« PreviousContinue »
by those who search after truth, as to make them reject opinions of a later date, which are stamped with the stronger and better authority of evidence.
Our veneration for traditions will be very much lessened, when we consider that the fathers in whose writings they are found, notwithstanding they lived in the earliest ages, fell many of them into gross errors, even with respect to such matters of fact as they might easily have known, if they had been at pains to search the Scriptures.
For example; Papius, who flourished about the year 116, tells us, “ This the Presbyter said, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, writ exactly whatever he remembered, but not in the order in which things were spoken or done by Christ,” Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. ji. c. 39. Nevertheless, it is certain, that in writing his history, Mark has observed the order of time ; for in this particular he agrees exactly with Luke, who tells us expressly, chap. i. 3. “ that he has written of all things in order."--Irenæus, who in his youth was acquainted with Polycarp, the disciple of Jolin the apostle, and who flourished about the year 150, tells us from Papias, that Matthew published his gospel while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundation of a church there, Advers. Hær. lib. iii. c. 1. Yet from Paul's epistle to the Romans, as well as from the history of the Acts, we learn, that the church at Rome was not only founded, but greatly enlarged before Paul came there the first time. Besides, we are not absolutely certain that Peter was ever in Rome at all; or if he was, it is more than probable he was not there during Paul's first imprisonment. Otherwise, in some of the many letters which Paul wrote from Rome at that time, Peter would have been mentioned at least in the salutations.—The same Irenæus, lib. ii. C. 40. delivers it as an apostolical tradition, that Christ was baptized in the thirtieth year of his age, but that he did not begin to teach till he had arrived at the age of a doctor ; and so when he had taught several years, he arrived at the age of an elder, which was not much below fifty. And to this he accommodatcs Jahn viii. 57. Moreover, speaking of the same subject in the 39th chapter, he says, “ Man's age from the fortieth or. fiftieth year vergeth towards old age, which having arrived at, our Lord taught ; as the gospel and all the elders testify, who in Asia conversed with John the disciple of the Lord, assuring us, that John told them this very thing. Nay, some of them saw not only John, but other apostles also, and heard and testify the very same things concerning this report."Tatian, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, and many others of the fathers, thought our Lord's ministry lasted only for the space of one year, as has been already shewed, Observ. IV.
This latter is an example of error in a case where, if in any, tradition ought not to have misled them; so may convince
us, that the traditionary reports of the fathers, held in such esteem by many, are not always to be depended upon implicitly. --Tertullian, in computing the time that elapsed between the birth of Christ, and the taking Jerusalem by Titus, says it was not full fifty years, Advers. Jud. c. 8. So that, according to him, the city was taken about fifteen or sixteen years after Christ's death, contrary to the faith of all history. The same author, reckoning up the reigns of the Roman emperors, has entirely omitted that of Claudius, and allotted not quite ten years to that of Nero.--Farther, he affirms, Contr. Marcion. lib. iv. c. 19. that the census at our Lord's birth was made by Sentius Saturninus, contrary to the express testimony of Luke.-Eusebius, Hist. lib. vii. c. 14. gravely informs us that the house of the woman who had her issue of blood dried up by touching the hein of Christ's garment, was still to be seen in Cæsarea Philippi (for the situation of this town, see Mark viii. 27.8 70.) and that there was still to be seen before the door of her house, a brazen statue of a man in a garment down to the feet, and stretching out his hand to a woman ; and that there grew there a certain strange herb, which, when it came to touch the brazen hem of the statue's garment, acquired the virtue of healing any disease whatever. It seems, they who erected this statue in Cæsarea Philippi, had read the gospels very negligently; for, from all the circunstances of time and place mentioned by the evangelists in their accounts of that cure, and of the transactions therewith connected, we have reason to believe that the woman, whose flux of blood was miraculously cured by Jesus, lived in Capernauin. At least this is certain, that she received her cure in one of the streets of that · town. Eusebius, therefore, who gave credit to such a tradition, must have been very unfortunate in his inquiries into the harmony of the gospels, not withstanding he composed a work of this kind himself.-In the Syriac version of the New Testament, there is prefixed to the Catholic epistles a note, importing that they were written by the apostles James, Peter, and John, the witnesses of our Lord's transfiguration. But in ascribing the epistle of James to hiin who was present at the transfiguration, the writer of the note, whoever he was, is grossly mistaken. The author of the epistle was James the Less, our Lord's brother; as is plain from this, that James the son of Zebedee, the witness of the transfiguration, was killed by Herod, Acts xii. long before the epistle of James was written.-Other examples of the inaccuraсу and unskilfulness of the fathers in matters of fact, might be given ; but those that I have mentioned are suíficient to shew, that many of the traditions handed down as apostolical, are not to be implicitly received by those who wish to arrive at the possession of truth. At first the faith of Christians was founded on the many mira
cles, whereby the gospel was so powerfully established every where, in opposition to the combined efforts of both Jews and Gentiles. Hence it came that the objections raised against it were generally levelled against those miracles, the force of which the heathens endeavoured to elude, not by calling the miracles themselves in question, but by placing the miracles of acknowledged impostors in opposition to them. This was the reason that the first Christians neither inquired so narrowly into the internal evidences of the gospels, nor so solicitously avoided those interpretations of scripture, and those opinions about facts, which exposed them to censure, as we find ourselves obliged to do, who cannot appeal to present or even to recent wonders for the support of our religion, and are attacked by our adversaries on every quarter where they expect to make an impression. Moreover, though the ancients had been disposed to search the scriptures with care, considering the disadvantages they laboured under, they could not have been very successful in their first attempts. For the inspired books having been written at different times, in different places, and by different authors, for the use of particular churches, it was long before they came to be universally known, especially in an age that could not boast of the art of printing, by which books are now so quickly and widely dispersed. In such cir. cumstances, we may believe the whole of the sacred books would not be universally in the possession of particular Christians in the first ages; consequently, wanting the light which arises from coma paring scripture with scripture, they must often have been at a loss in interpreting such of the sacred books as they were possessed of. No wonder, therefore, that every thing they thought they saw in the sacred books was taken for truth without examining farther into the matter. And as great regard was paid, even in those early times, to the opinion of those who had gone before, and conversed either with the apostles, or with those who had seen the apostles, the mistakes of the ancients passed from one to another, without ever being called in question. Moreover, as it has been pretty much the temper of Christians in every age, to revere the opinions of their forefathers, and to form their notions in religion upon the letter of the scriptures, rather than by considering the scope and connection of the passages, and comparing the several texts which relate to the same subject, in order to settle the true meaning of each, it was to be expected that such opinions as arose from the apparent and most obvious senses of the inspired writings taken separately, would be adopted by the bulk of mankind, however false these opinions might be in themselves. We need not be surprised therefore, to find things handed down from age to age with great reverence as indubitable, which on examination turned out no better than mistakes. Neither need we scruple to receive the truth, though it should happen to contradict notions, which perhaps were never so much as once called in question.
