5. Looking at the three synoptical gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we find a remarkable agreement not only in their general plan, but in many of their details also. With the exception of our Lord's last journey to Jerusalem and the history of his passion there, they are mainly occupied with his ministry in Galilee. The selection of incidents is also to a great extent the same. "The most remarkable differences lie in the presence of a long series of events connected with the Galilean ministry, which are peculiar to St. Matthew and St. Mark (Matt.14:22-16:12; Mark 6:45-8:26), and a second series of events connected with the journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-18:14), which is peculiar to St. Luke." Westcott, Introduct. to the Study of the Gospels, chap.3. The coincidences of language, as well as incident, are also remarkable; and here the general law prevails that these coincidences are more common, as has been shown by Norton and others, in the recital of the words of others than in the narrative parts of the gospels, and most common when our Lord's own words are recited.
6. But with these remarkable agreements coexist equally remarkable differences. Each writer has his own peculiarities of style, which appear more distinctly in the original than they can in any version. It has been noticed also by Biblical scholars that these peculiarities are more marked in the narrative than in the recitative parts of the gospels in question. Each writer, moreover, brings in incidents peculiar to himself, not in the form of patchwork, but as parts of a self consistent whole. So far is he from exact outward conformity to either of the other gospels, in respect to arrangement and circumstantial details, that the diversity between him and them in these particulars, sometimes creates serious difficulties when we attempt to arrange the three different narratives in the form of a harmony.
7. No theory of the origin of these three gospels can be true which does not explain both their coincidences and their differences. Hence we may set aside at once the hypothesis of their mutual dependence on each other -- that the later evangelists used the writings of the earlier. By the different advocates of this theory, each of the three synoptic gospels has been made in turn the primary record from which the others drew; but no one of them has been able, upon this hypothesis, to account for the omissions or insertions of the supposed later evangelists, much less for the remarkable fact already noticed, that the peculiarities of each writer appear more fully in the narrative than in the recitative part of his gospel. The later evangelists may, indeed, have been acquainted with the writings of the earlier and have consulted them, but this supposition alone does not explain their peculiar coincidences and differences.
Another hypothesis is that of an original document or documents, from which all three are supposed to have drawn. The assumption of a single original written gospel, as the basis of our first three canonical gospels, is manifestly untenable. Had a primitive gospel existed of such compass and authority as to be the common source of our three synoptic gospels, it is inconceivable that the churches, which carefully preserved these three gospels, though two of them proceeded not from apostles themselves but only from their companions, should have allowed the original gospel so speedily and utterly to perish, that no traces of it remained in the days of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. Besides, this hypothesis, as it was soon seen, does not explain the peculiar relation of these gospels to each other in respect to coincidences and differences. Hence various modifications were proposed -- an original Aramaic gospel with various Greek translations, this original Aramaic gospel variously increased with new matter, etc. In a word, the form of these assumed original documents was hypothetically explained from the actual form of our three synoptic gospels; the very reverse of the true problem, which was to explain, from some reliable data, the form of the canonical gospels themselves.
The remaining hypothesis is that of oral tradition emanating from the apostles themselves, and maintained in its purity during their lives by their personal presence and teaching. That the gospel existed in this form alone for some years after the beginning of Christianity is admitted by all. The apostles were Christ's chosen witnesses of his life and teachings. From their lips proceeded the tradition which now constitutes our written gospels. The necessity of embodying this tradition in the form of permanent records was not felt at the beginning. But, as the churches were multiplied, oral tradition became liable to corruption in many ways through the multiplicity of the organs employed in its transmission. Then the need of written gospels began to manifest itself, and it was natural that the apostles should look to the supply of this need either by their own direct agency, or by that of men writing with their knowledge and approbation. How many years elapsed before the appearance of the earliest of our canonical gospels, which is commonly supposed to have been that of Matthew, we have no means of ascertaining with accuracy. But we may reasonably suppose that the period was long enough to allow the apostolic tradition of our Lord's life and teachings to assume a somewhat definite shape in respect to both matter and outward form. First, in respect to matter. As their public instructions could not cover the whole of our Saviour's history (John 20:30; 21: 25), they naturally selected, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, those parts of it which embodied the spirit and meaning of the whole. Since, moreover, the apostles remained together at Jerusalem for some time after our Lord's ascension (Acts 8:1; 15:6), it is highly reasonable to suppose that in a matter of such moment they had a mutual understanding -- an understanding which, while it interfered with the freedom of no one, secured a general agreement as to the points in our Lord's history and teachings which should be especially insisted on. Secondly in respect to outward form. While the apostles were preserved by the illumination of the Holy Spirit from any superstitious regard to the letter of our Lord's teachings, their reverence for him as a perfect teacher, whose words were truth unmixed with error, must have made them anxious to put the oral tradition of his sayings into as perfect a form as possible; whence the tradition of our Saviour's words would assume from the first a more fixed form than that of his life generally.
It is supposed by many that the writers of the first three gospels drew each from this common body of oral tradition such materials as suited his general plan; no one of them proposing to give the whole of our Lord's history, or even to observe a strict chronological order in the events recorded by him, any farther than such order was rendered necessary by their nature and essential connection. In the case of Matthew, who was one of the twelve apostles, it might be thought that he wrote simply from his own personal knowledge; but his gospel could not cover all the ground of our Lord's history as known to him, and we may well suppose that in the selection of his materials he had regard -- not a servile, but a free regard -- to the common oral tradition of the apostles, which was, in fact, the embodiment of their united wisdom under the illumination of the Divine Spirit. Each evangelist, as well Mark and Luke who were not apostles, as Matthew who belonged to the number of the twelve, wrote independently of the other two. The later writers may, indeed, have been acquainted with the writings of the earlier, but a bare inspection of the three gospels shows that there was no labored effort on the part of one evangelist to adjust his work to those of the others. Hence arise apparent discrepancies, as in the two genealogies of our Lord, which it is sometimes hard to explain. But these very difficulties witness to the independent truthfulness of the writers. Had they written in concert, or borrowed systematically from each other, such difficulties would not have existed.
Although apostolic oral tradition is thus made the main source whence the writers of these gospels drew their materials, it is not necessary to affirm or deny their use, in a subordinate way, of written documents. That such documents existed in the time of Luke we know from his own words, chap.1:1. He does not condemn them, but neither does he rely upon them. His gospel is not derived from them, but from his own accurate investigations; "It seemed good to me also, having accurately traced out all things from the beginning" (as the original Greek means), "to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus." Chap.1:3. And if Luke, the companion of Paul, was not dependent for his materials on any previously existing writings, neither was Mark, the companion of both Peter and Paul, nor Matthew, who was himself an apostle. Nor can the incorporation of such writings into the synoptic gospels be shown with any degree of probability. If it cannot be claimed for this hypothesis of a primitive apostolic tradition, as the source whence the writers of the synoptic gospels drew their materials, that it explains all the phenomena of their mutual relation to each other, it is, nevertheless, more satisfactory than any other that has been proposed, and may be regarded as a near approximation to the actual facts in the case.
