Epistle which James, the brother of the Lord, addressed to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad (p. xviii.). It begins with a genealogy—a “book of the generations” of the Christ (Matthew 1:1)—after the manner of the old Hebrew histories (Genesis 5:1; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 36:1; Ruth 4:8). It is contented to trace the descent of the Christ from Abraham through David and the kingly line. (See Note on Luke 3:23.) It dwells, as has been said, with far greater fulness than any other Gospel, on the Messianic prophecies, direct or typical, of the Old Testament. It does not explain Jewish customs, as St. Mark and St. Luke do. (Comp. Matthew 15:1-2, with Mark 7:3-4.) It sets forth more fully than they do the contrast between the royal law, the perfect law of freedom (James 1:25; James 2:12), and the corrupt traditions and casuistry of the scribes (Matthew 5, 6, 23). It uses the distinctly Hebrew formula of “the kingdom of heaven,”[8] where the other Evangelists speak: of “the kingdom of God.” It records the rending of the veil of the Temple, the earthquake and the signs that followed it, which, at the time, could hardly have had any special significance except for Jews (Matthew 27:51-53). It reports and refutes the explanation which the Jewish priests gave at the time he wrote, of the marvel of the emptied sepulchre (Matthew 28:11-15). It dwells more than the others do on the aspect of the future kingdom which represents the Apostles as sitting on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 20:28). Such features were naturally to be looked for in a Gospel intended for Israelites. We may add that they were also natural in the Gospel of the publican. Foremost among the emotions of one who was called from the receipt of custom, would be the joy that he too was now, at last, recognised as a child of Abraham. To him it would be a welcome task to contrast the higher and purer doctrine of the Lord who had called him, with that of the Pharisees who had scorned and thrust him out. We may, perhaps, even trace the influence of his experience as a collector of customs, in the care with which he brings together his Master’s warnings against the vain and rash swearing, and the false distinctions as to the validity of different oaths (Matthew 5:34-37; Matthew 23:16-22) which, common as they were in all times and places, were sure to be loudest and least trustworthy in disputes between the publican and the payers of an ad valorem duty.

[8] The phrase occurs thirty-two times in St. Matthew, and nowhere else in the New Testament.

There was, however, another aspect of. the publican character. The work of St. Matthew had brought him into contact with those who were known as the “sinners of the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15). He had called them to share his joy in the first glow of his conversion (Matthew 9:10). The new consciousness of being indeed one of a chosen and peculiar people passed, not, as with the Pharisees, into the stiffness of a national exclusive pride, but, as a like consciousness as did afterwards in St. Paul, into the sense of universal brotherhood. And so he is careful to record that visit of the Magi in whom Christendom has rightly seen the first-fruits of the calling of the Gentiles (Matthew 2:1-12). He dwells, if not exclusively, yet emphatically, on the far-off prospect of men coming from east and west, and north and south, and sitting down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11). He records the parable which represents the servants of the great King as sent forth to gather guests for the marriage feast from the “by-ways” of the Gentile world (Matthew 22:10). He sets forth the law of compassionate judgment, which shall make the doom of Tyre and Sidon more tolerable than that of Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:21-24), and take as its standard, when all the Gentiles are gathered round the throne of the Judge, not the specific truths revealed in Christ, but the great laws of kindness which are stamped everywhere, even when neglected and transgressed, upon the hearts and consciences of those who have known no other revelation. (See Notes on Matthew 25:31-40.)

