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There was very early in existence a short historical sketch of the life of Christ, which may be called the Original Gospel. This was, probably, provided for the use of those assistants of the apostles in the work of teaching Christianity, who had not themselves seen the actions and heard the discourses of Christ. It was however but a rough sketch, a brief and imperfect account, without historical plan or methodical arrangement.' In this respect it was, according to Eichhorn, very different from our four Gospels.
6. These present no rough sketch, such as we must suppose the first essay upon
the life of Jesus to have been ; but, on the contrary, are works written with art and labor, and contain portions of his life, of which no mention was made in the first preaching of Christianity." This Original Gospel was the basis both of the earlier gospels used during the first two centuries, and of the first three of our present Gospels, namely, those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, by which those earlier gospels were finally superseded. The earlier gospels retained more or less of the rudeness and incompleteness of the Original Gospel.
" But they very soon fell into the hands of those who undertook to supply their defects and incompleteness, both in the general compass of the history, and in the narration of particular events. Not content with a life of Jesus, which, like the gospel of the Hebrews, and those of Marcion and Tatian, commenced with his public appearance, there were those who early prefixed to the Memoirs used by Justin Martyr, and to the gospel of Cerinthus, an account of his descent, his birth, and the period of his youth. In like manner, wo find, upon comparing together, in parallel passages, the remaining fragments of these gospels, that they were receiving continual accessions. The voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus, was originally stated to have been: Thou art my Son ; this day have I begotten thee; as it is quoted by Justin Martyr in two places. Clement of Alexandria found the same, in a gospel of which we have no particular description, with the addition of the word, ' beloved': Thou art my beloved son ; this day have I begotten thee. Other gospels represented the voice as having been: Thou art my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased ; as it is given in the catholic Gospels, namely, in Mark 1: 11. In the gospel of the Ebionites, according to Epiphanius, both accounts of the voice from heaven were united : Thou art my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; and again ; This day have I begotten thee. By these continual accessions, the original text of the life of Jesus was lost in a mass of additions, so that its words appeared among them but as insulated fragments. Of this any one may satisfy himself from the account of the baptism of Jesus, which was compiled out of various gospels. The necessary consequence was, that at last truth and falsehood, authentic and fabulous narratives, or such, at least, as through long tradition had become disfigured and falsified, were brought together Vol. XI. No. 30.
promiscuously. The longer these narratives passed from mouth to mouth, the more uncertain and disfigured they would become. At last, at the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, in order, as far as might be, to preserve the true accounts concerning the life of Jesus, and to deliver them to posterity as free from error as possible, the Church, out of the many gospels which were extant, selected four, which had the greatest marks of credibility, and the necessary completeness for common use. There are no traces of our present Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, before the end of the second and the beginning of the third century. Irenaeus, about the year 202, first speaks decisively of four gospels; and imagines all sorts of reasons for this particular number; and Clement of Alexandria, about the year 216, labored to collect divers accounts concerning the origin of these four Gospels, in order to prove that these alone should be acknowledged as authentic. From these facts, it is evident, that first, about the end of the second and the beginning of the third century, the Church labored to establish the universal authority of these four Gospels, which were in existence before, if not altogether in their present form, yet in most respects such as we now have them, and to procure their general reception in the Church, with the suppression of all other gospels then extant.
“ Posterity would indeed have been under much greater obligations, if, together with the Gospel of John, the Church had established, by public authority, only the first rough sketch of the life of Jesus, which was given to the earliest missionaries to authenticate their preaching; after separating it from all its additions and augmentations. But this was no longer possible ; for there was no copy extant free from all additions, and the critical operation of separating this accessory matter was too difficult for those times.”
“ Many ancient writers of the church,” Eichhorn subjoins in a note, “ doubted the genuineness of many parts of our Gospels; but were prevented from coming to a decision by want of critical skill;"
I trust the readers of this Miscellany will not find fault with the length of this extract. Many of them, who have often heard of German Neology, and now and then met with some fragments of it here and there introduced and discussed, may not have had the opportunity of reading a brief exposé written by the neological Coryphaeus of the past generation. The extracts just made present them with such a view; and the remarks which are subjoined here and there by Mr. Norton, exhibit a candid and correct account of the case as it actually stands.
The chief aim of the text or leading part of Mr. Norton's book, is to examine these positions of Eichhorn in relation to the Gospels. In order to do this, he divides his work into two parts ; in the first of which he endeavours to establish the
proposition, that “the Gospels remain essentially the same as they were originally composed;" and in the second, that “they have been ascribed to their true authors."
In proof of his first proposition, he labours, in Chap. I., to shew “ the agreement of the respective copies of the four Gospels,” i. e. the uniformity or harmony of the same Gospels, which exists between all the different manuscripts or copies of them in different ages and countries, or (in other words) the uniformity of text which pervades the totality of them at all times and in all places.
