Malankara World



By W. Sanday, M.A.



I should not be very much surprised if the general reader who may have followed our enquiry so far should experience at this point a certain feeling of disappointment. If he did not know beforehand something of the subject-matter that was to be enquired into, he might not unnaturally be led to expect round assertions, and plain, pointblank, decisive evidence. Such evidence has not been offered to him for the simple reason that it does not exist. In its stead we have collected a great number of inferences of very various degrees of cogency, from the possible and hypothetical, up to strong and very strong probability. Most of our time has been taken up in weighing and testing these details, and in the endeavour to assign to each as nearly as possible its just value. It could not be thought strange if some minds were impatient of such minutiae; and where this objection was not felt, it would still be very pardonable to complain that the evidence was at best inferential and probable.

An inference in which there are two or three steps may be often quite as strong as that in which there is only one, and probabilities may mount up to a high degree of what is called moral or practical certainty. I cannot but think that many of those which have been already obtained are of this character. I cannot but regard it as morally or practically certain that Marcion used our third Gospel; as morally or practically certain that all four Gospels were used in the Clementine Homilies; as morally or practically certain that the existence of three at least out of our four Gospels is implied in the writings of Justin; as probable in a lower degree that the four were used by Basilides; as not really disputable (apart from the presumption afforded by earlier writers) that they were widely used in the interval which separates the writings of Justin from those of Irenaeus.

All of these seem to me to be tolerably clear propositions. But outside these there seems to be a considerable amount of convergent evidence, the separate items of which are less convincing, but which yet derive a certain force from the mere fact that they are convergent. In the Apostolic Fathers, for example, there are instances of various kinds, some stronger and some weaker; but the important point to notice is that they confirm each other. Every new case adds to the total weight of the evidence, and helps to determine the bearing of those which seem ambiguous.

It cannot be too much borne in mind that the evidence with which we have been dealing is cumulative; and as in all other cases of cumulative evidence the subtraction of any single item is of less importance than the addition of a new one. Supposing it to be shown that some of the allusions which are thought to be taken from our Gospels were merely accidental coincidences of language, this would not materially affect the part of the evidence which could not be so explained. Supposing even that some of these allusions could be definitely referred to an apocryphal source, the possibility would be somewhat, but not so very much, increased that other instances which bear resemblance to our Gospels were also in their origin apocryphal. But on the other hand, if a single instance of the use of a canonical Gospel really holds good, it is proof of the existence of that Gospel, and every new instance renders the conclusion more probable, and makes it more and more difficult to account for the phenomena in any other way.

The author of 'Supernatural Religion' seems to have overlooked this. He does not seem to have considered the mutual support which the different instances taken together lend to each other. He summons them up one by one, and if any sort of possibility can be shown of accounting for them in any other way than by the use of our Gospels he dismisses them altogether. He makes no allowance for any residual weight they may have. He does not ask which is the more probable hypothesis. If the authentication of a document is incomplete, if the reference of a passage is not certain, he treats it as if it did not exist. He forgets the old story of the faggots, which, weak singly, become strong when combined. His scales will not admit of any evidence short of the highest. Fractional quantities find no place in his reckoning. If there is any flaw, if there is any possible loophole for escape, he does not make the due deduction and accept the evidence with that deduction, but he ignores it entirely, and goes on to the next item just as if he were leaving nothing behind him.

This is really part and parcel of what was pointed out at the outset as the fundamental mistake of his method. It is much too forensic. It takes as its model, not the proper canons of historical enquiry, but the procedure of English law. Yet the inappropriateness of such a method is seen as soon as we consider its object and origin. The rules of evidence current in our law courts were constructed specially with a view to the protection of the accused, and upon the assumption that it is better nine guilty persons should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned. Clearly such rules will be inapplicable to the historical question which of two hypotheses is most likely to be true. The author forgets that the negative hypothesis is just as much a hypothesis as the positive, and needs to be defended in precisely the same manner. Either the Gospels were used, or they were not used. In order to prove the second side of this alternative, it is necessary to show not merely that it is _possible_ that they were not used, but that the theory is the _more probable_ of the two, and accounts better for the facts. But the author of 'Supernatural Religion' hardly professes or attempts to do this. If he comes across a quotation apparently taken from our Gospels he is at once ready with his reply, 'But it may be taken from a lost Gospel.' Granted; it may. But the extant Gospel is there, and the quotation referable to it; the lost Gospel is an unknown entity which may contain anything or nothing. If we admit that the possibility of quotation from a lost Gospel impairs the certainty of the reference to an extant Gospel, it is still quite another thing to argue that it is the more probable explanation and an explanation that the critic ought to accept. In very few cases, I believe, has the author so much as attempted to do this.

We might then take a stand here, and on the strength of what can be satisfactorily proved, as well as of what can be probably inferred, claim to have sufficiently established the use and antiquity of the Gospels. This is, I think, quite a necessary conclusion from the data hitherto collected.

But there is a further objection to be made to the procedure in 'Supernatural Religion.' If the object were to obtain clear and simple and universally appreciable evidence, I do not hesitate to say that the enquiry ends just where it ought to have begun. Through the faulty method that he has employed the author forgets that he has a hypothesis to make good and to carry through. He forgets that he has to account on the negative theory, just as we account on the positive, for a definite state of things. It may sound paradoxical, but there is really no great boldness in the paradox, when we affirm that at least the high antiquity of the Gospels could be proved, even if not one jot or tittle of the evidence that we have been discussing had existed. Supposing that all those fragmentary remains of the primitive Christian literature that we have been ransacking so minutely had been swept away, supposing that the causes that have handed it down to us in such a mutilated and impaired condition had done their work still more effectually, and that for the first eighty years of the second century there was no Christian literature extant at all; still I maintain that, in order to explain the phenomena that we find after that date, we should have to recur to the same assumptions that our previous enquiry would seem to have established for us.

Hitherto we have had to grope our way with difficulty and care; but from this date onwards all ambiguity and uncertainty disappears. It is like emerging out of twilight into the broad blaze of day. There is really a greater disproportion than we might expect between the evidence of the end of the century and that which leads up to it. From Justin to Irenaeus the Christian writings are fragmentary and few, but with Irenaeus a whole body of literature seems suddenly to start into being. Irenaeus is succeeded closely by Clement of Alexandria, Clement by Tertullian, Tertullian by Hippolytus and Origen, and the testimony which these writers bear to the Gospel is marvellously abundant and unanimous. I calculate roughly that Irenaeus quotes directly 193 verses of the first Gospel and 73 of the fourth. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian must have quoted considerably more, while in the extant writings of Origen the greater part of the New Testament is actually quoted [Endnote 315:1].

