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EARLY ORAL TEACHING.
I cannot help suspecting that the best solution of this intricate problem lies near the surface. The incidents of the Saviour's life and death, the contents of the Gospels, necessarily formed a considerable part of the oral teaching, or, if not of the oral teaching, of oral communication, among the first propagators of Christianity. These incidents would be repeated and dwelt upon with different degrees of frequency, and perhaps distinctness, according to their relative importance. While, on the other hand, from the number of teachers scattered at least through Palestine, and probably in many other parts of the Roman empire, many varieties of expression, much of that unintentional difference of colouring which every narrative receives by frequent repetition, would unavoidably arise; on the other, there would be a kind of sanctity attributed to the precise expressions of the Apostles, if recollected, which would insure on many points a similarity, a perfect identity, of language. We cannot suppose but that these incidents and events in the life of Christ, these parables and doctrines delivered by himself, thus orally communicated in the course of public teaching and in private, received
It would be difficult to point out a clearer and more satisfactory exposition of any controversy, than that of this great question in Biblical criticism, by Mr. Thirlwall, now Bishop Thirlwall, in his Preface to Schleiermacher's Essay on St. Luke.
b I have considered the objections urged by Hug, and more recently with great force by Weisse (p. 20 et seq.), to this theory, the more important of which resolve themselves into the undoubted fact, that it was a creed, and not a history, which, in all the accounts we have in the Acts of the Apostles and elsewhere, formed the subject of oral teaching. This is doubtless true; but, resting as the creed did upon the history, containing no doubt in its primitive form a very few simple articles, would it not necessarily awaken curiosity as to the historic facts? and would not that curiosity
demand, as it were, to be satisfied? The more belief warmed into piety, the more insatiably would it require, and the more would the teacher be disposed, to gratify this awakened interest and eagerness for information on every point that related to the Redeemer. The formal public teaching no doubt confined itself to the enforcement of the creed, and to combating Jewish or heathen objections, and confuting Judaism or idolatry. But in private intercourse, when the minds of both instructor and hearer were exclusively full of these subjects, would not the development of the history, in more or less detail, be a necessary and unavoidable consequence ? I subscribe to the maxim that Christianity is essentially a historical religion. Its creed, all but the transcendental articles, is history.
DISCREPANCIES IN CHRONOLOGY.
with such zealous avidity, treasured as of such inestimable importance, would be perpetually written down, if not as yet in continuous narratives, in numerous and accumulating fragments, by the Christian community, or by some one or more distinguished members of it. They would record, as far as possible, the ipsissima verba of the primitive teacher, especially if an apostle or a personal follower of Jesus. But these records would still be liable to some inaccuracy, from misapprehension or infirmity of memory; and to some discrepancy, from the inevitable variations of language in oral instruction or communication frequently repeated, and that often by different teachers. Each community or church, each intelligent Christian would thus possess a more or less imperfect Gospel, which he would preserve with jealous care, and increase with zealous activity, till it should be superseded by some more regular and complete narrative, the authenticity and authority of which he might be disposed to admit. The Evangelists who, like St. Luke, might
determine to write "in order," either to an individual like Theophilus, to some single church, or to the whole body of Christians, "those things which were most surely believed among them," would naturally have access to, would consult, and avail themselves of many of those private or more public collections. All the three, or any two, might find many coincidences of expression (if indeed some expressions had not already become conventional and established, or even consecrated forms of language, with regard to certain incidents), which they would transfer into their own narrative; on the other hand, incidents would be more or less fully developed, or be entirely omitted in some, while retained in others.
Of all points on which discrepancies would be likely to arise, there would be none so variable as the chronological order and consecutive series of events. The primitive teacher, or communicator, of the history of the life and death of Jesus, would often follow a doctrinal rather than a historical connexion; and this would, in many instances, be perpetuated by those who should endeavour to preserve in writing that precious information communicated to them by the preacher. Hence the discrepancies and variations in order and arrangement, more especially, as it may be said without irreve rence, these rude and simple historians, looking more to religious impression than to historic precision, may have undervalued the importance of rigid chronological narrative. Thus, instead of one or two primary, either received or unauthoritative, sources of the
HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS.
Gospels, I should conceive that there would be many, almost as many as there were Christian communities, all in themselves imperfect, but contributing more or less to the more regular and complete narratives extant in our Gospels. The general necessity, particularly as the Apostles and first followers were gradually withdrawn from the scene, would demand a more full and accurate narrative; and these confessedly imperfect collections would fall into disuse, directly that the want was supplied by regular Gospels, composed by persons either considered as divinely commissioned, or at least as authoritative and trustworthy writers. The almost universal acceptance of these Gospels is the guarantee for their general conformity with these oral, traditional, and written records of the different communities, from which if they had greatly differed, they would probably have been rejected; while the same conformity sufficiently accounts for the greater or less fulness, the variation in the selection of incidents, the silence on some points, or the introduction of others, in one Gospel alone. Whether or not either of the Evangelists saw the work of the other, they made constant use of the same or similar sources of information, not merely from their own personal knowledge, but likewise from the general oral teaching and oral communications of the Apostles and first preachers of Christianity, thus irregularly and incompletely, but honestly and faithfully, registered by the hearers. view, for my own part, I seem rationally to avoid all embarrassment with the difficulties of the subject. I am not surprised at exact coincidences of thought or language, though followed by, or accompanied with, equally remarkable deviations and discrepancies. I perceive why one is brief and the other full; why one omits, while another details, minute circumstances. I can account for much apparent and some real discrepancy. I think that I discern, to my own satisfaction, sufficient cause for diversity in the collocation of different incidents: in short, admitting these simple principles, there flows a natural harmony from the whole, which blends and reunites all the apparent discords which appear to disturb the minds of others.