Between the traditions of which the apostle Paul speaks (2 Thess.2:15; 3:6; also, according to the original, 1 Cor.11:2) received immediately from his mouth or pen, and the pretended traditions of later days, handed down from century to century through a succession of uninspired men, the difference is that between light and darkness, between truth and fiction. We have in the writings of the New Testament the genuine apostolic tradition, at first oral, but put into a written form during the lifetime of the apostles. These traditions are the "gold, silver, precious stones" of divine truth. All other traditions are the "wood, hay, stubble" of human origin. In settling the question respecting the genuineness of the New Testament writings, we proceed as in the case of any other writings. We avail ourselves of all the evidence within our reach, external and internal. We take the testimony of Irenaeus and Tertullian, and also of Marcion and Valentinus; though none of them were inspired, and the two latter were heretical. But when we have once determined what books were written by apostles or apostolic men, these contain for us the only authoritative tradition, as defined by the apostle: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle." 2 Thess.2:15.
8. In comparing the synoptic gospels with each other and with the fourth gospel, we must ever bear in mind that no one of them professes to give a complete history of our Lord's life, or to arrange all the incidents which he relates in the exact order of time. Under the guidance of the divine Spirit each one pursues his own course, independently of the others, here inserting what one or more of the rest have omitted, or omitting what one or more of them have inserted; and here, again, bringing in incidents without regard to their exact chronological order, with some general preface like the following: "at that time," Matt.12:1; "and he began again," Mark 4:1; "and it came to pass as he was alone praying," Luke 9:18; "and it came to pass as they went in the way," Luke 9:57; etc. Thus the wisdom of God has given us, not all the particulars of our Lord's history, but such a selection from both the incidents of his public life and his public and private teachings as best embodies the great facts of the gospel, and the doctrines and duties connected with them. In the four canonical gospels the church has, not all of our Lord's history and teachings, but all that the Holy Ghost judged needful for her establishment and edification to the end of time.
Of our Lord's history before his baptism we have only his genealogy in a twofold form; some notices of his miraculous conception; an account of his birth and circumcision, with the visions and prophecies connected with them; a history of his preservation from Herod's attempt to destroy him; the subsequent residence of his parents in Nazareth, with a single incident of his childhood. Luke 2:40-52. All these particulars have, in one way or another, a bearing on his divine mission and work as the Son of God. The apocryphal gospels on the contrary, as, for example, the Gospel of the Infancy, and the Gospel of Nicodemus, abound in frivolous stories relating to our Lord's infancy and later life, which have no connection with the great work of redemption.
9. The peculiarities of the fourth gospel, as well as its relation to the three preceding gospels, will come up for consideration hereafter. At present we only remark that John wrote many years after the appearance of the synoptic gospels, and that, whatever reference he may have had to them, his gospel constitutes, in the plan of revelation, a true complement to the other three. For (1) if we except the narrative of our Lord's passion, it covers, for the most part, ground not occupied by them. They give mainly the history of the Saviour's ministry in Galilee (Luke also, at some length, that of his last journey to Jerusalem); the scene of much of John's gospel, on the contrary, is Jerusalem and its near vicinity. (2) John unfolds more fully the nature of our Lord's person, and his peculiar relation to the Father and to his church. This he does, more especially, in his prologue (chap.1:1-18); in the record of the Saviour's discussions with the Jews (chaps.3, 5-12); and in that of his discourses addressed in private to the circle of the apostles, chaps.13-17. Thus John's gospel is emphatically that of Christ's person, as illustrated by his works and words; while the three earlier evangelists give rather the gospel of his public ministry, through which his divine person everywhere shines forth. This deeper view of our Lord's person and office which the gospel of John unfolds met the wants of the primitive church in a more advanced stage, when false teachers were already beginning to sow the seeds of those errors which, in the next generation, brought forth such a rank and poisonous harvest. The same great characteristics adapt it to the wants of the church in all ages. Without the fourth gospel she could not be completely furnished to meet the assaults of error, which, from one generation to another, makes, with unerring instinct, its main assault upon the person and office of the Son of God.
But if the evangelical narrative would not be complete without the fourth gospel, neither would it be perfect for the use of the church with this alone. The record of our Lord's life and teachings as given in the first three gospels is preeminently adapted to popular instruction. It is precisely such a record as the preachers of the gospel need in their public ministrations. With it they can use the fourth gospel with effect; but without it they would want the natural preparation for and introduction to those deep and spiritual views of Christ's person and office which the bosom-disciple unfolds. It is not in the three synoptic gospels, nor in the gospel of John taken separately, that we find the complete evangelical armor, but in the perfect whole of the four.
10. Very numerous attempts have been made to construct harmonies of the four gospels. One plan is to form out of the whole, in what is supposed to be the true chronological order, a continuous narrative embracing all the matter of the four, but without repetitions of the same or similar words. Another plan is to exhibit in chronological order, the entire text of the four gospels arranged in parallel columns, so far as two or more of them cover the same ground. The idea is very imposing, but the realization of it is beset with formidable if not insurmountable difficulties. It is certain that the evangelists do not always follow the exact order of time, and it is sometimes impossible to decide between the different arrangements of events in their records. In the four narratives of the events connected with the resurrection all harmonists find themselves baffled. Had we a full account of all the particulars of that exciting scene, we might undoubtedly assign to the different parts of each narrative its true place in the order of time. But with our present means of information this is impossible. Experience shows that the most profitable way of studying the evangelical narrative is to take each gospel as a whole, but with continual reference to the parallel parts of the other gospels, so far as they can be ascertained. In this work a good harmony, like that of Robinson, may render essential service, though its arrangements must in many cases be regarded only as tentative -- essays at obtaining the true order, rather than the certain determination of it.
The relative number of chapters in the different gospels does not give their true relation in respect to size. The chapters are respectively 28, 16, 24, 21; which are to each other in the proportion of 7, 4, 6, 5 1/4. But estimating according to the number of pages (in an edition without breaks for the verses), it will be found that the gospel of Luke holds the first place, its size being to that of the other gospels nearly as 60 to 57, 35, 46. The relation of Matthew's gospel to that of Mark, in respect to the quantity of matter is then nearly that of 8 to 5.
In the notices of the separate gospels which follow it is not thought necessary to give an elaborate analysis of their contents. The aim will be rather to exhibit the prominent characteristics of each, and its special office in the economy of divine revelation.
11. The unanimous testimony of the ancient church is that the first gospel was written by the apostle Matthew, who is also called Levi. With his call to the apostleship he may have assumed the name of Matthew, as Saul took that of Paul. He was of Hebrew origin, the son of Alphaeus, and a tax-gatherer under the Roman government, Matt.10:3; Mark 2:14; 3:18; Luke 5:27, 29; 6:15; Acts 1:13. He was evidently a man of some means (Luke 5:29), and his office must have required for its proper discharge a knowledge of the Greek as well as of his native Hebrew; that is, Aramaean, as the word Hebrew means in the New Testament, when applied to the vernacular of the Palestine Jews.