But more than this; by the time of Irenaeus the canon of the four Gospels, as we understand the word now, was practically formed. We have already seen that this was the case in the fragment of Muratori. Irenaeus is still more explicit. In the famous passage [Endnote 315:2] which is so often quoted as an instance of the weak-mindedness of the Fathers, he lays it down as a necessity of things that the Gospels should be four in number, neither less nor more:--

'For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live, as there are also four universal winds, and as the Church is scattered over all the earth, and the Gospel is the pillar and base of the Church and the breath (or spirit) of life, it is likely that it should have four pillars breathing immortality on every side and kindling afresh the life of men. Whence it is evident that the Word, the architect of all things, who sitteth upon the cherubim and holdeth all things together, having been made manifest unto men, gave to us the Gospel in a fourfold shape, but held together by one Spirit. As David, entreating for His presence, saith: Thou that sittest upon the Cherubim show thyself. For the Cherubim are of fourfold visage, and their visages are symbols of the economy of the Son of man.... And the Gospels therefore agree with them over which presideth Jesus Christ. That which is according to John declares His generation from the Father sovereign and glorious, saying thus: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.... But the Gospel according to Luke, as having a sacerdotal character, begins with Zacharias the priest offering incense unto God.... But Matthew records His human generation, saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.... Mark took his beginning from the prophetic Spirit coming down as it were from on high among men. The beginning, he says, of the Gospel according as it is written in Esaias the prophet, &c.'

Irenaeus also makes mention of the origin of the Gospels, claiming for their authors the gift of Divine inspiration [Endnote 316:1]:--

'For after that our Lord rose from the dead and they were endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon them from on high, they were fully informed concerning all things, and had a perfect knowledge: they went out to the ends of the earth, preaching the Gospel of those good things that God hath given to us and proclaiming heavenly peace to men, having indeed both all in equal measure and each one singly the Gospel of God. So then Matthew among the Jews put forth a written Gospel in their own tongue while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel in Rome and founding the Church. After their decease (or 'departure'), Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself too has handed down to us in writing the subjects of Peter's preaching. And Luke, the companion of Paul, put down in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon His breast, likewise published his Gospel while he dwelt at Ephesus in Asia.'

We have not now to determine the exact value of these traditions; what we have rather to notice is the fact that the Gospels are at this time definitely assigned to their reputed authors, and that they are already regarded as containing a special knowledge divinely imparted. It is evident that Irenaeus would not for a moment think of classing any other Gospel by the side of the now strictly canonical four.

Clement of Alexandria, who, Eusebius says, 'was illustrious for his writings,' in the year 194 gives a somewhat similar, but not quite identical, account of the composition of the second Gospel [Endnote 317:1]. He differs from Irenaeus in making St. Peter cognisant of the work of his follower. Neither is he quite consistent with himself; in one place he makes St. Peter 'authorise the Gospel to be read in the churches;' in another he says that the Apostle 'neither forbade nor encouraged it' [Endnote 317:2]. These statements have both of them been preserved for us by Eusebius, who also alleges, upon the authority of Clement, that the 'Gospels containing the genealogies were written first.' 'John,' he says, 'who came last, observing that the natural details had been set forth clearly in the Gospels, at the instance of his friends and with the inspiration of the Spirit ([Greek: pneumati theophoraethenta]), wrote a spiritual Gospel' [Endnote 317:3].

Clement draws a distinct line between the canonical and uncanonical Gospels. In quoting an apocryphal saying supposed to have been given in answer to Salome, he says, expressly: 'We do not find this saying in the four Gospels that have been handed down to us, but in that according to the Egyptians' [Endnote 317:4].

Tertullian is still more exclusive. He not only regards the four Gospels as inspired and authoritative, but he makes no use of any extra-canonical Gospel. The Gospels indeed held for him precisely the same position that they do with orthodox Christians now. He says respecting the Gospels: 'In the first place we lay it down that the evangelical document (evangelicum instrumentum [Endnote 318:1]) has for its authors the Apostles, to whom this office of preaching the Gospel was committed by the Lord Himself. If it has also Apostolic men, yet not these alone but in company with Apostles and after Apostles. For the preaching of disciples might have been suspected of a desire for notoriety if it were not supported by the authority of Masters, nay of Christ, who made the Apostles Masters. In fine, of the Apostles, John and Matthew first implant in us faith, Luke and Mark renew it, starting from the same principles, so far as relates to the one God the Creator and His Christ born of the virgin, to fulfil the law and the prophets' [Endnote 318:2]. He grounds the authority of the Gospels upon the fact that they proceed either from Apostles or from those who held close relation to Apostles, like Mark, 'the interpreter of Peter,' and Luke, the companion of Paul [Endnote 318:3]. In another passage he expressly asserts their authenticity [Endnote 318:4], and he claimed to use them and them alone as his weapons in the conflict with heresy [Endnote 318:5].

No less decided is the assertion of Origen, who writes: 'As I have learnt from tradition concerning the four Gospels, which alone are undisputed in the Church of God under heaven, that the first in order of the scripture is that according to Matthew, who was once a publican but afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ ... The second is that according to Mark, who wrote as Peter suggested to him ... The third is that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul ... Last of all that according to John' [Endnote 319:1]. And again in his commentary upon the Preface to St. Luke's Gospel he expressly guards against the possibility that it might be thought to have reference to the other (Canonical) Gospels: 'In this word of Luke's "_have taken in hand_" there is a latent accusation of those who without the grace of the Holy Spirit have rushed to the composing of Gospels. Matthew, indeed, and Mark, and John, and Luke, have not "_taken in hand_" to write, but _have written_ Gospels, being full of the Holy Spirit ... The Church has four Gospels; the Heresies have many' [Endnote 319:2].

But besides the Fathers, and without going beyond the bounds of the second century, there is other evidence of the most distinct and important kind for the existence of a canon of the Gospels. Among the various translations of the New Testament one certainly, two very probably, and three perhaps probably, were made in the course of the second century.

The old Latin (as distinct from Jerome's revised) version of the Gospels and with them of a considerable portion of the New Testament was, I think it may be said, undoubtedly used by Tertullian and by the Latin translator of Irenaeus, who appears to be quoted by Tertullian, and in that case could not be placed later than 200 A.D. [Endnote 320:1] On this point I shall quote authorities that will hardly be questioned. And first that of a writer who is accustomed to weigh, with the accuracy of true science, every word that he puts down, and who upon this subject is giving the result of a most minute and careful investigation. Speaking of the Latin translation of the New Testament as found in Tertullian he says: 'Although single portions of this, especially passages which are translated in several different ways, may be due to Tertullian himself, still it cannot be doubted that in by far the majority of cases he has followed the text of a version received in his time by the Africans and specially the Carthaginian Christians, and made perhaps long before his time, and that consequently his quotations represent the form of the earliest Latinized Scriptures accepted in those regions' [Endnote 320:2]. Again: 'In the first place we may conclude from the writings of Tertullian, that remarkable Carthaginian presbyter at the close of the second century, that in his time there existed several, perhaps many, Latin translations of the Bible ... Tertullian himself frequently quotes in his writings one and the same passage of Scripture in entirely different forms, which indeed in many cases may be explained by his quoting freely from memory, but certainly not seldom has its ground in the diversity of the translations used at the time' [Endnote 321:1]. On this last point, the unity of the Old Latin version, there is a difference of opinion among scholars, but none as to its date. Thus Dr. Tregelles writes: 'The expressions of Tertullian have been rightly rested on as showing that he knew and recognised _one translation_, and that this version was in several places (in his opinion) opposed to what was found "in Graeco authentico." This version must have been made a sufficiently long time before the age when Tertullian wrote, and before the Latin translator of Irenaeus, for it to have got into general circulation. This leads us back _towards_ the middle of the second century at the latest: how much _earlier_ the version may have been we have no proof; for we are already led back into the time when no records tell us anything respecting the North African Church' [Endnote 321:2]. Dr. Tregelles, it should be remembered, is speaking as a text critic, of which branch of science his works are one of the noblest monuments, and not directly of the history of the Canon. His usual opponent in text critical matters, but an equally exact and trustworthy writer, Dr. Scrivener, agrees with him here both as to the unity of the version and as to its date from the middle of the century [Endnote 321:3]. Dr. Westcott too writes in his well-known and valuable article on the Vulgate in Smith's Dictionary [Endnote 321:4]: 'Tertullian distinctly recognises the general currency of a Latin Version of the New Testament, though not necessarily of every book at present included in the Canon, which even in his time had been able to mould the popular language. This was characterised by a "rudeness" and "simplicity," which seems to point to the nature of its origin.' I do not suppose that the currency at the end of the second century of a Latin version, containing the four Gospels and no others, will be questioned [Endnote 322:1].