Lastly, it is in St. Matthew that we find recorded the full commission, anticipating the gospel as St. Paul afterwards preached it, which bade the disciples not to circumcise, but to baptise—to baptise, not converts from Israel only, but “all the Gentiles,” the outlying people of the world, of every race and speech. (See Notes on Matthew 28:19.) It follows from what has now been said that the chief aspect in which the form of the Son of Man is presented to us in St. Matthew’s Gospel is that of the King who fulfilled the hopes of Israel—a King, not tyrannous and proud, but meek and lowly; coming, not with chariots and horses, but on an ass’s colt, bearing the cross before He wears the crown, and yet receiving, even in unconscious infancy, tokens of His sovereignty, and in manhood giving proof of that sovereignty by His power over nature, and men, and the forces of the unseen world. Seen from this point of view, each portion of the Gospel is part of the great portraiture of the ideal King. The Sermon on the Mount, while it is, in part, the voice of the true Teacher, the true Rabbi, as contrasted with those who were unworthy of that title, is yet also the proclamation by the King, who speaks, not as the scribes, but as one having authority, of His royal Law (James 2:8), of the conditions of His kingdom (Matthew 7:29). The parables of Matthew 13, 25 are brought together with a fulness and profusion found in no other Gospel, because they bring before us, each of them, some special aspect of that kingdom. If he alone of the Evangelists mentions, as coming from our Lord’s lips, the word for the Christian society (Ecclesia) which, when the Gospels were written, was in universal use, we may see in the care that he took to record those few words as bearing witness to the true relation of that society to its King and Lord, his sense of the reality of the kingdom. Christ had built that Church on Himself as the Eternal Rock, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Where it was, there He would be, even to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20). The play of fancy which led the men of a later age to connect the four Gospels with the four cherubic symbols may have had much in it that was arbitrary and capricious, but it was not altogether wrong when, with a uniform consent, it identified the Gospel of St. Matthew with the form that had the face of a man (Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:7). Assuming the cherubic forms to represent primarily the great manifestations of Divine wisdom (see Note below) as seen in nature, that “face of a man” testified to the seers who looked on it that there was a Will and a Purpose which men could partly comprehend as working after the manner of their own. Interpreted by the fuller revelation of God in Christ, it taught them that the Son of Man, who had been made a little lower than the angels, was crowned with glory and honour, sitting on the right hand of the Ancient of days (Daniel 8:13), Lord and King over the world of nature and the world of men, and yet delighting above all in the praises that flowed from the mouth of babes and sucklings (Psalm 8:2; Matthew 21:16).