There is one point which strikes me forcibly in all these minute and elaborate arguments, raised from every word and letter of the Gospels, which prevails throughout the whole of the modern German criticism. It is, that following out their rigid juridical examination, the most extreme rationalists are (unknowingly) influenced by the
TEST OF THEIR VERACITY.
theory of the strict inspiration of the Evangelists. Weisse himself has drawn very ably a distinction between juridical and historical truth, that is, the sort of legal truth which we should require in a court of justice, and that which we may expect from ordinary history. But in his own investigations he appears to me constantly to lose sight of this important distinction; no cross-examination in an English court of law was ever so severe as that to which every word and shade of expression in the Evangelists is submitted. Now this may be just in those who admit a rigid verbal inspiration; but those who reject it, and consider the Evangelists merely as ordinary historians, have no right to require more than ordinary historic accuracy. The Evangelists were, either
I. Divinely inspired in their language and expressions as well as in the facts and doctrines which they relate. On this theory the inquirer may reasonably endeavour to harmonise discrepancies; but if he fails, he must submit in devout reverence, and suppose that there is some secret way of reconciling such contradictions, which he wants acuteness or knowledge to comprehend.
II. We may adopt a lower view of inspiration, whether of suggestion or superintendence, or even that which seems to have been generally received in the early ages, the inflexible love of truth, which, being inseparable from the spirit of Christianity, would of itself be a sufficient guarantee for fidelity and honesty. Under any of these notions of inspiration (the definition of which word is, in fact, the real difficulty), there would be much latitude for variety of expression, of detail, of chronological arrangement. Each narrative (as the form and the language would be uninspired) would hear marks of the individual character, the local circumstances, the education, the character of the writer.
III. We may consider the Evangelists as ordinary historians, credible merely in proportion to their means of obtaining accurate knowledge, their freedom from prejudice, and the abstract credibility of their statements. If, however, so considered (as is invariably the case in the German school of criticism), they should undoubtedly have all the privileges of ordinary historians, and indeed of historians of a singularly rude and inartificial class. They would be liable to all the mistakes into which such writers might fall; nor would trifling inaccuracies impeach the truth of their general narrative. Take, for instance, the introduction of Cyrenius, in relation to the census in the beginning of St. Luke's Gospel. In common historical
AUTHENTICITY OF THE EVANGELISTS.
inquiry, it would be concluded that the author had made a mistake as to the name, his general truth would remain unshaken, nor would any one think of building up a hypothesis on so trivial and natural an inaccuracy. But there is scarcely a work of this school without some such hypothesis. I confess that I am constantly astonished at the elaborate conclusions which are drawn from trifling discrepancies or inaccuracies in those writers, from whom is exacted a precision of language, a minute and unerring knowledge of facts incident to, but by no means forming constituent parts of, their narrative, which is altogether inconsistent with the want of respect in other cases shown to their authority. The Evangelists must have been either entirely inspired, or inspired as to the material parts of their history, or altogether uninspired. In the latter, and indeed in the more moderate view of the second case, they would have a right to the ordinary latitude of honest narrators; they would, we may safely say, be read, as other historians of their inartificial and popular character always are; and so read, it would be impossible, I conceive, not to be surprised and convinced of their authenticity, by their general accordance with all the circumstances of their age, country, and personal character.
c Non nos debere arbitrari mentiri | clarandamque sententiam, nihil quiquemquam, si pluribus rem quam audierunt vel viderunt reminiscentibus, non eodem modo atque eisdem verbis, eadem tamen res fuerit indicata: aut sive mutetur ordo verborum, sive alia pro aliis, quæ tamen idem valeant, verba proferantur, sive aliquid vel quod recordanti non occurrit, vel quod ex aliis quæ dicuntur possit intelligi minus dicatur, sive aliorum quæ magis dicere statuit narrandorum gratiâ, ut congruus temporis modus sufficiat, aliquid sibi non totum explicandum, sed ex parte tangendum quisque sus cipiat; sive ad illuminandam de
dem rerum, verborum tamen aliquid addat, cui auctoritas narrandi concessa est, sive rem bene tenens, non assequatur quamvis id conetur, memoriter etiam verba quæ audivit ad integrum enuntiare. Augustin, De Consens. Evangelist. ii. 28. Compare the whole passage, which coincides with the general view of the Fathers as to this question, in c. 50. St. Augustine seems to admit an inspiration of guidance or superintendence. In one passage he seems to go farther, but to plunge (with respect be it spoken) into inextricable nonsense, iii. 30; see also 48,