With regard to the Syriac version there is perhaps a somewhat greater room to doubt, though Dr. Tregelles begins his account of this version by saying: 'It may stand as an admitted fact that a version of the New Testament in Syriac existed in the second century' [Endnote 322:2]. Dr. Scrivener also says [Endnote 322:3]: 'The universal belief of later ages, and the very nature of the case, seem to render it unquestionable that the Syrian Church was possessed of a translation both of the Old and New Testament, which it used habitually, and for public worship exclusively, from the second century of our era downwards: as early as A.D. 170 [Greek: ho Syros] is cited by Melito on Genesis xxii. 13.' The external evidence, however, does not seem to be quite strong enough to bear out any very positive assertion. The appeal to the Syriac by Melito [Endnote 322:4] is pretty conclusive as to the existence of a Syriac Old Testament, which, being of Christian origin, would probably be accompanied by a translation of the New. But on the other hand, the language of Eusebius respecting Hegesippus ([Greek: ek te tou kath' Hebraious euangeliou kai tou Syriakou ... tina tithaesin]) seems to be rightly interpreted by Routh as having reference not to any '_version_ of the Gospel, but to a separate Syro-Hebraic (?) Gospel' like that according to the Hebrews. In any case the Syriac Scriptures 'were familiarly used and claimed as his national version by Ephraem of Edessa' (299-378 A.D.) as well as by Aphraates in writings dating A.D. 337 and 344 [Endnote 323:1].

A nearer approximation of date would be obtained by determining the age of the version represented by the celebrated Curetonian fragments. There is a strong tendency among critics, which seems rapidly approaching to a consensus, to regard this as bearing the same relation to the Peshito that the Old Latin does to Jerome's Vulgate, that of an older unrevised to a later revised version. The strength of the tendency in this direction may be seen by the very cautious and qualified opinion expressed in the second edition of his Introduction by Dr. Scrivener, who had previously taken a decidedly antagonistic view, and also by the fact that Mr. M'Clellan, who is usually an ally of Dr. Scrivener, here appears on the side of his opponents [Endnote 323:2]. All the writers who have hitherto been mentioned place either the Curetonian Syriac or the Peshito in the second century, and the majority, as we have seen, the Curetonian. Dr. Tregelles, on a comparative examination of the text, affirms that 'the Curetonian Syriac presents such a text as we might have concluded would be current in the second century' [Endnote 323:3]. English text criticism is probably on the whole in advance of Continental; but it may be noted that Bleek (who however was imperfectly acquainted with the Curetonian form of the text) yet asserts that the Syriac version 'belongs without doubt to the second century A.D.' [Endnote 324:1] Reuss [Endnote 324:2] places it at the beginning, Hilgenfeld towards the end [Endnote 324:3], of the third century.

The question as to the age of the version is not necessarily identical with that as to the age of the particular form of it preserved in Cureton's fragments. This would hold the same sort of relation to the original text of the version that (e.g.) a, or b, or c--any primitive codex of the version--holds to the original text of the Old Latin. It also appears that the translation into Syriac of the different Gospels, conspicuously of St. Matthew's, was made by different hands and at different times [Endnote 324:4]. Bearing these considerations in mind, we should still be glad to know what answer those who assign the Curetonian text to the second century make to the observation that it contains the reading [Greek: Baethabara] in John i. 28 which is generally assumed to be not older than Origen [Endnote 324:5]. On the other hand, the Curetonian, like the Old Latin, still has in John vii. 8 [Greek: ouk] for [Greek: oupo]--a change which, according to Dr. Scrivener [Endnote 324:6], 'from the end of the third century downwards was very generally and widely diffused.' This whole set of questions needs perhaps a more exhaustive discussion than it has obtained hitherto [Endnote 324:7].

The third version that may be mentioned is the Egyptian. In regard to this Dr. Lightfoot says [Endnote 325:1], that 'we should probably not be exaggerating if we placed one or both of the principal Egyptian versions, the Memphitic and the Thebaic, or at least parts of them, before the close of the second century.' In support of this statement he quotes Schwartz, the principal authority on the subject, 'who will not be suspected of any theological bias.' The historical notices on which the conclusion is founded are given in Scrivener's 'Introduction.' If we are to put a separate estimate upon these, it would be perhaps that the version was made in the second century somewhat more probably than not; it was certainly not made later than the first half of the third [Endnote 325:2].

Putting this version however on one side, the facts that have to be explained are these. Towards the end of the second century we find the four Gospels in general circulation and invested with full canonical authority, in Gaul, at Rome, in the province of Africa, at Alexandria, and in Syria. Now if we think merely of the time that would be taken in the transcription and dissemination of MSS., and of the struggle that works such as the Gospels would have to go through before they could obtain recognition, and still more an exclusive recognition, this alone would tend to overthrow any such theory as that one of the Gospels, the fourth, was not composed before 150 A.D., or indeed anywhere near that date.

But this is not by any means all. It is merely the first step in a process that, quite independently of the other external evidence, thrusts the composition of the Gospels backwards and backwards to a date certainly as early as that which is claimed for them.

Let us define a little more closely the chronological bearings of the subject. There is a decidedly preponderant probability that the Muratorian fragment was not written much later than 170 A.D. Irenaeus, as we have seen, was writing in the decade 180-190 A.D. But his evidence is surely valid for an earlier date than this. He is usually supposed to have been born about the year 140 A.D. [Endnote 326:1], and the way in which he describes his relations to Polycarp will not admit of a date many years later. But his strong sense of the continuity of Church doctrine and the exceptional veneration that he accords to the Gospels seem alone to exclude the supposition that any of them should have been composed in his own lifetime. He is fond of quoting the 'Presbyters,' who connected his own age with that, if not of the Apostles, yet of Apostolic men. Pothinus, bishop of Lyons, whom he succeeded, was more than ninety years old at the time of his martyrdom in the persecution of A.D. 177 [Endnote 326:2], and would thus in his boyhood be contemporary with the closing years of the last Evangelist. Irenaeus also had before him a number of writings--some, e.g. the works of the Marcosians, in addition to those that have been discussed in the course of this work--in which our Gospels are largely quoted, and which, to say the least, were earlier than his own time of writing.