It will, perhaps, convey information which will be welcome to many readers, if I lay before them a brief survey of the mystical symbolism above referred to. I do not pretend that it helps us much in the interpretation of the Gospels. I do not believe that the cherubic forms were primarily typical of anything but the divine attributes of majesty and strength as seen in the forms of animal creation. A like symbolism meets us, it will be remembered, obviously with that meaning, in the winged bulls and lions, the men with wings and heads of eagles, that are seen in the monuments of Assyria, with which the prophet who spent his exile on the banks of Chebar could not fail to have been familiar. But the history of such symbolism, if it lies outside the limits of the work of the interpreter, has yet a special interest of its own, and has exercised so wide an influence on Christian art and poetry, that the reader of the Gospels should hardly remain ignorant of its several stages. The first description that meets us is that in Ezekiel 1:10. Here they are described, not as “cherubim.” but as “living creatures.” “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.” They had each four faces and four wings, and they shone “like burning coals of fire,” and like “the appearance of lamps.” There were wheels with them, and “the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels,” and they moved altogether, and above them was a sapphire throne, and round it the brightness of the rainbow, and on the throne the “appearance of a man.” In Ezekiel 10 the prophet has another like vision, seen as in the courts of the Temple, but there is a suggestive change in the description: “The first face was the face of a cherub” (this taking the place of the ox), “and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle;” and he adds, what is in every way significant, that he then recognised, what he had apparently not perceived before, the identity of the vision at Chebar with the cherubim of the Temple (Ezekiel 10:20-21). The symbols remained mysterious, uninterpreted, unnoticed, till the visions of the Apocalypse, in which St. John brought together things new and old from all previous Apocalypses. We find in his symbolic picture of the unseen world the same mysterious forms. “In the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts” (better, four living creatures, as in Ezekiel), “full of eyes before and behind; and the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.” It was natural that this reproduction of the symbolic imagery should attract the attention of Christian writers, and equally natural that they should endeavour to find a meaning for it that came within the horizon of their own associations. And when the Church found itself in possession of the four Gospels, and of those alone, as recognised authentic records of the life and teaching of its Lord, when men were finding in them a mystic correspondence with the four elements and the four winds and the four rivers of Paradise, it was natural that the number of the living creatures also should seem to them to have been intended to answer to that of the four precious and sacred books. It is significant, however, of the somewhat arbitrary character of the symbolism that its application has not been uniform. The earlier writers, beginning with Irenæus (iii. 11), assign the lion, as the emblem of kingly majesty, to St. John; the calf, as signifying sacrificial or priestly attributes, to St. Luke; the man, as presenting the humanity of Christ, to St. Matthew; the eagle, as answering to the prophetic announcement with which his Gospel opens, to St. Mark; and this is reproduced by Juvencus, a Latin poet, circ. A.D. 334. The Pseudo-Athanasius (Synopsis Script.) assigns the man to St. Matthew, the calf to St. Mark, the lion to St. Luke, the eagle to St. John, but without assigning reasons. In Sedulius, a Latin poet of the fifth century, what has since been the received distribution of the symbols makes its first appearance. It was quickly accepted, as having a greater measure of fitness than the earlier interpretations, was adopted by Augustine (De Consens. Evang. i. 6) and Jerome (Procem. in Matt.), appears in the early mosaics of the basilicas at Rome and Ravenna, and has since been current, to the entire exclusion of the earlier view. It finds, perhaps, its noblest expression in the Latin hymn of Adam of St. Victor, in the twelfth century. It will be well, it is believed, to give this both in the original and in a translation. The whole hymn may be found in Archbishop Trench’s Latin Poetry, p. 67.

Supra cœlos dum conscendit

Summi Patris comprehendit

Natum ante sæcula;

Pellens nubem nostræ molis

Intuetur jubar solis

Joannes in aquilâ.

Est leonis rugientis

Marco vultus, resurgentis

Quo claret potentia:

Voce Patris excitatus,

Surgit Christus, laureatus

Immortali gloriâ.

Os humanum est Matthæi,

In humanâ formâ Dei

Dictantis prosapiam;

Cujus genus sic contexit

Quod à stirpe David exit

Per carnis materiam.

Ritus bovis Lucæ datur

In quâ formâ figuratur

Nova Christus hostia:

Arâ crucis mansuetus

Hic mactatur, sicque vetus

Transit observantia.

Paradisi hie fluenta

Nova fluunt sacramenta

Quæ descendunt cœlitus:

His quadrigis deportatur

Mundo Deus, sublimatur

Istis arca vectibus.

See, far above the starry height,

Beholding, with unclouded sight,

The brightness of the sun,

John doth, as eagle swift, appear,

Still gazing on the vision clear

Of Christ, the Eternal Son.

To Mark belongs the lion’s form,

With voice loud-roaring as the storm,

His risen Lord to own;

Called by the Father from the grave,

As victor crowned, and strong to save,

We see Him on His throne.

The face of man is Matthew’s share,

Who shows the Son of Man doth bear

Man’s form with might divine,

And tracks the line of high descent,

Through which the Word with flesh was blent,

In David’s kingly line.

To Luke the ox belongs, for he,

More clearly than the rest, doth see

Christ as the victim slain;

Upon the cross, as altar true,

The bleeding, spotless Lamb we view,

And see all else is vain.

So from their source in Paradise

The four mysterious rivers rise,

And life to earth is given:

On these four wheels and staves, behold,

God and His ark are onward rolled,

High above earth in Heaven.

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
(1) The book of the generation.—The opening words of the Gospel show that it is written by a Jew for Jewish readers. They are an essentially Hebrew formula (as in Genesis 5:1), and were applied chiefly though not exclusively (Genesis 37:2) to genealogies such as that which follows here.

