The Gospels
[Sidenote: Their Name.]

The modern English word "Gospel" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Godspell, which means "God story," the story about the life of God in human flesh. It does not, therefore, exactly correspond with the Greek name euaggelion, which means "good tidings." In the earliest times the Greek name meant the good tidings proclaimed by our Lord about the Kingdom of God which He had come to establish. And, as our Lord Himself rules over this kingdom, the tidings about the kingdom included tidings about Himself. So Christ Himself says, "for My sake and the gospel's" (Mark viii.35). After the Ascension of our Lord and the disappearance of His visible presence, the euaggelion came to mean the good tidings about Christ, rather than the good tidings brought by Christ (see 1 Cor. ix.14 and 2 Cor. iv.4). So St. Paul generally means by euaggelion the good news, coming from God, of salvation freely given to man through Christ. When he speaks of "My gospel" (Rom. ii.16), he means "my explanation of the gospel;" and when he says, "I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision" (Gal. ii.7), he means that he had been appointed by God to preach the good tidings to the Gentiles, with special emphasis on the points most necessary for their instruction.

The word euaggellon, in the sense of a written gospel, is first found in the ancient Christian manual called the Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, in ch. xv.: "Reprove one {10} another, not in anger but in peace, as ye have it in the gospel." This book was probably composed about A.D.100. The word seems to have been still more definitely applied to a written account of the life of Christ in the time of the great heretic Marcion, A.D.140. The plural word euaggelia, signifying the Four Gospels, is first found in a writing of Justin Martyr,[1] about A.D.152. It is important to notice that he also calls them "Memoirs of the Apostles," and that he refers to them collectively as "the Gospel," inasmuch as they were, in reference to their distinctive value as records of Christ, one book.

[Sidenote: Their Genuineness.]

The first three Gospels do not contain the name of the writers in any connection which can be used to prove conclusively that they were written by the men whose names they bear. On the other hand, the fourth Gospel in a concluding passage (John xxi.24) contains an obvious claim to have been written by that intimate friend of Jesus to whom the Church has always attributed it. But the titles, "according to Matthew," "according to Mark," "according to Luke," rest on excellent authority. And they imply that each book contains the good news brought by Christ and recorded in the teaching of the evangelist specified. These titles must, at the very least, signify that the Christians who first gave these titles to these books, meant that each Gospel was connected with one particular person who lived in the apostolic age, and that it contained nothing contrary to what that person taught. The titles, taken by themselves, are therefore compatible with the theory that the first three Gospels were perhaps written by friends or disciples of the men whose names they bear. But we shall afterwards see that there is overwhelming evidence to show that the connection between each book and the specified person is much closer than that theory would suggest.

Speaking of the four Gospels generally, we may first observe that it is impossible to place any one of them as late as A.D.100, {11} and that the first three Gospels must have been written long before that date. This is shown by the internal evidence, of which proof will be given in detail in the chapters dealing with the separate Gospels. The external evidence of the use of all the four Gospels by Christians, and to some extent by non-Christians, supports the internal evidence. Let us begin by noting facts which are part of undoubted history, and then work back to facts of earlier date. It is now undisputed that between the years 170 and 200 after Christ our four Gospels were known and regarded as genuine products of the apostolic age. St. Irenaeus, who became Bishop of Lyons in France in A.D.177, and was the pupil of Polycarp, who had actually been a disciple of St. John, uses and quotes the four Gospels. He shows that various semi-Christian sects appeal severally to one of the four Gospels as supporting their peculiar views, but that the Christian Church accepts all four. He lays great stress on the fact that the teaching of the Church has always been the same, and he was personally acquainted with the state of Christianity in Asia Minor, Rome, and France. His evidence must therefore be considered as carrying great weight. Equally important is the evidence of Tatian. This remarkable Syrian wrote a harmony of the Gospels near A.D.160. Allusions to this harmony, called the Diatessaron, were known to exist in several ancient writers, but until recently it was strenuously maintained by sceptical writers that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the Diatessaron was composed of our present Gospels. It was suggested that it might have been drawn from other Gospels more or less resembling those which we now possess. This idea has now been dispelled. A great Syrian father, Ephraim, who died in 373, wrote a commentary on the Diatessaron. This was preserved in an Armenian translation which was made known to the world in 1876. The discovery proved that the Diatessaron had been drawn from our four Gospels. In 1886 an Arabic version of the Diatessaron itself was found, and it {12} proved conclusively that Tatian's Diatessaron was simply a combination of our four canonical Gospels. About the same date as Tatian, a famous Gnostic writer named Heracleon wrote commentaries on Luke and John, and it can also be shown that he was acquainted with Matt. There can therefore be no doubt that all our four Gospels were well known by A.D.170.