Clement of Alexandria began to flourish, ([Greek: egnorizeto]) [Endnote 327:1], in the reign of Commodus (180-190 A.D.), and had obtained a still wider celebrity as head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in the time of Severus [Endnote 327:2] (193- 211). The opinions therefore to which he gives expression in his works of this date were no doubt formed at a earlier period. He too appeals to the tradition of which he had been himself a recipient. He speaks of his teachers, 'those blessed and truly memorable men,' one in Greece, another in Magna Graecia, a third in Coele-Syria, a fourth in Egypt, a fifth in Assyria, a sixth in Palestine, to whom the doctrine of the Apostles had been handed down from father to son [Endnote 327:3].

Tertullian is still bolder. In his controversy with Marcion he confidently claims as on his side the tradition of the Apostolic Churches. By it is guaranteed the Gospel of St. Luke which he is defending, and not only that, but the other Gospels [Endnote 327:4]. In one passage Tertullian even goes so far as to send his readers to the Churches of Corinth, Philippi, &c. for the very autographs ('authenticae literae') of St. Paul's Epistles [Endnote 327:5]. But this is merely a characteristic flourish of rhetoric. All for which the statements of Tertullian may safely be said to vouch is, that the Gospels had held their 'prerogative' position within his memory and that of most members of the Church to which he belonged.

But the evidence of the Fathers is most decisive when it is unconscious. That the Gospels as used by the Christian writers at the end of the first century, so far from being of recent composition, had already a long history behind them, is nothing less than certain. At this date they exhibit a text which bears the marks of frequent transcription and advanced corruption. 'Origen's,' says Dr. Scrivener [Endnote 328:1], 'is the highest name among the critics and expositors of the early Church; he is perpetually engaged in the discussion of various readings of the New Testament, and employs language in describing the then state of the text, which would be deemed strong if applied even to its present condition with the changes which sixteen more centuries must needs have produced ... Respecting the sacred autographs, their fate or their continued existence, he seems to have had no information, and to have entertained no curiosity: they had simply passed by and were out of his reach. Had it not been for the diversities of copies in all the Gospels on other points (he writes) he should not have ventured to object to the authenticity of a certain passage (Matt. xix. 19) on internal grounds: "But now," saith he, "great in truth has become the diversity of copies, be it from the negligence of certain scribes, or from the evil daring of some who correct what is written, or from those who in correcting add or take away what they think fit."' This is respecting the MSS. of one region only, and now for another [Endnote 328:2]: 'It is no less true to fact than paradoxical in sound, that the worst corruptions to which the New Testament has ever been subjected, originated within a hundred years after it was composed; that Irenaeus and the African Fathers and the whole Western, with a portion of the Syrian Church, used far inferior manuscripts to those employed by Stunica, or Erasmus, or Stephens thirteen centuries later, when moulding the Textus Receptus.' Possibly this is an exaggeration, but no one will maintain that it is a very large exaggeration of the facts.

I proceed to give a few examples which serve to bring out the antiquity of the text. And first from Irenaeus.

There is a very remarkable passage in the work Against Heresies [Endnote 329:1], bearing not indeed directly upon the Gospels, but upon another book of the New Testament, and yet throwing so much light upon the condition of the text in Irenaeus' time that it may be well to refer to it here. In discussing the signification of the number of the beast in Rev. xiii. 18, Irenaeus already found himself confronted by a variety of reading: some MSS. with which he was acquainted read 616 ([Greek: chis']) for 666 ([Greek: chxs']). Irenaeus himself was not in doubt that the latter was the true reading. He says that it was found in all the 'good and ancient copies,' and that it was further attested by 'those who had seen John face to face.' He thinks that the error was due to the copyists, who had substituted by mistake the letter [Greek: i] for [Greek: x]. He adds his belief that God would pardon those who had done this without any evil motive.

Here we have opened out a kind of vista extending back almost to the person of St. John himself. There is already a multiplicity of MSS., and of these some are set apart 'as good and ancient' ([Greek: en pasi tois spoudaiois kai archaiois antigraphois]). The method by which the correct reading had to be determined was as much historical as it is with us at the present day.

A not dissimilar state of things is indicated somewhat less explicitly in regard to the first Gospel. In the text of Matt. i. 18 all the Greek MSS., with one exception, read, [Greek: tou de Iaesou Christou hae genesis outos aen], B alone has [Greek: tou de Christou Iaesou]. The Greek of D is wanting at this point, but the Latin, d, reads with the best codices of the Old Latin, the Vulgate, and the Curetonian Syriac, 'Christi autem generatio sic erat' (or an equivalent). Now Irenaeus quotes this passage three times. In the first passage [Endnote 330:1] the original Greek text of Irenaeus has been preserved in a quotation of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (the context also by Anastasius Sinaita, but these words appear to be omitted); and the reading of Germanus corresponds to that of the great mass of MSS. This however is almost certainly false, as the ancient Latin translation of Irenaeus has 'Christi autem generatio,' and it was extremely natural for a copyist to substitute the generally received text, especially in a combination of words that was so familiar. Irenaeus leaves no doubt as to his own reading on the next occasion when he quotes the passage, as he does twice over. Here he says expressly: 'Ceterum, potuerat dicere Matthaeus: _Jesu vero generatio sic erat_; sed praevidens Spiritus sanctus depravatores, et praemuniens contra fraudulentiam eorum, per Matthaeum ait: _Christi autem generatio sic erat_' [Endnote 330:2]. Irenaeus founds an argument upon this directed against the heretics who supposed that the Christus and Jesus were not identical, but that Jesus was the son of Mary, upon whom the aeon Christus afterwards descended. In opposition to these Irenaeus maintains that the Christus and Jesus are one and the same person.

There is a division of opinion among modern critics as to which of the two readings is to be admitted into the text; Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf (eighth edition), and Scrivener support the reading of the MSS.; Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, and M'Clellan prefer that of Irenaeus. The presence of this reading in the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac proves its wide diffusion. At the same time it is clear that Irenaeus himself was aware of the presence of the other reading in some copies which he regarded as bearing the marks of heretical depravation.

It is unfortunate that fuller illustration cannot be given from Irenaeus, but the number of the quotations from the Gospels of which the Greek text still remains is not large, and where we have only the Latin interpretation we cannot be sure that the actual text of Irenaeus is before us. Much uncertainty is thus raised. For instance, a doubt is expressed by the editors of Irenaeus whether the words 'without a cause' ([Greek: eikae]--sine caussa) in the quotation of Matt. v. 22 [Endnote 331:1] belong to the original text or not. Probably they did so, as they are found in the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac and in Western authorities generally. They are wanting however in B, in Origen, and 'in the true copies' according to Jerome, &c. The words are expunged from the sacred text by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, and M'Clellan. There is a less weight of authority for their retention. In any case the double reading was certainly current at the end of the second century, as the words are found in Irenaeus and omitted by Tertullian.

