« PreviousContinue »
Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, go out to
IN reading the Gospels, it may be of use to remember the following observations.
Concerning the Words and Phrases which the Inspired Writers have made use of:
If two or more evangelists, on any occasion, ascribe to our Lord the same words, we may safely believe they have preserved the words which he uttered on that occasion. However, when they introduce him speaking, they do not always mean to repeat the precise words, but to give the sense of what he said; nothing more being intended oftentimes by those who undertake to relate what was spoken by another. This, I think, is plain from Acts x. 4 compared with verse 31. In the former of these passages, the angel says to Cornelius, "Thy prayers and thine alms are come for a memorial before God;" in the latter, Cornelius, rehearsing the angel's words to Peter, delivers them thus: "Thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God." Wherefore both Cornelius and the historian thought the angel's words were repeated, when the sense of them was delivered.
This observation reconciles all those passages in the Gospels, wherein our Lord is introduced expressing his sentiments in different words on the same occasion. Nevertheless, where different expressions are found, it is possible that all of them may have been uttered by him, especially if they convey different thoughts, and when joined together, make a connected discourse. In most cases, however, the former is the more natural solution; because if the evangelists have given the true meaning of what our Lord said on every occasion, they have certainly delivered what may be called the words of Christ, though the expressions in each Gospel should be different, or even to appearance contradictory. A remarkable example of this we have Matt. x. 9. where Jesus is introduced speaking to his apostles thus: "Provide-neither shoes nor yet a staff;" but in the parallel passage, Mark vi. 8. which exhibits the repetition of those instructions, he "commanded them, that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; words in sound contradictory to the former, though in sense perfectly the same. Such of the apostles as had staffs in their hands might take them, but those who were walking without them VOL. I.
were not to provide them; for as the providence of God was to supply them with all necessaries, to have made the least preparation for their journey, would have implied a disbelief of their Master's promise.-In like manner, the words of the voice at Christ's baptism, Matt. iii. 17. "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased," though different as to sound from the words, Mark i. 11. "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," yet being the same in sense, they are truly repeated. (See another solution in the note on Matt. iii. 17. § 15.) So likewise are the words of institution in the history of the sacrament, and the words of the title that was affixed to our Lord's cross.
By the way, these principles afford an easy solution of the difficulties which arise upon comparing the citations in the New Testament with the passages of the Old from whence they are taken; for if the meaning of the passage is truly given, we must allow that the quotation is justly made. Hence, though the words, "He shall be called a Nazarene," Matt. ii. 23. are not to be found in the writings of the prophets, yet, as the thing meant by these words frequently occurs in them, the application is made by the evangelist with sufficient propriety. See § 12.
But farther, it ought to be considered that our Lord's discourses were all delivered, and his conferences managed, in a language different from that wherein they are handed down to posterity, viz. the Syro-Chaldaic, called the Hebrew tongue, Acts xxi. 40. because it was a dialect thereof. For which cause, though all the evangelists had remembered the precise words of every person introduced in their histories, when they related them in a different language, they could hardly avoid making use of different expressions, even on supposition that they wrote by inspiration, unless that inspiration absolutely deprived them of the use of their own faculties, or unless the Holy Spirit, who inspired them, could not suggest different words to each, equally proper for conveying the sentiment he designed to express.
According to this view of the matter, the four evangelists d if fer from one another no otherwise than any of them might have differed from himself, had he related the same passage of the history twice. Both narrations would have been the same as to the sense, though different words might have been made use of in each. Wherefore, it can be no good argument against the inspiration of the evangelists, that their accounts are different. Let the reader compare the two histories of our Lord's ascension given by Luke, the one in the end of his Gospel, the other in the beginning of the Acts; also the three accounts which the same historian gives of Paul's conversion, the first in the 9th, the second in the 22d, the third in the 26th chapters of the last mentioned book; and be will acknowledge the truth of what I have been saying.
Concerning the Facts, and circumstances of facts, which the Inspired Writers have mentioned.
It is certain the sacred historians have recorded nothing but what is strictly true. Yet it was not their intention to relate all the things they might with truth have told. Each of them, indeed, has delivered as much of Christ's doctrine and miracles, as is necessary to our salvation. Nevertheless, many important sermons and actions are omitted by each, which, if the rest had not preserved, the world must have sustained an unspeakable loss. We have even reason to believe, that it is but a small part of our Lord's history, which is preserved among them all; for the evangelist John has said expressly, that "there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written," chap. xxi. 25. The other evangelists affirm the same thing, in the summaries which they give of such discourses and miracles as they did not think fit to relate particularly. Thus, Luke xxiv. 27. " And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself." See ver. 45. Matt. iv. 23." And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease among the people. 24. And his fame went out throughout all Syria; and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them." Luke vii. 21. « And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits, and to many that were blind he gave sight." Matt. xiv.36. And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased. 36. And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment; and as many as touched were made perfectly whole." Matt. xv. 30. " And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and he healed them. 31. Insomuch, that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.” Matt. xix. 1. "And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan. 2. And great multitudes followed him, and he healed them there." See also John ii. 23. iii. 2.
As the evangelists did not intend to relate all the sermons and actions of Christ, so it was not their purpose to mention every circumstance
circumstance of those which they undertook to relate. Each evangelist, directed by the Spirit, makes his own choice. This circumstance is mentioned by one, and that by another, as they judged most proper. If so, we must by no means urge omissions, whether of facts, or circumstances of facts, in such a manner as to fancy that the inspired authors rejected all the things they have omitted, or even that they were ignorant of them. From the summaries above mentioned, it is plain they have passed over many particulars which they were well acquainted with. Besides, the things omitted are sometimes implied in the form of their narration itself. But had the evangelists, in those instances, formed their accounts so as not to have implied the particulars they have omitted, which they might easily have done, we should have been mistaken, if for that reason we had imagined they were ignorant of them. Wherefore we may be mistaken, if, in other instances, we shall think they were ignorant of every thing they have not mentioned or insinuated.
From what has been said it plainly appears, that Jesus performed many miracles, equal in greatness to those which the evange lists have recorded. Nevertheless, it is probable that those recorded were more remarkable than the rest, either for the number of the witnesses who were present at them; or for the character and quality of those witnesses; or for the places where they were performed; or for the consequences which they gave rise to; or for the reports which went out concerning them, and the fame which accrued to Jesus from them. This observation, which may be applied likewise to our Lord's sermons, deserves the rather to be attended to, because it accounts for what would otherwise be very difficult to be understood, namely, how the evangelists, notwithstanding they had such an infinity of sermons and miracles to make a choice from, came all of them, except John, who designed his gospel as a supplement to the rest, to mention in most instances the same sermons and miracles. I say in most instances, because in a few cases, each evangelist has departed from this rule, omitting things which on account of their importance, their notoriety, their consequences, and other reasons, are recorded by the rest; while he has taken notice of particulars, which to appearance are not so material. Thus, Mark xiv. 51. the cure which our Lord performed on the high priest's slave, whose ear Peter cut off, is omitted; while the young man, who followed him with a linen cloth cast round his naked body, is mentioned. In these and such like instances the evangelists seem not to have considered how their readers would be affected with the transactions recorded by them. If that had been a matter of care with them, they would in every case have made choice of those particulars only which might have prejudiced their readers in favour of their Master, or led them to form an high idea of him. Wherefore,