Jesus Christ.—The collocation of names was not so much a thing of course when St. Matthew wrote as it now seems to us. There were many who bore the name of Jesus—e.g., Jesus the son or Sirach, Jesus surnamed Justus (Colossians 4:11), possibly even Jesus Bar-abbas (Matthew 27:17). It was necessary to state that the genealogy that followed was that of Jesus the Messiah, the true “anointed” of the Lord.

The son of David.—This, of course, was added as the most popular of all the names of the expected Christ, owned alike by scribes and Rabbis (Matthew 22:42), by children (Matthew 21:9), and by the poor (Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30).

The son of Abraham.—There is no reason to think that this was ever a specially Messianic title. If there is any special significance in its occurrence here, it is as emphasising that which the Messiah had in common with other Israelites. He was thus as a brother to them all, even to the despised publican (Luke 19:9), as being the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed (Genesis 22:18). The former thought appears in another book specially written, like this Gospel, for Hebrews—“On the seed of Abraham he layeth hold” (Hebrews 2:16).

(1) Nothing can be inferred directly from St. Matthew’s phrase “till she had brought forth” as to what followed after the birth. The writer’s purpose is obviously to emphasise the absence of all that might interfere with the absolutely supernatural character of the birth itself. (2) Nothing can be inferred with certainty from the mention of our Lord’s “brethren” in Matthew 12:46 (see Note there), and elsewhere. They may have been children of Joseph by a former marriage, or by what was known as a levirate marriage with the widow of a deceased brother, under the law of Deuteronomy 25:5, Matthew 22:24, or children by adoption, or cousins included under the general name of brethren. (3) The fact that the mother of our Lord found a home with the beloved disciple (John 19:27) and not with any of the “brethren” points, as far as it goes, to their not being her own children, but it does not go far enough to warrant any positive assertion. Scripture therefore supplies no data for any decision on either side, nor does any tradition that can really be called primitive. The reverence for virginity as compared with marriage in the patristic and mediæval Church made the “ever-virgin” to be one of the received titles of the mother of the Lord. The reaction of natural feeling against that reverence led men in earlier and later times to assert the opposite. Every commentator is influenced consciously or unconsciously by his leanings in this or that direction. And so the matter must rest.

Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
(2) The omission of the names of Ishmael and Esau is explained by the fact, that they were not only not in the line of succession, but were outside the covenant with Abraham—“In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Genesis 21:12); and Esau had forfeited both the birth-right and the blessing. The brethren of Judah are named, on the other hand, because all who were descended from them had an equal interest in the Messiah.

And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
(3) Thamar.—The occurrence of the names of women in genealogies was the exception rather than the rule among the Jews; but there are instances enough in the Old Testament (e.g., Keturah, Genesis 25:1; the wives of Esau, Genesis 36:10; Timna, Genesis 36:22; Mehetabel, Genesis 36:39; Azubah, the wife of Caleb, 1Chronicles 2:18; Achsa, his daughter, 1Chronicles 2:49; and many others) to make the insertion of such names here quite natural, even without assuming any distinct purpose. It was enough that the women were historically notable. In the case of Thamar there were precedents enough for such an honourable mention. In the days of Ruth she was as much the heroine of the tribe of Judah as Rachel and Leah were of all Israel, and her name came into the formula of nuptial benediction (Ruth 4:12). It appears also in the genealogies of 1Chronicles 2:4. It would appear from the language of the Talmud as if the Jews looked on her strange and to us revolting history with quite other feelings. To them she was as one who, at the risk of shame, and, it might be, death, had preserved the line of Judah from destruction, and “therefore was counted worthy to be the mother of kings and prophets.” The mention of Zara, though not in the line of succession, follows the precedent of 1Chronicles 2:47.