Between A.D.130 and 170 our Gospels were also in use. The most important evidence is furnished by Justin Martyr, who was born near Samaria, and lectured in Rome about A.D.152. He says "the apostles handed down in the Memoirs made by them, which are called Gospels;" he shows that these Memoirs were used in Christian worship, and he says that "they were compiled by Christ's apostles and those who companied with them." This exactly agrees with the fact that the first and the fourth of our Gospels are attributed by the tradition of the Church to apostles, while the second and the third are attributed to companions of the apostles. The quotations which Justin makes show that these Memoirs were our four Gospels. It has been thought that Justin perhaps used some apocryphal Gospel in addition to our Gospels, but there is no sufficient proof of this. We may explain that he uses the term "Memoirs" in order to make himself intelligible to non-Christian readers who would not understand the word "Gospel."

The Shepherd of Hermas, which was written at Rome, probably about A.D.140, but perhaps earlier, uses expressions which imply an acquaintance with all our Gospels, though none of them are directly quoted. Moreover, the Shepherd, in depicting the Christian Church as seated on a bench with four feet, probably refers to the four Gospels. This would be in agreement with the allegorical style of the book, and it gains support from the language of Origen and Irenaeus.

The testimony rendered to the authenticity of the Gospels by the heretics who flourished between A.D.130 and 170 is of importance. At the beginning of this period, Basilides, the {13} great Gnostic of Alexandria, who tried to replace Christianity by a semi-Christian Pantheism, appears to have used Matt., Luke, and John. The fact that they contain nothing which really supports his peculiar tenets, forms an argument which shows that the genuineness of these documents was then too well established for it to be worth his while to dispute it. Marcion, whose teaching was half Gnostic and half Catholic, endeavoured to revive what he imagined to be the Christianity of St. Paul, whom he regarded as the only true apostle. He believed that Judaism was the work of an inferior god, and he therefore rejected the whole of the Old Testament, and retained only the Gospel written by St. Luke, the friend of St. Paul, and ten of St. Paul's Epistles. Modern writers have sometimes urged that Marcion's list of New Testament books proves that all other parts of the New Testament were regarded as doubtful about A.D.140. But it is quite evident that Marcion, unlike those Gnostics who adapted uncongenial books to their own systems by means of allegorical explanations, cut out the books and verses which would not correspond with his own dogma. In spite of his pretended fidelity to St. Paul, he mutilated not only St. Luke's Gospel, but even the Epistle to the Galatians. So whereas it is certain that he used our Luke, there is no indication to show that he did not admit that the other Gospels were really the work of the writers whose names they bear.

In the period between A.D.98, when the death of St. John probably took place, and A.D.130, we find several signs of acquaintance with the Gospels. About A.D.130, Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, wrote a book called Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord. It may be regarded as almost certain that the word "Oracles" signifies written Gospels, just as in the New Testament the word signifies the written documents of the Old Testament. He mentions Gospels written by St. Matthew and St. Mark, and we know from Eusebius that he made use of 1 John. It is deeply to be regretted that we only have {14} a few remaining fragments of the writings of this early bishop, who was acquainted with men who knew our Lord's disciples. In the letters of St. Ignatius, the martyred Bishop of Antioch, A.D.110, we find signs of acquaintance with Matt. and John. The Epistle written by St. Polycarp to the Philippians soon after the death of St. Ignatius contains quotations from Matt. and Luke, and the quotations in it from 1 John almost certainly imply the authenticity of St. John's Gospel, as it is impossible to attribute the Epistles to any writer except the writer of the Gospel. The Didache, about A.D.100, shows acquaintance with Matt. and Luke, and contains early Eucharistic prayers of which the language closely resembles the language of St. John. The Epistle of Barnabas, probably about A.D.98, contains what is probably the oldest remaining quotation from a book of the New Testament. It says, "It is written, Many called, but few chosen," which appears to be a quotation from Matt. xxii.14. The Epistle of St. Clement of Rome, written to the Christians of Corinth about A.D.95, is full of the phraseology of St. Paul's Epistles, but contains nothing that can be called a direct quotation from our Gospels. But it does contain what are possibly traces of the first three Gospels, though these passages are perhaps quoted from an oral Gospel employed in the instruction of catechumens.

We must conclude that, considering what a large amount of early Christian literature has perished, the external evidence for the authenticity of our Gospels is remarkably strong. They are genuine writings of the apostolic age, and were received by men whose lifetime overlapped the lifetime of some of the apostles. In the early Christian literature which remains, there is much which lends support to the authenticity of the Gospels, and nothing which injures a belief in that authenticity. And there are strong reasons for thinking that in the early Christian literature which has perished, there was much which would have made a belief in their authenticity quite inevitable.

It would be an aid to modern study if we could be certain {15} when and where the four Gospels were put together in one canon. In the 4th and 5th centuries it was believed by some Christians that the collection had been made at Ephesus by St. John himself, and that he had prefixed the names of the writers to the Gospels when he published his own Gospel. It is at present impossible to discover how far this supposed fact is legendary or not, but modern criticism has done something to corroborate the idea that the Gospels were really collected first in Asia Minor, and if St. John did not make the collection himself, it was probably made by his disciples soon after his death.

[Sidenote: Their Diversity.]

