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3. Our Luke's gospel has no testimony to its authorship so anciently equivocal as the first two gospels. It does not mention its own author any more than the first two; but it asserts its author (in the preface to Theophilus) to have had 'perfect understanding of all things from the very first;' and in the preface to the Acts of the Apostles, which commences
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach'-—we have the author's testimony, whoever he was, that he is the author of some part of that book also. In the latter half of the Acts, the writer, speaking of himself together with Paul, uses the first person plural. In the first half of the Acts, however, this never occurs, nor does the writer, either there, or in the Gospel we call Luke's, ever hint that he had any personal acquaintance with Paul. Some scholars, who can judge of the Greek, conjecture that the ‘Acts' was written by two different hands; but there is no strict evidence as to who wrote the latter part, nor as to who wrote that earlier part which was certainly written by the person who wrote our 'Gospel of Luke.'
4. The earliest quotation expressly stated to be from any gospel, is from John, and is found in Theophilus of Antioch, about the year 172. This gospel about the same time was greatly prized by the Valentinians and Montanists, but was denied to be John's Gospel by the Alogi, and attributed by them to Cerinthus, because it did not harmonize with the other gospels. Irenæus, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, also in the latter half of the second century, tell us that the orthodox church recognised our four gospels as the works of the persons whose names they now bear, and separated them from many similar productions not containing a true record of the life of Jesus.
Now, how imperfect does the evidence for the authenticity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, appear to be, when we thus analyze it and present it in its nakedness, compared to the plausible picture it presents in Paley, and other writers on the 'Evidences! The testimony of Papias, even if it described our Gospels of Matthew and Mark, we have only in the secondary form of quotation by Eusebius, at the beginning of the fourth century. Justin Martyr's quotations have often only a resemblance to some passages in our Gospel of Matthew; and, like many other passages in the early Fathers, may have been taken from other gospels, now lost; or have been traditionally reported, from Christ's oral preaching. For Luke's authorship, it has been shewn, we have no early testimony; and no gospel is quoted with the name of its author before A.D. 172, when Theophilus of Antioch (the sixth bishop of that city in succession from the Apostles, according to Lardner) quotes the opening passage of our fourth gospel, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God," and ascribes it to ·John.' Irenæus must be placed with Theophilus of Antioch, in point of time, since he succeeded Pothinus, who was bishop of Lyons, in France, in 170—Pothinus being then ninety years old.
The words of Irenæus are"Matthew, then among the Jews, wrote a gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel at Rome, and founding a church there; and after their exit, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, delivered to us in writing the things that had been preached by Peter; and Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the gospel preached by him (Paul). Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon his breast, he likewise published a gospel while he dwelt at Ephesus in Asia."
After some remarks on this passage, Paley observes“I have said that the testimony of Irenæus in favour of our gospels is exclusive of all
others. I allude to a remarkable passage in his works, in which, for some reasons suffi. ciently fanciful, he endeavours to show that there could be neither more nor fewer gospels than four. With his argument we have no concern. The position itself proves that four, and only four, gospels were at that time publicly read and acknowledged. That these were our gospels, in the state in which we now have them, is shown from many other places of this writer besides that which we have already alleged. He mentions how Matthew begins his gospel-how Mark begins and ends his and their supposed reason for so doing. He enumerates at length the several passages of Christ's history in Luke, which are not found in any other of the evangelists. He states the particular design with which Saint John composed his gospel, and accounts for the doctrinal declarations which precede the narrative.”
Grant that our four gospels are word for word, and letter for letter, identical with the four gospels mentioned by Irenæus—yet the remark applied already, in the case of Papias, occurs now with like force: neither our Mark nor our Luke could have composed their books from independent sources, for they frequently copy Matthew-if it be granted that our Matthew wrote first. And although Dr. Paley 'has no concern' with the
reasons sufficiently fanciful' of Irenæus, why there can be but four veritable gospels, we must have a little concern with them while weighing the worth of the judgment of such a writer. “There ought to be but four gospels," says Irenæus, “because there are but four quarters of the world, four cardinal points, and Ezekiel saw but four animals!” Well might Paley shrewdly disclaim 'concern' with the “reasons sufficiently fanciful! Clever Paley—to keep respectable silence about these reasons, while striving with all the power of his masculine intellect to make a perfect chain of 'Evidences' for Christian and English readers, in the year of grace, 1794. It was too late in the day to produce the orthodox óreasons' of Irenæus.