And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
(4) Naasson, or Nahshon, the brother of Elisheba the wife of Aaron, was, at the time of the Exodus, the “prince (or captain) of the children” of Judah (Numbers 1:7; Numbers 2:3; 1Chronicles 2:10). A Jewish legend made him the first to enter the waters of the Red Sea.

And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
(5) Rachab.—The Old Testament records are silent as to the marriage of Salmon with the harlot of Jericho. When they were compiled it was probably thought of as a blot rather than a glory; but the fact may have been preserved in the traditions of the house of David. It has been conjectured that Salmon may have been one of the two unnamed spies whose lives were saved by Rahab, when he was doing the work which Caleb had done before him. The mention of Rahab in James 2:25, Hebrews 11:31, shows that her fame had risen at the time when St. Matthew wrote. The Talmud legends, curiously enough, reckon eight prophets among her descendants, including Jeremiah and Baruch, but not any of the line of David. Assuming the connection between St. Matthew and St. James, which has been shown in the Introduction to this Gospel to be probable, the mention of Rahab by both takes its place as an interesting coincidence.

Booz.—The succession is the same as in Ruth 4:21. The new fact of Salmon’s marriage explains some of the features of that history—the readiness with which the sons of Naomi marry two women of the Moabites; the absence of any repugnance to such a union on the part of Boaz; perhaps the reference to Tamar in the benediction of Ruth 4:12. Salmon would seem to have been the first of the house to have had land at Bethlehem (1Chronicles 2:54), and to have gained this in part through his adoption into the family of Caleb.

And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;
(6) The wife of Urias.—Once again we have the mention of a woman who at least played a memorable part in the history of Israel. As this is the last of such names in the genealogy, it may be well to deal with the question whether any special purpose can be traced in the selection, beyond that of noting points of interest. Nothing can carry us beyond probable conjectures; but, within those limits, it is at least suggestive that all the names are those of women who, either as of heathen origin (Bathsheba, like her husband, was probably a Hittite), or by personal guilt, were as those whom the strict judgment of the Pharisee excluded from his fellowship. St. Matthew may have meant men to draw the inference that, as these women were not excluded from the honour of being in the Messiah’s line of ancestry, so others like them would not be shut out from fellowship with His kingdom.

And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
(9) Ozias.—Ozias is, of course, the Uzziah of the Old Testament. Three names are omitted between Joram and this king—viz., Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah. Apparently the motive for the omission was simply the desire of bringing the names in each period into which the genealogy is divided to the arbitrary standard of fourteen. Possibly, however, as it was thus necessary to omit three names, the choice of these may have been determined by the fact that they belonged to the time of Athaliah’s disastrous influence in the history of the monarchy of Judah. We learn from this fact that the words “A begat B” are not to be taken literally, but are simply an expression of the fact of succession with or without intermediate links.

And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
(11) Jechonias and his brethren.—Here again there is a missing link in the name of Eliakim, or Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah (2Kings 23:34). Jeconiah was therefore the grandson of Josiah. The alternative reading mentioned in the margin rests on very slight authority, and was obviously the insertion of some later scribe, to meet the difficulty. The word “brethren” was probably meant to include Mattaniah or Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, who was the son of Josiah, and therefore uncle to Jechoniah.

And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
(12) Jechonias begat Salathiel.—We come here into a cluster of genealogical difficulties. (1) The natural impression left by Jeremiah 22:30 is that Coniah (or Jechonias) died childless, or, at least, left no descendants who came to rule as Zerubbabel did; (2) In the genealogy given by St. Luke (Luke 3:27), Salathiel is named as the son of Neri; (3) In 1Chronicles 3:17-19, Salathiel is the son of Assir, the son of Jeconiah, and Zerubbabel the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Salathiel. It is not easy to see our way through these difficulties; but the most probable solution is that Assir was the only son of Jeconiah, and died without issue before his father; that the line of Solomon thus came to an end, and that the descendants of Nathan, another son of David, took their place in the succession, and were reckoned, as by adoption, as the sons of the last survivor of the other line. The practice is, it may be noted, analogous to that which prevails among Indian princes, and in other Eastern nations. (Comp. Note on Luke 3:23-38.)