The elaborately varied readings of Matt. xi. 25-27 and Matt. xix. 16, 17 there can be little doubt are taken from the canonical text. They are both indeed found in a passage (Adv. Haer. i. 20. 2, 3) where Irenaeus is quoting the heretical Marcosians; and various approximations are met with, as we have seen, under ambiguous circumstances in Justin, the Clementine Homilies, and Marcion. But similar approximations are also found in Irenaeus himself (speaking in his own person), in Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Epiphanius, who are undoubtedly quoting from our Gospels; so that the presence of the variations at that early date is proved, though in the first case they receive none, and in the second very limited, support from the extant MSS. [Endnote 332:1] A variety of reading that was in the first instance accidental seemed to afford a handle either to the orthodox or to heretical parties, and each for a time maintained its own; but with the victory of the orthodox cause the heretical reading gave way, and was finally suppressed before the time at which the extant MSS. were written.

These are really conspicuous instances of the confusion of text already existing, but I forbear to press them because, though I do not doubt myself the correctness of the account that has been given of them, still there is just the ambiguity alluded to, and I do not wish to seem to assume the truth of any particular view.

For minor variations the text of Irenaeus cannot be used satisfactorily, because it is always doubtful whether the Latin version has correctly reproduced the original. And even in those comparatively small portions where the Greek is still preserved, it has come down to us through the medium of other writers, and we have just had an instance how easily the distinctive features of the text might be obliterated.

Neither of these elements of uncertainty exists in the case of Tertullian; and therefore, as the text of his New Testament quotations has been edited in a very exact and careful form, I shall illustrate what has been said respecting the corruptions introduced in the second century chiefly from him. The following may be taken as a few of the instances in which the existence of a variety of reading can be verified by a comparison of Tertullian's text with that of the MSS. The brackets (as before) indicate partial support.

Matt. iii. 8. Dignos poenitentiae fructus (_Pudic_. 10). [Greek: Karpous axious taes metanoias] Textus Receptus, L, U, 33, a, g'2, m, Syrr. Crt. and Pst., etc. [Greek: Karpon axion t. met]. B, C (D), [Greek: D], 1, etc.; Vulg., b, c, d, f, ff'1, Syr. Hcl., Memph., Theb., Iren., Orig., etc. [Tertullian himself has the singular in _Hermog._ 12, so that he seems to have had both readings in his copies.]

Matt. v. 4, 5. The received order 'beati lugentes' and 'beati mites' is followed in _Pat_. 11 [Rönsch p. 589 and Tisch., correcting Treg.], So [Hebrew: Aleph symbol], B, C, rel., b, f, Syrr. Pst. and Hcl., Memph., Arm., Aeth. Order inverted in D, 33, Vulg., a, c, ff'1, g'1.2, h, k, l, Syr. Crt., Clem., Orig., Eus., Hil.

Matt. v. 16. 'Luceant opera vestra' for 'luceat lux vestra,' Tert. (bis). So Hil., Ambr., Aug., Celest. [see above, p. 134] against all MSS. and versions.

Matt. v. 28. Qui viderit ad concupiscentiam, etc. This verse is cited six times by Tertullian, and Rönsch says (p. 590) that 'in these six citations almost every variant of the Greek text is represented.'

Matt. v. 48. Qui est in caelis: [Greek: ho en tois ouranois], Textus Receptus, with [Greek: Delta symbol], E'2, rel., b, c, d, g'1, h, Syrr. Crt. and Pst., Clem., [Greek: ho ouranios], [Hebrew: Aleph symbol], B, D'2, Z, and i, 33, Vulg., a, f, etc.

Matt. vi. 10. Fiat voluntas tua in caelis et in terra, omitting 'sicut.' So D, a, b, c, Aug. (expressly, 'some codices').

Matt. xi. ii. Nemo major inter natos feminarum Joanne baptizatore.

'The form of this citation, which neither corresponds with Matt. xi. 11 nor with Luke vii. 28, coincides almost exactly with the words which in both the Greek and Latin text of the Codex Bezae form the conclusion of Luke vii. 26, [Greek: [hoti] oudeis meizon en gennaetois gunaikon [prophaetaes] Ioannou tou baptistou]' (Rönsch, p. 608).

Matt. xiii. 15. Sanem: [Greek: iasômai], K, U, X, [Greek: Delta], I; Latt. (exc. d), Syr. Crt.; [Greek: iasomai], B, C, D, [Hebrew: Aleph symbol], rel.

Matt. xv. 26. Non est (only), so Eus. in Ps. 83; [Greek: exestin], D, a, b, c, ff, g'1, 1, Syr. Crt., Orig., Hil.; [Greek: ouk estin kalon], B, C, [Hebrew aleph], rel., Vulg., c, f, g'2, k, Orig.

There are of course few quotations that can be distinctly identified as taken from St. Mark, but among these may be noticed:--

Mark i. 24. Scimus: [Greek: oidamen se], [Hebrew aleph], L, [Greek: Delta], Memph., Iren., Orig., Eus.; [Greek: oida se tis ei], A, B, C, D, rel., Latt., Syrr.

Mark ix. 7. Hunc audite: [Greek: autou akouete], A, X, rel., b, f, Syrr.; [Greek: akouete autou], [Hebrew: aleph] B, C, D, L, a, c, ff'1, etc. [This may be however from Matt. xvii. 5, where Tertullian's reading has somewhat stronger support.]

The variations in quotations from St. Luke have been perhaps sufficiently illustrated in the chapter on Marcion. We may therefore omit this Gospel and pass to St. John. A very remarkable reading meets us at the outset.

John i. 13. Non ex sanguine nec ex voluntate carnis nec ex voluntate viri, sed ex deo natus est. The Greek of all the MSS. and Versions, with the single exception of b of the Old Latin, is [Greek: oi egennaethaesan]. A sentence is thus applied to Christ that was originally intended to be applied to the Christian. Tertullian (_De Carne Christ._ 19, 24), though he also had the right reading before him, boldly accuses the Valentinians of a falsification, and lays stress upon the reading which he adopts as proof of the veritable birth of Christ from a virgin. The same text is found in b (Codex Veronensis) of the Old Latin, Pseudo- Athanasius, the Latin translator of Origen's commentary on St. Matthew, in Augustine, and three times in Irenaeus. The same codex has, like Tertullian, the singular ex sanguine for the plural [Greek: ex ahimaton]: so Eusebius and Hilary.

John iii. 36. Manebit (=[Greek: meneî], for [Greek: ménei]). So b, e, g, Syr. Pst., Memph., Aeth., Iren., Cypr.; against a, c, d, f, ff, Syrr. Crt. and Hcl., etc.

John v. 3, 4. The famous paragraph which describes the moving of the waters of the pool of Bethesda was found in Tertullian's MS. It is also found in the mass of MSS., in the Old Latin and Vulgate, in Syrr. Pst. and Jer., and in some MSS. of Memph. It is omitted in [Hebrew: Aleph symbol], B, C, D (v. 4), f, l, Syr. Crt., Theb., Memph. (most MSS.). Tertullian gives the name of the pool as Bethsaida with B, Vulg., c, Syr. Hcl., Memph. Most of the authorities read [Greek: baethesda]. [Greek: baethzatha, baezatha], Berzeta, Belzatha, and Betzeta are also found.