The particular conclusion I would draw from this observation, is, that it can be no solid objection against any opinion relative to the harınony of the gospels, or against any interpretation of scripture offered in the following work, that Christians have generally thought otherwise ; provided always that the reasons offered in support of such opinions be found sufficient to establish them. I acknowledge that the letter, or the apparent sense of the scriptures in many cases, seems to affirin the common notions about these matters. At least it will do so to persons who are already prejadiced ; insomuch, that the bulk of mankind, who are always found to use but little accuracy in studying the scriptures, have naturally enough fallen into these notions, and by their numbers persons of better sense have been forced along. But this should by no means preclude a more narrow enquiry. Neither should it make us reject the truth, if in the course of such researches made, whether by Papists or Protestants, friends or foes, it happens to be revived again, after having been buried in the grave of ignorance perhaps for ages together.
1. Of the order in which the Gospels were published. 2. Of the
time of their publication. 3. Of the plan upon which they were composed. And, 4. Of the persons by whom they were written.
CHAP. I. Of the crder in which the Gospels were published. § 1. It is generally supposed that Matthew and Mark published their gospels before Luke wrote his. Yet the preface which the latter hath prefixed to his work, serves to prove that his was published the first of the four : i. 1. “ Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses, and ministers of the word : 3. It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.” At first sight indeed one may be apt to think that Luke speaks here of the other gospels, and their authors. Yet the character which he gives of the writers he had in view, makes it evident that they were historians of a. different kind from the evangelists, properly so called. For they wrote according to the information they had received from the eye-witnesses and ministers of the word; whereas the evangelists being eye-witnesses themselves, wrote from their own personal knowledge, improved by inspiration. At least Matthew and John were writers of this character. And as for Mark, though he was VOL. I. G
not an apostle, he may have been an early disciple, and consequently an eye-witness of the greatest part of the things he has told. Accordingly Epiphanius ailirms that he was one of the seventy, Hæres, 51. n. 6. See Obs, vii. c. 4.-But to set the matter in another light, if we interpret Luke's preface of the evangelists, we must allow that he had none but Matthew and Mark in view ; since, by the acknowledgment of all, John did not write his gospel till long after Luke's was published. But that he should call two historians (todos) many, is really very hard to be conceived --Farther, if the gospels of Matthew were abroad when Luke was writing, we may be sure that he woulut peruse them; and as he speaks of persons who had composed histories of Christ's life, he could not by any means overlook authors of their character. On this supposition, can it be imagined, that while his own gospel was penned under the direction of the Spirit, according to the information he had received from those who were eye-witnesses, he would only say of an eye-witness and apostle on whom the Spirit had descended, or even of an apostle's companion, that "they had taken in hand to give the history of Christ's life ;” and not rather have mentioned both them and their works with particular approbation? Without all doubt, had he been speaking of them, he would not have passed them over in such a slight and general manner.
§ 2. From Luke's preface, therefore, it may fairly be inferred, that he published his gospel before either Matthew or Mark wrote theirs. The probability of this opinion is heightened by the following consideration. It makes the gospels appear with a noble and beautiful propriety. For, on supposition that Luke wrote before the rest, we can see the reason why they have passed over in silence the many miraculous circumstances, with which the conception, birth and circumcision, both of the Messiah's forerunner and of the Messiah himself, were honoured ; together with the prophecies of Simeon and Anna, uttered at our Lord's presentation in the temple ; as also the history of his childhood and private life. Luke had accurately and at a great length related all these things, without omitting any particular that deserved to be mentioned. On the other hand, if we think Matthew and Mark wrote before Luke, their gospels will appear defective in those important points; and no reason will offer itself to justify such material omissions. Our Lord's genealogy by his mother, of whom alone, properly speaking, he sprang, being given by Luke, it remained only for Matthew to record the genealogy of Joseph, who was supposed to be his father, for the satisfaction of those who thought he was Joseph's son, or reckoned kindred by the male line. But had Matthew wrote before Luke, it can scarcely be thought that he would have contented himself with giving his genealogy by his supposed father, since he tells us expressly, that