In order not to be misunderstood, the author begins by informing his readers what exceptions are to be made to this general declaration. He does not suppose the present Greek text of Matthew to be the original, but only an early translation of the original Hebrew copy which was current in Palestine. Nor does he suppose, that no accident has ever befallen any single word, phrase, or verse, of any of the Gospels, but that these books have been exposed, like other ancient books, to some errors and variations introduced by copyists and others through mistake on various grounds and from a variety of causes. He enumerates what he believes to be interpolations ; in which he is much more liberal to his opponents, than I, with my present views, can possibly persuade myself to be. The two first chapters of Matthew, he thinks, did not belong to the original Gospel of this writer; as also Matt. 27: 3—10, containing the narrative respecting Judas' repentance and suicide ; and Matt. 27: 52, 53, containing an account of the resurrection of many saints and their appearance in Jerusalem after the resurrection of the Saviour. Luke 22: 43, 44, which relates that an angel appeared and strengthened the Saviour during his agony and bloody sweat, is also, in his apprehension, of a suspicious character; and John 21 : 24, 25, (the last part of v. 24 and the whole of v. 25) “ has the air of an editorial note.” Besides these, John 3: 3, 4, (the last clause of v. 3 and the whole of v. 4), containing the passages respecting angelic influence on the waters of the pool at Bethesda, is very questionable ; and John 8: 3—10, containing an account of the woman that was taken in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus, is “ justly regarded by a majority of modern critics, as not having been a part of the original Gospel."
It is proper that we should hear him speak for himself as to the manner in which he supposes these interpolations to have been made.
The two passages last mentioned, and the other interpolations that have been suggested, that is, the two insertions into the body of the text of the original Hebrew of Matthew's Gospel, and one into that of Luke's Gospel, were, we may suppose, first written as notes or additional matter in the margin of some copies of the Gospel in which they are found. But passages belonging to the text of a work, which had been accidentally omitted by a transcriber, were, likewise, often preserved in the margin. From this circumstance, notes and additional matter, thus written, were not unfrequently mistaken for parts of the text, and introduced by a subsequent copier into what he thought their proper place. This is a fruitful source of various readings in ancient writings; and may explain how the passages in question, if not genuine, have become incorporated with the text of the Gospels ; p. 25 seq.
After these remarks he goes on and endeavours to shew, that all these interpolations might have been made in the ordinary course of things, without any design to corrupt the Gospels. The very fact that spurious passages can be thus distinguished from the original, is a pledge, as he in:imates, for the interity of the rest; and at all events, as he more than once intimates in other passages, nothing important in regard to Christian doctrine, or duty is lost, in case we exclude the interpolations in question.
On this part of Mr. Norton's treatise I shall take occasion hereasier to make some remarks, and particularly to inquire, whether it is so clear, as he seems to consider it, that the original Gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew, and that the two first chapters are made up of extraneous matter, composed by another author. For the present therefore I dismiss these topics, in order to pursue the main object of Mr. Norton's book, and to shew the manner in which he has treated his subject.
The essential agreement of the Mss. of the Gospels is thus briefly and strikingly stated by him.
There have been examined, in a greater or less degree, about six hundred and seventy manuscripts of the whole, or of portions, of the Greek text of the Gospels. These were written in different countries, and at different periods, probably from the fifth century, downwards. They have been found in places widely remote from each other, in Asia, in Africa, and from one extremity of Europe to the other. Besides these manuscripts of the Greek text, there are many manuscripts of ancient versions of the Gospels, in at least eleven different languages of the three great divisions of the world just mentioned. There are, likewise, many manuscripts of the works of the Christian fathers, abounding in quotations from the Gospels; and, especially, of ancient commentaries on the Gospels, such as those of Origen, who lived in the third century, and of Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth ; in which we find their text quoted, as the different portions of it are successively the subjects of remark.
Now, all these different copies of the Gospels, or parts of the Gospels, so numerous, so various in their character, so unconnected, offering themselves to notice in parts of the world so remote from each other, concur in giving us essentially the same text; p. 28 seq.
After some explanatory remarks he proceeds thus :
The agreement among the extant copies of any one of the Gospels, or of portions of it, is essential ; the disagreements are accidental and trifling, originating in causes, which, from the nature of things, we know must have been in operation. Every copy of any one of the Gospels presents us with essentially the same work, the same general history, the same particular facts, the same doctrines, the same precepts, the same characteristics of the writer, the same form of narration, the same style, and the same use of language; and by comparing together different copies, we are able to ascertain the original text to a great degree of exactness; or, in other words, where various readings occur, to determine what were probably the words of the author. The Greek manuscripts, then, of any one of the Gospels, the versions of it, and the quotations from it by the fathers, are all, professedly, copies of that Gospel or of parts of it; and these copies correspond with each other. But as these professed copies thus correspond with each other, it follows that they were derived more or less remotely from one archetype. Their agreement admits of no explanation, except that of their being conformed to a common exemplar. In respect to each of the Gospels, the copies which we possess must all be referred, for their source, to one original Gospel, one original text, one original manuscript. As far back as our knowledge extends, Christians, throughout all past ages, in Syria, at Alexandria, at Rome, at Carthage, at Constantinople, and at Moscow, in the east and in the west, have all used copies of each of the Gospels, which were evidently derived from one original manuscript, and necessarily imply that such a manuscript, existing as their archetype, has been faithfully copied; p. 29 seq.
After these just and very apposite remarks, the author goes on to shew, in a very graphic manner, what an olla podrida the text of the Gospels would have been—a Mischmasch truly, as Bertholdt rashly enough asserts of the Textus Receptus