If we compare the four Gospels together, it is as plain as daylight that there is a marked difference between the first three Gospels on the one hand and the fourth Gospel on the other hand. The first three Gospels are usually called the Synoptic Gospels, because they give us one synopsis or common view of our Lord's work. To a great extent they record the same events and the same discourses, and in many passages they express themselves in almost identical words. The account which they give of our Lord's work is mostly confined to His ministry in Galilee, the birthplace of our religion, and it includes only one visit to Jerusalem. But St. John's Gospel differs widely in language from the other Gospels, and also gives an account of no less than five visits to Jerusalem, and chiefly describes the scenes connected with our Lord's ministry in Judaea. Whereas our first three Gospels can be appropriately printed in three parallel columns, the greater part of St. John's Gospel cannot be appropriately placed by the side of the other three. Another most important difference is that St. John's Gospel is marked by a tone and teaching which are seldom to be found in the Synoptic Gospels. The difference was well expressed by Clement of Alexandria, who calls the Synoptic Gospels bodily and St. John's Gospel spiritual; and by Theodore of Mopsuestia, who says that St. John declared that "doubtless it was not right to omit {16} the facts told with regard to the sojourn of Christ in the flesh, but neither was it right to omit the words relating to His Divinity." For the Synoptic Gospels relate the outward events connected with our Lord's ministry, while St. John records the discourses and works which reveal our Lord's heavenly origin and divine authority. Again, the Synoptic Gospels report Christ's addresses to simple Galilean people, addresses consisting largely of parables; while St. John reports discourses, frequently expressed in the language of allegory, and uttered to the Jews of Jerusalem or to His own intimate disciples.

[Sidenote: The Synoptic problem.]

The Synoptic problem consists in the difficulties raised by the fact that the Synoptic Gospels show both a remarkable similarity and a remarkable dissimilarity. It is just because the similarity is often so astonishing that we find it all the more difficult to explain the dissimilarity when it exists. A study of the Synoptic problem is valuable for the Christian student, inasmuch as it directs our attention to the sources employed by the evangelists, and thus leads us nearer to the actual events connected with the rise of Christianity.

The RESEMBLANCES between the Synoptic Gospels may be observed in the following points: --

(a) A common plan. -- The general view of the course of events is almost identical. St. Matthew and St. Luke give separate accounts of the infancy of our Lord, but they then join with St. Mark in their account of St. John the Baptist, the baptism and temptation of Christ, and the beginning of His ministry. Later all three direct their attention mainly to Christ's work in Galilee, while St. John describes much that took place in Judaea and Samaria. They pass rapidly over some considerable space of time until they come to the last week of His life, where all three give a detailed account.

(b) A common selection of facts. -- By far the larger number of both events and discourses are found in all three Gospels. If anything is recorded in Mark it is generally to be found in {17} Matt. and Luke, and almost always in either Matt. or Luke. If the whole number of incidents in the Synoptic Gospels be reckoned as eighty-eight, the distribution of the incidents shared by at least two Gospels is as follows: --

In all three Gospels . . . . . . . 42
In Mark and Matt. . . . . . . . . 12
In Mark and Luke . . . . . . . . . 5
In Matt. and Luke . . . . . . . . 12

If we add the above together, we realize that seventy-one incidents out of a total of eighty-eight are to be found in more than one Gospel. Of the remaining seventeen incidents, three are peculiar to Mark, five to Matt., and nine to Luke.

(c) Similar groups of incidents. -- Not only is there a common selection of facts, but detached events which happened at different times are sometimes grouped together in the same way in all of the Synoptic Gospels or in two of the three. Thus in all three we find together the cure of the paralytic, the call of Levi, and the question of fasting (Matt. ix.1-17; Mark ii.1-22; Luke v.17-39); so also the plucking of the ears of corn and the cure of the withered hand -- events separated by at least a week (Matt. xii.1-21; Mark ii.23-iii.6; Luke vi.1-11). Thus also the death of John the Baptist is introduced both in Matt. xiv.3 and in Mark vi.17 to explain the fear felt by Herod Antipas that he had risen from the dead. In fact, when a parallel passage is found in all three Synoptic Gospels, it is never immediately followed in both Matt. and Luke by a whole separate incident which is not in Mark.[2] There is a general tendency in Matt. and Luke to narrate the same facts as Mark in the order of Mark. And therefore it is difficult to think that the original basis of the Synoptic Gospels, whether written or unwritten, did not coincide closely with Mark in the order of events.


(d) Similarity of language. -- The Synoptic Gospels often agree verbally. And this agreement is not merely found in the reports of the sayings of our Lord, but even in the narrative of events. It extends even to rare Greek words and phrases. The clauses are often remarkably similar. Sometimes quotations from the Old Testament are found in two or three Gospels with the same variations from the original. Matt. iii.3, Mark i.3, and Luke iii.4 have the same quotation from Isa. xl.3, in which they agree in every word, although at the end they depart in the same way from both the Hebrew and the Greek version of the Old Testament, for they put "His paths" instead of "the paths of our God." Another interesting instance is to be found in Matt. xxvi.47, Mark xiv.43, and Luke xxii.47, where all three evangelists, apparently without any necessity, explain that Judas was one of the twelve. Again in Matt. xxiv.15, 16, and Mark xiii.14, we have the note or parenthesis "let him that readeth understand," which one evangelist seems to have copied from the other.

