Page images

But could such a writer ever hope to see disciples following in his footsteps? His aim was to disprove the authenticity of the Evangelists and to deny the reality of Him whom they represented. Had men parted with their belief under this withering theory, they could not have continued to write about the subject. Having witnessed the burial of Christianity-a burial with no resurrection-they would have departed, with such feelings as might be in their hearts; only one with the nerves of a Strauss, could descend into the vault and descant upon the dead, his probable age, his lineaments, the fashion of his shroud. The living love the living. The dead praise not Thee, neither they that go down into silence.' Had Strauss been able to demonstrate all his theses (may we be pardoned the supposition?), the New Testament would have been a closed book for evermore-men would have turned from the reproachful record of their greatest delusion. There, where tottering age, with the grave before it, and roundeyed childhood, striving to take in by gazing the novel problem of life, and resolute manhood, wishing to know and follow the law of duty, found life and comfort, and a living voice that quickened the living pulses of their hearts, would have been only darkness and cold unwholesome airs. A Bible with no face of Christ there, and with no one word to trust to! had that been the fate of mankind, at least the race of commentators would have been silenced for ever. Dr. Strauss would have seen the last of them. It is as instructive as it is pathetic to see how, in Dr. Strauss's catalogue, each writer refuses the sheer abyss; clings to some one record, to one line of evidence; tries to reconcile old truths with new criticisms, that all may not be death. Nay, what a difference even between Strauss and Renan here. If the German has the advantage in research and rigorous argument, the Frenchman, rash, fantastic, inexact, keeps some fragments of the documents, and so preserves for his narrative some kind of life.

The general views then of Strauss have been before the world for more than thirty years, and have caused the production of books and pamphlets to be told by hundreds; but they do not bear the test that all scientific systems bear with success: they have not come to be adopted by friend and foe alike, on account of their intrinsic force and power of explaining facts. Let us see whether the details of the system have fared any better. The principal points on which he labours are the critical history of the Gospels and a certain theory of myths.

We do not pretend in this place to do more than to give the reader, who may not have followed the argument, a general notion of the questions about the Gospels, which have been discussed


with so much patience and labour for the last fifty years. First let us speak of the date when these four books were written. It must be borne in mind that to insist on a late origin for the Gospels is a necessity of Dr. Strauss's position, for his theory of myths depends upon it. That theory is that in the course of time certain fundamental ideas of Christianity received, by a spontaneous process of creation, a dress of legends and inventions which blended themselves inseparably with the true history. For the growth of such legends time would be indispensable. There must be an interval during which the Church unconsciously evolved the false, and allowed it to mingle with the true. If there were proof that one of the Gospels was written, just as we have it now, within a few months of the crucifixion, the mythical theory would be out of the question, and the only choice would lie between believing the history and attributing conscious falsification to the narrator. In contending that the Gospels were not in existence in their present form earlier than the middle of the second century, Strauss is contending for a century of silent mythformation, without which his theory must fall to the ground. We do not believe that but for this necessity such a theory could ever have been sustained. The external evidence for a late origin of the Gospels is only negative at best; and even this negative evidence is almost nothing, and when weighed against the opposite proofs in a fair balance will always kick the beam. The conclusion of Strauss admits with sufficient candour his object in contending for a late origin :

'We do not find certain traces of the existence of our three first Gospels in their present form until towards the middle of the second century; consequently, not for a whole century after the time when the chief events of the history contained in them took place, and no one can reasonably maintain that this period is too short to make the intrusion of unhistorical elements into all parts of the evangelical history possible or conceivable.'

We, however, who have no prejudice in favour of these unhistorical elements, must be allowed to view the evidence for the date of the Gospels from a different side. We do not desire to find a late date, but to see whether there are any valid objections to the dates usually adopted. There is a large mass of evidence that points to the early origin; it is only modern criticism that insists upon a later. Constantine Tischendorf has summed up very clearly for us, in the little tract named at the head of this article, the evidence of the two first centuries on this subject. It is needless to observe that he has been attacked for this service; Zeller calls the pamphlet pretentions and superficial,' which it is not; and Volkmar tells us that it is possible to be a reader of manuscripts,

manuscripts, like Tischendorf, and yet to be scarcely able to criticise even the text of the New Testament, still less to be a historical critic of the difficult problems of the second century. These amenities from learned persons, whose conclusions are greatly at variance among themselves, signify, that one may adopt any view about the origin of the Gospels except that for which alone there is any strong historical evidence.