John v. 43. Recepistis, perf. for pres. ([Greek: lambanete]). So a, b, Iren., Vigil., Ambr., Jer.

John vi. 39. Non perdam ex eo quicquam. Here 'quicquam' is an addition (=[Greek: maeden]), found in D, a, b, ff, Syr. Crt.

John vi. 51. Et panis quem ego dedero pro salute mundi, caro mea est. This almost exactly corresponds with the reading of [Hebrew: Aleph], [Greek: ho artos hon ego doso huper taes tou kosmou zoaes, hae sarx mou estin]. Similarly, but with inversion of the last two clauses ([Greek: hae sarx mou estin huper taes tou kosmou zoaes]), B, C, D and T, 33, Vulg., a, b, c, e, m, Syr. Crt., Theb., Aeth., Orig., Cypr. The received text is [Greek: kai ho artos [de] dae ego doso, hae sarx mou estin aen ego doso huper taes tou kosmou zoaes], after E, G, H, K, M, S, etc.

John xii. 30. Venit (= [Greek: aelthen] for [Greek: gegonen]), with D (Tregelles), [also a, b, l, n (?), Vulg. (_fuld_.), Hil., Victorin.; Rönsch].

The instances that have been here given are all, or nearly all, false readings on the part of Tertullian. It is, of course, only as such that they are in point for the present enquiry. Some few of those mentioned have been admitted into the text by certain modern editors. Thus, on Matt. v. 4, 5 Tertullian's reading finds support in Westcott and Hort: and M'Clellan, against Tischendorf and Tregelles. [This instance perhaps should not be pressed. I leave it standing, because it shows interesting relations between Tertullian and the various forms of the Old Latin.] The passage omitted in John v. 3, 4 is argued for strenuously by Mr. M'Clellan, with more hesitation by Dr. Scrivener, and in 'Supernatural Religion' (sixth edition), against Tregelles, Tischendorf, Milligan, Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort. In the same passage Bethsaida is read by Lachmann (margin) and by Westcott and Hort. In John vi. 51 the reading of Tertullian and the Sinaitic Codex is defended by Tischendorf; the approximate reading of B, C, D, &c. is admitted by Lachmann, Tregelles, Milligan, Westcott and Hort, and the received text has an apologist in Mr. M'Clellan (with Tholuck and Wordsworth). On these points then it should be borne in mind that Tertullian _may_ present the true reading; on all the others he is pretty certainly wrong.

Let us now proceed to analyse roughly these erroneous (in three cases _doubtfully_ erroneous) readings. We shall find [Endnote 336:1] that Tertullian--

>/table> GREEK FATHERS. Clement of Alexandria, in Matt.
Agrees with Differs from
x (Codex Sinaiticus) in Mark in Matt. iii. 18, v. 16, v. 48,
i. 2 4, John vi. 51. vi. 10, xi. 11, xiii. 15, xv.
26, Mark ix. 7, John i. 13,
v. 3, 43, v. 43, vi. 39, xii. 30.
A (Codex Alexandrinus) in A in Mark i. 24, John i. 13,
Mark ix. 7, John v. 3, 4. v. 43, vi. 39, xii. 30.
B (Codex Vaticanus) in John B in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16, v. 48, vi.
v. 2, (vi. 51). 10, xi. 11, xiii. 15, xv. 26,
Mark i. 24, ix. 7, John i. 13,
v. 3,4, V. 43, vi. 39, xii. 30.
C (Codex Ephraemi--somewhat C in Matt. iii. 8, xi. 11, xiii.
fragmentary) in John 15, xv. 26, Mark i. 24, ix. 7,
(vi. 51). John i. 13, v. 3, 4, vi. 39.
D (Codex Bezae--in some D in Matt. (iii. 8), v. 16, v. 48,
places wanting) in Matt. vi. xiii. 15, Mark i. 24, ix. 7,
10, Xi. 11, (xv. 26), John (vi. John i. 13, iii. 36, v. 4, v. 43.
51), xii. 30.
v. 16, v. 48.
Origen, in Matt. (xv. 26), Mark Origen, in Matt. iii. 8, (xv. 26),
i. 24, John i. 13 (Latin trans-
lator), (vi. 51).
Eusebius, in Matt. xv. 26, Mark
i. 24, John i. 13 (partially).


Irenaeus, in Mark i. 24, John Irenaeus in Matt. iii. 8.
i. 13 (ter), iii. 36, v. 43.
Cyprian, in John iii. 36, (vi. 51).
Augustine, in Matt. v. 16, vi. 10.
Ambrose, in Matt. v. 16, John v. 43.
Hilary, in Matt. v. 16, (xv. 26),
John xii. 30.
Others, in Matt. v. 16, v. 48,
John i. 13, v. 43, xii. 30.

VERSIONS. Old Latin--

a (Codex Vercellensis), in Matt. a, in Matt. v. 16, v. 48, xi. 11,
(iii. 8), vi. 10, xiii. 15, (xv. Mark i. 24, ix. 7, John i. 13,
26), John v. 3, 4, v. 43, (vi. iii. 36.
51), xii. 30.
b (Codex Veronensis), in Matt. b, in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16, xi. 11,
v. 48, vi. 10, xiii. 15, (xv. 36), Mark i. 24.
Mark ix. 7, John i. 13,
iii. 36, v. 3, 4, v. 43,
(vi. 51), xii. 30.
c (Codex Colbertinus), in Matt. c, in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16, xi. 11,
v. 48, vi. 10, xiii. 15, (xv. 26), Mark i. 24, ix. 7, John i. 13,
John v. 3, 4, (vi. 51). iii. 36, V. 43, vi. 39, xii. 30.
f (Codex Brixianus), in Matt. f, in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16, v. 48,
xiii. 15, Mark ix. 7. vi. 10, xi. 10, xv. 26, Mark
i. 24, John i. 13, iii. 36, v. 3,
4, v. 43, vi. 39, vi. 51, xii. 30.
Other codices, in Matt. iii. 8, Other codices, in Matt. iii. 8,
vi. 10, Xiii. 5, (xv. 26), John v. 16, v. 48, vi. 10, xi. 11,
iii. 36, v. 3, 4, vi. 39, (vi. 51), Mark i. 24, ix. 7, John i. 13,
xii. 30. iii. 36, v. 3, 4, v. 43, vi. 39,
vi. 51, xii. 30.
Vulgate, in Matt. xiii. 15, John Vulgate, in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16,
v. 3, 4, (vi. 51), xii. 30 v. 48, vi. 10, xi. 11, xv. 26,
(_fuld._). Mark i. 24, ix. 7, John i. 13,
iii. 36, v. 43, vi. 39.
Syr. Crt. (fragmentary), in Syr. Crt., in Matt. v. 16, vi. 10,
Matt. iii. 8, v. 48, xiii. 15, xi. 11, John (i. 13, ? Tregelles)
(xv. 26), John (i. 13, ? Crowfoot), iii. 36, v. 3, 4, v. 43.
vi. 39, (vi. 51.).
Syr. Pst., in Matt. iii. 8, v. 48, Syr. Pst., in Matt. vi. 10, Mark
Mark ix. 7, John iii. 36, v. 3, 4. i. 24, John i. 13, (vi. 51),
xii. 30

[The evidence of this and the following versions is only given where it is either expressly stated or left to be clearly inferred by the editors.]