The DIFFERENCES between the Synoptic Gospels may be observed in the following facts: --

(a) Facts peculiar to one or two Gospels. -- There is a wide difference between the account of the birth and infancy of our Lord given in Matt. and that given in Luke. In Matt. we have recorded an angelic communication to St. Joseph concerning the future birth of Jesus. In Luke, an earlier and fuller annunciation to St. Mary is recorded. In Matt. the story of the infancy is centred at Bethlehem, in Luke at Nazareth. The accounts given of the appearances of our Lord after the Resurrection record different events. In Matt. and Mark Galilee is the scene of His appearances, in Luke the scene is laid in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood. There is not the least reason for regarding these accounts as contradictory, but there is reason for inquiring why the different writers selected different appearances.


(b) Different accounts of the same facts. -- The three distinct incidents of the temptation of our Lord are recorded in a different order in Matt. and Luke, and the temptation is recorded without these incidents in Mark. St. Luke's version of the Beatitudes is reduced in number, and is followed by corresponding denunciations. In Mark x.46 and Matt. x.29 we have the cure of Bartimaeus on the departure from Jericho, in Luke xviii.35, xix.1 at the entrance of the city. In Matt. viii.28 there are two demoniacs, while in Mark v.2 and Luke viii.27, which seem to narrate the same event, only one demoniac is mentioned. All the Synoptic Gospels give slightly different accounts of the inscription on the cross, and the words spoken by the centurion at the death of Jesus vary in Luke from the words in Matt. and Mark.

(c) Differences in the order of words and sentences. -- Although Matt. and Luke do not combine against Mark in narrating a whole incident in an order different from Mark, it is important to notice that there are some cases in which Matt. and Mark agree against Luke, or Mark and Luke agree against Matt. And we must not omit a significant instance where Matt. and Luke agree against Mark in the order of part of an incident. In Matt. iii.11, 12 and Luke iii.16, "I indeed baptize you with water," etc., comes before, in Mark i.7, 8 it comes after, the description of Jesus as "He that is mightier than I." No doubt one author who copies another may often omit something stated by the first author. But, surely, he is not very likely to invert the order of the materials before him, especially when no obvious purpose can be served by such an inversion. Another instance of inversion is this: in Mark ix.12, 13 the rejection of the Son of Man is mentioned by our Lord between two statements of His about Ehas, in Matt. xvii.12 it is mentioned after both statements. Such inversions would naturally take place in the case of oral transmission of the sacred story, but they would be less likely in the case of one writer copying another.


(d) Verbal differences. -- Striking verbal differences occur even when the general resemblance is most close. In Matt. ix.1-17, Mark ii.1-22, Luke v.17-39, there are verbal changes even where the sentences closely coincide. Other instances might be quoted. All three evangelists have a style of their own, and show a marked preference for particular idioms and words. In narrating the sayings of our Lord, they narrate them with some verbal differences, and in the case of the history of His ministry, they narrate it with numerous verbal differences. It is therefore evident that St. Matthew and St. Luke, if they used St. Mark's work, felt themselves at liberty to deal with it very freely.

The above brief account of the chief resemblances and differences between the first three Gospels is an attempt to give a fair though condensed statement of certain facts which appeal with different force to different minds. "How came these Gospels to be so alike and yet so different?" This is the "Synoptic problem," and great divergence of opinion exists as to the solution.

[Sidenote: Possible solutions.]

The most important views propounded to solve the problem are --

(1) Both St. Matthew and St. Luke copied the Gospel of St. Mark, while not omitting to make use of other documents. In the case of St. Luke, his acquaintance with earlier written stories about our Lord is rendered indisputable by his own statement. Sometimes it has been thought that St. Luke made use of the Gospel according to St. Matthew as well as the Gospel according to St. Mark. This theory is most appropriately called the theory of the mutual dependence of the documents.

(2) The three Synoptic Gospels put down in writing different, but closely similar forms of an oral tradition concerning the teaching of our Lord. It is thought that the statements made by the apostles about Christ were repeated by them and occasionally added to, and treasured up in faithful memories. {21} The idea of a literary connection between the Gospels is dismissed, and it is held that the methods of teaching employed among the Jews, and the probable existence of a school of trained catechists, will account sufficiently for the fixed form of the tradition. According to this hypothesis the differences between the Synoptic Gospels are to be explained by the necessity of teaching different aspects of the truth among different classes of inquirers, and by the fluctuating memories of the teachers. This theory is known as the oral theory.[3]

(3) The three Synoptic Gospels are based upon one original Gospel written in the Aramaic language. A large number of verbal variations can thus be accounted for. They might have sprung from different renderings of the same Aramaic original, and various passages derived from oral tradition might have been added to the original Gospel when it was translated. It has been held by some that there was at least an Aramaic document behind Mark, if there was not an Aramaic original employed by all the Synoptics. The different forms of this hypothesis can be described as the theory of an Aramaic original.