12. The question respecting the original language of Matthew's gospel has been, since the time of Erasmus, a matter of controversy, in which eminent biblical scholars have been found on different sides. The problem is to find a solution which shall bring into harmony the following well-established facts: (1) that, according to the united testimony of the early church fathers, Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew; (2) that our present Greek gospel has all the freedom of an original work, that it has remarkable coincidences in language with the second and third gospels, and especially that the citations from the Old Testament which stand in our Lord's discourses follow as a rule the Greek version of the Seventy; (3) that all the early writers, those who testify to the Hebrew original of this gospel included, receive and use our present Greek gospel as the genuine and authoritative gospel of Matthew; (4) that the original Hebrew gospel, to the existence of which there is such abundant testimony, was allowed utterly to perish, while the Greek form of it alone was preserved and placed at the head of the canonical books of the New Testament.
13. The testimony from Papias, in the beginning of the second century, and onward to the fourth century, has often been quoted and discussed. It is not necessary to adduce it here at length. It may be found in Kirchhofer, in the critical commentaries and introductions, and also in the modern Bible dictionaries. The words of Papias, as preserved to us by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., 3.39) are as follows: "Matthew therefore wrote the oracles in the Hebrew dialect, and every one interpreted them as he was able." If there were any ground for doubting what Papias meant by "the oracles," it would be removed by the testimony of the later writers, as Pantaenus and Origen (in Eusebius' Hist. Eccl., 5.10; 6.25), Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.1), Eusebius himself (Hist. Eccl., 3.24), Epiphanius (Heresies, 29.9; 30.3), and others. They who maintain that Matthew wrote originally in Greek suppose that the early fathers confounded an apocryphal gospel, the so-called "gospel according to the Hebrews," with the true gospel of Matthew. Others think, perhaps with more reason, that the gospel according to the Hebrews was a corrupted form, or, what amounts to nearly the same thing, a close imitation of the true Hebrew gospel of Matthew.
The Ebionites and Nazarenes used each apparently a different form of a Hebrew gospel which is sometimes called the gospel according to Matthew, but more properly "the gospel according to the Hebrews" (once by Jerome "the gospel according to the apostles"). According to Epiphanius that in use among the Ebionites was "not entire and full, but corrupted and abridged." Heresies, 30.13. Jerome says: "Matthew, who is called Levi, having become from a publican an apostle, first composed in Judea, for the sake of those who had believed from among the circumcision, a gospel of Christ in Hebrew letters and words. Who was the person that afterwards translated it into Greek is not certainly known. Moreover, the Hebrew copy itself is at this day preserved in the library of Caesarea which Pampilus the Martyr collected with much diligence. The Nazarenes, who live in Beroca, a city of Syria, and use this volume, gave me the opportunity of writing it out." De Vir. Illustr., 3. Here he certainly identifies this gospel, which, as he repeatedly informs us, he translated, with the true Hebrew gospel of Matthew. But he afterwards speaks of it more doubtfully, as "the gospel according to the Hebrews," and more fully as "the gospel according to the Hebrews, which is written indeed in the Chaldee and Syriac language, but in Hebrew letters, which the Nazarenes use to the present day, [being the gospel] according to the apostles, or, as most think, according to Matthew" (Against the Pelagians, 3); "the gospel which the Nazarenes and Ebionites use, which we have lately translated from the Hebrew language into the Greek, and which is called by most the authentic gospel of Matthew." Comment. in Matt.12:13. The most probable supposition is that Jerome, knowing that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Hebrew, hastily assumed at first that the copy which he obtained from the Nazarenes was this very gospel. The character of the quotations which he and Epiphanius give from it forbids the supposition that it was the true Hebrew gospel of Matthew. It may have been a corrupted form of it, or an imitation of it.
14. Of those who, in accordance with ancient testimony, believe that the original language of Matthew's gospel was Hebrew, some assume that the apostle himself afterwards gave a Greek version of it. In itself considered this hypothesis is not improbable. Matthew, writing primarily for his countrymen in Palestine, might naturally employ the language which was to them vernacular. But afterwards, when Christianity had begun to spread through the Roman empire, and it became evident that the Greek language was the proper medium for believers at large; and when also, as is not improbable, some of the existing canonical books of the New Testament had appeared in that language, we might well suppose that, in view of these circumstances, the apostle himself put his gospel into the present Greek form. But it is certainly surprising that, in this case, no one of the ancient fathers should have had any knowledge of the matter. In view of their ignorance it seems to be the part of modesty as well as prudence that we also should say with Jerome: "Who was the person that afterwards translated it into Greek is not known with certainty." The universal and unhesitating reception of this gospel by the early Christians in its present Greek form can be explained only upon the supposition that it came to them with apostolic authority; that it received this form at the hand, if not of Matthew himself, yet of an apostle or an apostolic man, that is, a man standing to the apostles in the same relation as Mark and Luke.
This supposition will explain the freedom of Matthew's gospel and its coincidences in language with the gospels of Mark and Luke. An apostle or apostolic man would give a faithful, but not a servile version of the original. The oral tradition of our Lord's life and teachings from which the first three evangelists drew, as from a common fountain (see above, No.7), must have existed in Palestine in a twofold form, Aramaean and Greek. The translator would naturally avail himself of the Greek phraseology, so far as the oral tradition coincided with that embodied in Matthew's gospel. Those who have carefully examined the subject affirm that the citations from the Old Testament adduced by Matthew himself in proof of our Lord's Messiahship are original renderings, with more or less literalness, from the Hebrew. The citations, on the contrary, embodied in the discourses of our Lord himself follow, as a rule, the Greek version of the Seventy; probably because the translator took these citations as they stood in the oral tradition of these discourses.
Meanwhile the original Hebrew form of the gospel, being superseded by the Greek in all the congregations of believers except those that used exclusively the vernacular language of Palestine, gradually fell into disuse. The "gospel according to the Hebrews," noticed above, may have been a corrupted form of this gospel or an imitation of it. As Marcion chose the Greek gospel of Luke for the basis of his revision, so the Ebionites and Nazarenes would naturally use the Hebrew gospel of Matthew for their purposes.
