« PreviousContinue »
but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.' (John xx. 30, 31.) The old and received opinion, that the apostle wrote a supplement to the other three Gospels, must be understood with reference to these words. He wrote his Gospel that men might believe and have life; not that things omitted might be supplied. There may be truth in that surmise, that his spirit, kindled and informed by a higher light, looked back upon the growth of his own faith in the Master who loved him, and wrote for other men that which had led himself into the way of life, that his Gospel is not so much a history of the Lord, as a history of those things which led himself to know and believe in the Lord. At any rate the object of this Gospel is patent, to reveal to men the glory of Christ, as it was manifested in His earthly struggle. In the first four chapters the Lord is seen gathering to Himself those who seek the truth, whilst the evil storm of opposition and unbelief begins to lower and mutter. From the fifth to the twelfth chapters, the struggle with the unbelief of the world is open and severe; the Lord on the one side reveals Himself, and the Jews' on the other reject Him. From the thirteenth to the seventeenth chapters, He reveals Himself, and all that he is and can do, with the Father and on man's behalf. In the closing chapters He suffers when the rest of His work is finished, and rises again in final triumph, to send the promised Comforter, that through Him all that believe might have life. Some such plan most modern writers have endeavoured to trace. The glorious conquest of Christ over evil, shown to men in order that they might believe, and might have life through believing; this was the apostle's purpose. Who so fit to write on such a theme, as he that had been a near spectator both of the struggle and of the victory? Such an explanation is as far as possible from the notion that the writer had in view new doctrines about the person of the Lord; or from the opinion, to which the ancient writers gave too much countenance, that this is a polemic against Cerinthus, and Ebion, and the Gnostics. One writing of the incarnation in the midst of certain errors, could not but write so that the errors should meet their refutation. But of direct polemical matter, there is not one syllable in this Gospel. It is polemical in that, being true, it is a touchstone of error; it is against the modern Socinus almost in the same sense that it is against the ancient Cerinthus. Before the inspired Books were brought together, and the collected New Testament became one organ for spreading the truth, no Book wrought more potently than this Gospel for the advancement of the Church in the truth. What St. Paul did for the
doctrine of grace and of freedom in the Gospel, that did the writer of the fourth Gospel for the contemplation of Christ the incarnate Son of God. Long after this creeds and councils attest the same influence, and their theme was a right conception of this mystery. If it is conceivable that to some teacher
of a lower grade was permitted this great work, we must also conceive that the real instrument of this utterance has remained unknown, that his name and his memory are lost, and that a too careless Church ascribed to another those words so mighty in their operation. The Church, ready, even too ready, to preserve the names of benefactors, has let drop from her catalogue one of those whom the Lord had chosen to enrich her most.
Is it then true that, tested by results, the new criticism has failed to afford us even an approach to certainty in the questions that belong to the Gospels? Let us select one point only on which especial industry and energy have been expended-the place of St. Mark among the four Gospels. It is a question upon which almost every critic has pronounced an opinion: it has never been abandoned as 'answerless,' and to do them justice, modern critics are little open to the charge of pusillanimity of this kind. If the principles of investigation are true, the answers ought to be coincident, or at least to offer some marks of general agreement. The facts to be dealt with in examining the second Gospel are these: the first three Gospels agree in a great measure as to the events which they select, and as to the words in which these are described. The resemblance is so great, both as to arrangement and choice of words, as to leave no doubt of some connexion between them, more than the usual coincidences of writers of like tastes and education describing the same things. But with this minute agreement, and even in the same verse with some marked examples of it, there are considerable differences, which put out of the question the notion that one passage is a mere transcript of the other, or that both are copied from some common original. The problem then lies not in the resemblance, nor yet in the variations, but in the combination of resemblances the most peculiar and minute with remarkable differences. The resemblance is greatest where the words of the Lord are recited, and least in the narrative portions. The Gospel according to St. Mark is shorter than the other two, and might be taken for an abridgment if it were not that some passages are found in his Gospel only, and a certain minuteness of description in several places has been thought to proceed from a quick and observant eye-witness of the facts; but at any rate it vindicates the independence of the narrative. As a good example of the occasional brevity, we may observe that the
mocking command 'Prophesy!' found in the second Gospel, is difficult to understand without the Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who it is that smote thee,' of the first. As an example of the fuller and more graphic description, such touches as these 'When he had looked round about on them in anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart' (Mark iii. 5) are commonly quoted. Here then is a brief sketch of the questions which have been agitated for a generation. What is the relation of these writings to each other, and how are the agreements and the differences to be explained? In what order did these three books come forth? Let the new criticism answer this as to one Gospel, St. Mark, and let us see how far the answer gives proof of a solid result achieved by scientific principles. Now Dr. Strauss finds internal evidence that this Gospel was written after, and founded upon those of St. Matthew and St. Luke; whilst Bleek, in his 'Introduction,' finds by the same evidence that it was written even after St. John. Whatever be the worth of this internal evidence, it does not prevent Reuss from observing, 'We have proved elsewhere that St. Mark is the most ancient of those we possess, and that it was one of the sources to which the authors of the others resorted by preference.' Schenkel, too, appeals to the simplicity, clearness, and vivacity' of this Gospel