It is now generally believed that the three evangelists did not employ one original Aramaic Gospel. The agreement between the Greek words of the Synoptic Gospels is too close to be explained by the use of an Aramaic original. The real controversy, therefore, lies between the scholars who support theory (1) or theory (2).

[Sidenote: Probable conclusions.]

On the whole, it appears that a general agreement is being arrived at. It is becoming evident that the theory of the mutual dependence of the documents and the oral theory are both partly true, and that neither of them can be held in an extreme form. In the first place, the resemblances between the first three Gospels make it extremely probable that St. Matthew and St. Luke {22} employed the work of St. Mark. In England, Germany, and France the opinion of scholars seems steadily tending towards this conclusion. The chief reasons for it are undoubtedly that (i.) the order of facts in Mark is the normal order of the whole narrative of the Synoptists, and (ii.) in the main, the language of Mark explains the verbal agreements between Matt. and Luke. Therefore among the probable conclusions with regard to the Synoptic problem we must reckon the fact that Mark is earlier than Matt. and Luke, and was employed in the composition of them both. This is the first important conclusion.

But we must also allow room for the influence of oral tradition.

We have already noticed many differences between the Synoptists, all of which more or less suggest that the Gospels are largely based on oral tradition. We may now mention a few other facts which point in the same direction. There are cases in which Matt. or Luke has a more decided appearance of originality than Mark. These cases include words, phrases, and even sections. For instance, Matt. employs several times the phrase "the Father who is in heaven," a phrase which our Lord must certainly have used, but which in Mark only occurs once (xi.25). Mark i.40-45, ii.1-12, iii.1-6, x.35, appear less original than the parallel passages in the other Synoptic Gospels. Moreover, there are statements in Matt. of a striking kind, which are not at all likely to have been invented, but which are entirely absent from Mark. We may notice the texts, "Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. x.5, 6); and again, "I was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. xv.24). In both cases the context has a parallel in Mark, but the verses in question do not occur in those parallels.

Also there are certain passages to be found in Mark which are in neither Luke nor Matt. If we believe that the Gospels {23} are largely based on oral tradition, it is easy to account for the absence of a passage in one or two of the three Synoptic Gospels. An incident which was remembered in one place might be forgotten in another. But if we exclude the influence of oral tradition, there are only two solutions of the problem raised by these passages. Either (a) St. Matthew and St. Luke were ignorant of them, because they were added to Mark later than the date when they used Mark; or (b) they knew them and omitted them. In other words, we have to ask, Did they use an original form of the second Gospel, a form to which German scholars apply the name Ur-Marcus and French scholars apply the name Proto-Marc, or did they omit passages in Mark which suggested difficulties or appeared unnecessary? The main argument against the existence of a Proto-Mark is that neither Papias nor any known Father of the Church preserves the least recollection of it. It has simply been invented to account for the difficulties of the Synoptic problem. If, on the other hand, St. Matthew and St. Luke deliberately abbreviated or altered the narrative of St. Mark, we must naturally inquire why they did so. The authors who maintain that they did alter the material which lay before them, account for some of the changes as having been made from a mere desire to abbreviate, or to remove a few verses which might prove "hard sayings" to Jewish or Gentile Christians respectively. Some think that other passages in Mark were emitted because St. Matthew and St. Luke considered them to be derogatory to our Lord's power or the character of His apostles. For instance, St. Matthew omits the rebuke administered to the apostles in Mark viii.17, 18, and he does not mention our Lord's use of spittle as a means of healing. He also in ch. xiii.55 represents the Jews as calling our Lord "the carpenter's son," whereas in Mark vi.3 they call Him "the carpenter."

This latter line of argument is often hazardous and occasionally profane. And in special reference to the points just {24} described, we may remark that St. Matthew in ch. xiv.28-33 does not hesitate to record the weakness of even St. Peter's faith; and that St. John, although he gives the greatest prominence to the majesty of our Lord, does in ch. ix.6 record His use of spittle in healing. And if St. Matthew thought it irreverent to record the fact that the Jews called Jesus "the carpenter," he might have naturally shrunk far more from saying, as he does, that they named Him "the carpenter's son," a title which might seem to imply an ignoring of His miraculous birth.

It seems, therefore, that we must be content to acknowledge that we cannot always determine the reasons which influenced St. Matthew and St. Luke, but we can say that in some cases they were probably influenced by the mere desire to abbreviate, and that they were also influenced by the forms which the oral teaching of the Gospel had assumed. We may also regard it as almost certain that St. Luke sometimes altered words in St. Mark's narrative simply because he preferred a more elegant and less homely form of Greek. The textual criticism of the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament also points to the fact that for a few generations, when reminiscences of our Lord and His apostles were still handed down, writers occasionally tried to make room for these reminiscences when they copied the books of the New Testament. A famous instance of this is John vii.53-viii.11, which was almost certainly not written by St. John, and is almost certainly a genuine story which the apostle knew, and which Christians afterwards inserted in his Gospel. We believe, then, that all the Synoptic Gospels are influenced by oral tradition. This is the second important conclusion.