15. The gospel of Matthew opens with the words: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." In accordance with this announcement, it traces back our Lord's lineage through David to Abraham, giving, after the manner of the Jews, an artificial arrangement of the generations from Abraham to Christ in three sets of fourteen each, chap.1:17. To effect this, certain kings of David's line are omitted -- between Joram and Ozias (the Uzziah of the Hebrews), Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah; between Josias and Jechonias, Eliakim -- and David is reckoned twice; once as the last of a set of fourteen, then as the first of the following fourteen. The thoroughly Jewish form of this introduction indicates the primary design of Matthew's gospel, which was to exhibit to his countrymen Jesus of Nazareth as their long promised Messiah and king. To this he has constant reference in the facts which he relates, and which he connects with the prophecies of the Old Testament by such forms of quotation as the following: "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet," chaps.1:22; 2:15, 23; 13:35; 21:4; 27:35; "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet," chaps.4:11; 8:17; 12:17; "then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet," chap.2:17; etc. His direct references to the Old Testament in proof of our Lord's Messiahship are more numerous than those of either of the other evangelists. Peculiar to him is the expression "the kingdom of heaven," to signify, in accordance with Rabbinic usage, the kingdom which the Messiah was to establish in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament; though he takes a spiritual view of its character, and not the earthly and political view of the Jewish doctors. Another designation of the same idea, common to him with the other evangelists, is "the kingdom of God," which also was current among the Rabbins. This "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God" is also the kingdom of the Messiah. Chaps.13:41; 20:21.
16. But precisely because Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, his mission is not to the Jews only, but to all mankind, in accordance with the original promise to Abraham: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." Gen.22:18. While he records the fact that our Lord's personal ministry was restricted to the Jews (chaps.10:5, 6; 15:24), he also shows from our Lord's own words that the unbelieving "children of the kingdom" -- the Jews as the natural heirs to the Messiah's kingdom -- shall be cast out, and the believing Gentiles received into it (chaps.8:11, 12; 21:43); and he brings his gospel to a close with the great commission: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Chap.28:19, 20.
17. A striking characteristic of this gospel is the fulness and orderly manner with which it records our Lord's discourses. Striking examples of this are the Sermon on the Mount (chaps.5-7), his awful denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees (chap.23), and the majestic series of parables (chap.25). Doubtless, Matthew had by nature a peculiar endowment for this work, which the Holy Spirit used to preserve for the church much of our Lord's teachings which would otherwise have been lost. The narrative part of this gospel, on the other hand, has not the circumstantial fulness of the following gospel. As already remarked, the field covered by Matthew's narrative is mainly that of our Lord's Galilean ministry, with the great events connected with his final visit to Jerusalem, though he gives indications of repeated visits to that city. Chap.23:37-39.
18. It has been assumed by some that Matthew follows, as a general rule, the order of time. But others deny this, thinking that his arrangement is according to subject-matter rather than chronological sequence, especially in the first part (Alexander's Kitto); and this appears to be the correct judgment. He follows the exact order of time only when the nature of the events recorded requires him to do so.
19. It is universally admitted that Matthew wrote his gospel in Palestine. This fact accounts for the absence of explanatory clauses relating to Jewish usages, such as are not unfrequent in the gospel of Mark. As to the interpretation of Hebrew words, as "Immanuel" (chap.1:23); and the words on the cross (chap.27:46), that belongs to the Greek form of the gospel. The date of this gospel is doubtful. According to the tradition of the ancient church it was written first of the four gospels. Assuming that it originally appeared in Hebrew, we may reasonably suppose that a period of some years elapsed before it was put into its present Greek form.
20. The integrity of this gospel is unquestionable. In modern times the genuineness of the first two chapters has been called in question by various writers, but the insufficiency of their arguments has been shown by many, among whom may be mentioned Davidson, Introduction to New Testament, vol.1, pp.111-127. In the words of this writer the chapters in question are found "in all unmutilated Greek MSS., and in all ancient versions;" "the earliest fathers had them in their copies, and received them as a part of the gospel;" "the ancient heretics and opponents of Christianity were acquainted with this portion of the first gospel;" "the commencement of the first chapter is closely connected with something preceding;" and "the diction of these two chapters bears the same impress and character which belong to the remainder of the gospel, proving that the gospel, as we now have it, proceeded from one author."
21. There is no valid ground for doubting the correctness of the ancient tradition which identifies the author of the second gospel with "John whose surname was Mark" (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37), who is called simply John (Acts 13:5, 13), and Marcus or Mark (Acts 15:39; Col.4:10; 2 Tim.4:11; perhaps also 1 Peter 5:13). He was cousin to Barnabas (Col.4:10, not sister's son, as in our version), which relationship may explain Barnabas' earnest defence of him (Acts 15:37-39). His mother Mary resided in Jerusalem, and it was to her house that Peter resorted immediately upon his miraculous deliverance from prison (Acts 12:12). The intimacy of Peter with Mary's family must have brought about an early acquaintance between the apostle and Mark. Ancient tradition uniformly affirms a close relation between Peter and Mark, representing the latter to have been the disciple and interpreter of the former. See below.
Papias (in Eusebius' Hist. Eccl.3.39) says, upon the authority of John the Presbyter, "Mark being Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he remembered; not, indeed, as giving in order the things which were spoken or done by Christ. For he was neither a hearer nor a follower of the Lord, but, as I said, of Peter, who gave his instructions as occasion required, but not as one who was composing an orderly account of our Lord's words. Mark, therefore, committed no error when he thus wrote down certain things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, to omit nothing of the things which he heard and to make no false statements concerning them." These words of Papias are somewhat loose and indefinite. But, when fairly interpreted, they seem to mean that as Peter taught according to the necessities of each occasion, not aiming to give a full history of our Lord in chronological order, so Mark wrote not all things pertaining to our Lord's life and ministry, but certain things, those namely that he had learned from Peter's discourses, without always observing the strict order of time. We need not press the words "in order" and "certain things," as if Papias meant to say that Mark's gospel is only a loose collection of fragments. It is a connected and self-consistent whole; but it does not profess to give in all cases the exact chronological order of events, nor to be an exhaustive account of our Saviour's life and teachings. Eusebius has preserved for us in his Ecclesiastical History the testimony of Irenaeus on the same point (Hist. Eccl., 5.8); also of Clement of Alexandria (Hist. Eccl., 6.14); and of Origen (Hist. Eccl., 6.25). He also gives his own (Hist. Eccl., 2.5). We have besides these, the statements of Tertullian (Against Marcion, 6.25); and Jerome (Epist. ad Hedib. Quaest., 2). All these witnesses, though not consistent among themselves in respect to several minor details, yet agree in respect to the two great facts, (1) that Mark was the companion of Peter and had a special relation to him, (2) that he was the author of the gospel which bears his name. We add from Meyer (Introduction to Commentary on Mark) the following exposition of the word interpreter as applied to Mark in his relation to Peter: "No valid ground of doubt can be alleged against it, provided only we do not understand the idea contained in the word interpreter to mean that Peter, not having sufficient mastery of the Greek, delivered his discourses in Aramaean, and had them interpreted by Mark into Greek; but rather that the office of a secretary is indicated, who wrote down the oral communications of his apostle (whether from dictation, or in the freer exercise of his own activity) and so became in the way of writing his interpreter to others."
Mark's connection with the apostle Paul, though interrupted by the incident recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (15:37-39), was afterwards renewed and he restored to the apostle's confidence, as is manifest from the way in which he notices him. Col.4:10; 2 Tim.4:11. If, as is probable (see below, No.22), Mark wrote between A.D.60 and 70, his long intimacy with Peter and Paul qualified him in a special manner for his work.