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
(17) The arrangement into three triads of fourteen generations each was obviously in the nature of a memoria technica. The periods embraced by the three groups were, it may be noted, of very unequal length; and the actual omission of names in one of them, makes it possible that the others may have been treated in the same way.

(1) From the birth of Abraham to the birth of David, taking the dates supplied by the received chronology of the Old Testament. B.C. 1996-1085.

(2) From the birth of David to the Captivity. B.C. 1085-588.

(3) From the Captivity to the birth of Jesus. B.C. 588-4.

There remains the further question, how we are to reconcile the genealogy given by St. Matthew with that given by St. Luke (Luke 3:23-38). This will, it is believed, be best dealt with in a short Excursus in the Notes on that Gospel. Here it may be sufficient to note that the difference between the two is, at least, strong presumptive evidence that neither of the two Evangelists had seen the record of the other. It is otherwise hardly conceivable that the element of difficulty which these differences involve should have been introduced by one or the other without a word of explanation. Each, it may be presumed, copied a document which he found, and the two documents were drawn up on a different plan as to the ideas of succession recognised in each of them.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
(18) St. Matthew, for some reason or other, omits all mention of what St. Luke relates very fully, as to the events that preceded the birth of Jesus and brought about the birth at Bethlehem. Either he had not access to any document full and trustworthy, like that which St. Luke made use of, or, as every writer of history must fix a beginning more or less arbitrary, he found his starting-point in those facts which took a foremost place in what bore upon the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy. It has been said that the impression left by his narrative is so far misleading, that it suggests the idea that there was no earlier connection with Nazareth than that which we find in 2:23. It must, however, be remembered that even St. Luke’s narrative tells us nothing as to the original home of Joseph, and that one who himself belonged to Bethlehem, as being of the house and lineage of David, might, without any improbability, be betrothed to a maiden of Nazareth, probably of the same lineage. Of the earlier life of Mary the Canonical Gospels tell us nothing, and the Apocryphal Gospels (though they have furnished the groundwork of the treatment of the subject by Christian art—see Notes on Luke 1:27) are too legendary to be relied on. The omission of any mention of her parents suggests the idea of orphanhood, possibly under the guardianship of Joseph. The non-appearance of Joseph in the records of our Lord’s ministry, makes it probable that he died in the interval between the visit to the Temple of Luke 2:42 and the preaching of the Baptist, and that he was older than Mary. Both were poor; Joseph worked as a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), Mary offered the cheaper sacrifice of “two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). They had no house at Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). Mary was related to Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:36). Both were within the circle of those who cherished Messianic expectations, and to whom, therefore, the announcement that these expectations were to be fulfilled would come as the answer to their hopes and prayers.

Was espoused to Joseph.—Betrothal, among the Jews, was a formal ceremony, the usual symbolic act being, from patriarchal times, the gift of a ring and other jewels (Genesis 24:53). The interval between betrothal and marriage was of uncertain length, but among the Jews of our Lord’s time was commonly for a whole year in the case of maidens. During that time the bride-elect remained in her own home, and did not see the bridegroom till he came to fetch her to his own house. All communications in the meantime were conducted through “the friend of the bridegroom” (John 3:29).

Of the Holy Ghost.—To Joseph and those who heard the new report from him, prior to the more precise truths revealed by our Lord’s teaching, the words would at least suggest a divine creative energy, quickening supernaturally the germ of life, as in Genesis 1:2, Psalm 104:30.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
(19) Joseph her husband.—The word was applied with strict accuracy from the moment of betrothal onwards.