as proving its priority; and Holzmann refusing to accept as the oldest the Gospel as we have it, proposes to find in it a certain original Gospel of Mark' which is one of the oldest documents of our faith. Renan approaches this view in some measure, imposed upon,' as Zeller tells us, 'by the picturesqueness so often attributed to this Gospel,' to which it can lay no claim. In spite,' continues Zeller, of all the ingenuity that has lately been applied to prove the opposite position, the dependence of Mark upon Matthew and Luke will always continue to be the last result of criticism.' Hilgenfeld sees clearly, or thinks so, that Mark made use of Matthew, and was in turn used by Luke; and that the second Gospel is such as a disciple of Peter, writing at Rome, would produce out of the first. So speak to us the teachers of to-day, at the close of half a century of discussion, in which every word and every verse of every Gospel has been threshed out and winnowed many times over. Of three Gospels, if we would arrange them in order, only six combinations are arithmetically possible; and amongst those who adopt the theory that one Evangelist followed or used another, every one of these six has found able advocates. But what kind of evidence is that which in the hands of Griesbach, De Wette, Baur, and Kösdin, gives us the order of Matthew, Luke, and Mark, and in the hands of Wilke and Volkmar exactly reverses
this order, and places Mark at the beginning, with Luke making use of his Gospel, and Matthew beholden to both? The time is come for admitting that all the ingenuity that has been spent on the subject has sufficed to bring out into strong light many great and deeply interesting questions which belong to the inspired records of our faith, but has not produced any approach to a solution of them. Some future mythical philosopher, pondering this page of literary history, may doubt that such difference could have occurred: he may argue that it is a myth in which the consciousness' of the nineteenth century has reproduced the story of the Tower of Babel; a 'reforming criticism' was to be built up high above all past dogma and doubt, but amidst a welter of confused and contradictory speech, such as never could have been historically possible for rational men, the work was abandoned. We are far from denying that theology has gained by this exploration, whilst we know what has been lost and suffered. But science there is none. Let us not be dismayed by being told that our opinion is contrary to the last result of criticism;' it only means the result that shall remain till another comes. One of the boldest of the writers now before us ends a chapter thus: Can one ever hope to arrive at a satisfactory solution? It is allowable to doubt it, whatever may be one's confidence in human sagacity.'*
Has the theory of myths, with which the name of Strauss is for ever connected, fared any better after the lapse of thirty years? The theory is this: assuming that no supernatural or miraculous narrative can be historical, this author accounts for such elements in the history of our Lord by supposing that when the disciples had once come to look upon their Master as the Messiah, they would naturally look for the fulfilment in Him of all the Old Testament types and prophecies, and even of all the rabbinical additions which by that time had been made to them. What they expected to find in Him they would supply if they did not find it. Because Moses, the first deliverer of the people, had wrought wonders, and because the voice of prophecy promised that the reign of Messiah should be marked by the same wonder-working power, the disciples would not fail to expect miracles from their Master, the last Deliverer of His people. Minds full of love and devotion, and disposed to believe only those things which exalted the object of their homage, would themselves supply to the history that element of miracles which it had not at first, but which it wanted to complete the picture of Messiah. There is not necessarily a con
*M. Nicolas, 'Etudes Critiques,' p. 126.
scious falsification; the miraculous tale would grow undiscernibly, even to the eyes of those whose minds were the soil in which it grew, and whose devout wishes were the dew that fostered it. Given a sufficient time, the 'unhistorical' portions of the Evangelical narrative would creep in insensibly (so thought our author), and no one could be pointed out as responsible for their introduction, for they would proceed out of the common consciousness of a generation or of two, out of the tendency in all minds to magnify what they hold to be great, out of the ferment of the thoughts of ignorant and uncritical men, full of wonder, love, and admiration.
Such was the doctrine of Strauss' earlier work, enforced by great logical power and sufficient erudition; and men recoiled from it as from the lowest deep to which Christian truth could be brought down, not suspecting that they might yet be allowed a glimpse into a lower still. The amazing facility of this doctrine has struck most theologians; it is an acid capable of eating into and dissolving the most solid body of history. Only shut the eyes to all collateral evidence, and then proceed to turn any narrative as it stands into myth, and the success will be great; so great, however, that no sensible student will care to have recourse to so potent an agent again. Wurm has written a life of Martin Luther on this principle, rather ponderous for a jeu d'esprit, but leaving little certainty about its subject. Some years since, M. Peres wrote a tract to prove that Napoleon never existed.' The whole story, he said, was produced by French vanity out of the myth of Apollo.* The etymological relation of the two names is sufficiently obvious. In the surname Bonaparte, we have a glance at the Persian Ormuzd and Ahriman, the good and evil principle, light and darkness; the name signifies that Apollo was sent for the good side or element to the French, bonâ parte. The ancients it is well known ascribed all sudden deaths to the darts of Apollo, but sometimes viewed them as rewards, sometimes as punishments. The name Bonaparte secures that the activity of Napoleon should be interpreted for good. Apollo requires this qualification, for the name of the far-darting punisher of the wicked was connected by some of the ancients with arróλXuut, as by Eschylus. Apollo was born in the isle of Delos, in Greek waters; it was of course necessary that his mythical antitype should be born in an island under French rule, hence Corsica came to be thought of. Leto was the mother of the Greek deity, Lætitia of the
*The fact is that Napoleon has very clearly an etymology which shuts out the supposed connexion with Apollo; the form in middle-age Latin being Neapoleo, just as Naples was Neapolis. It is probable that M. Peres was glancing at the false etymology, as well as other absurdities of the Straussian school.