22. Ancient tradition favors the idea that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome. Had he written in Egypt, as Chrysostom thinks, we can hardly suppose that Clement of Alexandria would have been ignorant of the fact, as his testimony shows that he was. In respect to date, the accounts of the ancients differ so much among themselves that it is difficult to arrive at any definite conclusion. We may probably place it between A.D.64 and 70. The language in which Mark wrote was Greek. This is attested by the united voice of antiquity. The subscriptions annexed to some manuscripts of the Old Syriac, and that in the Philoxenian Syriac version, to the effect that Mark wrote in Roman, that is, in Latin, are of no authority. They are the conjectures of ignorant men, who inferred from the fact that Mark wrote in Rome that he must have used the Latin tongue.
The story of the pretended Latin autograph of Mark's gospel preserved in the Library of St. Mark at Venice is now exploded. The manuscript to which this high honor was assigned is part of the Codex Forojuliensis, which gives the text of the Latin Vulgate. The text was edited by Blanchini in the appendix to his Evangeliarium Quadruplex, Fourfold Gospel. The gospel of Mark having been cut out and removed to Venice was exalted to be the autograph of Mark. See Tregelles in Horne, vol.4, chap.23. The fact that Mark wrote out of Palestine and for Gentile readers at once accounts for the numerous explanatory clauses by which his gospel is distinguished from that of Matthew. Examples are: chaps.7:3, 4; 12:42; 13:3; 14:12; 15:42; and the frequent interpretations of Aramaean words: 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 10:46; 14:36; 15:34.
23. The opening words of Matthew's gospel are: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham," by which, as already remarked, he indicates his purpose to show that Jesus of Nazareth is the long promised Messiah of David's line, and the seed of Abraham, in whom all nations are to be blessed. Mark, on the contrary, passing by our Lord's genealogy, commences thus: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." He recognizes him, indeed as the son of David, and the promised Messiah and king of Israel. Chaps.10:47, 48; 11:10; 15:32. But, writing among Gentiles and for Gentiles, the great fact which he is intent on setting forth is the person and character of Jesus as the Son of God. Matthew gives special attention to the Saviour's discourses. With these considerably more than a third of his gospel is occupied. Mark, on the contrary, devotes himself mainly to the narrative of our Lord's works. With this is interwoven a multitude of his sayings; since it was the Saviour's custom to teach in connection with surrounding incidents. But if we compare the set discourses of our Lord recorded by Mark with those which Matthew gives, they will hardly amount to a fifth part in quantity. Between the narrative parts of Matthew and Mark, on the contrary, there is not a very great disparity in respect to the space occupied by each.
24. Though Mark has but little matter that is absolutely new, he yet handles his materials in an original and independent way, weaving into the narratives which he gives in common with one or more of the other evangelists numerous little incidents in the most natural and artless way. His characteristics as a historian are graphic vividness of description and circumstantiality of detail. If we except some striking passages of John's gospel, he brings us nearer to our Lord's person and the scenes described than either of the other evangelists. He brings before us, as in a picture, not only our Lord's words and works, but his very looks and gestures. It is he that records as has been often noticed, how the Saviour "looked round about" him with anger on the unbelieving multitudes and on Peter (chap.3:5; 8:33); with complacency on his disciples (chap.3:34; 10:27); and with the piercing look of inquiry (chap.5:32); how he looked up to heaven and sighed when he healed one who was deaf and dumb (chap.7:34); and how he sighed deeply in spirit at the perverseness of the Pharisees (chap.8:12). He sometimes gives us the very words of the Saviour when he performed his mighty works -- Talitha cumi (5:41), Ephphatha (7:34). His narratives are remarkable for bringing in little incidents which can have come from none but an eyewitness, but which add wonderfully to the naturalness as well as the vividness of his descriptions. When the storm arises he is asleep on a pillow (chap.4:38); Jairus' daughter arises and walks, for she was of the age of twelve years (chap.5:42); the multitudes that are to be fed sit down in ranks by hundreds and by fifties (chap.6:40), etc. As examples of vivid description may be named the account of the demoniac (chap.5:2-20), and the lunatic. Chap.9:14-27. It is not necessary to assume that Mark was himself a disciple of our Lord. If, as ancient tradition asserts, he was the disciple and interpreter of Peter he could receive from his lips those circumstantial details with which his narrative abounds.
25. The closing passage of this gospel, chap.16:9-20, is wanting in a number of important manuscripts, among which are the Vatican and Sinaitic. The same was the case also in the days of Eusebius and Jerome. But it was known to Irenaeus, and quoted by him and many others after him. The reader must be referred to the critical commentaries and introductions for the discussion of the difficult questions concerning it. Tregelles, who, in his account of the printed text has given a full statement of the case, thus expresses his judgment (in Horne, vol.4, p.436): "It is perfectly certain that from the second century and onward, these verses have been known as part of this gospel (whoever was their author)." He thinks that "the book of Mark himself extends no farther than 'for they were afraid,' chap.16:8; but that the remaining twelve verses, by whomsoever written, have a full claim to be received as an authentic part of the second gospel, and that the full reception of early testimony on this question does not in the least involve their rejection as not being a part of canonical Scripture."
26. The unanimous voice of antiquity ascribes the third gospel with the Acts of the Apostles to Luke. He first appears as the travelling companion of Paul when he leaves Troas for Macedonia (Acts 16:10); for the use of the first person plural -- "we endeavored," "the Lord had called us," "we came," etc. -- which occurs from that point of Paul's history and onward, with certain interruptions, through the remainder of the Acts of the Apostles, admits of no other natural and reasonable explanation. There is good reason to believe that he is identical with "Luke, the beloved physician," who was with Paul when a prisoner at Rome. Col.4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Tim.4:11. From the first of these passages it has been inferred that he was not a Jew by birth, since he is apparently distinguished from those "who are of the circumcision," v.11.
Tradition represents him to have been by birth a Syrian of Antioch (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., 3.4; Jerome, Preface to Matt., and elsewhere), and a Jewish proselyte (Jerome, Quest. on Gen., chap.46); and it adds various other legends which are not worth repeating.
27. The evangelist himself, in his dedicatory address to Theophilus (chap.1:1-4), gives us clear and definite information respecting the sources of his gospel. He does not profess to have been himself an eye-witness, but has drawn his information from those "who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word." His investigations have been accurate and thorough: "having accurately traced out all things from the beginning" (as the original words mean), he writes to Theophilus "in order;" that is, in an orderly and connected way. He proposes to give not some loose fragments, but a connected narrative; although, as we have seen above (No.10), his order is not always that of strict chronological sequence. From the long and intimate connection of Luke with Paul it is reasonable to suppose that the latter must have exerted an influence on the composition of this gospel. Luke, however, did not draw the materials of his narrative from Paul (at least not principally), but, as he expressly states, from those "who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word." He did not write from Paul's dictation, but in a free and independent way; though there is no reasonable ground for doubting that it was with Paul's knowledge and approbation.