Thebaic, in John (vi. 51). Thebaic, in Matt. iii. 8, v. 16,
Mark ix. 7, John v. 3, 4.
Memphitic, in Mark i. 24, John Memphitic, in Matt. iii. 8, v.
iii. 36. 16, (v. 48), Mark ix. 7, John
v. 3, 4, vi. 51.

Summing up the results numerically they would be something of this


[Hebrew: A B C D

Agreement 2 2 2 1 5
Difference 13 5 14 9 10


Alexandria. Origen. Eusebius.
Agreement 1 4 3
Difference 0 2 0


Irenaeus. Cyprian. Augustine. Ambrose. Hilary. Others.
Agreement 4 2 2 2 3 5
Difference 1 0 0 0 0 0


a b c f rel.
Agreement 8 11 6 2 9 4
Difference 7 4 10 14 14 12

Crt. Pst. Theb. Memph.
Agreement 7 5 1 2
Difference 7 5 4 6

Now the phenomena here, as on other occasions when we have had to touch upon text criticism, are not quite simple and straightforward. It must be remembered too that our observations extend only over a very narrow area. Within that area they are confined to the cases where Tertullian has _gone wrong_; whereas, in order to anything like a complete induction, all the cases of various reading ought to be considered. Some results, however, of a rough and approximate kind may be said to be reached; and I think that these will be perhaps best exhibited if, premising that they are thus rough and approximate, we throw them into the shape of a genealogical tree.

 Tert. b
\ /
\/ O.L. (a.c. &c.)
\ /
\/ Syr. Crt.
\ /
Tert. O.L.\ /
Greek Fathers. /
\ Tert. O.L./
\ Syr. Crt./
\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /
Best Alexandrine Authorities. \ /
\ \ / Western.
\ /
\ Greek Fathers /
\ Memph. Theb. /
\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /
Alexandrine. || Western.
The Sacred Autographs.


In accordance with the sketch here given we may present the history of the text, up to the time when it reached Tertullian, thus. First we have the sacred autographs, which are copied for some time, we need not say immaculately, but without change on the points included in the above analysis. Gradually a few errors slip in, which are found especially in the Egyptian, versions and in the works of some Alexandrine and Palestinian Fathers. But in time a wider breach is made. The process of corruption becomes more rapid. We reach at last that strange document which, through more or less remote descent, became the parent of the Curetonian Syriac on the one hand and of the Old Latin on the other. These two lines severally branch off. The Old Latin itself divides. One of its copies in particular (b) seems to represent a text that has a close affinity to that of Tertullian, and among the group of manuscripts to which it belongs is that which Tertullian himself most frequently and habitually used.

Strictly speaking indeed there can be no true genealogical tree. The course of descent is not clear and direct all the way. There is some confusion and some crossing and recrossing of the lines. Thus, for instance, there is the curious coincidence of Tertullian with [Hebrew: Aleph], a member of a group that had long seemed to be left behind, in John vi. 51. This however, as it is only on a point of order and that in a translation, may very possibly be accidental; I should incline to think that the reading of the Greek Codex from which Tertullian's Latin was derived agreed rather with that of B, C, D, &c., and these phenomena would increase the probability that these manuscripts and Tertullian had really preserved the original text. If that were the case--and it is the conclusion arrived at by a decided majority of the best editors--there would then be no considerable difficulty in regard to the relation between Tertullian and the five great Uncials, for the reading of Mark ix. 7 is of much less importance. Somewhat more difficult to adjust would be Tertullian's relations to the different forms of the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac. In one instance, Matt. xi. 11 (or Luke vii. 26), Tertullian seems to derive his text from the Dd branch rather than the b branch of the Old Latin. In another (Matt. iii. 8) he seems to overleap b and most copies of the Old Latin altogether and go to the Curetonian Syriac. How, too, did he come to have the paraphrastic reading of Matt. v. 16 which is found in no MSS. or versions but in Justin (approximately), Clement of Alexandria, and several Latin Fathers? The paraphrase might naturally enough occur to a single writer here or there, but the extent of the coincidence is remarkable. Perhaps we are to see here another sign of the study bestowed by the Fathers upon the writings of their predecessors leading to an unconscious or semi-conscious reproduction of their deviations. It is a noticeable fact that in regard to the order of the clauses in Matt. v. 4, 5, Tertullian has preserved what is probably the right reading along with b alone, the other copies of the Old Latin (all except the revised f) with the Curetonian Syriac having gone wrong. On the whole the complexities and cross relations are less, and the genealogical tree holds good to a greater extent, than we might have been prepared for. The hypothesis that Tertullian used a manuscript in the main resembling b of the Old Latin satisfies most elements of the problem. But the merest glance at these phenomena must be enough to show that the Tübingen theory, or any theory which attributes a late origin to our Gospels, is out of the question. To bring the text into the state in which it is found in the writings of Tertullian, a century is not at all too long a period to allow. In fact I doubt whether any subsequent century saw changes so great, though we should naturally suppose that corruption would proceed at an advancing rate for every fresh copy that was made. The phenomena that have to be accounted for are not, be it remembered, such as might be caused by the carelessness of a single scribe. They are spread over whole groups of MSS. together. We can trace the gradual accessions of corruption at each step as we advance in the history of the text. A certain false reading comes in at such a point and spreads over all the manuscripts that start from that; another comes in at a further stage and vitiates succeeding copies there; until at last a process of correction and revision sets in; recourse is had to the best standard manuscripts, and a purer text is recovered by comparison with these. It is precisely such a text that is presented by the Old Latin Codex f, which, we find accordingly, shows a maximum of difference from Tertullian. A still more systematic revision, though executed--if we are to judge from the instances brought to our notice--with somewhat more reserve, is seen in Jerome's Vulgate.

It seems unnecessary to dilate upon this point. I will only venture to repeat the statement which I made at starting; that if the whole of the Christian literature for the first three quarters of the second century could be blotted out, and Irenaeus and Tertullian alone remained, as well as the later manuscripts with which to compare them, there would still be ample proof that the latest of our Gospels cannot overstep the bounds of the first century. The abundant indications of internal evidence are thus confirmed, and the age and date of the Synoptic Gospels, I think we may say, within approximate limits, established.