Thirdly, it seems that Matt. and Luke, and perhaps Mark, made use of written collections of Logia, or sayings of our Lord. Evidence of one such collection comes to us on the high authority of Papias. He says --

Matthew then composed the Logia in the Hebrew tongue, and every one interpreted them as he was able.


An equally important statement which Papias makes with regard to the composition of Mark, is made on the authority of John the Presbyter who had been a personal follower of the Lord and was an elder contemporary of Papias. It is at least possible that Papias derived his information about Matt. from the same authority. It is almost inconceivable that between the time of Papias and that of Irenaeus, whose life probably overlapped that of Papias, the name of Matthew became wrongly affixed to our first Gospel. We may therefore regard it as certain that in our first Gospel is contained the book of sayings, which St. Matthew himself wrote. In our third Gospel we find that St. Luke has inserted much information with regard to our Lord's teaching which is apparently derived from a version of the Logia. The order of the sayings is more original in Luke than in Matt. The reason for this assertion is the following: --

The two evangelists arrange the sayings of our Lord differently. In more than two-thirds of the instances in which they seem to employ some collection of Logia, they place their materials in a different setting. It has often been remarked that St. Matthew places the discourses of our Lord together in large blocks, while St. Luke records them separately, and in many cases records the circumstances which led up to them. Instances of this are -- The Lord's Prayer (Matt. vi.9-13 and Luke xi.1-4); the treasure and the heart (Matt. vi.19-21 and Luke xii.33, 34); God and Mammon (Matt. vi.24 and Luke xvi.13). It would therefore seem plain that either one evangelist or the other altered the places of these discourses. Examination makes it equally plain that the alteration was made in Matt. Much of Matt. is arranged in numerical forms, and this is especially true of those passages which are not derived from Mark. The numbers 5, 10, and 7 are used as helps to memory. Thus in Matt. we find five chapters (called by the Jews "Pereqs") of the sayings of our Lord, ending respectively at vii.28; xi.1; xiii.53, xix.1; xxvi.1. The {26} number five was a favourite number with the Jews in such cases; thus we have five books of the Pentateuch, five books of the Psalms, the five Megilloth or festival volumes, and the five parts of the Pirqe Aboth. In chs. viii. and ix. we have a collection of ten miracles, in spite of the fact that three of these miracles are placed elsewhere by St. Mark and St. Luke. The petitions of the Lord's Prayer are arranged as seven, there are seven parables in ch. xiii., seven woes in ch. xxiii., and the genealogy of our Lord is arranged in three fourteens. As these numerical arrangements are specially characteristic of Matt., and certainly appear to be caused by a desire to aid oral repetition, we are led to the conclusion that the Logia are to be found in a less artificial and therefore earlier form in Luke. We are also led once more to the conclusion that though we cannot say that the whole of Matt. owes its form to oral teaching, yet many sections of it are moulded by oral teaching.

It must lastly be noted that although the collection of Logia employed in Luke contained much material which is also found in Matt., the parallel passages vary considerably in style and language. Examination of these passages seldom enables us to prove what expressions were specially characteristic of the Logia. But we can assert with a fair amount of confidence that the version, or versions, of the Logia so employed, had a simple and Hebraic style; and that whereas Luke has kept the order of the Logia better than Matt., the latter preserves the style more faithfully.

In addition to Mark and collections of the Logia, St. Matthew and St. Luke employed other sources now unknown to us. The narratives of the infancy and the Resurrection are independent, and are so different that they point both to the fact that the two evangelists were here employing different sources, and that each was unacquainted with the Gospel written by the other. Also, St. Luke's account of our Lord's ministry in Peraea and elsewhere, contained in ix.51-xix.28, is peculiar to his Gospel.

[Sidenote: The relation of St. John's Gospel to the Synoptic Gospels.]

The difference between the theological tone of St. John's Gospel and that which we find in the Synoptists is mentioned {27} in our account of the separate Gospels. Besides this difference of tone, there is a decided difference in the march of the events which are recorded and some difference in the narrative of passages which are parallel. The first rough impression which we gather from the Synoptists is that our Lord did not visit Jerusalem until shortly before the Crucifixion. Matthew and Mark refer to one Passover only for which Jesus comes to Jerusalem. The scene of His ministry is Galilee. On the other hand, the centre of interest in John is not Galilee, but Jerusalem and Judaea. But a minute examination proves that the narrative of St. John fits that of the Synoptists in a remarkable manner. In the first place, the Synoptists give us hints of our Lord's earlier visits to Judaea and Jerusalem. In Luke iv.44 (see margin R.V.) we find Him preaching in the synagogues of Judaea (cf. Acts x.37). In Luke v.17 the presence in Galilee of Pharisees from Jerusalem is a testimony to the impression which Christ had produced in the holy city. Both Matt. (xxiii.37) and Luke (xiii.34) record the lament of our Lord, "O Jerusalem, . . . how often would I," etc. So from John iv.3, 43 we learn of our Lord returning to Galilee after His first visit to Jerusalem. This second journey into Galilee recorded by St. John brings us to a point corresponding with the early days of the ministry in Galilee described by the Synoptists. In John vi.-vii.9 we have narratives connected with Galilee, and this section belongs to an interval of time between the approach of Passover in March A.D.28 and the feast of Tabernacles in September A.D.28. Of this period the Synoptists give a much fuller account.