We may grant that our four gospels are nearly or altogether identical with the four gospels read by Irenæus, at Lyons, between A.D. 170 and A.D. 180; but we cannot trust the judgment of such a reasoner,' respecting what he has heard of their authorship: we do not wonder that he did not perceive in the books themselves, à proof — three of them consisting so largely of passages composed of the very same words as well as ideas—that no two of them, and perhaps not one of them, could have been written independently.
But what ample space of time for the growth of legend upon a substratum of fact, in the lapse of 140 years after the death of Christ-for so long it is before we can say we have clear and positive evidence that our four narratives of the history of Christ are the identical narratives acknowledged by the Christian church, and attributed to the authors whose names they now bear. All the Apostles except John, are understood to have died before A.D. 100. The greater number of the Apostles are said to have dispersed themselves abroad. The gospel, at first, was preached orally-from the oral preaching of Christ, who wrote nothing himself. This oral gospel was, doubtless, the loose type for writing. Thus we find many sayings of the Apostles in Justin Martyr, not to be found in our gospels. One person began to write, and then another: perhaps some of the 'twelve. And then, what they wrote would be transcribed with additions or alterations; but, as the time sped on, whoever wrote would write with greater latitude, and more (after the stamp Paul gave to the 'Faith,' as well as owing to the particular tendency of the Jewish mind of the age) with the purpose of shewing that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, by his having fulfilled all that it was expected the Messiah should fulfil. The 'Gospels' multiplied; and, at length, from the diversifications of their
contents, it was found necessary to make a selection. The precise date at which the selection of four was made, we do not know; but we have seen that the first certain account we have of this selection gives 140 years from the death of Christ for the formation and increase of myth, or legend, upon a substratum of fact.
I have already indicated what must have been the peculiar mythical tendency of the inhabitants of Palestine, in the first and second centuries of our era: the belief that any one regarded as the Messiah--the so long expected deliverer of that subjugated people---must have fulfilled all that it was expected the Messiah should fusil. I desire that this may be kept fully in mind, since the whole of our exegesis will turn upon it. It is in this tendency of the Jewish mind that we are to look for the origin of the legends with which our gospels are encrusted: it is in the masterly investigation of this great source of error, that the powerfully analytical mind of Strauss has accomplished its completest triumphs. To him we owe the workman-like construction and polish of a key which enables us to unlock the difficulties of what is called 'gospel history,' instead of breaking the lock and scattering the fragments with revaling or contempt, as was so often attempted by our, no doubt honest, but rude and unskilful early English freethinkers, Woolston, Tindal, Blount, and others.
Let me observe, before entering on our course of criticism, that I use the terms myth, or legend, upon a substratum of fact,' with an especial purpose. I have no sympathy with those who treat the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, itself, as a legend. Speaking of Hume, Paley observes
“This author has provided an answer to every possible accumulation of historical proof, by telling us that we are not obliged to explain how the story of the evidence
Now I think that we are obliged, not perhaps to show by positive accounts how it did, but by a probable hypothesis how it might so happen.”
I think the labours of Strauss enable us to accept Paley's challenge, and to accept it without violating the rules on which we judge all other history. We do not throw the history of Rome into the fire, because it contains the legend of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf, the leap of Marcus Curtius into the gulph in the forum, and a host of other equally mythical accounts. All history has its myths; but we do not, on that account, throw away any history-and why then throw away the Gospel History'? It is perfectly true that there is no contemporary authority for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth: none whatever : for the alleged passage in Josephus is given up by Christian scholars, as well as doubters. But the
passages so often quoted from Tacitus and Pliny the younger—the genuineness of which is unquestioned-are proofs that the religion existed, and was widely spread, within a few years of the period affixed for the death of Jesus. The testimonies of these two philosophic Romans enable us, by carrying the evidence higher up, to demand why, when the probability of Christ's real existence is thus strengthened, we are required to believe that the religion had its origin in imagination solely, rather than in a substratum of fact. For my own part, I can only say that I hold myself to be acting much more rationally when I declare that I consider the real existence of Jesus of Nazareth historically proved, than I should be if I doubted it, and yielded to the supposition that the religion had no origin in a real person. History shows me that legends have gathered around many real personages;
and as I do not doubt their real existence because of the legends, why should I apply another rule of judgment to the instance of Jesus of Nazareth ?