Being a just man. . . .—The glimpse given us into the character of Joseph is one of singular tenderness and beauty. To him, conscious of being of the house of David, and cherishing Messianic hopes, what he heard would seem to come as blighting those hopes. He dared not, as a “righteous” man, take to himself one who seemed thus to have sinned. But love and pity alike hindered him from pressing the law, which made death by stoning the punishment of such a sin (Deuteronomy 22:21), or even from publicly breaking off the marriage on the ground of the apparent guilt. There remained the alternative, which the growing frequency of divorce made easy, of availing himself of a “writ of divorcement,” which did not necessarily specify the ground of repudiation, except in vague language implying disagreement (Matthew 19:3). Thus the matter would be settled quietly without exposure. The “bill of divorcement” was as necessary for the betrothed as for those who were fully man and wife.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
(20) While he thought on these things.—The words imply a conflict, a perplexity; and the words of the angel came as the solution of his doubts.

In a dream.—From the Jewish point of view, dreams were the received channels of divine communications to the aged, open visions in the state of ecstasy to the young (Joel 2:28). This, at least, falls in with what has been inferred as to Joseph’s age.

Joseph, thou son of David.—The latter words were, in the highest degree, significant. His character as the heir of Messianic hopes, which was indeed at the root of his fears, was fully recognised. That which he was bidden to do would not be inconsistent with that character, and would bring about the fulfilment of those hopes.

Thy wife.—Here again stress is laid on the fact that Mary was already entitled to that name, and had done nothing to forfeit it.

Conceived.—Better, perhaps, begotten.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
(21) Thou shalt call his name Jesus.—There is nothing strange in this being to Joseph the first knowledge of the name, which St. Luke tells us (Luke 1:31) had been previously imparted to Mary. The customs of the Jews were, as we have seen, against any communications between the bride and bridegroom during the period of betrothal, and the facts of the case (including Mary’s visit to Elizabeth) would make it more improbable than ever.

The name Jesus was one full of meaning, but it was not as yet a specially sacred name. In its Old Testament form of Jehoshua (Numbers 13:16), Joshua, or Jeshua (Numbers 14:6; Nehemiah 8:17), it meant “Jehovah is salvation;” and the change of the name of the captain of Israel from Hoshea, which did not include the divine name, to the form which gave this full significance (Numbers 13:16) had made it the expression of the deepest faith of the people. After the return from Babylon it received a new prominence in connection with the high priest Joshua, the son of Josedech (Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 3:1), and appears in its Greek form in Jesus the father, and again in the son, of Sirach. In the New Testament itself we find it borne by others (see Note on Matthew 1:1). It had not been directly associated, however, with Messianic hopes, and the intimation that it was to be the name of the Christ gave a new character to men’s thoughts of the kingdom. Not conquest, but “salvation”—deliverance, not from human enemies only or chiefly, nor from the penalties of sin, but from the sins themselves. As spoken by the angel to the dreamer it was the answer to prayers and hopes, going beyond the hope, and purifying it from earthly thoughts. As recorded by the Evangelist it was a witness that he had been taught the true nature of the kingdom of the Christ.

Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
(22) All this was done.—The Evangelist pauses in his narrative to introduce his own comment. He saw in what he relates that which answered to the apparent meaning of prophetic words. He could not possibly regard the agreement as a chance coincidence; and, as chance was excluded, there was no alternative but purpose. The prophecy and the event entered both of them into a divine plan.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
(23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child.—It is not so easy for us, as it seemed to St. Matthew, to trace in Isaiah’s words the meaning which he assigns to them. As we find them in a literal translation from the Hebrew, the words of Isaiah 7:14 run thus:—“Behold, the maiden conceives and bears a son, and calls his name Immanuel.” If we read these words in connection with the facts recorded in that chapter—the alliance of the kings of Syria and Israel against Judah, Isaiah’s promise of deliverance, and his offer of a sign in attestation of his promise, the hypocritical refusal of that offer by Ahaz, who preferred resting on his plan of an alliance with Assyria—their natural meaning seems to be this:—The prophet either points to some maiden of marriageable years, or speaks as if he saw one in his vision of the future, and says that the sign shall be that she shall conceive and bear a son (the fulfilment of this prediction constituting the sign, without assuming a supernatural conception), and that she should give to that son a name which would embody the true hope of Israel—“God is with us.” The early years of that child should be nourished, not on the ordinary food of a civilised and settled population, but on the clotted milk and wild honey, which were (as we see in the case of the Baptist) the food of the dwellers in the wilderness, and which appear in Matthew 1:21-22, as part of the picture of the desolation to which the country would be reduced by the Assyrian invasion. But in spite of that misery, even before the child should attain to the age at which he could refuse the evil and choose the good, the land of those whom Ahaz and his people were then dreading should be “forsaken of both her kings.” So understood, all is natural and coherent. It must be added, however, that this child was associated by Isaiah with no common hopes. The land of Israel was to be his land (8:8). It is hardly possible not to connect his name with “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father “of Isaiah 9:6; with the Rod and Branch of the Stem of Jesse that was to grow up and present the picture of an ideal king (Isaiah 11:1-9). All that we speak of as the Messianic hopes of the prophet clustered round the child Immanuel. Those hopes were, as we know, not fulfilled as he had expected. They remained for a later generation to feed on with yearning desire. But, so far as we know, they did not suggest to any Jewish interpreter the thought of a birth altogether supernatural. That thought did not enter into the popular expectations of the Messiah. It was indeed foreign to the prevailing feeling of the Jews as to the holiness of marriage and all that it involved, and would have commended itself to none but a small section of the more austere Essenes. St. Matthew, however, having to record the facts of our Lord’s birth, and reading Isaiah with a mind full of the new truths which rested on the Incarnation, could not fail to be struck with the correspondence between the facts and the words which he here quotes, and which in the Greek translation were even more emphatic than in the Hebrew, and saw in them a prophecy that had at last been fulfilled. He does not say whether he looked on it as a conscious or unconscious prophecy. He was sure that the coincidence was not casual.

The view thus given deals, it is believed fairly, with both parts of the problem. If to some extent it modifies what till lately was the current view as to the meaning of Isaiah’s prediction, it meets by anticipation the objection that the narrative was a mythical outgrowth of the prophecy as popularly received. It would be truer to say that it was the facts narrated that first gave occasion to this interpretation of the prophecy. St. Luke, who narrates the facts with far greater fulness than St. Matthew, does so without any reference to the words of the prophet.

Emmanuel.—As spoken by Isaiah, the name, like that of The Lord our Righteousness, applied by Jeremiah not only to the future Christ (Jeremiah 23:6), but to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 33:16), did not necessarily mean more than that “God was with His people,” protecting, guiding, ruling them. The Church of Christ has, however, rightly followed the Evangelist in seeing in it the witness to a Presence more direct, personal, immediate than any that had been known before. It was more than a watchword and a hope—more than a “nomen et omen”—and had become a divine reality.

Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
(24) Took unto him his wife.—These few words cover a great deal. They imply the formal ratification of the betrothal before witnesses; the benediction by a priest; the marriage-feast; the removal from the house that had hitherto been her home to that of Joseph. They imply also that what had seemed evidence of guilt among the neighbours of that home, brought with it to Joseph’s mind no ground for blame. To them, if they were not told the history, and it is not probable that they were, it must have been deemed an act of exceptional mercy and forbearance. The reverence implied in what the next verse records must have roused their wonder.

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
(25) Till she had brought forth her first-born son.—The word “firstborn” is not found in the best MSS. The questions which meet us here, unprofitable as they are, cannot be altogether passed over. What bearing have these words on the widespread belief of Christendom in the perpetual maidenhood of Mary? On what grounds does that belief itself rest?

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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