The question of the length of our Lord's ministry is thus intimately connected with that of the scene of His ministry. St. John marks the length of our Lord's ministry, not by ordinary chronology, but by the mention of various Jewish feasts. The dates of these feasts show that His ministry lasted two years and a half. The absence of dates in the Synoptists {28} has led to the opinion that they represent our Lord's ministry as only extending over one year. This opinion may be summarily dismissed. The mention of ripe corn in Mark ii.23, and green grass in vi.39, implies two spring-times before the last Passover. It is impossible to compress the teaching which the Synoptic Gospels relate into the period of one year, and they show a hostility towards Christ on the part of the ruling classes in Jerusalem which could not have sufficiently fermented in the space of a few months. We may also notice that there is a close agreement between the Synoptists and St. John with regard to the points on which the conflict between Christ and the Jews turned (cf. Matt. xvi.1-4, Mark viii.11-13, Luke xi.16, 29-32, with John ii.18). The Jews specially charged Him with being possessed by a devil (cf. Matt. xii.24, Mark iii.22, Luke xi.15, with John viii.48 and x.19), and also with breaking the sabbath (cf. Matt. xii.9, Mark iii.1, Luke vi.6, xiii.10, with John v.10, vii.22, ix.14).

The dates of two important incidents have been the subjects of much discussion. A cleansing of the temple by our Lord is related by the Synoptists at the close of our Lord's ministry (Mark xi.15). John ii.14 places a cleansing of the temple at the very beginning of our Lord's ministry. If we have to choose between one record and the other, we should perhaps be inclined to say that the narrative in John is the more probable. But there is no good reason for making such a choice. No one who is at all familiar with the history of the abuses which took place in some mediaeval churches would find a difficulty in believing that the temple needed a second cleansing by our Lord. The first cleansing is the natural outcome of His righteous indignation in beholding for the first time the holiest place in the world given up to common traffic, the second cleansing is appropriate in Him who had then openly proclaimed His divine authority and Messiahship.

The day of our Lord's death is a date about which there is an apparent discrepancy between the Synoptists and St. John. {29} The discrepancy has been elevated into momentous importance by the sceptics of the last sixty years, and has been employed as one of the most formidable arguments against the authenticity of St. John's Gospel. The argument employed by these critics is as follows: -- (1) The Synoptic Gospels contain the original apostolic tradition, and they agree in stating that Jesus celebrated the ordinary Jewish passover on the evening between the 14th and 15th of the month Nisan; they therefore represent the crucifixion as taking place on the 15th, after the passover had been eaten. (2) The fourth Gospel places the Last Supper on the evening between the 13th and the 14th of Nisan. It therefore represents the crucifixion as taking place on the 14th, and tacitly denies that Christ ate the usual Jewish passover. (3) The Churches of the province of Asia, which were founded by St. John, were accustomed in the 2nd century to keep their passover on the 14th of Nisan, and declared that they derived their custom from St. John. They consequently believed that Christ died on the 15th, and that He ate the usual Jewish Passover. (4) Therefore the fourth Gospel was not written by St. John, but by a forger who wished to emphasize the break between Judaism and Christianity.

This argument can be turned with fatal force against the critics who made it. It is no doubt true that St. John by numerous indications (xiii.1; xviii.28; xix.14, 31) implies that the Last Supper was eaten the day before the usual passover, and that Christ died on Nisan 14. But the usage of the Christians of the Asiatic Churches in the 2nd century absolutely corroborates these indications. These Churches when they celebrated the passover were not celebrating the anniversary of the Last Supper, but the anniversary of the death of Christ, the true Paschal Lamb. By doing this on Nisan 14, they showed that they believed that Christ died on that day, and there is particularly strong evidence of a belief among the early Christians that our Lord did die on Nisan 14. Moreover, although the account of the Synoptists is not free from {30} ambiguity, it bears many testimonies to St. John's chronology. They record as happening on the day of Christ's death several actions which the Jewish law did not permit on a feast day such as Nisan 15, and which must presumably have taken place on Nisan 14. The Synoptists make the Sanhedrim say that they will not arrest Jesus "on the feast day," the guards and St. Peter carry arms, the trial is held, Simon the Cyrenian comes from work, Joseph of Arimathaea buys a linen cloth, the holy women prepare spices, all of which works would have been forbidden on Nisan 15. Finally, the day is itself called the "preparation," a name which would not be given to Nisan 15. The conclusion is irresistible. It is that our Lord died on Nisan 14, that St. John is correct, and that the Synoptists in most of the passages concerned corroborate St. John. The only real difficulty is raised by Mark xiv.12 (cf. Matt. xxvi.17; Luke xxii.7), which seems to imply that the Paschal lamb was sacrificed on the day before Christ died. If so, this verse implies that Christ died on Nisan 15. But we must observe that not one of the Synoptists says that the disciples ate a lamb at the Last Supper, and also that, for all ceremonial purposes, the day for killing the lamb began on the evening of Nisan 13. It is therefore doubtful whether there is even as much as one verbal contradiction on this point between the Synoptists and St. John.

