Imagini ale paginilor

St. Matthew

St. Mark.
St. Luke.

spiritual Gospel-by which it is meant that the former relate chiefly to outward events connected with the Saviour's visible presence, reported for the most part without note or comment, while the latter is designed to represent the ideal and heavenly side of His personality and work. Akin to this distinction is the fact that the first three Gospels report Christ's addresses to the multitude, consisting largely of parables, while the fourth Gospel contains discourses of a more sublime character, frequently expressed in the language of allegory and generally addressed to the inner circle of His followers.

When we enter into a closer examination of the three synoptic Gospels and compare them with one another, we find an amount of similarity in detail, extending even to minute expressions and the connection of individual incidents, combined with a diversity of diction, arrangement, and contents, which it has hitherto baffled the ingenuity of critics to explain fully. A general idea of their mutual relations may be gathered from the following comparison. If the contents of each Gospel be reckoned 100, the relative proportion of those things in which a Gospel agrees with one or other of its fellows to those things in which it stands alone would be as follows:—

[blocks in formation]

It is found that the coincidences in language are much fewer than they are in substance-which is only what might have been expected, if the several accounts are derived from independent witnesses. Reckoning the material coincidences in St. Matthew to be 58 as above, the verbal coincidences would only amount to 16 or 17; in St. Mark the former would be 93 as compared

with 17 of the latter; in St. Luke 41 as compared with 10. It further appears that by far the greater number of these verbal coincidences are met with in the report of our Lord's discourses and other sayings, a circumstance which confirms us in the belief that the Gospel was handed down for a number of years in an oral form, as the preachers and teachers would feel bound to adhere strictly to the very words in cases of reported speech, whereas they would be under no such obligation in the narration of events. As regards the latter, a considerable modification of the oral Gospel would naturally take place during the long period that elapsed before it was committed to writing. The modification would vary in different parts of the Church; and it is in this way, as well as by taking into account the possibility of fresh lessons being added from time to time by those who had been "eyewitnesses and ministers of the word " (Luke i. 2), that we can best account for differences, both in expression and in substance, which would otherwise seem unaccountable. If the apostles' teaching was originally given in Aramaic the form of Hebrew then spoken in Palestine— and had to be translated into Greek by the catechists, this would help still further to account for the diversity we meet with in the Gospels.

5. Harmony. It is possible that further study and investigation may shed more light on the historical and literary relations of the four Gospels, but meantime it is clear that the true way to discern their harmony is not to attempt to piece them together in the vain hope of forming a complete chronological history, but to study each from its own point of view and learn from it what it has to teach concerning the many-sided life and character of Jesus Christ. No one Gospel could possibly do justice to the infinite significance of the great theme; and instead of causing perplexity, the existence of four different

Gospels should rather be matter of thankfulness, as setting Christ before us in so many different aspects of His divinely human personality, much in the same way as various portions of the Old Testament set Him forth prophetically under the several aspects of prophet, priest, lawgiver, and king.


From the nature of the case, the Gospels are necessarily fragmentary, as indicated by St. John when he says "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 would not contain the books that should be written " (xxi. 25). The same writer gives us a key to the interpretation of his Gospel when he says, "These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye may have life in his name (xx. 31). In like manner each of the other Gospels, while historical in its character, is animated by a special purpose of its own with its appropriate grouping and selection of events. Owing to the frequent change of scene and audience in Christ's ministry, the historical sequence could not be strictly adhered to by any one desirous to trace, from any point of view, the progress of His teaching. At the same time, there was a gradual development in His ministry, culminating in His death, resurrection, and ascension; and this gradual advance we find reflected in each of the four Gospels.

Unity amid diversity is what we have to look for in the Gospels, as in the Scriptures generally; and of this we have a token in the time-honoured fancy of the Church, by which the four Gospels are likened to the four-visaged cherubim, having the faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. This comparison has been variously applied, but the interpretation followed in modern works of art, after St. Jerome, identifies the four faces with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John respectively,

[ocr errors]

as setting forth the human, the conquering, the sacrificial, and the heaven-regarding aspects of Christ's being. We shall probably be nearer the truth, however, if we say that while the first Gospel sets forth Christ's life and teaching with reference to the past, as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, the Gospel of Mark exhibits that life in the present as a manifestation of the activity and power so congenial to the Roman mind; St. Luke, as a Greek, depicts it in its catholic and comprehensive character, as destined in the future to embrace within its saving influence all the kindreds of the Gentiles; while the fourth Gospel represents it in its absolute perfection as it is related to the Father in eternity.

While there is no such thing as uniformity in Scripture any more than in Nature or the Church, there is an essential and deep-lying unity which cannot be broken without serious injury to the truth. The right way to use the Gospels is to combine their various testimony, allowing each to tell its story in its own way and to contribute its allotted part to a full and adequate conception of the Lord's personality and work. While each possesses a distinct individuality of its own, they may and ought to be united in order to form a complete and grander whole. In this sense they have been likened to the four parts of music, which may be sung apart, but blend together to form a perfect harmony. A striking parallel has been drawn by Bishop Westcott1 between the work of the first three evangelists and the threefold portrait of Charles I. (taken from three different points of view) which Vandyke prepared for the sculptor; while Dean Farrar 2 furnishes a beautiful illustration when he says that "the first three evangelists give us diverse aspects of one glorious landscape; St. John pours

1 Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, p. 251.
2 Messages of the Books, p. 11.


over that landscape a flood of heavenly sunshine which seems to transform its very character, though every feature of the landscape remains the same.'

[ocr errors]

1 With regard to the harmony of the four Gospels in matters of historical detail, while it is true that we meet with apparent discrepancies which it would require more complete information than we possess to explain fully (for example, as to the date of the Last Supper, whether on the night of the Jewish Passover, as the Synoptical Gospels would lead us to suppose, or on the night previous, which is the impression we receive from St. John's narrative), yet on the other hand there are many cases of undesigned harmony which afford positive evidence of their historical accuracy and truthfulness. (See Appendix B, pp. 203, 204.)

« ÎnapoiContinuă »