But we must not forget that there is a double challenge to be met. The first part of it--that which relates to the evidence for the existence of the Gospels--has been answered. It remains to consider how far the external evidence for the Gospels goes to prove their authenticity. It may indeed well be asked how the external evidence can be expected to prove the authenticity of these records. It does so, to a considerable extent, indirectly by throwing them back into closer contact with the facts. It also tends to establish the authority in which they were held, certainly in the last quarter of the second century, and very probably before. By this time the Gospels were acknowledged to be all that is now understood by the word 'canonical.' They were placed upon the same footing as the Old Testament Scriptures. They were looked up to with the same reverence and regarded as possessing the same Divine inspiration. We may trace indeed some of the steps by which this position was attained. The [Greek: gegraptai] of the Epistle of Barnabas, the public reading of the Gospels in the churches mentioned by Justin, the [Greek: to eiraemenon] of Tatian, the [Greek: guriakai graphai] of Dionysius of Corinth, all prepare the way for the final culmination in the Muratorian Canon and Irenaeus. So complete had the process been that Irenaeus does not seem to know of a time when the authority of the Gospels had been less than it was to him. Yet the process had been, of course, gradual. The canonical Gospels had to compete with several others before they became canonical. They had to make good their own claims and to displace rival documents; and they succeeded. It is a striking instance of the 'survival of the fittest.' That they were really the fittest is confirmed by nearly every fragment of the lost Gospels that remains, but it would be almost sufficiently proved by the very fact that they survived.

In this indirect manner I think that the external evidence bears out the position assigned to the canonical Gospels. It has preserved to us the judgment of the men of that time, and there is a certain relative sense in which the maxim, 'Securus judicat orbis terrarum,' is true. The decisions of an age, especially decisions such as this where quite as much depended upon pious feeling as upon logical reasoning, are usually sounder than the arguments that are put forward to defend them. We should hardly endorse the arguments by which Irenaeus proves _a priori_ the necessity of a 'four-fold Gospel,' but there is real weight in the fact that four Gospels and no more were accepted by him and others like him. It is difficult to read without impatience the rough words that are applied to the early Christian writers and to contrast the self-complacency in which our own superior knowledge is surveyed. If there is something in which they are behind us, there is much also in which we are behind them. Among the many things for which Mr. Arnold deserves our gratitude he deserves it not least for the way in which he has singled out two sentences, one from St. Augustine and the other from the Imitation, 'Domine fecisti nos ad te et irrequietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te,' and, 'Esto humilis et pacificus et erit tecum, Jesus.' The men who could write thus are not to be despised.

But beyond their more general testimony it is not clear what else the early Fathers could be expected to do. They could not prove-- at least their written remains that have come down to us could not prove--that the Gospels were really written by the authors traditionally assigned to them. When we say that the very names of the first two Evangelists are not mentioned before a date that may be from 120-166 (or 155) A.D. and the third and fourth not before 170-175 A.D., this alone is enough, without introducing other elements of doubt, to show that the evidence must needs be inconclusive. If the author of 'Supernatural Religion' undertook to show this, he undertook a superfluous task. So much at least, Mr. Arnold was right in saying, 'might be stated in a sentence and proved in a page.' There is a presumption in favour of the tradition, and perhaps, considering the relation of Irenaeus to Polycarp and of Polycarp to St. John, we may say, a fairly strong one; but we need now-a-days, to authenticate a document, closer evidence than this. The cases are not quite parallel, and the difference between them is decidedly in favour of Irenaeus, but if Clement of Alexandria could speak of an Epistle written about 125 A.D. is the work of the apostolic Barnabas the companion of St. Paul [Endnote 346:1], we must not lay too much stress upon the direct testimony of Irenaeus when he attributes the fourth Gospel to the Apostle St. John.

These are points for a different set of arguments to determine. The Gospel itself affords sufficient indications as to the position of its author. For the conclusion that he was a Palestinian Jew, who had lived in Palestine before the destruction of Jerusalem, familiar with the hopes and expectations of his people, and himself mixed up with the events which he describes, there is evidence of such volume and variety as seems exceedingly difficult to resist. As I have gone into this subject at length elsewhere [Endnote 347:1], and as, so far as I can see, no new element has been introduced into the question by 'Supernatural Religion,' I shall not break the unity of the present work by considering the objections brought in detail. I am very ready to recognise the ability with which many of these are stated, but it is the ability of the advocate rather than of the impartial critic. There is a constant tendency to draw conclusions much in excess of the premisses. An observation, true in itself with a certain qualification and restriction, is made in an unqualified form, and the truth that it contains is exaggerated. Above all, wherever there is a margin of ignorance, wherever a statement of the Evangelist is not capable of direct and exact verification, the doubt is invariably given against him and he is brought in guilty either of ignorance or deception. I have no hesitation in saying that if the principles of criticism applied to the fourth Gospel--not only by the author of 'Supernatural Religion,' but by some other writers of repute, such as Dr. Scholten--were applied to ordinary history or to the affairs of every-day life, much that is known actually to have happened could be shown on _a priori_ grounds to be impossible. It is time that the extreme negative school should justify more completely their canons of criticism. As it is, the laxity of these repels many a thoughtful mind quite as firmly convinced as they can be of the necessity of free enquiry and quite as anxious to reconcile the different sides of knowledge. The question is not one merely of freedom or tradition, but of reason and logic; and until there is more agreement as to what is reasonable and what the laws of logic demand, the arguments are apt to run in parallel lines that never meet [Endnote 348:1].

But, it is said, 'Miracles require exceptional evidence.' True: exceptional evidence they both require and possess; but that evidence is not external. Incomparably the strongest attestation to the Gospel narratives is that which they bear to themselves. Miracles have exceptional evidence because the non-miraculous portions of the narrative with which they are bound up are exceptional. These carry their truth stamped upon their face, and that truth is reflected back upon the miracles. It is on the internal investigation of the Gospels that the real issue lies. And this is one main reason why the belief of mankind so little depends upon formal apologetics. We can all feel the self- evidential force of the Gospel story; but who shall present it adequately in words? We are reminded of the fate of him who thought the ark of God was falling and put out his hand to steady it--and, for his profanity, died. It can hardly be said that good intentions would be a sufficient justification, because that a man should think himself fit for the task would be in itself almost a sufficient sign that he was mistaken. It is not indeed quite incredible that the qualifications should one day be found. We seem almost to see that, with a slight alteration of circumstances, a little different training in early life, such an one has almost been among us. There are passages that make us think that the author of 'Parochial and Plain Sermons' might have touched even the Gospels with cogency that yet was not profane. But the combination of qualities required is such as would hardly be found for centuries together. The most fine and sensitive tact of piety would be essential. With it must go absolute sincerity and singleness of purpose. Any dash of mere conventionalism or self-seeking would spoil the whole. There must be that clear illuminated insight that is only given to those who are in a more than ordinary sense 'pure in heart.' And on the other hand, along with these unique spiritual qualities must go a sound and exact scientific training, a just perception of logical force and method, and a wide range of knowledge. One of the great dangers and drawbacks to the exercise of the critical faculty is that it tends to destroy the spiritual intuition. And just in like manner the too great reliance upon this intuition benumbs and impoverishes the critical faculty. Yet, in a mind that should present at all adequately the internal evidence of the Gospels, both should co-exist in equal balance and proportion. We cannot say that there will never be such a mind, but the asceticism of a life would be a necessary discipline for it to go through, and that such a life as the world has seldom seen.

In the meantime the private Christian may well be content with what he has. 'If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.'

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