The omission of events which are of importance in the Synoptic Gospels is a striking feature in St. John's Gospel. But these instances of omission can be more reasonably explained by the hypothesis that the author was content to omit facts with which the Christians around him were well acquainted, than by the hypothesis that he was a spiritualistic writer of the 2nd century who wished to make his Gospel fit some fanciful theory of his own. In fact, the latter hypothesis has proved a signal failure. The critics who say that the writer omitted the story of our Lord's painful temptation as incompatible with the majesty of the Divine Word, may be asked {31} why the writer gives no fuller account of the glorious transfiguration than the hint in i.14. Those who say that sentimental superstition induced the writer to omit the agony the garden, may be asked why the writer records the weariness of Christ at Samaria and His tears at the grave, of Lazarus. There are gaps in the evangelist's narrative, but we cannot argue that the Gospel is therefore a forgery. The evangelist is acquainted with the Ascension (vi.62), though he does not record it; and he knows that Nazareth was the early home of Christ (i.46), though he does not narrate the story of the sacred infancy. The Gospel of St. John is none the less genuine for being of the nature of a treatise, intended to bring certain aspects of the life of our Lord to bear upon the intellectual life of Ephesus. Much has been made of the fact that he says nothing of the institution of the Eucharist. Nor does he record the command of Jesus to baptize. Are we to suppose that a writer who has told us how "the Word was made flesh" so shrank from believing material things to be connected with a spiritual efficacy that he rejected the sacraments? Is it not more probable that among people who were perfectly familiar with both Baptism and the Eucharist he preferred to tell what Christ had said about being born again (iii.), and about the assimilation of His life by the believer (vi.)? This seems to us more reasonable. The fourth Gospel, though it has a character and purpose of its own, and might even have been written if there had been no other Gospel, yet was intended to supplement either the Synoptic Gospels or else a body of teaching corresponding with that contained in those Gospels.

The facts which St. John records in common with the Synoptists before the Last Supper, the Passion, and the Resurrection are -- the Baptism of John (i.26), the Feeding of the 5000 (vi.10), the Walking on the Sea (vi.19), the Anointing at Bethany, with the action of Judas (xii.1), the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (xii.12). Even in connection with these incidents St. John gives his additional details, and {32} therefore the character of his work is here, as elsewhere, both independent and supplemental.

It remains to ask whether any words used by St. John seem to show that he borrowed expressions from the Synoptic Gospels.

The following passages may be noticed: John v.8 f. (Mark ii.11 f.), vi.7, 10, 19 f. (Mark vi.37, 40, 49 f.), xii.3, 5, 7 f. (Mark xiv.3-6), xiii.21 (Mark xiv.18), xviii.18, 17 (Mark xiv.54, 69), xviii.22 (Mark xiv.65). For the quotation from Zechariah in xii.15, cf. Matt. xxi.5. The words of our Lord in John xv.18-xvi.2 have been compared with those in Matt. x.17-22. Sometimes John has more points of contact with Luke than with the other Synoptists; e.g. there is the journey of Christ to Galilee before the death of John the Baptist, the fact that the scourging of Christ by Pilate was intended to restrain the Jews from demanding His death, and the visit of St. Peter to the sepulchre. It has been thought that John xii.3 is based upon Luke vii.38. The anointing of our Lord's feet in both is certainly remarkable. Sometimes John agrees with Matt. and Mark and not Luke, as in recording the binding of Jesus, the crown of thorns, the purple robe, and the custom of releasing a malefactor at the feast. Such coincidences between John and the Synoptic Gospels are so slight and disconnected that it seems doubtful whether the former uses any material drawn from the latter. Nevertheless, the story contained in the Synoptic Gospels, though not quoted, is presupposed. A good instance is in John vi.5, where St. John does not stop to explain that the hour was late and the people therefore hungry.

[1] Apol. i.66.

[2] The longest instance of a passage in Matt. and Luke being parallel in these Gospels and without a parallel in Mark is the short passage, Matt. iii.7-10, Luke iii.7-9.

[3] This theory was first clearly expounded in 1818 by Gieseler, a celebrated German Protestant Church historian. It has been more popular in England than in Germany.


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