The "eye-witnesses and ministers of the word" are those who (1) were from the beginning eye-witnesses of our Lord's public ministry; (2) were intrusted with the work of preaching the word; that is, the apostles and such of their associates as had companied with them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them. Acts 1:21. The words of Luke must not be strained; for he records some incidents of our Lord's history before his public appearance which could have been learned only from Mary and her circle.
The remarkable agreement between Luke's account of the institution of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:9, 20), and Paul's (1 Cor.11:28-25) has often been noticed. It is most naturally explained by the supposition that Luke recorded the transaction in the form in which he had often heard it from the lips of Paul. But there is nothing in the character of this gospel which can warrant the supposition that the apostle exercised a formal supervision over its composition. Such a procedure would be contrary to the spirit of the apostolic age. The apostle himself wrote by an amanuensis. But when one of his associates in the ministry wrote, in whom he had full confidence, he left him to the free exercise of his judgment under the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
28. In respect to the date of this gospel, if we assume that the Acts of the Apostles were written at Rome about A.D.63-65 (Chap.5, No.5), it is reasonable to suppose that the gospel, which is dedicated to the same personage, was composed not very long before, perhaps even during the two years of Paul's imprisonment at Rome, in which case Rome would also be the place of its composition. Whether Luke wrote before or after Mark is a question that has been differently answered, and cannot be determined with certainty. The proof that all three of the first evangelists wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem has been already given. Chap.3, No.14.
29. Though Luke dedicates his gospel to Theophilus (chap, 1:1-4), it is not to be supposed that it was written for his use alone. He had a more general end in view, and that is indicated by the form of our Lord's genealogy as given by him. While Matthew traces the Saviour's lineage through David to Abraham, in conformity with his design to show that he is the promised seed of Abraham and king of Israel, Luke traces it back through David and Abraham to Adam "the son of God." He identifies Jesus of Nazareth not with the Messiah alone of Abraham's and David's line, but with man as man. He is the second Adam, and as such the Saviour of the race. This universal aspect of the gospel, as a gospel not for one nation but for all mankind, shines forth indeed in all the gospels, but it appears with wonderful sweetness and power in some of the parables which are peculiar to Luke, as those of the good Samaritan (chap.10:30-37), the lost sheep (chap.15:3-7), the lost pieces of silver (chap.15:8-10), the prodigal son (chap.15:11-32); in all which Jesus is set forth as the Saviour of suffering humanity.
30. As it respects the character and plan of Luke's gospel, the following particulars are to be noticed. In the distribution of matter between the narration of events and the recital of our Lord's discourses it holds a position between the first and the second gospel; being less full in the latter respect than Matthew, but far more full than Mark. In the narrative part there is an easy and graceful style which charms every reader. In the introduction of minute incidents he goes beyond Matthew, though he has not the circumstantial exactness of Mark. The agreement of Luke's gospel with the two preceding in its general plan is recognized at once by every reader. Like them it is mainly occupied with our Lord's Galilean ministry. In regard to the Saviour's infancy he is more full than Matthew, the matter of the first three chapters being in a great measure peculiar to him. He omits a long series of events recorded by the first two evangelists. Matt.14:22-16:12; Mark 6:45-8:26. On the other hand he introduces (chap.9:43-18:30) "a remarkable series of acts and discourses which are grouped together in connection with the last journey to Jerusalem. Some of the incidents occur in different connections in the other evangelists; and the whole section proves, by the absence of historical data and the unity of its general import, that a moral and not a temporal sequence is the law of the gospels." Westcott, Introduct. to Gospel, chap.7. Very much of the matter in this remarkable section is peculiar to Luke, and contains passages of wonderful beauty and sweetness which would have been lost to the church but for the record of this gospel. Among these are the mission of the seventy, several miracles, some striking lessons of instruction from passing incidents, and no less than twelve parables: the good Samaritan, the unfortunate friend, the unclean spirit, the rich fool, the barren fig-tree, the lost sheep, the lost pieces of silver, the prodigal son, the unfaithful steward, the rich man and Lazarus, the unjust judge, the Pharisee and publican. While the attentive reader perceives the very near relationship of the third gospel to the first and second, he notices also the fact that it differs from both of them more than they do from each other.
"If the total contents of the several gospels be represented by 100, the following table is obtained:
Peculiarities. Concordances. St. Mark,.........................7........................93 St. Matthew,.....................42........................58 St. Luke,........................59........................41 St. John,........................92.........................8
"From this it appears that the several gospels bear almost exactly an inverse relation to one another, St. Mark and St. John occupying the extreme positions, the proportion of original passages in one balancing the coincident passages in the other. If again the extent of all the coincidences be represented by 100, their proportionate distribution will be:
St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, . . . . . . . .53 St. Matthew, St. Luke, . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 St. Matthew, St. Mark, . . . . . . . . . . . . .20 St. Mark, St. Luke, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 "
[Westcott, after Stroud and Norton.]
Of absolutely new matter in Mark a striking example is the beautiful parable, chap.4:26-29. The two miracles peculiar to him (chap.7:31-37; 8:22-26) are both of a very striking character, and related with circumstantial minuteness of detail. Where his narratives coincide with those of the other evangelists, they are characterized by the addition of details, which, as already remarked, add much to the vivedness and graphic power of his descriptions.
31. The integrity of the third gospel has been recently assailed in Germany in the way of attempting to show that the gospel of Luke, as we now have it, is corrupted by interpolations, and that Marcion had it in its true form. See Chap.2, No.12. But the result of a voluminous discussion is that Marcion's gospel is now acknowledged to have been a mutilated form of the canonical gospel, in accordance with the testimony of the ancient fathers.
On the relation to each other of the two genealogies of our Lord given by Matthew and Luke respectively, and the different modes of bringing them into harmony with each other, many volumes have been written. Two different principles of interpretation are proposed. According to the first, the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke are those of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, and the only one that could be known in this relation in the public registers. The second view is that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, and Luke that of Mary, Joseph being called the son of Heli, in the sense of son-in-law; and being perhaps also legal heir to Heli through Mary in the absence of brothers. The reader will find statements of these two views, the former in Smith's Bible Diet., the latter in Alexander's Kitto, Art. Genealogy of Jesus Christ; also in the commentaries generally. We only add that though we may not be able to determine with certainty what is the true solution of the difficulty, no one can show that such a solution is impossible. The reverent believer will quietly wait for more light, if it shall please God to give it; otherwise he will be content to remain without it.
32. Though the writer of the fourth gospel everywhere refrains from mentioning his own name, he clearly indicates himself as the "bosom disciple." When he speaks of two disciples that followed Jesus, afterwards adding that "one of the two" "was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother" (chap.1:37, 40); of "one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved" (chap.13:23; 21:7, 20); and of "another disciple" in company with Simon Peter (chap.18:15, 16; 20:2-8), the only natural explanation of these circumlocutions is that he refers to himself. Even if we suppose, with some, that the two closing verses of chapter 21 (the former of which ascribes this gospel directly to John) are a subscription by another hand, their authenticity is unquestionable, sustained as it is by the uniform testimony of antiquity, and by the internal character of the gospel.
