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They are also found in all MSS. of the Syriac and Old Latin Versions, both of which are known to have existed in the second century, the Syriac in the earlier half of it. To this we may add that in the undisputed epistles of Paul, written within a generation after our Lord's death, there are numerous allusions to Christ's history, teaching, and example, which harmonise with the facts recorded in the four Gospels.

In these circumstances we may challenge those who throw doubt on the credibility of the Gospels to show at what period it was even possible for forgery or falsification to be perpetrated, and perpetrated so successfully as to impose upon all branches of the Church, leaving its members and teachers utterly unconscious of the deception that had been practised on them—this, too, in matters affecting the most vital interests of the Church's faith, regarding which the apostles had been testifying ever since the day of Pentecost on which they began to preach in the name of their Risen Master.

Of the estimation in which the Gospels were held we may judge from the words of Irenæus, a disciple of Polycarp, who, towards the close of the second century, speaks of the written Gospel as "the foundation and pillar of our faith"; and says regarding the Scriptureswhich he defines to be the writings both of prophet and evangelist" the Scriptures, being spoken by the Word and Spirit of God, are perfect." 1

3. Origin. For many years, probably for more than a generation, after the death of Christ, there does not appear to have been any authorised record of His life and teaching in the Church. The charge which the apostles

1 The genuineness of the fourth Gospel is specially dealt with in chap. vi., where additional evidence will be found specially applicable to that Gospel.

had received from their Master was to preach the Gospel, and the promise of the Spirit had been expressly connected with the bearing of oral testimony (Matt. x. 19, 20). As they had received nothing in writing from their Master's hands, it was not likely they would see any necessity for a written Word so long as they were able to fulfil their commission to preach the Gospel, especially as they were looking for a speedy return of their Lord, and had no idea that so many centuries were to elapse before the great event should take place. The preaching of the Gospel was enough to tax their energies to the utmost; and the task of committing to writing was not more alien to the customs of their nation than it would be uncongenial to their own habits as uneducated Galileans. Hence we can readily understand how it was that the Old Testament Scriptures, to which the apostles constantly appealed for proof that Jesus was the Messiah, continued to be for many years the only inspired writings acknowledged by the Christian Church. A New Testament in our sense of the term was something which the apostles never dreamt of; and it is not to the design of man, but to the inscrutable influence of the divine Spirit and the overruling working of divine Providence, that we owe the composition of our Gospels before the apostles and other eye-witnesses of the Saviour's ministry had passed away. Drawn up without concert and without the formal sanction of the Church, they contain in a simple form, suitable for all ages and for all classes, several trustworthy records of Christ's life and teaching, of which it may be said with truth that they are better authenticated and more nearly contemporaneous with the events than almost any other record we possess in connection with any period of ancient history. Their dignity and truthfulness are only rendered the more conspicuous when they are contrasted with the apocryphal gospels invented

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at a later period, which were designed not so much to meet the spiritual wants of the Church as to gratify an idle curiosity.1

It is a remarkable fact that two of our Gospels do not claim to have been written by apostles, but only by companions of apostles (Mark and Luke); and that of the other two only one bears the name of an apostle of eminence (John). This is, so far, a confirmation of their genuineness; for if they had been forgeries claiming an authority to which they were not entitled, they would have been pretty sure to claim it in the highest form. The same circumstance shows that the apostles generally did not regard it as a duty to record their testimony in writing.

In the discharge of their commission as preachers of the Gospel, they doubtless followed the practice which was common in the East of trusting to memory rather than to written documents; and as the Church extended, and they were no longer able to minister personally to the wants of their converts or of those who required to have the Gospel preached to them, it would become their duty to train evangelists and catechists to assist them in the work. In preaching to the heathen, it would only be the leading facts of Christ's life that would require to be proclaimed, but in the instruction of those who had already accepted the message of salvation it would be necessary to go more into detail, and set Christ before them as a guide and pattern in their daily life. This instruction was doubtless given in an oral form, the

1 About fifty apocryphal Gospels are known to us (besides Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses); but of many only the names or brief fragments have been preserved. They usually abounded in the strange and marvellous, more especially in connection with the infancy and childhood of our Lord; and traces of their influence may be seen in Christian art and poetry. To support some heresy was the purpose of many of the apocryphal Gospels.

scholars repeating the lesson again and again after their teachers.1

The history of Christ's life and teaching was thus originally set forth not in the form of a chronological narrative but rather as a series of lessons imparted by the apostles and their fellow-labourers as occasion required, or “to meet the needs of their hearers," as one of the early Church Fathers (Papias) says, referring to Peter's style of preaching. During the twelve years or more that elapsed before the dispersion of the apostles from Jerusalem, a recognised course of instruction had probably gained currency in the Church, corresponding to St. Peter's definition of the period in the life of Christ which was the proper subject for apostolic testimony— "Beginning from the baptism of John unto the day that he (Jesus) was received up from us" (Acts i. 22). With this agree specimens of apostolic preaching contained in the Book of Acts (iv. 19, 20; x. 36-43; xiii. 23-31), as well as allusions which the apostles make in their epistles to the Gospel preached by them, and to the knowledge of Christ's life acquired by their converts (1 Cor. ii. 2; xi. 23-27; xv. 1-4; Gal. iii. 1; 1 Pet. i. 18-21, etc.) A close examination of such passages makes it evident that, while Christ Jesus was the constant theme of the apostles' preaching, they dwelt chiefly on the great facts that formed the consummation of His ministry-His sufferings, death, and resurrection; and we may regard it as an evidence of the faithfulness with which our Gospels represent the earliest preaching and teaching of the apostles, that they give such prominence to the closing scenes in our Lord's history. We have another token of

This is the meaning of the word "instructed" (literally catechised) in Luke i. 4. We have another trace of such systematic instruction in the expression used in Acts ii. 42: "They" (the converts) tinued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching."

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their authenticity in the fact that they narrate events not in the light reflected on them by the subsequent teaching of the Spirit, but as they were actually regarded by the disciples at the time of their occurrence.

It would seem that before our third Gospel was composed many attempts had been made to draw up a connected history of the Saviour's life, or at least of His ministry (Luke i. 1-4). As the result of a careful examination of our first three Gospels, recent critics are now generally agreed that the first and third are founded on the Gospel of Mark, two-thirds of whose contents they have incorporated, while they have also drawn. from an earlier record of Christ's discourses (cf. p. 22, note 2). Evidently Luke was referring to other documents than those which have found a place in the New Testament, since he speaks of their writers as "many." If the documents referred to had any part in determining the shape in which the oral Gospel was finally to be recorded, all of them were ultimately superseded by our present Gospels, in whose preservation and triumph we may see an illustration, in the highest sense, of “the survival of the fittest."


4. Diversity. On a comparison of the several Gospels, a marked difference is at once apparent between the fourth and the three preceding ones. The latter are called synoptical, because they give in one common view the same general outline of the ministry of Christ. outline is almost entirely confined to His ministry in Galilee, with only one visit to Jerusalem-at the Passover; whereas the fourth Gospel tells of five visits to the capital -three of them at the Passover-and lays the scene of the ministry chiefly in Judæa. A still more important distinction between them, with regard to the nature of their contents, has been briefly expressed by designating the synoptical Gospels as the bodily Gospels, and St. John's as the

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