If about seventy years after Christ's death Tacitus wrote that about
thirty years after the same event, Nero, to quell the rumour of his own guilt, charged certain persons with setting fire to Rome, and had them put to death with horrid cruelties; and that these persons were called Christians from “Christ, who suffered death in the reign of Tiberius, under his procurator, Pontius Pilate”—why should I doubt that the religion had its origin from the veritable person thus clearly pointed out? How could a merely imaginary existence be credited by Tacitus, who lived so near to the time? And if he reports a fact) how could numbers be found in Rome believing in Christ within thirty years after his crucifixion, if the crucifixion of such a person had never occurred ?
If Pliny the Younger wrote to the Emperor Trajan, also about seventy years after Christ's death, describing the spread of the Christian religion to be so great in his government of Pontus and Bithynia, that 'many of every age and of both sexes,' in the cities, villages, and open country, professed it, insomuch that it became difficult to sell the victims for Pagan sacrifice in the markets; and if he described the manners of the Christians in such terms as almost to realise the portraiture drawn of them in their own early writings, why should I doubt the Gospel account of the origin of the religion? How came it to spread so successfully thus early, if it were not grounded on some fact or facts?
I have never heard these questions answered satisfactorily: I do not expect to hear them answered. Simply premising that I shall use the terms * Matthew,' 'Mark,” ‘Luke,' and 'John, to avoid confusion, I now beg your attention to our critical enquiry into the real nature of the history of the Birth and Childhood of Jesus, as related in the Gospels.
Matthew and Luke only, give us narratives of Christ's birth and early life. Mark simply mentions Mary as the Mother of Jesus, and John mentions Joseph as his father: both Mark and John begin their history with John the Baptist, except that the fourth Evangelist has a remarkable preface concerning Christ's spiritual and divine nature, which we shall have to refer to at a future stage of our inquiry.
1. We have a Genealogy given by Matthew, and another by Luke. Let us begin at 'Abraham' with Matthew, reverse the order followed by Luke, and trace the genealogy also from 'Abraham,' according to him, making use also of the genealogies in the Old Testament, until we come to Zerubbabel, and note the result, in the following table :
Zorobabel The first thing which strikes us in Matthew's list is the omission of three names found in the lists from Kings and Chronicles, 'Ahaziah, Joash, Amariah.' This was, doubtless, done by Matthew for reasons sufficiently fanciful,' expressed by him in the 17th verse of his 1st chapter
“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations."
In order to make out his second series of fourteen (beginning with Solomon and ending with Joachim) he was compelled to omit three names found in the Old Testament lists. Our prevailing notions of 'plenary inspiration' are thus shaken in the outset. A New Testament writer differs from the Old, seemingly out of a merely fanciful' regard to curiously comparative numbers !
But Luke's list presents a still greater difficulty. He makes Salathiel (the father of Zorobabel according to Ezra, but the grandfather according to Chronicles) descend from David through nineteen generations (beginning with Nathan and ending with Neri), all of which have different names to the eighteen generations in Kings and Chronicles (beginning with Solomon and ending with Jehoiachin); and, of course, are utterly unlike the fifteen names of Matthew. It is in vain to say that each of the eighteen persons in Kings and Chronicles might have two names, and Luke may have given their surnames. Test this scheme of explanation, and it is destroyed as soon as you commence- for we know from the Hebrew history that Solomon and Nathan are two distinct historical personages—the one being the magnificent king who succeeded David, and the other the prophet who reproved him for a crime. How could Salathiel be descended both from Solomon and Nathan, and also through two entirely different lines of eighteen or nineteen persons? The varying numbers, 19, 18, 15the varying names--produce in us again the conviction that these records are not those of 'plenary inspiration.
And if such difficulties meet us here, what shall we say when we proceed to compare Luke with Matthew, in tracing the genealogy from Zorobabel to 'Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus ?' We cannot compare the Gospel accounts here with the Old Testament-for the names of all the sons of Zerubbabel, and all their descendants (as given in 1st Chron. iii. 19), are utterly unlike the names in Matthew and Luke.
Matthew's list is composed of the following eleven names:-
“Zorobabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadoc, Achim, Eliud, Eleazar, Matthan, Jacob, Joseph.”