33. The Scriptural notices of John are few and simple. He was the son of Zebedee, a fisherman of Bethsaida on the Western shore of the sea of Galilee not far from Capernaum. Matt.4:21; Mark 1:19, 20; Luke 5:10, 11. His mother's name was Salome. Matt.27:56 compared with Mark 15:40. His parents seem to have been possessed of some property, since Zebedee had hired servants (Mark 1:20), and Salome was one of the women who followed Jesus in Galilee, and ministered to him. Mark 15:40, 41. From the order in which he and his brother James are mentioned -- James and John, except Luke 9:28 -- he is thought to have been the younger of the two. Early in our Lord's ministry he was called to be one of his followers; was one of the three who were admitted to special intimacy with him, they alone being permitted to witness the raising of Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and the agony of Gethsemane (Matt 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28); and of the three was, though not first in place, first in the Lord's love and confidence -- "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and to whose tender care he committed his mother as he was about to expire on the cross. By his natural endowments, as well as by his loving and confidential intercourse with the Saviour, he was prepared to receive and afterwards to publish to the world, those deep and spiritual views of Christ's person and office which so remarkably characterize his gospel.
So far as we have any notices of John in the Acts of the Apostles and epistles of Paul, his residence after our Lord's ascension was at Jerusalem. But, according to the unanimous testimony of antiquity, he spent the latter part of his life in Ephesus, where he died at a very advanced age, not far from the close of the first century. The subject of his banishment to the isle of Patmos will come up in connection with the Apocalypse.
There is a mass of traditions respecting the latter years of this apostle, which are, however, of a very uncertain character. Among the more striking of these are: his being taken to Rome during the persecution under Domitian, and there thrown into a caldron of boiling oil, whence he escaped unhurt; his refusal to remain under the same roof with the heretic Cerinthus, lest it should fall upon him and crush him; his successful journey on horseback into the midst of a band of robbers to reclaim a fallen member of the church who had become their leader; and especially, that during the last days of his life, he was customarily carried into the assembly of the church, where he simply repeated the words: "Little children, love one another."
34. The arguments for the late composition of this gospel -- after the destruction of Jerusalem -- have already been given. Chap.2, No.14. If we say between A.D.70 and 100, it will be as near an approximation to the time as we can make. The place, according to Irenaeus (in Eusebius, Hist. Eccl.5.8) was Ephesus, with which statement all that we know of his later life is in harmony.
35. From the beginning of our Lord's ministry John was, as we have seen, admitted to his intimate companionship and friendship. He was not therefore, dependent on tradition. His gospel is the testimony of what he had himself seen and heard. Yet it covers only a part of the Saviour's ministry; and the question remains why, with the exception of the closing scenes of our Lord's life on earth, that part should be to so remarkable an extent precisely what the earlier evangelists have omitted. In answer to this question it might be said that those actions and discourses of our Lord which John selected most clearly exhibit his person and office as the son of God; and that these were especially, (1) his encounters with the Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, (2) his private confidential intercourse with his disciples. Whatever weight we may allow to this consideration, it cannot be regarded as a full explanation of the difference between John and the other evangelists in the selection of materials. With the exception of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the incidents connected with it (chap.6:1-21) his notices of our Lord's ministry in Galilee relate almost entirely to incidents and discourses omitted by the other evangelists. It is altogether probable that, although John did not write his gospel simply as supplementary to the earlier gospels, he yet had reference to them in the selection of his materials. His own statement: "Many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name" (chap.20:30, 31), is not inconsistent with such a supposition. The "many other signs" he may have omitted, in part at least, because he judged that a sufficient account of them had been given by the earlier evangelists, of whose writings, when we consider the time that in all probability intervened between their composition and that of his gospel, we cannot suppose him to have been ignorant. Such a reference to these writings does not in any way exclude the general design which he had, in common with the earlier evangelists, to show "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," through faith in whose name eternal life is received.
Ancient tradition represents, in a variety of forms, that John intended to complete the evangelical history, as given by the other evangelists, in the way of furnishing additional events and discourses omitted by them. The citations may be seen in Davidson's Introduct. to New Test., vol.1, pp.320-22. Though the statements of the fathers on this point cannot be accepted without qualification, there is no valid ground for denying the general reference above assumed.
36. In writing his gospel John had not a polemical, but a general end in view. It was not his immediate aim to refute the errors and heresies of his day; but, as he tells us, to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, in order that men, through faith in his name, may have eternal life. Yet, like every wise and practical writer, he must have had regard to the state of the churches in his day and the forms of error by which they were assailed. In the latter part of the apostolic age the seeds of those heresies which in the following century yielded such a rank and poisonous harvest, had already begun to be sown. Like all the heresies which have troubled the Christian church to the present day, they consisted essentially in false views respecting our Saviour's person and office. The beloved disciple who followed Jesus through the whole of his ministry and leaned on his bosom at the last supper, has given us an authentic record of the Redeemer's words and works, in which, as in a bright untarnished mirror, we see both the divine dignity of his person and the true nature of his office as the Redeemer of the world. Such a record was especially adapted to refute the errors of his day, as it is those of the present day. It is preeminently the gospel of our Lord's person. It opens with an account of his divine nature and eternal coexistence with the Father; his general office as the creator of all things, and the source of light and life to all men and his special office as "the word made flesh," whom the Father sent for the salvation of the world, and by whom alone the Father is revealed to men. Equality with the Father in nature, subordination to the Father in office, union with human nature in the work of redeeming and judging men, and in all these perfect union with the Father in counsel and will -- such are the great doctrines that run through our Lord's discussions with the unbelieving Jews, as recorded by this evangelist. In the same discussions, but more especially in his private confidential intercourse with his disciples, he adds deep views of his relation to the world, as the only revealer of God's truth, the only source of spiritual life, and the only way of access to the Father; and to believers, as the true vine, through vital union with which they have life, nourishment, and fruitfulness. He unfolds also more fully than the other evangelists the office of the Comforter, whom the Father shall send to make good to the church the loss of his personal presence. Thus the gospel of John becomes at once an inexhaustible storehouse of spiritual food for the nourishment of the believer's own soul, and a divine armory, whence he may draw polished shafts in his warfare against error. This last record of our Lord's life and teachings owes its present form, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, partly to the peculiar character of the writer, and partly to the lateness of the period when it was composed. In both these respects we ought devoutly to recognize the superintending providence of him who sees the end from the beginning.
VI. THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES.
37. The author of the Acts of the Apostles is identical with that of the third gospel, as we learn from the dedication to the same Theophilus. Chap.1:1. Both are ascribed to Luke by the unanimous testimony of the ancient church. The genuineness of this book, its credibility, and the time of its composition -- about A.D.63-65 -- have been already shown. Chap.5, Nos.2-5. It remains to consider its plan and its office in the system of revelation.