There is not room here to offer even a sketch of that evidence; but we can indicate the line it takes. The broad question is, whether the Gospels were in existence and accepted as genuine at the end of the first century, or became part of it about the middle of the second. Three great theologians, towards the close of the second century, at Lyons, Carthage, and Alexandria, Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement, bear witness to the fact that at that time our Gospels were universally received as canonical. The well-known 'Muratorian Fragment,' which belongs to the same time, bears the same testimony. These would not do much towards determining a question which belongs to an earlier time, unless their evidence were in some measure retrospective. But it is retrospective. For example, Irenæus indulges in fanciful analogies about the number four: there must be four Gospels, neither more nor less, because the Gospel is to go throughout the world, and there are four quarters of the world; the Gospel is the breath of life, and there are four winds of heaven; the cherubim, on whom the creating Word is enthroned, have four faces. All this is bad reasoning to establish the number four; but it affords a pretty good argument that the Church had by this time become accustomed to that number of Gospels. Irenæus also reminds one Florinus that when he was yet a boy he sat at the feet of Polycarp, and that with the vivid memory which one has for the events of childhood he could recall the very look, and gait, and manner of Polycarp, who gave accounts of his frequent intercourse with St. John and with others who had seen the Lord; and Irenæus says further that Polycarp's account of the doctrine and miracles of the Lord were all consonant with the Scriptures.' He also tells us elsewhere that the followers of Valentinus made a free use of St. John's Gospel. Now all this, written about the year 185, does much more than prove that Irenæus knew the four Gospels. When we are asked to believe, by one of the latest writers, Volkmar, that the Gospel of St. John was written about the year 155, we must assume that when Irenæus was now a man, and when the three other Gospels (even on Volkmar's estimate) had been in use for full fifty years, a new Gospel, attributed to one of most eminent name, appeared and obtained its position suddenly and without challenge, with miracles recorded in no other Vol. 120.-No. 240. Gospel,

2 E

Gospel, with new and momentous discourses of the Lord. Perhaps it is conceivable that this should have taken place; but even if we had no testimony save that of Irenæus, it is in the highest degree unlikely. But Irenæus is only one of many. Two attempts at Harmonies of the four Gospels had been made about the same time. Justin, who wrote at latest in A.D. 147, quotes three Gospels, and criticism is hard pressed to explain away allusions to the fourth. Tischendorf makes good use of the argument from heretical writers; Hippolytus tells us that Valentinus relied on a passage in John (x. 8); and the like is said of Basilides: if so, this Gospel was well known in the first half of the second century. The Montanists probably borrowed from John their view of the Paraclete. It is clear from two passages of Tertullian that Marcion began by believing the four Gospels, as known to us, and that afterwards, thinking them tinctured with Judaism, he undertook to amend or alter the Gospel for himself: the date of this amended Gospel, founded on St. Luke, is about 138. Celsus knew the four Gospels, writing about the year 160. All this testimony, and much more that Tischendorf and others have adduced, tends to carry us backward to the early part of the second century. Before a distinct and general recognition of the Gospels could take place-before they could have been winnowed out clear from all the apocryphal literature that at first hung about them some time must have elapsed. It is scarcely conceivable, moreover, that a new Gospel should take its place as an authority to be quoted in a controversy, without some discussion on the question of genuineness arising. This difficulty will always cleave to any theory save the obvious one of adhering to external testimony. Of Tischendorf's argument, however, we have given no idea. The section which he devotes to the apocryphal Gospels, as affording arguments for the genuineness of the true, it would be unjust to abridge. All these testimonies have been assailed, no doubt, by different critics. It is easy to say that when Valentinus or Basilides is mentioned as quoting St. John, it really must mean one of his later followers, or that by 'followers of Valentinus' we are to understand Ptolemy only, whose date happens to fit another theory. The Gospel of St. John has been the great battle-field of critical strife. Without dissembling the difficulties that undoubtedly surround this most precious document, which have been ably pressed against it, and at least as ably parried, we must hold that the acceptance of it as an inspired work of the Apostle from the first mention of it is a fact, whilst modern theories about it are theories, and no more. We are told that the new critical school of Germany has settled that the middle of the second century produced it-that it contains in

itself in a purified and spiritualised form all the elements of the religious life and activity of that epoch, with its gnosis, its doctrine of the Logos, its Montanism, and its Easter controversy. All these things are glanced at in the book, and do not come out distinctly: it is the calm expression of the religious consciousness of the time. The two Christian tendencies that were manifested up to that time, the legal tendency of which Peter was the exponent, and the free Gentile tendency which Paul most adequately represented, are sublimed in this Gospel and fused into higher, and freer, and universal unity; and this book was the ground on which the doctrine of Catholic unity, which began to prevail at the close of the second century, was based. But we for our part do not find all these fine things in the book, though we find what we value much more. Easter controversy and gnosis, and war of Petrine and Pauline tendencies! we find them not. This matter of tendencies has been enormously exaggerated always; but it has been thrust into this gospel: it came there, not in the middle of the second century, but in the middle of the nineteenth. To fix the date of the fourth Gospel or of any other by the contents is a thing impossible.

Schwegler has drawn an elaborate picture of the fierce controversies in the Church of Asia Minor, which the fourth Gospel was written to compose. One thing alone is wanting, but it is an important element. There is nothing in the Gospel about these hot disputes. The most careful Bible reader never suspects them; and even critics of any other school than that to which Schwegler belongs are compelled to allow that the premises of the writer lie merely in his imagination. And against these attempts, which after more than half a century of laborious, and in most cases honest labour, have issued at last in the wildest divergence of opinion, and in a dogmatic and pertinacious assertion of contradictory conclusions, as far as possible from true science, we have to set the fact that all ancient testimony assigns these writings to the apostles and inspired apostolic men whose names are upon them; and that, amid much that is fanciful and unhistorical in the ancient writers of the second century, amid much bitter controversy, there is no place to be quoted that casts any doubt upon the records in which for eighteen centuries Christendom has loved to gaze on the image of its Lord.

As we have been drawn to speak of the Gospel of St. John, we will not leave it with these merely negative remarks. A few words of this Evangelist supply the key to his omission of many things already narrated, and to the construction of his own narrative. And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book;

2E 2


« PreviousContinue »