38. In respect to plan this book naturally falls into two main divisions, the former embracing the first twelve chapters, the latter the remainder of the work. The first division contains the history of the apostolic labors after the ascension, in Jerusalem and from Jerusalem as a centre. Here, if we except the events connected with the martyrdom of Stephen (chs.6, 7), the conversion of Saul (chap.9:1-31), and the Ethiopian eunuch (chap.8:26-40), Peter everywhere appears as the chief speaker and actor, being first among the twelve, though possessing no official authority over them. It is he that proposes the choice of one to supply the place of Judas, and that is the foremost speaker on the day of Pentecost, at the gate of the temple, before the Jewish Sanhedrim, and in the assembly of the church. Chaps.1:15-22; 2:14-40; 3:4-26; 4:8-12; 5:3-11, 29-32. Associated with him we often find the apostle John. Chaps.3:1; 4:13, 19; 8:14. When the Samaritans are to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are sent to them from Jerusalem. Chap.8:14-25. When the gospel is to be carried for the first time to the Gentiles, Peter is sent by the Holy Ghost to the house of Cornelius in Cesarea (chap.10), for which mission he afterwards vindicates himself before the brethren at Jerusalem. Chap.11:1-18. Further notices of Peter we have in chaps.9:32-43; 12:3-19. We know that the other apostles must have been actively and successfully employed in prayer and the ministry of the word (chap.6:4), but it does not come within the plan of this narrative to give a particular account of their labors.
The second division is occupied with the history of Paul's missionary labors among the Gentiles, from Antioch as a centre. He had already been sent from that city with Barnabas to carry alms to the brethren in Jerusalem and Judea (chaps.11:27-30; 12:25), when "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them;" and they were sent, with fasting and prayer and the solemn laying on of hands, on their great mission to the Gentiles. Chap.13:1-3. Thenceforward the narrative is occupied with an account of the labors of Paul among the Gentiles. The fifteenth chapter is no exception; for the convocation of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem was occasioned by the missionary labors of Paul, and had especial reference to them.
Two cities are mentioned in the New Testament which have the name of Antioch -- Antioch of Pisidia so-called, though situated in the southern part of Phrygia near the border of Pisidia (Acts 13:14; 14:19, 21; 2 Tim.3:11); and Antioch of Syria, situated on the southern bank of the Orontes about fifteen miles from its mouth. Acts 11:19-27; 13:1; 14:26; 15:22-35; 18:22; Gal.2:11. The latter city was the centre of Gentile Christianity. It was the metropolis of Syria, the residence of the Syrian kings, and afterwards the capital of the Roman provinces in Asia. Here the first Gentile church was gathered, and the disciples first received the name of Christians. Acts 11:19-26. Hence Barnabas and Saul were sent to Jerusalem to bear alms (Acts 11:29, 30; 12:25); and afterwards to consult the apostles and elders at Jerusalem on the question of imposing the Mosaic law on the Gentile converts. From this city also the apostle started on his three missionary journeys, and to it he returned from his first and second journey. Acts 13:1-3; 14:26; 15:36, 40; 18:22, 23. From the time that Barnabas first brought the apostle to Antioch (Acts 11:26) to that of his seizure at Jerusalem and subsequent imprisonment, most of his time not occupied in missionary journeys was spent at Antioch. Acts 11:26; 12:25; 14:26-28; 15:30, 35; 18:22, 23. As Jerusalem was the centre for the apostles of the circumcision, so was Antioch in Syria for the apostle of the Gentiles.
39. This brief survey of the plan of this book gives us also an insight into its office. First of all it gives us a fresh and vivid portraiture of the apostolic labors and the spirit of the apostolic church, as pervaded and quickened by the presence of the promised Comforter. On the side of the apostles, we see a boldness and ardor that no persecution can check, united with simplicity and godly sincerity. On the side of the brethren, we see a whole-hearted devotion to the Saviour, under the mighty impulse of faith and love, which opens their hearts in liberality and causes them to have all things in common. On the side of both the apostles and the brethren, we see untiring activity and patient endurance in the Master's service, such as make the primitive church a bright illustration of the promise: "Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that be of thee shall build the old waste places." Isa.58:11,12. On the side of the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, on the contrary, we behold, as ever since, a series of unsuccessful efforts to hinder the work of God; the very ringleader of the persecutors being called, in the midst of his heat and fury against Christianity, to be the "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." Such an authentic record of apostolic times is of immense value to the church in all ages. It gives the true standard of enlightened Christian zeal and activity, and the true exhibition of what constitutes the real strength and prosperity of the Christian church.
The Acts of the Apostles give also a cursory view of the inauguration of the Christian church, by the descent of the Holy Spirit in his plenary influences (chap.2), by the appointment of deacons (chap.6), and the ordination of elders, though these last are only mentioned incidentally (chaps.14:23; 20:17), the office being understood of itself from the usages of the Jewish Synagogue. The scantiness of the information which we have on this matter of church organization is a part of the wisdom of the Holy Ghost, and is full of instruction to the church in all ages.
Once more, the Acts of the Apostles give a most interesting and instructive account of the way in which "the middle wall of partition" between Jews and Gentiles was gradually broken down. The full import of the Saviour's last command: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," seems to have been at first but dimly apprehended by the apostles. For some time their labors were restricted to their own countrymen. But when, upon the dispersion of the disciples in the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen's martyrdom, the gospel had been preached to the Samaritans, the apostles Peter and John were sent to them, and they in common with the Jews received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Chap.8:5-25. This was an intermediate step. Afterwards Peter was sent among the Gentiles proper, and they also received the Holy Spirit, to the astonishment of the Jewish brethren who had accompanied Peter. Chap.10. The same thing happened also at Antioch (chap.11:20), where the true reading is Hellenas, Greeks, that is, Gentiles, not Hellenistas, Hellenists. But the work was not yet finished. It remained that the believing Gentiles should be, by the solemn and formal judgment of the assembled apostles and elders, released from the yoke of the Jewish law. Of this we have an account in the fifteenth chapter. Thus was the demolition of the middle wall of partition completed. Of the greatness of this work and the formidable difficulties by which it was beset -- difficulties having their ground in the exclusive spirit of Judaism in connection with the false idea that the Mosaic law was to remain in force under the Messiah's reign -- we who live so many centuries after its accomplishment can form but a feeble conception.
40. Brief and imperfect as is the sketch which Luke has given us, it is sufficient for the instruction of the churches in subsequent ages. God deals with them not as with children, to whom the command, "Touch not, taste not, handle not," must continually be repeated; but as with full-grown men, who need general principles rather than specific and minute directions. The facts recorded in the Acts of the Apostles are of a representative character. They embody the spirit of apostolic times, and the great principles upon which the cause of Christ must ever be conducted. Fuller information in respect to details might gratify our curiosity, but it is not necessary for our edification.